Fighting Burnout in IT Departments

Burnout is the enemy of retention and productivity.  In these times of high demand for skilled workers, it is vital to retain talent.  The simplest way to retain employees is to prevent them from getting burnt out.

Defining Burnout

Burnout is common in stressful jobs such as management and IT.  These are the sorts of jobs that deliver critical results under tight deadlines, with conflicting requirement.  IT employees are vulnerable because unlike managers, techies do not usually have excellent communication skills and assertive personalities.  The bottom line is that a company may not even know how badly the stress is affecting an IT employee.  He or she may literally not be able to communicate his or her limits.  Burnout leads to decreased performance and unneeded employee turnover, which drives costs and reduces profits

How do Employees Become ‘Burnt Out?’

Employees get burnt out when they:

  • Repeat Menial Tasks Too Often
  • Do Not Receive Ample Praise for Good Work
  • Are Expected to Put In Long Hours – especially when paid on a salary or flat rate
  • Have Insufficient Tools
  • Are Not Equipped with All The Skills
  • Have Poor Leadership
  • Do Not Know All Expectations
  • Are Not Allowed to Dissent or Ask Questions
  • Are Taken For Granted
  • Are Not Allowed to Be Creative or Innovative


How Can Companies Prevent Burnout in the IT Department?

Evaluate Expectations

Companies need to look long and hard at the expectations of every job in the IT department.  One of the problems is that job descriptions for IT are often written by HR managers who have no direct experience in IT.  This is a formula for disaster.  IT job descriptions need to be defined with the assistance of a senior-level manager with extensive experience in all aspects of IT.

Establish Effective Management Systems 

Most IT departments manage projects for the company, as well as managing internal flow of information.  These two different aspects of the department need to be approached as separate tasks.  Recurring internal tasks should be delegated to specific people that handle only those tasks.  Developmental tasks, or projects, should be managed separately.

Project Portfolio Management helps leadership view all projects as a whole so that resources can be appropriately allocated.  In short, this helps leadership focus IT teams on specific aspects of each project in a thoughtful manner, rather than burying the team in piles of work. When IT teams have reasonable amounts of work, there are fewer delays because they mentally believe they can accomplish the work.

Work / Life Balance and Rewards

IT employees are hard workers, and they are easily placed in ‘heroic’ mode.  This means they buy into the fact that the company is depending on them, and they put in long hours to get the work done.  While heroic mode is crucial during crisis, a company must be aware of the results of keeping IT employees in this mode all the time – burnout.  After completing projects ahead of schedule,  there should be a reward.  After several days straight, the company should award the employee by offering bonuses, extra days off, flexible scheduling, or mandatory vacation days.

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