IT worker stress

Well what do you know? IT workers are stressed out. But why should they be any different than the rest of the working world? Or society for that matter?

And although it’s tempting to simply dismiss it all with a ‘you knew what the job would be like when you took it,’ I’ll suggest the more humane

approach and ask ‘have you hugged your help desk worker today?’

But the recent report from Warren Sheppel Consultants Corp. that prompts this discussion, and was reported on, on www.itbusiness.ca reporter Neil Sutton, does not make distinctions between those who work for technology manufacturing companies – developers, engineers – and tech support/ help desk types.

There are differences but many of the stress factors would certainly be the same. I am going to focus on the help desk worker and IT administrator.

While I was editor of Computing Canada, columnist Kevin Linfield wrote a piece he called Ode to the Administrator (see Computing Canada, June 15,

2001, Vol. 27, No. 13). Or you can find it by searching www.itbusiness.ca. The article was meant primarily as humour but there was a lot of truth in those jests and the column produced a lot of reader mail from administrators with the basic response being: Right on!

Kevin began the piece: “”A computer system administrator’s job is never done. Sometimes despised and always under appreciated, they’re often on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.””

There is no one more under appreciated, more made fun of, or more reviled when a PC or the entire system goes down than the help desk worker. These folks are utterly disdained and even forgotten until they are needed. And when they are needed we make them sweat big time because there is never a good time for your PC to go down because we are all utterly dependent on them. More bad news for the help desk worker; a PC can go down for a hundred different reasons.

The Sheppel study also found “”there is a personality profile common to technical workers which is characterized by high intelligence, a high need for order (with a corresponding rigidity) and high introversion (often, but not always, corresponding with low social skills).”” This is something most of us already knew and characterize as the sun-starved geek serving a self-imposed, Linux-addicted exile in a basement somwehere – usually his mother’s.

So you’ve got this highly intelligent introvert, trying to explain the inexplicable to an A-type in a suit who, if she can’t print out that spreadsheet from the Penske file within the next 20 seconds is going straight to the VP-IT Services to complain yet again.

But be forewarned. The Sheppel study also reports that the help desk personality type “”when under stress and with exposure to a triggering event, can be predisposed to acts of anti-social behaviour in the workplace, including aggression and violence. … With this susceptibility, technology companies are advised to make

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