This article originally appeared in Clearance Jobs on October 8, 2019.
Burnout from over work is common in almost every job, but in the world of information technology (IT) it is a growing problem, fueled by a worker shortage. The lack of skilled workers creates unmanageable workloads, with fewer people doing more work.
IT workers are at increased risk of burnout due to other factors, including outdated technology, and a lack of institutional culture that is able to identify and correct problems. Simply put, many IT workers continue to be seen as outsiders, even when they are full time staff employees, and the lack of team culture only furthers problems.
“Today’s business environment is extremely competitive and fast-paced, with companies rising and falling more quickly than at any other time in history,” warned Mike Bittner, associate director of digital security and operations at cybersecurity research firm The Media Trust.
“This leads to job burnout across various functions,” Bittner told ClearanceJobs. “But for IT teams, in particular, the pressure to meet the company’s growing demand for better, faster, and cheaper ways to collect, process, and protect data is unrelenting and mounting.”
INDUSTRIES WIDE PROBLEM
According to research from the recently released Accelerate State of DevOps Reports, which represents six years of research and data from more than 31,000 professionals worldwide, burnout among IT workers is getting worse. The report noted that burnout is now even recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) “as a condition that results from unmanaged chronic workplace stress, and it is more than just being tired. Burnout is a combination of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy in work.”
Research also suggested that stressful jobs can be as bad for physical health as secondhand smoke and obesity. It can lead to family issues, clinical depression and most worrisome, suicide.
“The combination of new technologies, new digital threats, new regulations, and IT talent shortages results in ever heavier workloads,” added Bittner. “Promoting a culture of empowerment, collaboration across functions, and wellness is key. This type of culture will benefit not only people, but also long-term business performance.”
FIGHTING THE BURNOUT
The DevOpps report suggested there were several ways to support work recovery. This can begin with a psychological detachment, which encourages everyone to stop thinking about work outside of the office. Relaxation should also be seen not as a luxury, or something to only be enjoyed on a vacation, but actually a key component of productivity. Workers should therefore be encouraged to make a routine that includes time to relax.
In addition, mastery of a skill outside of work – perhaps a hobby – can promote a positive outlook, and this can help reduce stress, while promoting health relationships.
Lack of control is seen as a major cause of stress, and here is where relaxing and outside skills can return more control to a worker, and create a better work/non-work balance.
WHY IT NEEDS R&R
Today IT staff is often required to be “on call” like doctors, just in case something bad happens. The problem is that this has become the norm for tech workers.
Reportedly, former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, when he was CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs, had a notice on his desk that said, “If you aren’t in on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday.” Paulson’s work ethic netted him a personal fortune estimated to be in excess of $600 million, and he promised those on his staff that they could be rich too.
Being a “wage slave” – even if the wage is a good one – eventually leads to burnout. Workers who are unable to be productive certainly can’t make a positive impact. A Saturday and Sunday off to relax could mean a harder worker come Monday.
Employers should also foster a culture that actively encourages stepping away from work, including setting a tone that people are expected to go home and not work on evenings and weekends.
“Reducing burnout starts with two things,” suggested Jeff Gallimore, co-founder and partner of D.C.-based technology firm Excella.
“First, leaders must care about their teams and the people in their organizations,” Gallimore told ClearanceJobs. “Put a little more bluntly, bosses need to give a damn. They should care about whether burnout is affecting their people. In my experience, most leaders do.
“Second, we need to increase the awareness and understanding of burnout and what contributes to it, and reduce the stigma associated with burnout,” he added. “More people need to know what it is and how it happens – and it’s not just having too much work. More caring, more awareness, more understanding will make it easier for people to detect it in themselves and others. Once we know about it, then we can work on making it better.”
FAILING TO ADDRESS BURNOUT
The final problem with not addressing burnout is that it isn’t possible to simply replace those seen as “underachievers.” There is a worker shortage, after all. The result is companies pushing employees to succeed may end up with burnt out workers unable to accomplish their goals – but also too valuable to fire.
That’s why improving work culture and reducing burnout isn’t just good for employees – it’s good for business.
“For companies that want to close their hiring gap, addressing burnout and its contributing factors would be a wonderful way to attract and retain talent,” added Gallimore.
“Who wouldn’t want to work in an environment where they feel cared for and enabled and engaged in their work?” He pondered. “Your people will thrive and your business will benefit as a result. For companies that are planning to go out of business, feel free to ignore the opportunity to address burnout. Your people will leave and your business will suffer.”