Burned Out?

Most software projects are death marches. Give them schedules that are impossible to meet, use ad-hoc development techniques and work them until they burn out.””

If you’re a tech worker in the post-bubble economy this scenario, taken from the site “”alt.comp.program-management,”” may cut a little

too close to home. IT professionals, those who are still lucky enough to still have jobs, are being asked to do more with less. Stress seems epidemic.

A 2003 study from the Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group found that three-quarters of IT managers are worried about low IT employee morale. In fact, 71 per cent of those surveyed said employee burnout is a serious concern, one that could bring with it sluggish productivity, depressed shareholder value and long-range turnover.

“”Working through this prolonged recession, which has seen budget cuts across the enterprise, numerous staff cutbacks and general sector uncertainty, has definitely taken its toll on IT employee morale,”” says Maria Schafer, program director of Meta Group’s Human Capital Management Strategies.

According to Meta Group’s study, 55 per cent of those companies surveyed plan to fight burnout by offering skills development incentives, which are meant to bolster employee morale. Salary increases are the next most popular choice, at 11 per cent, with another 11 per cent planning to hire more workers and eight per cent planning on offering cash incentives. Some companies, five per cent of those in the study, are even contemplating moving their facility to a newer, more attractive locations, in a bid to lure skilled workers. Companies are also encouraging employees to get regular exercise and adopt healthy lifestyles.

But such tactics may not be enough. While an exercise routine and a balanced diet may help workers fight stress better, it will not change the source of the stress, nor the core reaction to it. Eugene Kaluzniacky is an instructor at the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Applied Computer Science and Administrative Studies, and an expert in IT stress management. He believes the IT community must change its perceptions about stress and move toward a change in the “”inner reactions to the work environment.””

“”IT has been changing at the core of what people do,”” he explains. “”Imagine if they told doctors, 85 per cent of what you have learned is no longer applicable? That’s what has happened in IT. People need the emotional intelligence to handle it.””

In his upcoming book Managing Psychological Aspects of It Work: An Orientation to Emotional Intelligence, Kaluzniacky argues that IT professionals need to engage in personal re-engineering. Just as Olympic athletes use physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and other disciplines to prepare for their “”big tests,”” IT workers can engage in cross-disciplinary growth.

“”If the IT worker can do something to change one’s inner consciousness, he or she may change responses to what may have been, until now, burnout-inducing situations.””

Kaluzniacky maintains that those facing stress need to adopt a two-tier approach that includes not only physical, emotional and intellectual reactions, but also a reliance on and an appreciation for one’s “”deepest inner self.”” He describes this as a “”felt truth.””

While these are initiatives IT workers must make on a personal level, managers and CIOs can also take steps to reduce stress. Herb Duncan, president of Fundy Computer Services Ltd, says openness is the key to balance.

“”Understanding is half the battle,”” says Duncan, a 29-year veteran of the IT industry. “”I tell my people to think of the economy as if it was a storm out in the Bay of Fundy. We’re all out in the same storm. The last thing you want to do is keep people in the dark. Make the company as transparent as possible.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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