The operational health of IT systems and the mental health of IT team members are critically intertwined.
Avoiding IT burnout is not a new challenge for Electronic Office. We are writing about this topic now because there is a national level of urgency that has the attention of all company leaders.
Burnout leading to resignations has come to be called The Great Resignation.
The good news is that we can learn from this challenge and turn it into an opportunity to become stronger companies by engaging with our employees before burnout becomes a crisis. Before the pandemic, employees described burnout as “part of the job” but today, employees feeling burnout describe it as “a reason to resign.” In other words, employees don’t necessarily blame their boss or their company because the job is hard. Employees often own the responsibility for their feelings of burnout but they are resigning anyway.
“It’s not just about getting another job, or leaving the workforce, it’s about taking control of your work and personal life, and making a big decision – resigning – to accomplish that.”
Anthony Klotz – Texas A&M University
Gallup Research was raising red flags regarding burnout back in 2018 when it “found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.”
A difficult situation got worse due to the pandemic. Research conducted in 2021 showed that 89% of employees had experienced burnout in the past year – burnout became an epidemic during the pandemic.
Business managers can no longer think of employee burn-out as an unfortunate side-effect of hard work. Burnout and resignations are clearly linked today. When turnover impacts IT departments, the risks include data and network security along with the loss of institutional knowledge.
Getting Smart about Burnout
In the same way that companies turn to Electronic Office for IT advice, they turn to Visier for employee retention advice. And, in the same way, that 2021 pushed EO Advisor to focus on cybersecurity, 2021 pushed Visier’s newsletter called OUTSMART to focus on burnout.
Electronic Office has been acutely aware of IT burnout for many years so as the pandemic dragged on, we were concerned about the burden on technology workers. Our concerns were confirmed by Visier’s rate-of-resignation data.
Here are five key observations about the causes of burnout – keep your IT team in mind as you read these:
- When the workload becomes overwhelming, your best employees are often the first to feel like they are failing.
- When deadlines seem unrealistic and the time pressure drives employees to work too many hours for too many days.
- When employees feel like their co-workers have unfair ideas and expectations about their contributions.
- When communication from management is ambiguous or absent – this applies to the company overall as well as specific job expectations.
- When management does not seem to have the employee’s back during high-stress situations.
All workers are vulnerable to burnout but IT includes a set of challenges that can exacerbate the situation. Here are a few observations about IT work that can intensify the challenge:
- IT work is 24/7/365. When IT workers are not at work, they carry the burden of always being ready to deal with crisis management at a moment’s notice.
- When IT systems are working well, little thought is given to the IT workers. It’s only when there is a problem that the IT team is under the spotlight.
- IT workers start each day with a long list of job “tickets.” But, when any employee has any type of minor IT issue, they naturally feel that their situation is the most important.
- IT security enhancements like multi-factor authentication often create simple protocols that all employees must follow. Too often, valuable security enhancements are met with a chorus of petty complaints.
- Even the cyberattacks and ransomware attacks that DON’T happen are still a constant source of anxiety for IT workers. Bad actors never stop looking for vulnerabilities.
- CIO’s and IT Directors usually report to leaders who do not have technical training. This gap can create frustration and misunderstandings.
Most IT employee resignations come as a total surprise to management and that’s the real problem. Management needs to engage proactively, not reactively.
How to Mediate IT Burnout
Today’s situation is more urgent but IT burnout is not inevitable. By building strong relationships with in-house IT teams and leading our own teams of engineers and technicians, Electronic Office has been battling burnout in IT for decades. Here is what we have learned:
Employees with IT responsibilities and our own people work as one team. It’s not “us and them,” it’s always “we.”
IT workers can become myopic, stale or bored. Rotations into new responsibilities every 18 months to two years is our best practice. Their institutional knowledge remains valuable even though they have been rotated whereas it gets totally lost if they resign.
Encourage feedback with senior management. Company leaders should create formal and informal channels for IT employees to voice their concerns constructively.
What you don’t know CAN hurt you. If you are not hearing about employee stress, assume that you need better lines of communication. It does not mean that the stress is not there.
Own corporate communications about IT initiatives. Top management should communicate the importance of all new IT initiatives. Make sure all employees realize that the top executives have the IT department’s back when employees resist new learning and new responsibilities.
Celebrate the IT department. Publicly acknowledge the value created by the IT department. Publicly acknowledge the value created by the IT department. When the company recovers from a power outage and when the company evades cyberattacks are two good opportunities to make sure everyone appreciates that IT makes it happen.
Treat IT as an investment, not an expense. View the IT team as a critical contributor to the productivity and security of the entire enterprise. Treating the IT team’s initiatives as unavoidable expenses doesn’t lead to good outcomes.
The Great Resignation has revealed that employee burnout has serious financial and emotional costs, this is especially true for the IT team. With strong communication and collaboration between the IT team and leadership, we can foster improved performance and opportunities for growth.
We hope this article starts an important conversation. Please reach out to EO and let us know your thoughts.
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