by Sarah K. White

5 things to know about today’s IT retention killer

News Analysis
Jul 03, 2017
CareersIT LeadershipStaff Management

It’s a seller’s market in IT, meaning it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your IT workers’ stress levels and work-life balance, before they burn out — or seek work elsewhere.

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The American Institute of Stress estimates that workplace stress costs U.S. organizations over $300 billion per year due to accidents, absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and direct medical, legal and insurance costs. Ensuring your IT workers are happy, healthy and stress-free can go a long way in saving your company money and running an efficient business.

TEKSystems surveyed IT workers for its annual IT Worker Stress Test and Work/Life Balance survey, tracking trends in IT stress levels and work-life balance since 2015. While reported instances of stress have declined since 2016, IT workers still report issues with work-life balance, including finding time to unplug on vacation and stress-related health issues.

“Overall, it’s still a great time to be a tech pro. Most IT workers are experiencing lower stress levels than in the past, and they don’t feel like their jobs require them to be accessible outside of reasonable times,” says Jason Hayman, research analyst for TEKsystems.

[ Retain your best by knowing the 9 reasons good employees leave — and how you can prevent it. | Keep up on the latest CIO insights with our CIO Daily newsletter. ]

But if you’re not mindful of the stress level your IT pros encounter in the job, you could be exposing your teams to burn out or pushing them to new employers who can other better work-life balance and a less stressful working environment.

IT doesn’t have to be a high-stress gig

If your IT staff is showing signs of consistent stress, you may be opening your organizations to retention issues, as IT pros in the industry at large are finding themselves less stressed at work these days.

Of those polled, 6 out of 10 said they are “less stressed now than at any point in their careers,” while 83 percent said “they would still choose IT as a career,” says Hayman.

When asked if they consider their work to be the “most stressful” of their careers, only 14 percent agreed, which is 2 percent less than in 2016; meanwhile, 61 percent said they disagreed with the statement.

IT workers leave for low-stress environments, even over pay

If you don’t find ways to reduce stress levels in your workplace, IT pros will reduce it themselves — by finding work elsewhere.

In 2016, when asked if “stress at work ever motivated you to seek employment elsewhere,” or “made you consider taking a new, less stressful job for less pay,” 58 percent and 43 percent said yes, respectively.

But in 2017, those numbers took quite a leap; 66 percent said they have looked for another job to get away from stress and 51 percent said they’d even accept lower pay for less stress. If your business is losing IT workers at a rapid pace, it might be time to reevaluate the work-life balance on offer at your organization.

“We’ve seen for some time that it’s a seller’s market if you’re an IT pro, so they’re less likely to put up with a more stressful environment when they know the opportunity is out there to find something better, less stressful, even if it’s for less money,” says Hayman.

Fewer workers are expected to be on-call after hours

If you expect your IT workers to be available around-the-clock, you’re in the minority — only 9 percent of IT workers said they’re expected to be available at any hour, with “no excuses.” That’s down from 18 percent in 2016. Similarly, only 5 percent said they’re expected to be accessible from 6 a.m. to midnight.

As for extended hours, 19 percent said they’re expected to be accessible from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., up from 15 percent in 2016. And 67 percent said they’re accessible between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., up from 62 percent in 2016. These numbers suggest that many IT workers are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance at their companies, which is vital to satisfaction and retention, says Hayman.

Wellness efforts can help alleviate inevitable IT stress

Although the survey revealed that many IT workers report satisfaction in their roles, plenty still say they experience stress over work-related issues. When asked the most stressful aspect of being an IT worker, 28 percent said work-life balance, down from 30 percent in 2016. Similarly, 28 percent also cited “keeping up with organizational requests or workload,” down from 35 percent last year.

There are several health issues that IT workers report because of experiencing a “stressful situation at work.” The most common include sleeplessness (65%), anxiety (55%), irritability or short temper (48%) and weight gain or loss (42%). While it might be unrealistic to avoid stressful situations at work, IT leaders can take measures to allow for wellness accommodations or alleviate workloads if employee health begins to suffer.

Over half of IT workers can’t (or won’t) completely unplug

One avenue for establishing improved work-life balance is to check in on your company’s culture around performing work-related activities during vacation and downtime. It may not be a directly expressed expectation, but queues and habits may be perpetuating the impression that IT workers should check in even when they’re off the clock.

Technology makes it all too easy to answer calls or check email on vacation; 42 percent of respondents said they check “work-related communications” on vacation, but “only respond to critical requests and emergencies.” Another 9 percent check email and messages, but won’t respond, while 3 percent said they continue most aspects of their job on vacation. Less than half (46%) said they do not keep tabs on work-related emails or messages, and choose to completely log off for vacation.

Although more than half of IT workers say they keep up on work-related communication on vacation, the majority (85%) said they weren’t expected to be accessible while on vacation. And, of the 54 percent who keep tabs on work while out of the office, 40 percent say it “causes friction with their family or friends,” leading 25 percent to admit they “hide their work activities on vacation.”

“When it comes to their vacation time, they’re reporting that it’s possible to disconnect completely. Looking at those who choose to stay connected, it appears it doesn’t aid in keeping stress down,” says Hayman.

It is often the responsibility of upper management to set the precedent for the rest of the department, so if you’re not logging off on vacation, your employees might feel they need to do the same. As with any workplace culture, executives need to lead by example to cultivate a low-stress work environment throughout the organization.