It’s great to see many high-profile figures speaking out about the mental health issues they’ve faced in 2019, writes John Young. What’s highly encouraging to hear, too, is that many companies are actively educating their employees on the signs of stress and mental illness at work and putting measures in place to support them.
However, despite this progress, there’s no escaping the fact that business leaders are still expected to be highly resilient when under immense pressure. From cyber attacks and IT outages through to network failures and system upgrades gone wrong, the financial impact that these kinds of disruptions are having on companies is now well known. In the UK, now lose (on average) £1.4 million in downtime as a direct result of an IT crisis.
What about the impact these kinds of events have on the people involved and their mental health and well-being?
International Stress Awareness Week is one initiative that draws important attention to this issue, and a recent study we conducted shows precisely why the topic deserves more focus than its currently receiving.
A staggering number of C-Suite executives globally have suffered in the aftermath of a technology disruption. Half (51%, in fact) admitted to stress-related illnesses and/or damage to their mental well-being in the aftermath of cyber attacks, IT outages or network failures, while 45% stated they had experienced online or verbal abuse and, in some cases, even physical threats. Moreover, a fifth (20%) admitted criticism extended to their family and friends who’ve also received verbal and/or physical abuse.
This insight into stressful experiences of the C-Suite today demonstrates why business strategy must now go beyond ensuring a robust and agile infrastructure and extend to ensure the resiliency of those responsible for resolving major crises as well.
Extending business resilience in 2020
In the event of an IT incident, the first questions asked tend to be ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Who was responsible?’ Inevitably, ‘blame’ always lies at the top, with the C-Suite more accountable than ever before for the impact of a technology disruption or crisis. Over the last decade, many data breaches from cyber attacks have resulted in CEOs stepping down from their roles.
As growing digital business ecosystems exert increased demand on Data Centre performance, security and resiliency in the coming years, any disruption will have an even greater impact on an organisation’s productivity and profits, thereby putting employees under even greater pressure when things go wrong.
Companies can minimise risk and adapt to disruptive events by embedding resiliency into and across their environment. An effective resilience framework looks at how the organisation and IT infrastructure can be available, safe and agile. However, for 2020, steps must be taken to support employees, and particularly so those in the spotlight during and after a significant disruption.
It’s my firm belief that we must start by addressing this issue at Board level. Boards must take a more holistic approach towards business resilience and consider how they can train staff to be better prepared before, during and after disruption. Designing a thorough communications plan addressing internal and external stakeholders is essential, as is providing employees – especially so those most accountable – with guidance to communicate with family members to support staff through periods of significant disruption.
Offering counselling to senior leaders of a business after significant disruption should also be part of this plan.
Human cost of disruption
Organisations today are exposed to an ever-more-complex array of risks, threats and uncertainties, which are only set to accelerate in the years to come. Whether driven by technology developments, cyber security threats, data privacy concerns or natural disasters, ensuring senior leaders can cope with these threats, both from a business standpoint and also from a personal standpoint, is no longer an advantage, but rather a necessity.
Business resilience effectively means putting the right processes, tools and technologies in place to protect businesses from the scale and scope of any interruptions. This must be supported by a comprehensive communications plan that keeps external and internal stakeholders informed and supported.
While financial losses and a damaged company reputation are often cited as consequences of poorly handled crises, companies simply cannot fail to address the human cost of business disruption in 2020 and beyond.
John Young is Vice-President at Sungard AS