IT workers have had a very stressful last few years thanks to a rapid digital transformation that was condensed into just a few months, a drastic rise in cyberattacks and a proliferation of new software and tools. Those workers—especially cybersecurity professionals—are reporting elevated levels of burnout.
A recent report from VMware found that 47% of incident responders experienced burnout or extreme stress in the past 12 months, and nearly 70% are considering leaving their job as a result.
IT and cybersecurity are often underfunded, overworked and short-staffed despite its clear importance, so the onus is now on organizations to recognize the value they bring and start working on their wellness, says David Bennett, CEO of backup storage company Object First.
The hybrid work model can exacerbate burnout
Before the pandemic when organizations opened their minds to remote work, working largely began when one would walk through office doors, sit at their desk and log on.
“You go to an office and start at a certain time and you left at a certain time,” Bennett says.
There may have been some downtime during the day, but schedules largely revolved around the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeframe. However, those schedules were tossed aside when distributed work was adopted.
To account for different time zones, teams began scheduling video calls early in the morning and late into the evening, and any employee that wanted to keep their job would have no choice but to join them.
“That became the norm,” Bennett says. “Suddenly, my day is not a usual business day—it’s literally from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.”
A lot of organizations began prioritizing flexible work hours, and mid-day trips to the gym or a walk around the neighborhood were not out of the ordinary. However, this also resulted in employees working extremely long days, and organizations didn’t immediately notice the issues this work model could present.
Define the organization’s goals
Since distributed work began, many organizations haven’t reset and re-evaluated their working environments or goals.
To fix this, Bennett suggests calling an end to video calls outside of normal working hours and taking a hard look at what workers are asked to do. Rather than focusing on KPIs and other metrics, Bennett says IT leaders should instead define the most important things that need to be done over a given time period.
Specifically for IT, this could include improving user experience and helping the organization use available technology to work more efficiently and effectively.
That allows IT professionals to evaluate their given tasks and go back to their immediate supervisor—whether it be a CIO, CISO, CEO, CTO or other executive position—with information about how those tasks are or aren’t meeting those goals.
“If you build some of that structure, you can help alleviate these ridiculously long lists and get better control on what your teams are doing,” Bennett says.
Make virtual meetings more engaging
It can be easy for managers and employees to simply go through the motions in a video meeting without any real interaction. Videoconferencing providers such as Microsoft even admit that video fatigue is real, saying long and repeating video meetings can lead to stress and burnout.
“Managers have to be forceful in making sure they’re upping the engagement,” Bennett says.
Instead of a meeting with the entire team, Bennett suggests managers schedule smaller or individual meetings. One tool he recommends is Donut, a tool that integrates with Slack that will randomly pair users with a manager for an informal meeting.
Prioritize paid time off
One of the reasons for burnout in the IT industry is the lack of time off taken, says Bennett, and studies back him up. According to a study from cybersecurity firm Tessian, more than 40% of Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) have missed holidays due to work demands.
Further, 25% of CISOs have not taken time off in the last year, 44% have missed a doctor’s appointment and 40% have missed a family vacation.
On average, they work 11 more hours than they’re contracted to each week, while 10% work at least an extra 20 hours.
In the tech industry, employees simply don’t take enough time off, Bennett says. When they do, it’s usually because they need to take care of personal matters rather than relax and unwind on a beach somewhere.
To help employees get the time off they need, Bennett suggests introducing “down days,” where the company picks a day and select employees are expected to take the day off. This allows employees to pursue things they’re passionate about and share it with the team afterward.
“This requires a management system as an organization to make sure it happens,” Bennett says.
It comes down to leadership
When employees don’t feel that their work is being valued, it can lead to burnout and them looking for a new job. When looked at in the context of IT, a disconnect between leadership and tech professionals exists that threatens an organization’s operability.
“When an IT admin leaves, the world literally stops moving,” Bennet says. “There has to be a clear connection of understand between leadership and IT, but there also needs to be better management throughout the organization so the IT department is not the dumping ground for everything.”
That goes back to fostering a different way of measuring performance and looking at what leadership is asking of the organization.
“You should be fostering engagement where an IT professional can have that conversation with the CEO,” Bennett says.