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I worked at a POS help desk at at mall retailer, there were a myriad of diverse people who worked there with all different skill levels and skill sets. The hours were really long and bizarre; the people were paid hourly, and most of them weren't actual employees; instead they were temps; and it was extremely difficult to get hired by the actual company.

Also, since most of the people were hired by a staffing company, their wages were skimmed by the staffing company.

There was a tremendous sense of community within the staff, for such a ephemeral assignment (or at least it was for most people) but having lived through it my sense about the mental health aspect was a little rough. The community there was quite hierarchical.

The guy who trained me when I was on the late-night monitoring team, was actually from the USMC; and he was getting pretty tired of training new people.

Our work environment was of the latest sort where there aren't any dividers between each persons workspace and you can hear everything, everybody else is saying; which for some can take some getting used to.

Additionally, there were various queues from a backlog to incidents that just arrived, categorized for every possible model of device to pipes bursting to ceilings leaking; and even specializations of help desk techs for each of these types of incidents.

I'm most certainly a better, faster, stronger person from having worked there, and despite all it's hardships I look back on it as something that certainly helped push me further into adulthood.

Not everyone on staff however had what I want to call the best mental health; between the stress of having everything ready for stores opening up in the morning, people on the calls getting angry, and the occasional barrage of phone calls from an outage, this did not rub some people (especially folks new to things) the right way; but that said there were just as many folks who kept a good head on their shoulders, and usually folks like that were weeded out not long after being hired, especially if they couldn't get the job done, or their behavioral issues became problematic; I believe the company may even reached out to a few folks who were good at their jobs to get them some mental treatment as I saw definite improvement in a few of them.

So that said; what are some best practices for operating an IT Help Desk in regards to the mental health of its employees?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive May 1 at 11:53
  • I still don't understand why this question had to be fought for...it's all the way back up to 0 now. – leeand00 May 6 at 11:51
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When you're considering your prior experience it's important to distinguish between reasons why the job/environment may have been damaging to employees' mental health and reasons why people who may have already had poor mental health may have ended up working there.

Reasons why the Job may have been damaging

"The hours were really long and bizarre" - long hours bring a toll with them. There's a reason why so many jurisdictions provide legislation around maximum working hours, required breaks etc. Working hour patterns that are outside the "normal" (think Mon-Fri 9-5) have an even greater impact, they disrupt routines, homelife, socialization time etc. Particularly if the pattern is erratic, and even more so if you get into the impact on sleeping patterns of the more extreme shiftwork.

How to do better - ensure employees are getting sufficient breaks, time off. Keep hours predictable - or at least reasonably planned in advance to allow staff to still have some semblance of work/life balance.

"they were temps; and it was extremely difficult to get hired by the actual company." - sounds like a very precarious and insecure employment situation to be in. Which may not be a big deal - if the employee is not dependent on the income, or has a reasonable confidence in being able to get replacement employment quickly if it went away. Or if they weren't planning on staying long in the first place.

How to do better - provide a stable environment, be clear about the nature and planned duration of someone's employment, if you want a perm employee don't hire temps, hire perm staff like you would for any other position. Use temps where it's actually appropriate - i.e. the capactiy/headcount need is actually temporary for certain circumstance (e.g. seasonal peaks) and be clear about what being a temp means.

"aren't any dividers between each persons workspace and you can hear everything, everybody else is saying; which for some can take some getting used to" - while this is true it leaves out the fact that there are some people who can't ever get used to this level of constant sensory stimuli.

How to do better - this feels obvious but I feel it's worth saying anyway, provide dividers, don't pack staff in like sardines in a can. Provide non divided areas for breaks etc and keep them away from the actual workstations.

"he stress of having everything ready for stores opening up in the morning" - if there's a panicked rush to get everything ready every time then someone's got something wrong and it's probably not the support staff

How to do better - plan tasks around how long they actually take and how many staff members they actually need to get done.

"people on the calls getting angry" - you can't eliminate this entirely, people get angry and shout at support/helpdesk staff, it might not be right or fair, but it is what it is.

How to do better - Train the staff in how to handle it, how to stay calm and how to deescalate. Most importantly support them, give them clear guidance on when they can call in a supervisor/senior for help, and give them clear instructions on when they can just out-right terminate a call in the event that it's extreme. Make sure they know that you (the employer) have their back, and that they aren't going to get in trouble just because a customer started screaming and shouting at them.

"the occasional barrage of phone calls from an outage" - like the angry folks this can't be avoided entirely, to a certain extent it's the name of the game.

How to do better - As a business have processes in place to respond to this sort of thing - including quickly temporarily shifting capacity from other areas to help alleviate a pressure point where possible. Be clear in what messaging you want staff to convey during an outage. Make sure that staff who have had a deluge get some relief, breaks as soon as feasible, even if those are over and above what you would normally provide.

Reasons why people who may have already had poor mental health may have ended up working there

Honestly I think the fact that it was an agency job with crap hours, and likely not great pay - often people who have mental health difficulties are going to struggle more than those without to get/keep jobs, and to a certain extent may end up taking less desirable jobs that others wouldn't do as a result. Because they still have bills to pay, still need to eat, and crappy jobs with revolving doors and a steady turnover of temps often hire first and "weed out" later.

How to do better - Honesty it actually sounds as if your previous employer was ahead of the curve a bit - helping people get access to resources etc. So basically this - remember that people who have mental health issues are still people, remember that if you were unlucky you could easily be them, so get them help where you can, don't make the workplace part of the problem (see above), give decent healthcare coverage if you're in a country with a backwards healthcare system.

Conclusion

Most of the "how to do better" segments above are going to come with an attached cost - be it in higher wages, needing more staff etc. How much you can afford to actually do in this regard is going to be up to the business realities. There's way more hellish helpdesk-type environments out there then there are companies who intentionally set out to make it miserable - many are just driven that way because they're a cost sink. To take an absurd extreme you could staff your help desk with people who only worked ten hours a week of their choice, earned a million dollars, got free food, massages, therapy and puppies and they would probably be the happiest, most content helpdesk staff in the world. For about five minutes until the business went under. So it's about ensuring you meet the business need in a viable and sustainable way and ensuring that your staff are as happy and healthy as you can while doing that.

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    Are we allowed to take business realities into account on The Workplace? I’m pretty sure we’re only supposed to support the most employee entitled options where no one ever worries or goes without or works over 30 hours a week or has an imperfect office environment! Companies that can’t provide that must be placed in the Red Flag Dumpster and you should choose unemployment over them! That’s what I heard, at least. (+1). – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil May 1 at 13:49
  • @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil sshh! don't tell anyone or they'll come for me, and write a negative review of me on Glassdoor – motosubatsu May 1 at 13:53
  • @motosubatsu Thank you! This was the sort of answer I was looking for; it has suggestions to fix the problems I mentioned without be unrealistic; (keeping the business open). I also realized that we don’t have as many locations as we had at the Help Desk described in the question at the current place where we’re trying to spin up a help desk; (well for now); and that should help. – leeand00 May 1 at 14:44
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what are some best practices for operating an IT Help Desk in regards to the mental health of its employees?

Helpdesk tend to be short term jobs with a lot of turnover and burnout. The common practice to mitigate against this is constant recruiting for replacements. The long term people are those whose temperaments match the work. Eventually you end up with more and more of these as the others leave and you have a solid core team.

This strategy is fairly common in many low skilled blue collar industries. It works well.

It isn't in anyone's interest to keep applying expensive grease in an attempt to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Some people thrive in the environment, many don't and will eventually realise that and move on. And as you indicated it's a learning experience which is always a good thing in terms of finding one's limitations and potential.

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