When IT professionals huddle in our groups (gaggle? murder? flock?), one of the conversation undercurrents tends to be that we do have a bit of a rough job.  When you do your job really, really well, no one knows you’re there.  People only want to talk to you when they have a problem.  “Normal business hours” don’t mean anything – nights and weekends are just part of the territory.

It isn’t complaining – I think there’s just a sense of happiness to be talking to other people who understand and appreciate what the position entails.  To outsiders, this may sound a bit odd, or even unwarranted, given our compensation levels, but I can tell you from experience that it can be mentally challenging to constantly be in problem-solving mode.  Tack on the occasional bad manager, unrealistic budgets, crazy deadlines, and IT can be a tough place.

All that moaning aside, there’s a new study out that surveyed IT administrators regarding workplace stress.  Some key findings:

  • 68% of all IT Admins felt their job was stressful (those 32% must have it nice)
  • 49% work more than six hours a week overtime
  • IT Staff from firms of 100-250 users are most likely to quit due to stress

But the most telling statistic is this: 73% of respondents are considering quitting due to workplace stress.  That’s a huge number.  Of those, 28% cite budget reasons and lack of support resources as the primary cause of stress.

There are a bunch more statistics (41% lose sleep, 39% miss social functions, 38% miss time with their kids, 19% have health issues, etc) – but for those of you who have seen Architects on a deadline, you know those complaints are not in our domain alone.

I’ve gone on before about the difficulty in being a one-man IT shop, and the key takeaway for me from this survey was just how disproportionate the stress level is at the 100-250 sizes.  In the growth of companies, there seems to be any easy way to meet needs at the 50 person level, but as firms grow to 100-250, the recognition that the IT spend may need to grow at a level that doesn’t match the 0-50 growth may not be recognized.  You start running into IT expenses that firms of that size haven’t dealt with before.  At 500 users, the understanding of what the required spend for competent IT seems to have sunken in.

When I worked at a large Orange County VAR, the hours were crazy (24-hour shifts weren’t commonplace, but not very rare, either) and the stress levels extreme.  I would like to think – I am an optimist – that it doesn’t need to go that way.

My personal belief is that there is an existing assumption, ingrained into the industry, that we are going to work extra hours; we will occasionally have to work at night, and on weekends.  It just comes with the territory.  My goal is to say – fine, let’s say the baseline for extra, off hours is 10% of all hours, under the best of circumstances.  What can we do, from an organizational, or infrastructure perspective, to make sure that 10% doesn’t creep into 15% or 20% because of bad equipment, poor maintenance, or unrealistic deadlines?

Stressed workers don’t make good workers.  Unhappy workers tend not to stick around.  It can be difficult to assess, at times, the difference between normal-IT-stress and hey-this-guy-is-really-stressed-out-stress.  If it is the latter, the chances are high that there are steps that can be taken to lighten that load and have a more effective, balanced IT workforce.  Anything from implementing a structured maintenance plan, to rotating after-hour efforts across staff, to using the occasional outside support, to investigating and correcting time sinks, to simply forcing certain staff to learn how to say “no” when they absolutely have to.  At the end of the day, an IT group that is working hard, but healthily, will be much more effective overall for your firm.