How to stop your IT department from burning out

Information Technology jobs are notoriously demanding at the best of times, but the recent coronavirus-enforced changes are pushing some teams to their limit.

From the seventies to as recently as 10 years ago, IT roles were more clearly defined and workers would focus on hardware or software at either the network or end-user level. Each employee knew their role and how it fit into the bigger picture and served the business.

Today, the roles and responsibilities included under IT have ballooned. Environments are more complex, software is constantly evolving, businesses are pivoting like never before.  Roles are overlapping as responsibilities swing between insourced and outsourced. IT must defend cybercrime while also dealing with the pressures of reducing costs. It’s no wonder workplace stress is increasing.

The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as a “special type of work-related stress which results in physical or emotional exhaustion”. It can also be distinguished by a loss of identity and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

When you consider the murky, all-inclusive, always evolving roles that IT professionals are working under, it’s understandable that they’re suffering from an identity crisis and flat-out exhaustion.

Here are some tips for getting your team focused, motivated and happy once more.

Start from the beginning and re-define your team

It you had to start from scratch, would you have the same roles? Would you have the same systems? Can you consolidate your software and eliminate complexity? What is your Mission Critical System?

When you strip everything back and look at what bare minimum technology and people are required for your business to operate, it allows you to remove overlap and more clearly define roles. This reduces pressure and increases focus.

Recognise wins

Low morale can lead to employee burnout. No one wants to work their heart out, only to feel undervalued and underappreciated.

Wins and achievements shouldn’t just be recognised, they should be celebrated. This includes acknowledging all team members, regardless of how big or small their contribution is. Share your IT department wins with other areas of the business. Show your team gratitude for their effort.

Support time off

Everybody needs a break away from their work occasionally. That doesn’t mean, only checking work emails once a day, or only doing an hour or two of work each evening. A proper break means closing the laptop, turning off email notifications, and recording an ‘Out of office’ message. It’s about allowing team members who are likely stretched and over-worked a proper mental break from their work.

Time off can increase productivity, reduce stress and improve creativity. People talk about feeling ‘refreshed’ after a holiday which is another way of explaining work-stress related recovery. A break allows you to heal.

With the current remote work environment, it’s important to encourage your team to take the occasional day off and it’s also important that you respect their breaks and don’t call out of hours.

Know when to get outside help

Not every IT employee can do every IT-related task. Some require a particular skill-set and experience. Sometimes, rather than stretching your team, it makes more sense to call for support.

Whether you find an expert partner who can look at your entire business system or a specialist who can focus on one aspect, engaging in external help can relieve some of the pressure your team might be feeling.

These partners should be relatively brand agnostic, so they can objectively do what is best for the business.

They will help reduce stress in your IT department, either temporarily on a project basis or more long-term as an ongoing supplier and can be a valuable investment in your business and your people.

IT burnout is a real risk, especially during these strange, unprecedented times. IT departments are working harder than ever to maintain business as usual. Being aware of the risks and knowing how to alleviate pressure will help to bring focus, identity and motivation back to your workforce.

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