Prioritizing mental health and accessibility in web development

October 7, 2021
min read
Prioritizing mental health and accessibility in web development
Amanda Winstead
Amanda Winstead

Web development is infamously challenging. With high levels of competition, long hours, and “crunch” culture, the dev field can become a recipe for poor mental health and unhealthy lifestyles. Facing these conditions, web development companies have an obligation to their employees to prioritize mental health as well as accessibility. 

Mental illness affects an estimated one in five adults, and where it occurs, mental illness can wreak havoc on productivity, creativity, and other elements of job effectiveness. In addition, accessibility is essential if you hope to cultivate usable web products and inclusive work environments.

To better prioritize employee well-being, web developers must understand the value of an open and empathetic process. Then, you can follow these tips for a healthier workflow. 

Why mental health and accessibility matter

All over the world, poorly optimized workplaces are contributing to mental health challenges for workers. This means a lack of engagement with the work, lower rates of productivity, and increased instances of burnout. Facing these struggles, developers are uniquely vulnerable to experiencing barriers of access to their work and to better mental health outcomes because of the conditions of the job.

Web development is notorious for producing poor working conditions. This is because so much of the work can contribute to negative health consequences for developers, impacting their mental well-being as well as their physical condition. Here are just a few examples of the correlative factors between the job and mental health:

  • Long exposure to computer screens and little natural light can cause depression.
  • On-the-job stressors like meeting deadlines or facing criticism can worsen anxiety disorders and cause adverse bodily symptoms.
  • Conditions like ADD and addiction are common among web development professionals, showing existing tendencies in a large portion of the workforce.

Meanwhile, a sedentary lifestyle comes with its own host of physical risk factors. All these concerns add mountains of stress on the average developer, which in turn can impact your bottom line by causing burnout among your workforce. Burnout has been found to drain companies of their creative energy, sapping productivity and impacting your ability to deliver. To combat lost work and revenue, you need a healthy work environment.

And that means an accessible one. Accessibility in the web development space goes hand in hand with prioritizing mental health to ensure employer best practices. By committing to accessibility, you help build an inclusive workflow for the remote-working world, eliminating barriers to participation and boosting your pool of talent in the process.

But how can an employer go about prioritizing mental health and accessibility? What does that look like in the web development space?

Tips for prioritizing mental health and accessibility

Fortunately, producing a healthier working environment—whether in-office or remote—doesn’t have to be difficult. There are a few helpful strategies you can employ to better support your workers. This will entail making resources available and building standardized approaches to support a more open and empathetic workforce. 

You can navigate this shift in priorities more simply by following these tips:

  1. Train your team in web accessibility

When introducing the topics of mental health and accessibility into workplace web development conversations, it’s hard to foster much employee engagement at first.

However, by training your team in web accessibility standards while actively building new products, you can demonstrate the applications of agile and accommodating platforms. From here, you can navigate the conversation to development workflows as well as accessibility and health resources for workers.

  1. Dedicate mental health resources

A responsive Human Resources department is a must for any web development team. You need the resources to support a healthy and productive business, and HR is essential in providing these. Build a team dedicated to procuring mental health and accessibility help that aligns with the benefits packages your company offers. Then, make these resources highly available through a discreet process that protects worker privacy.

  1. Minimize “crunch” time

Another great way to prioritize mental health and accessibility is to do away with dreaded crunch time as much as possible. Mandatory or coerced crunch conditions are neither accessible nor are they good for an employee’s mental health. Crunch produces burnout, can alienate working families, and can be simply impossible for workers with myriad conditions.

Build a valuable employer brand and avoid the negative consequences (like a bad reputation) that come with crunch time. 

  1. Follow ADA and WCAG standards

As a web developer, the usability of the tools you work with is just as important as it is for the tools you create. You’ll have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) if you hope to produce an inclusive and productive workforce. Get familiar with these standards, and show your workers they matter by accommodating their needs.

  1. Build an open and inclusive dev culture

One final key to mitigating mental health triggers and promote accessibility is to build a more flexible work environment. This means a workforce that can telecommute, compress their schedules, work a hybrid schedule, or any other reasonable accommodations that promote a healthy work-life balance.

As long as your team stays engaged, flexibility encourages a more open and empathetic work environment that naturally feels more inclusive. 

These are just a few of the ways you might go about prioritizing mental health and accessibility for your web development team. By applying these strategies, you can encourage a lower-stress environment that promotes better mental health and keeps work open to developers already struggling to balance all life’s demands. Gather resources and cultivate a culture of empathy to help your developers succeed.

About the author:

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

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