To wrap up the topics surrounding stress awareness month, we wanted to look into stress in a little more detail, – it’s causes to how we can help manage it better. For this, we asked Ellen Kay, our Human Factors Specialist, and Jake Moore, Global Cybersecurity Advisor for ESET for a few words. They both identified several causes for stress and the impact it has on the cyber community.
Ellen Kay – “The main cause of absenteeism in companies is ‘stress’ and anxiety related problems which then cause other health problems. And the biggest triggers are emotional and psychological stress. These then ultimately lead to other conditions and health problems, which cause people to be even more sick.
As a result of that, people become less creative. They’re less innovative. They’re less productive. They produce less outcomes. They communicate less. And they’re less engaged in the workplace. All of this is demonstrated by what they do more so than what they say. They are quiet, more reserved, and can become agitated and angry.
These negative behavioural traits then have a direct effect on profits and growth. These people also tend to be sick more frequently, they tend to be more competitive in a way that does not add real value to the business, they tend to resist change more, they’re more hostile, they’re more resentful, they’re more anxious, and ultimately more depressed. These behaviours are easy to see once we become more aware of our own body language and that of our colleagues.
Stressed employees add to the toxic environment that they’re reacting to, which then causes the environment to become more stressed, which causes people to become more reactionary. And the cycle continues. It’s a big problem all over the world.”
Continuing, Jake said:
Jake Moore – “There are factors that can contribute to stress in cyber security that you might not see in other areas. And one of these is that there is a cyber skills shortage, and with this you get more responsibility per job. With more people that are trained, you can distribute jobs more evenly, though because of the gap people aren’t entering the industry as much as we would’ve hoped. There’s also a lot of immense pressure on the industry because it’s linked to a business going down completely because livelihoods are attached to attacks. With this pressure and increased stress comes burnout because of constant mounting pressure. An issue is blame culture, though I think that we should move away from that and instead learn from every mistake”
Ellen and Jake both have amazing insights into the topic of stress in cyber and it was really thought provoking to have conversations with them both. Interestingly, when I asked them about how we can help combat stress, they both highlighted the importance of human conversation to discuss stress in order to raise awareness to stress and to show our colleagues that they’re not alone in how they feel:
Ellen – “The overarching support we can offer colleagues is 1) self-awareness i.e. be more aware of our own stress levels and what triggers cause us to have stressful reactions and behaviours and 2) behavioural changes in colleagues / changes in their body language indicating they are stressed. When we become more aware of ourselves then we can become more aware of others and help them. But awareness is not easy when we live in a state of survival (stress) most of the time and that stops us being supportive of ourselves and others.”
Jake – “I always think that cyber training isn’t just down to training but is also down to conversations and to discuss it with your colleagues. Discuss the funny things, as it all raises awareness in a very fun way. With phishing being the number one attack on businesses, why not discuss it? It just makes people that little bit more conscious about what they’re clicking on.
Talking about the human element makes people listen, they can relate to it. Put yourself into another person’s shoes and think about how can I not become another victim? That’s really powerful. Once discussions happen, people can be relieved and that stress can be taken away. I love telling people about what a fun industry the cyber security industry is. I think we can prove how fun it can be, and I think one of the best parts is the fast-moving element of it. It changes every day and it comes with its challenges that can be difficult, but that challenge is a fun challenge instead of us seeing it as something that can burn us out completely. To make it easy and open to talk about, emails from someone respected in the company just saying “it’s okay to not be okay” is really powerful. It’s good to reiterate it with a business mind. It’s okay to feel stress, or imposter syndrome. Stress has an amazing reaction that can spiral out of control and the end result can be burnout. There’s that assumption that people at the top have got it all covered, that they’re not stressed, but it’s simply not true. So, it’s good to have these conversations, and to show that everyone can have imposter syndrome to a certain extent. And working from home has made it even more difficult.”
As summarised by both Ellen & Jake, it’s important to recognise that stress affects us all, and by initiating and taking part in more of these conversations, together as a community we can break down barriers and combat stress as a collective to really drive home the message “it’s okay to not be okay”.
As part of the Human Factors programme at the Cyber Quarter in Hereford, we show people the formula to teach people how to make significant changes in their brain and body to help combat stress. To learn more, please complete an enquiry or send a direct email to our Human Factors Specialist, Ellen Kay: firstname.lastname@example.org