Career-related stress for IT professionals is rising, according to TEKsystems’ recently released Second Annual Stress & Pride Survey. 31 percent of respondents cited workload management as the number one cause of job stress, up from third place in 2013. An additional 31 percent reported that they are currently experiencing the highest stress levels of their career.
The study found that daily task fulfillment and other organizational requests are the greatest sources of workload management challenges for technology professionals. This led to respondents’ next ranked stressor at 28 percent: concern about keeping up-to-date regarding new technologies useful to their organization’s strategic goals. Work-life balance slipped to third place at 23 percent. However, the survey points out that this could be due to the implementation of mobile and other offsite technologies or a “reluctant” acceptance of job demands, indicating job dissatisfaction. 69 percent of entry and mid-level as well as 22 percent of senior IT professionals said they would consider a pay cut in exchange for less stressful employment.
Technology professionals not included in the survey agreed with the study’s findings. James McAllen is a mid-level IT worker at a large financial information firm in New York City where, “not having systems online in a timely manner is simply not an option.” Workload management is the number one cause of stress in McAllen’s life, both in and out of the office. Keeping up with organizational demands causes his department to function in a “seemingly chaotic” environment.
“Not only is the volume of work daunting, but we are also facing constant deadlines that only increase the pressure,” Says McAllen. He believes that “It would be easy to say that we need to hire more personnel to cover the workload, but the lack of automation is also a huge factor. Simple tasks that could be automated still need to be run manually, increasing the chances for human error.”
Erek Tinker finds similar stresses within his employer’s smaller business environment, although the company’s size means he and his colleagues must maintain flexibility within their roles. “We deal with scaling problems where we could use outsourcing certain functions but it’s not cost effective to do so yet. Often we get work from multiple clients at the same time. We require specialized skills that are in demand so it’s hard to retain talent when we cannot pay a full time salary.”
Jason Hayman, market research manager for TEKsystems, points out that, “with workload management becoming [IT professionals’ number one] stressor, it raises the question of what organizations can do to help balance their employees’ workloads and avoid the fallout of a high stress work environment–employee turnover.”
Hayman suggests six best practices to help manage employee stress.
1) Effective Sourcing Strategy
Organizations must invest significant time into building strategies that attract the right talent. In order to attract the best, make sure your brand is clearly communicated and the company overview and job descriptions you publish are accurate and detailed.
2) Quality Screening Process
A quality screening process can help prevent future stress build up if you ask candidates the pointed questions and follow best screening practices. Ask candidates to provide a specific example of how they were able to successfully manage stress, deal with a large workload and deliver a result. As for best practices, always request and follow through with reference checks, but make sure the references are from the candidate’s past supervisors, not peers.
3) Formal Onboarding Program
A good onboarding program allows managers and new employees to see the “road ahead” and to know what to expect in the first few weeks and months of employment. The more preparation and attention IT leaders give to building onboarding programs that focus on driving the right relationships and behaviors, the less likely their employees are to burn out.
4) Environment Built on Effective Communication
Creating a work environment of open communications among peers, direct reports and supervisors is critical to helping employees manage stress. If an employee trusts they can ask peers for advice and help on a project, they are less likely to sit and stew on a problem that causes stress. If stress is caused by workloads, like the research indicates, employees are more likely to alert their manager they’re bogged down; the manager can help them prioritize projects.
5) Strong Performance Management Practices
Formal performance reviews are important, whether they are quarterly, semi-annually or annually. However, it is informal performance management that becomes most important to ongoing personnel development. Providing regular, informal feedback gives employees direction and check-points for how well they’re performing. This open line of communication helps to foster trust between manager and employee and provides an avenue for venting stress or frustration before it boils over.
6) Well-defined Succession Management
A well-defined succession management plan not only helps organizations better prepare for mission-critical personnel departures, but it also helps organizations identify future leaders, build a pipeline of high potential talent, gain insight into their employees’ career goals and combat turnover. Giving employees clear direction like this helps them understand what it’ll take to advance their career so higher stress isn’t unexpected.