Why we take mental health seriously and you should too

You can’t do human-first design without looking after your humans.

This week, we’re focusing on mental health. As an industry, ours doesn’t have a good reputation. Burnout, stress and long hours seem par for the course. We don’t think that’s right. There are ways to work hard and deliver without risking the mental and physical health of your team. So let’s talk about how we do that at Despark…

One way of keeping morale high in the office is to do work that matters to us. We’ve sought out projects which we feel make an impact in the world, and said no to some that aren’t a good match for our values. That helps, a lot.

Recently the NHS listed the Baby Buddy app we developed for Best Beginnings on their app library, including it in their mental health category, because of the content it includes for expectant and new parents. This is great progress. It’s likely that digital platforms will become increasingly vital to deliver mental health support, and may go some way to bridging the alarming gaps in coverage of mental health services.

We’ve developed digital products like Kooth, a mental health platform for teenagers, and to do this, we need to be hyper aware of the needs of everyone who comes into contact with the app.

It’s easy when you’re busy with deadlines and multiple projects to overlook your own health so we’ve built in some working practices which act as a safeguard to make sure that as a team, we look after ourselves by default.

We have a few good rules, and we stick to them. Some of these are:

1. We believe our team thrive when we give them the trust and freedom to manage their workload in a way that suits them best. Our flexible working hours give the team space to work when they feel most productive.

2. We don’t ask questions if someone on the team needs to take a day or two and work away from the office. The kids are sick, they don’t want to spend time commuting, or just don’t want to see anyone but their cat that day, that’s ok. We have a work from home policy to match those needs.

3. We’ve made a pledge to mindfulness, supporting smart and deep work. Daily hustle and crazy working hours aren’t our thing, and we do everything possible, both as individuals and a company, to stay away from those unhealthy practices.

4. Mental Health is just as important as physical health and we acknowledge that. Our people are entitled to a health insurance plan that includes all kinds of medical help and the option to include family members.

5. Every member of the team gets an annual learning budget and that doesn’t just apply to professional courses. Whether it’s a subscription to a meditation app, a yoga course, books or language lessons, as a team we each have the freedom to invest in our personal growth.

6. We do team retreats a couple of times a year. We intentionally make these about giving each of us space to relax, whilst spending time together. So, no pressure to hurtle down a zipwire or do cringeworthy public performances.

lit up neon hearts

Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

The creative industry has a reputation for being stressful and pressured, working long, late hours and drinking itself into a caffeine-fuelled frenzy to deliver. Karina Dea and the team at Tank just released their mental health survey of creatives and the results are sobering. Only 50% of respondents could answer yes to the question ‘Are you OK?’

The most common word to appear in responses was ‘fear.’

When you’re making apps which are — literally — a lifeline for some vulnerable people, this mode of working is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. Tired, stressed team members miss things. A frontend designer who doesn’t feel supported and safe to challenge what she sees as bias in, say, a wireframe design might stay silent. And that oversight might impact the care a suicidal teen receives down the line.

It’s not just what we do that matters. It’s how we do it, how we work. And as an industry, we have a duty to take care of our employees, and to speak out and support others who are trying to make positive changes.

We’re not perfect at Despark, but we’re proud that we’re creating an environment of openness, trust and care, for our staff as well as our clients.


Thanks to Sanya Spasova.