The Plague of IT Burnout: Why Companies Must Take IT Mental Health Seriously

By Sumir Karayi, CEO of 1E

Workplace burnout has become a serious issue affecting workers in every industry. It’s reached such a crescendo that last summer, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in its international classification of diseases, characterized by lack of energy or exhaustion, feeling distance, negativity or cynicism related to one’s work, and a reduced professional efficacy. 

Sadly, it’s a feeling many IT professionals know all too well. The constant stress of trying to protect the organization from cyberattacks. The overwhelming stack of user requests and help desk tickets. Thousands of devices that need constant, time-consuming care and maintenance. Constant beta testing requests from vendors.

And, because they lack the proper, real-time tools to do all of these jobs efficiently, IT pros are forever on the receiving end of user anger and frustration when their devices don’t work properly. They’re perceived as too slow, incapable and sometimes even ineffective and in the way. They feel unappreciated and unloved. And, it goes on every single day, throughout an entire career.

The relentless pressure, constant connectedness, inability to unplug or get their heads above water is creating a mental health crisis among tech workers. This, coupled with the growing recognition that not everyone in the workplace is neurotypical and many are dealing with mental health issues outside of the workplace, is creating a perfect storm of stress, exhaustion and overwhelm in an army of workers who feel both defeated and ready to snap.

As employers, we must make mental health among IT and tech workers a priority. Too often, we routinely boast about how our people are our most valuable asset, yet we stand idly by while they crumble under the weight of an impossible task. It’s time we take action. Here’s how to start.

  1. Give them the tools they need to be effective. Most of the IT management tools teams are working with haven’t changed since the days of mainframe computing. They’re too slow, antiquated and inefficient for today’s real-time, modern, always-connected computing environment. Start by investing time and money in modern solutions that give IT pros the ability to keep pace with the needs of the business and actually get work done. By implementing modern solutions, IT teams can regain their sanity and provide the service, user experience and protection the organization needs.
  2. Embrace diversity. D&I initiatives are a hot topic right now, but how many of us include neurodiversity in that definition? If you start to recognize neurodiversity, you’ll be amazed at how many people your organization employs who fall on the diversity spectrum. Some of these people bring exceptional skills to the organization—dyslexics often have an uncanny three-dimensional awareness, for example, and those on the autism spectrum sometimes have the ability to focus intensely on things that neurotypical people can’t. By recognizing, celebrating and cultivating that kind of diversity, organizations can not only make their people feel comfortable and included, but they can allow those individuals to bring their full selves to the table to drive innovation.
  3. Start the conversation. It’s amazing how willing people are to talk about their broken leg and provide a detailed account of how it happened. More often than not, the people around them are quick to support someone who’s hurting physically. But, when the pain is emotional or mental, so many become extremely uncomfortable. The reality is there are probably far more people in the workplace suffering with stress-related or mental health issues than physical pain. So, getting over our fear of the conversation is critical. One way to do this is to positively identify neuro-diverse conditions, educate employees about them and start the conversation. Make employees aware that it’s OK to talk about these issues, that there’s no reason to be afraid or ashamed of being human.  
  4. Provide internal support. Everyone in the organization should be trained to recognize the signs of percolating stress, mental and emotional issues within themselves and their co-workers. By creating a first line of defense to recognize the issues before they become a problem, many times we can head off a serious episode, absenteeism or other issues. By training HR to provide intervention, companies can offer the support their employees need at a very small cost that translates into a substantial ROI. It not only keeps your people happy and healthy, but it can also lower the cost of health care, prevent burnout and productivity declines, aid in retention and help prevent employee turnover.
  5. Implement coping strategies. Sometimes counteracting the mental and emotional stress of a high-pressure environment requires more than just a caring conversation. It sometimes calls for cute puppies. Or a wellness retreat, or at the very least, a massage. Providing employee wellness activities goes beyond free salad bars and a gym membership; it must include mental wellness, too. Bringing in therapy animals, offering on-site wellness activities like yoga or mediation, or providing other stress-reducing tools can be extremely beneficial in helping employees de-compress and lay aside the burden of work to recharge and refresh their brain and their spirit.

Today’s fast-paced, 24/7 connected workplace creates an overwhelming amount of stress for employees—especially IT and tech workers who are immersed in it every single day. This can be extremely difficult for anyone who already deals with neuro-diverse conditions, mental or emotional health issues. Organizations must provide a safe environment where employees can feel comfortable to acknowledge and talk about these issues, and find the right support and comping strategies. But, they must also give workers the efficient, effective tools they need to do their jobs. For IT, that includes solutions that allow them to get ahead of the overwhelming workload, solve end-user problems and deliver the service and solutions end-users need.

With the right combination of support and effective tools to do their job, employers can help their people find joy, fulfillment and a sense of achievement in their work, rather than feeling burned out, exhausted and disengaged.

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