How game leaders can change systems to improve employee mental health

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We held an interesting roundtable about mental health at our recent GamesBeat Summit 2022 event. I opened the session but quickly let our experts take over.

The panel of roundtable leaders included Swatee Surve, CEO of Litesprite; Mark Chandler, founder of The International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness (TIGS); and Raffael “Dr. B” Boccamazzo, clinical director of Take This. Part of the discussion started with a roundtable at the Dice Summit, and it continued with our session.

It was about how the solution for mental health challenges, particularly during the pandemic, has been that companies recommend to their employees that they should care for themselves. But part of the problem about mental health is that employees don’t now how to care for themselves. And that means companies should be more aggressive about providing ways for their employees to get better. Chandler has been advocating that companies should hire a chief wellness officer to look out for the interests of employees, not worry about how much healthcare costs the company.

We talked about this and more during the hour-long session. Chandler created the TIGS conference where people open up about mental health issues in gaming. I’ve played games like Call of Duty: Warzone and Elden Ring with Chandler, and he has been an adviser for GamesBeat Summit events for a while.

Boccamazzo is a psychologist and clinical director at gaming nonprofit Take This, which helps game developers with mental health issues. He is an autism self-advocate, and he is an expert on the applied use of tabletop role playing games in clinical and learning settings, and is the co-creator of a pantheoretical model on their applied use.

Swatee Surve has been working on games that can improve mental health for more than 10 years. She is still at it, and she has added a new minigame called Gratitude to the mobile game Sinasprite that she launched a decade ago to help patients manage problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Starting in 2012, Litesprite created a game called Sinasprite, which used a fox character named Socks to go on journeys through an animated world. More recently the company added a game dubbed Gratitude.

Here’s an edited transcript of our discussion.

Raffael “Dr. B.” Boccamazzo is clinical director at Take This.

GamesBeat: For a long time, the solution for mental health challenges has amounted to the recommendation that employees administer self-care. That doesn’t always work, and companies can be more proactive about providing care. Is it time for a chief wellness officer at companies? What else can we do to support employees better?

Mark Chandler: I’ve been talking about this whole idea of a chief wellness officer for about three years now. Swatee said it when we had a meeting last week. I was shocked to hear you use that exact term. You’re thinking along the same lines I’ve been thinking about. It’s awesome to know that I’m not alone in thinking this.

Swatee Surve: No, no. This topic is relevant today for a couple of reasons. It’s good to think about context even outside of the games industry, just broadly. The transition to hybrid, or for purely remote work for many people, and the pandemic itself. The World Health Organization has indicated that there’s a parallel pandemic, a mental health crisis. Everybody has personally seen it, which is why you’re seeing so much attention in general. But the pain point, and the place where it’s most acutely felt, is with employers, because they’ve had people working in a range of situations and distributed remotely. They’re hearing reports from the employees – it’s very employee-driven – that they’re struggling.

Mark Chandler is founder of The International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness.
Mark Chandler is founder of The International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness.

At this point, everybody on this planet will fit into three buckets. You’ve had a mental health challenge because of the pandemic. You are going through a mental health challenge. Or you’re going to have a mental health challenge. It’s unprecedented times, not just with the pandemic, but social unrest, and now geopolitical instability that’s very significant. This ongoing onslaught of unexpected large-scale events for this particular generation of the workforce is something they’ve never really had to deal with. Up until now things have been stable for some time. Things have gone on course. There’s been a stability of expectations. That’s part of the challenge that’s causing all these mental health issues. Now there’s uncertainty everywhere, and we’ve never had to deal with it on this scale, a global scale, and not just a global scale, but a prolonged scale as well. We don’t know when it’s going to end.

This is why it’s now an issue from a broader perspective, and where it’s really being felt is by employers. That, coupled with the trend of the great resignation–now being able to offer support–in the U.S., just because of the way employment was structured post-WWII, employers offer benefits. That’s how they entice beyond just offering salary. People primarily get health insurance through their employers. Now HR itself, due to the trends of the great resignation, it’s more a decision of–people are deciding where they want to work. They’re not resigning themselves to where they work. That’s leading to a competitive talent war, which then in turn causes employers to see that HR and benefits are a strategic imperative. It’s moved from a cost center to a strategic imperative for retention and recruitment.

This is an example I’ve used during our calls. I was at a health care private equity conference in Miami in March, two or three months ago. It was striking to me how at the keynote for a health care private equity conference, they were saying it was a strategic imperative to make sure that the staff’s well-being is addressed, and it’s also a retention imperative, because they couldn’t find enough good people to hire otherwise. They have to keep who they have. This is why, all of a sudden, this is important.

Narrowing it down into the games context, it’s the same issue as it relates to game developers, producers, publishers, distributors. All of those global trends and issues are impacting games, but even more acutely, because it’s known to be a high-stress work environment. The war for talent is even more of a challenge and an issue in this industry.

Rafael Boccamazzo: It’s not just relevant now. We’ve been hearing for a decade or more about the idea of various practices, specifically within the game industry, crunch culture being a significant one that’s frequently mentioned. Thankfully the routine use of crunch has been decreasing slowly over the last decade, based on the statistics from the IGDA’s developer satisfaction survey. But we still have employment practices that themselves are the stressors, let alone the work environment itself.

A recent metaphor that Dr. Christina Maslach used–she’s the creator of the burnout model that we’ve most prominently used since 1981. She said to the New York Times, “You don’t fix burnout. You don’t expand it to similar problems by teaching self-care. That’s like giving them a bucket in a sinking boat. They can only bail out for so long.” It’s part of the reason vacations don’t work long-term. Vacations help certain aspects in the short term, but if you come back to a system that is itself unstable, and in some cases literally abusive, vacations aren’t going to fix your ongoing mental wellness challenges. 

That’s part of the reason we’re talking about this. I’ve talked to employers, over the last nearly six years I’ve spent consulting with folks, about ways of empowering their employees, but very rarely is the question, “How do I change the system so I don’t need to empower the employees and wake them up? How about we just make it an empowering system?”

Swatee Surve is CEO of Litesprite.
Swatee Surve is CEO of Litesprite.

Surve: That was one thing I did see at DICE with some of the roundtables. To the original question of why this is relevant now, I think it’s timely because that awareness is now starting to happen. It has to be built from the ground up. And the awareness is because the employers themselves are getting hit where it counts, in the wallet, with people leaving for all the reasons we talked about. Throwing more money at the problem, people aren’t dealing with that well. There was a recent report that Amazon had, across the board, increased pay by 11 percent. A lot of people still said, “That’s not enough. I’m leaving.”

Now they’re realizing that if they can create a good culture from the ground up–we saw that at DICE. We saw a lot of leaders wanting to–they said, “I’ve gotten some funding. I’m a startup. I want to build from the ground up and be able to put the best practices in place so we can avoid the crunch culture and watch for those early indicators of abusive behavior. We want to support our employees in an effective way that doesn’t just give them a bucket. We’re giving them the tools to handle their issues on a day to day basis.” It’s dependent on what type of culture you allow, what behavior you allow and enable. For all of those reasons, I think you’re beginning to see that shift in mindset, which I haven’t seen before.

Boccamazzo: There are six common factors that contribute to burnout. Many of them are things that we just don’t overly think about yet, and I’d like people to start considering that. As well as what burnout actually is, because it’s more than just exhaustion. There’s a variety of contextual factors, and it’s all contextual. There’s very little individualized stuff.

Chandler: I do want to point out something that I see happening right now, this very second. People from Canada that had moved down to the states back in the 2000s, late ‘90s, they’re all coming home now. The reason why is because of the health care system in the states. I’ve seen people, friends–somebody gets cancer. They lose their house. They lose everything paying off those medical bills. The United States itself, it’s already a negative thing that you’re having to overcome just to even get started.

When I used to work in the states, as soon as I started getting to X age–I’m 57, turning 58 this year. I think I decided it would be 45 or something like that. I knew I’d come back to Canada. I knew I couldn’t be down in the states if I was going to get unwell. Everything that I’ve gone through over the past seven or eight years, I don’t know if I would have made it down in the states. It’s that simple. I really don’t know if I would have been able to have made it, if I’d still be alive. I see that happening with personal friends of mine that want to come back.

Boccamazzo: How to do this as quickly as possible? When we think of occupational burnout as a concept, it’s often used as a synonym for being exhausted, but the most common model that’s been used for 40 years now categorizes occupational burnout across three different dimensions. We need to meet all three to qualify as burnt out from this perspective.

One of them is bone-weary exhaustion. We’re so tired we can’t sleep. It becomes this nasty cycle. It’s not just being tired and then sleeping and then recovery. It’s body lethargy throughout the day. It’s being tired with our thoughts. Everything about us is just sluggish. The second dimension is an actual sense of ineffectiveness in your job. You’re not doing it as well as you typically do. Not just self-doubt, but you’re truly not performing up to typical standards. Finally, there’s a personal detachment or cynicism that comes along with it. That’s often a differentiator between people who are stressed and overworked, but then they hit a breaking point–people who are stressed and overworked will often overengage with their jobs. But when you hit a point and burnout happens, disengagement starts to happen.

The six factors that contribute to that are, one, the workload itself, whether that matches up with your capabilities or not. We see this all the time where people are laid off. More work is put on their plate. Projects are mismanaged. People can’t keep up. Pay, reward, both extrinsic and intrinsic, external and internal rewards, are important in this too. A sense of control over how you get your work done. But there are three factors that people often don’t think about. There’s a sense of community. Do I feel like I belong with my co-workers? Do I feel like I belong in the culture at work? A sense of values at the company. Do they walk the walk that I want them to walk? And also fairness. Are the rules and rewards and punishments being equally applied? Or are there people who benefit from a tilted system? I ask that rhetorically knowing we see that all the time. Those are the six factors. When I talk to people about mitigating burnout within their studios, we have to consider those things. Four of them are new for a lot of people. 

GamesBeat: When you look at that and think about what companies can do to set up better policies to somehow deal with this on a corporate level, what do you then suggest? What kinds of actions should those companies be taking?

Boccamazzo: It’s individualized, largely, for each studio environment. And also to each person, because–I have a dear friend. I talk about this all the time. She’s a black queer woman. Her experiences within a studio environment are going to be very different from mine. What’s going to work in terms of making her feel a sense of inclusion and a sense of fairness in workplace policies is very different than it would be for me. There is no one solution to this, because all of the solutions have to come in coordination with your employees and their needs, and also, it becomes a moving target. Once you put certain solutions in place, other challenges arise. It becomes an ongoing series of adjustments. That’s my really circumlocutious way of saying there’s no easy answer to this.

Surve: It’s very complicated. A lot of these are very qualitative topics or ideas. As a leader in any organization, you have to spend time–if culture is important to you, creating an environment where your employees are productive, are not getting burnt out, you have to spend time determining what your position is going to be. That, too–you have to have a diversity of voices as well to make sure that there aren’t any unintended consequences, or there are factors or perspectives that one may not consider. It’s a non-trivial endeavor to do that.

It can be overwhelming. A lot of leaders would say, “I just have to get the product out. I have revenues to make, targets to hit. We have to get the game out.” It’s worse if you’re an indie publisher. You don’t necessarily have resources to spend on things like HR.

Sinaprite's user interface.
Sinaprite’s user interface.

I’d love to get Mark and Rafaels’ perspective as far as–what have you seen as good frameworks, tools, or approaches for organizations? What are some best practices that organizations should think about if they’re interested in truly authentically addressing burnout, creating that culture that does allow individuals to get the support they need? Not just to band-aid it. I think it might be a good time to transition to that topic. I’d hope at this point maybe people are wondering. 

Boccamazzo: My gut reaction–there’s often a lot of, “Do what I say, not what I do” attitudes within leadership in studio spaces. Somehow, if I’m being a leader and being passionate about things, I’m working 60 hours a week because I’m passionate, all the people on the team won’t somehow get the idea that they should do the same thing. What I’d say to leaders is, walk the walk. You’re not the exception to the rule. You are the rule-setters, both in policy and behavior. I’m very thankful that I have a boss who is somewhat aggressive about boundaries in the workplace. It’s a nice example of, “Not everything is an emergency.”

As a concrete example, if you want your employees to not routinely answer emails when they’re not at work – and I hope you do, because psychological separation from work is an important prevention strategy for burnout – don’t answer emails routinely when you’re not at work.

Surve: It’s funny that you mention that, because Satya Nadella brought up the same thing. It came from Microsoft’s own internal research, that that’s an important best practice. And he was asked, “Well, do you do that?” He said, “I’m learning every day!” It’s a process, right? 

To your point, I wonder if there’s a fear of not looking like you have it all together. Just like in a game, if you fail, you fail. If you do a faceplant, great. But the point is, you’re trying. It’s a process of continuous improvement, even for leaders.

GamesBeat: I learned about one–what you would call a transitional tool there for people in both Slack and in email. You can schedule your reply or your message. You can make it go out first thing the next morning, as opposed to going out in the middle of the night. That, for your staff or whoever you correspond with–they see that messages arrive during the work day. They don’t feel that pressure to immediately respond to an email that comes in the night. Sometimes I don’t have the option, but learning to do that, to keep that in mind–there are people who turn off their notifications for Slack, and that’s great. But if you message someone in the night and some kind of notification goes off, they’re going to look at it. You perpetuate the problem you’re trying to solve.

Surve: Even if the notifications are turned off, to your point, they come back. There’s 15 of them sitting stacked up to look at right then and there. Even if they’re practicing it, they’re still going to feel that pressure. “Oh my God, I’ve been negligent.” If you had Outlook with an Exchange Server for a long time, that was a capability. Within the games ecosystem, there are a lot of developers who don’t have enterprise-level software infrastructure. I just saw recently, though, that even in Gmail, even in the free version, you can schedule time-based emails. That could be a best practice, to consider simple tools and upgrades that allow you that kind of control over information dissemination. That might be a good way, an easy and simple way to help people walk the walk, leader-wise, and also give people their own tools to be consistent with that cultural expectation.

That’s an interesting path. Are there other technology tools you’re seeing that can help reinforce the culture that leaders may want to develop? Obviously notifications is one thing, the ability to deliver time-based emails. Are you seeing other practices or platforms?

GamesBeat: It wasn’t a technology-related one, but we also had a presentation for us on how to communicate in a written way so that you don’t have misinterpretations, or you don’t also have people perceiving you as writing aggressively, being confrontation. Learning to write in a way that’s nice to people, especially during the pandemic. Not everyone is in a great mood to start with. If you’re too matter of fact and not clear in how you’re communicating with the written word, you can come across as hostile. It’s nice to remind people, I think, that there are better ways to communicate in a written way.

Surve: Writing is effort. We’re so used to these chats, quick back and forth, rapid fire. We have to get things done. We’re on a development deadline. I don’t have time to be thoughtful about writing completely. But sometimes that can save you so much headache on the back end. I just had a recent situation even now, as a case study, with these developers who were remote. They’re actually in another country. My company would be considered an indie studio, right? We’re tiny, and we have developers in other parts of the world. There’s almost a 12-hour time difference. Talking about broader context, it’s either the beginning of my day, where I haven’t even had my coffee, or it’s the end of their day and they’re exhausted. None of us are in an optimal work zone.

I had to pick up some of the development myself, even though I’m the CEO. Our CTO had a health issue, and so I had to pick up the development. I was having a conversation, and it was just going sideways. There was a language barrier, because they were not native English speakers. We weren’t using the video channel, so I couldn’t see them. We were just talking to each other. I had documented some of the bugs and issues that I was facing with screenshots and walking them through, giving them everything in advance, and it just went sideways. I ended up spending about 45 minutes to an hour, which is a lot of time, writing a response around behavior and addressing that. And to your point, talking about what my intention was when I asked certain questions. I had to break things down in a very granular way. I also called out some of their behavior. “Look, it’s not helpful when you make these kinds of comments. It’s pushing us further apart. We’re not coming together.”

When we came back the next day for our next conversation it was much, much more productive. But it’s hard. For myself, I was under a lot of deadlines. We had three or four competing priorities. It was not easy to do this. Those best practices are hard to follow. But if you can do it, you can create a much better working situation.

Boccamazzo: We often ask about technological solutions to what is essentially a human problem. I’m going to speak just from personal experience. I’m very public about being autistic. Subsequently, there are a lot of both social and informational processing challenges that come along with my particular manifestation of autism. Very frequently–we discovered years ago that a lot of implementation of technological solutions became overwhelming for me, because suddenly I’m not only having to remember the problem itself, but I’m having to remember which technological solution I have to switch to in order to deal with this particular challenge. When there’s six or seven of them, that itself becomes overwhelming for a lot of people.

I like to take it back from the technological solutions. This becomes a very human-based, behavioral solution. This is part of the reason I go back to leaders. If you want your employees – your team members, everyone down the line who looks to you for leadership – to behave a certain way, you need to exemplify that. If you want your employees to treat people fairly, you have to demonstrate that. If you want your employees to have some sort of psychological separation from work, which I hope you do, especially with so many people working at home, then you have to demonstrate how you’re doing that. You have to be the one encouraging it.

One thing we talk about in training for psychology in therapeutic contexts is power differentials in the therapeutic space. You cannot expect someone with less power in a situation to be the one to equalize it. If people feel disempowered and disenfranchised in a given situation, the person with more social power, actual power, whatever, they have to be the one to divest some of it, or demonstrate what is expected. That’s part of the reason I so often go back to not technology, but leaders and personal behavior.

The International Games Summit on Mental Health takes place on October 9-10 in Toronto.
The International Games Summit on Mental Health took place a few years ago in Toronto.

Surve: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because of the things I’ve done is, whenever we have someone new come on board–everybody has an onboarding, and part of that onboarding in our company is, I talk about the expectations from my side. But that also includes what they can expect of me. I’m not going to fabricate emergencies for you. So no, if I’m telling you it’s important, it’s going to be important. But, to your point, it’s also followed up with behavior that’s consistent. “Here’s what I’m going to need you to do.” We’re distributed, and we have a pretty flexible work environment. I tell them, “Look, I don’t expect you to be by your computer all the time, but I expect you to check your email a couple of times a day.” There are going to be things coming up. Setting those behavioral expectations, and also what they should expect from me behaviorally, even to the extent–I will tell them, “Here’s my personality profile. This is who you’re talking to and dealing with as a leader. Here are some things to do so we can have better communication.”

It’s been interesting to see the reactions from people. It does have to start from leaders themselves taking that extra initiative. This is all pre-work, right? I know there’s this tendency to say, “Let’s just go build. Why do we have to deal with all this stuff? Let’s just go build and get it out there.” But you have to train before game day, to use the sports metaphor. This is all training that you have to do for the team so that when they’re in the game, when they’re in production and building, the execution is as flawless as it can be. You can focus on the real challenges and problems that will come up, rather than diversions, things that don’t need to be a problem.

GamesBeat: We addressed what you can do personally and what leaders can do. But some suggestions in the title and description are really more on this higher level of what companies and whole industries can do. Mark’s big suggestion is really to have everyone adopt chief wellness officers in companies, and then proceed to change things and move budgets around, so as to take more seriously the health problems around mental health. Its impact and importance are so much bigger than ever before. Yes, you have to move some budgets around. If companies should do that, then what are some of those higher-level changes that they should make?

Chandler: Unless you have someone that fits into that slot automatically, it’s–the whole thing about having a chief wellness officer is having somebody who is going to represent the workers themselves. Which is not HR. HR is specifically for the company itself. You need to create something different. It might be in-house. It might be a third party. But I feel that companies are going to have to start doing something like that.

For people like me, with my illness–it’s funny. I talk a lot about my illness and about mental health in general. I talk about the freedom that I have to be able to talk about it. But that’s only because I do what I do, which is TIGS. If I was working at Microsoft I wouldn’t be able to do that at all, or any company like that. These companies just aren’t suited for people like me.

[At places like Epic Games, where I worked years ago], they liked being really open. Get your work done, do it well, do it on time, and you’re not going to be gone. But they started to have issues with people communicating back and forth with each other. They had to implement core hours. Core hours were 11AM to 4PM. You had to be there for that time period. Come in really early, come in exactly at that time. You could leave right after. But they had to deal with it like that. 

GamesBeat: Is this something around companies needing to be more flexible here in dealing with different kinds of employees? Or is it structuring things in a way where everyone can work together better?

Chandler: It’s exactly that. 

Surve: Another broader thing that employers can do, leaders in the gaming industry–I’ve seen this, because we deal with mental health. We have a video game that’s been clinically validated that we sell to employers, just by way of context. When I was selling early on–we were talking to employers about four or five years ago when we first tried to sell this, when mental health wasn’t on the radar with employers yet. But at the time, our notion was, “I just want one solution. This is expensive. I want one thing to deploy, and it should be easy to deploy. I don’t understand why one stop isn’t going to be sufficient.”

We would have to have this conversation, that mental health is complicated to address. It’s not like a broken arm where there’s a standard process of care for everyone. It’s the opposite. And employers, when they heard that, would walk away. “That’s too much money. I don’t see the value in addressing this. I have to get my next release out. I have deadlines.”

One thing I now see, with all the trends we were talking about before, is that there is a recognition. Whether it’s from personal experience, because some of these leaders have struggled themselves through the pandemic, or they see first-hand through their loved ones or employees–they realize that even though they have services and support, the experience is not great, and it’s not helping. In the U.S. specifically, there are mental health parity laws. A lot of employers say, “Our insurance covers it, right?” But more often than not, DAPs are just directories. They don’t actually solve the problem.

The mental healthcare therapist shortage.
The mental healthcare therapist shortage.

One thing employers can do to solve the problem, and some of them are doing this–we’re talking to a few that have made that recognition. There’s neurodiversity. There’s addressing mental health for their employees and the different populations those employees represent. They understand it’s a complex problem, and they’re now beginning to understand that. That’s one thing. It’s changing the benefits structure, talking to your insurance company to make sure that mental health care is easy to get. What’s the network of mental health providers? What type of digital tools do you offer? What type of community support, group support is available?

In a broader perspective, this is a bit of a tangent, but Dan Shapiro from Glowforge, with some of the things that have been going on in terms of women’s reproductive care in certain states now, they made a conscious choice–he worked with his lawyers, and he said, “Anyone who lives in these states that have restrictive policies for reproductive rights, we’ll fly them to a place where they can get.” They made that choice up front. You can do the same for behavioral health. Make that choice up front. Work with your HR team and benefit providers to ask the hard questions. Educate yourself as a leader if you’re not familiar with these issues. You’re going to have to take the time to learn. Ultimately the buck will stop with you.

Boccamazzo: One of the major differences between physical health care and mental health care–generally speaking, I don’t think of video game industry environments, video game studios, as physically hazardous. But we’ve seen for years–Take This, we put out a white paper in 2019 on the mental health state of the game industry. There’s a lot of behind the scenes factors that contribute to mental health challenges, one of them being a lack of visible or predictable career achievement. I went to grad school. I expect to get my degree. I expect to become a psychologist. This is a predictable path, even if what I do as a psychologist is different than expected. It certainly was for me.

But we don’t have that same predictable career path in games. Additionally, the instability of employment is something that contributes heavily to the mental health outcomes of employees. I know one person who moved cities four times in a two-year period to find employment in games. I don’t know about you, but moving in-city is stressful enough. The idea of moving states in the United States four times within a two-year period–I’m impressed that person is still upright.

From a lot of leaders in games we see weaponized passion, basically. The idea that if you don’t want this job, there are 12 more people lining up to take it, so you need to be a team player. You need to do what I ask you to do. Whether that’s tacit or overt. That’s a big worry we hear from a lot of game devs: not being part of the team. They want to contribute appropriately to the team, and they’re terrified of being replaced, of being kicked off the team.

Leaders, in a few cases knowingly, but often unknowingly–I don’t want to villainize managers and leaders unnecessarily, because people are doing their best. Very few leaders I know in the game industry have been taught to do it. But that stability is an important part too. Knowing they will have a job.

Surve: My one question to Rafael was, how much of–I’ve seen this mentality a lot. “This is what I had to go through to get to where I’m at.” The rite of passage. Just because it happened before doesn’t mean it should continue. How much do you think that plays into this inability to provide that support we’ve been talking about?

Boccamazzo: I want to sidestep that a little bit, because there’s a certain malevolence to this “I had to suffer so you have to suffer” attitude. When I talk to leaders it’s very rare that I hear that overtly. What I see more is, “This is what I learned to do. This is the skillset I know. I don’t know how to do anything different.” It’s less of that malevolent vibe and more just a lack of–it’s just, “This is what I’m used to.”

What I would love to see is more of an emphasis in leadership on learning managerial skills, those soft skills, instead of thinking you’re still a player while you’re acting like a coach. Learning to manage your team instead of being on the field all the time. Once you hit a certain level that’s not your job anymore.

IGDA, Fair Play Alliance, and My.Games did a survey of gamer mental health.
IGDA, Fair Play Alliance, and My.Games did a survey of gamer mental health.

Surve: Before we wrap up, did any participants have any other questions or comments for us?

Chandler: Leaders should have something, some sort of playbook, that they can learn from to better understand their employees. I don’t know what that is yet. At Take This, do you have something like this? How do we as an industry get our leaders more educated to better understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes?

Boccamazzo: We offer training! We’re often so focused on the product in games, but the truth is that people make the product. People make the teams. People make the technologies. People use the technologies. All the solutions have to come back to a people-based focus. Learning how to interface with your people, learning how to make them the best people possible, in the long term this makes your company more stable. It makes your company more financially solvent.

We see this with research over and over again. The cost of replacing people is astronomical. Between 20 to 60 percent of their annual salary, based on the research I’ve looked at, and sometimes that doesn’t account for losses in productivity. While it may cost more in the short term to focus on people, in the long term it saves you money.

Surve: If you’re a manager of managers, then it’s your job to make sure you have a person with the right mindset and temperament and ability who wants to build those muscles, if it’s not natural to them. More often than not there are very strong technical people who move into management and they hate it. It’s not what they want to do, but they’re pushed into it. They’re not the best fit, especially in today’s work environment.

That would be one of my closing thoughts. It’s not just processes. It’s a multi-prong approach. You need the right people in the right roles, but you need a platform and internal systems and resources, a variety of them. You have to do your due diligence on that front. You also have to give training opportunities and learning opportunities for people, from communication to tools that help you communicate, productivity tools and technology platforms. It’s multi-pronged. 

Culture is complex. Addressing this is going to be complex if you’re doing it holistically. But start simple. That’s the other thing. It’s complex, but do one simple thing at a time. If you commit to that process–you don’t have to put pressure on yourself. We’re going to get there. We don’t know when. But it’s an ongoing, continual improvement process. You’ll find that your culture will be created out of that, and evolve with the people who are part of the company today. It’s not just the manager making the decisions. You have to build around the employees themselves.

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