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Should IT jobs come with a bumped up health insurance? HINT: No

Written by on August 30, 2018

The short answer is “No”. Not because it’s not needed, but because that would be a temporary band-aid solution (no pun intended) to what is a much more alarming problem.

IT professionals are subjected to the most adverse of work conditions. You have to perpetually keep the lights on, keep the train running, and do more with less while you’re at it. If there’s an org-wide outage, all hell breaks loose, and yet, if everything runs perfectly all the time, you don’t get shout-outs or pats on the back for it.

As the organization grows, there are exponentially more trains running and light bulbs flashing. And there’s an exponentially bigger risk of burnout.

The irony is, we spend so much time and energy maintaining system health that we end up ignoring our own health. Computers comprise of hardware and software, and if even one of the elements malfunctions, it can impact the overall performance of the system. Likewise, we need to take care of our hardware (our body) and our software (our mind) if we wish to maximize our throughput.

Lately, there have been a lot of discussions about the mental health of IT professionals. Rob England (@theitskeptic) has been particularly vocal about it.

Thanks to Rob, others are coming forward and speaking up about the issue. And it’s something that we, at Freshservice, are really passionate about. The one thing we’d like to stress upon, though, is that we don’t look at aspects of health in isolation. While it’s extremely crucial to have more discussions around stress and mental health in the industry, we believe that health needs to be holistic – physical, mental, and emotional. Think of them as the three legs of a tripod. One of them wobbles and the entire unit topples over.

Being an ITSM solution provider, we get to interact with a lot of folks in IT (and I personally have done IT support for a brief while), so it’s not hard for us to understand the factors that affect the health of IT professionals. Working crazy hours without much recognition does take its toll. So does working without adequate breaks. If you work night shifts – or worse, get called in the middle of the night every time there’s an outage – that further increases the chances of developing long term issues like musculoskeletal disorder and other stress-induced conditions.

That said, all the technological advancements that has happened in the past couple decades – service desk automation, AI, ML, bots – must have helped make things better, right? Well.. we wanted to see whether they really had, so we dug into some research to find out what the numbers had to say. Here are a few things we observed:

The average tenure of IT professionals

Businesses spend a significant amount of time, effort, and resources in hiring and training their workforce. Despite being the critical metric that it is, turnover often gets swept under the rug. Let’s talk about the tenure of IT professionals within their organization.

A 2016 HDI Report shows that the average tenure is the most for managerial positions and drops rapidly as you go down the hierarchy. Frontline agents have the lowest tenure. As per the report, 41 % level 1 technicians leave their jobs before reaching the 2 year mark. This number progressively drops as you go up the chain of command to just 16% service desk managers who fall under this category.

If, however, you look at IT professionals with tenures of 8 years and above, the chart inverts into an “up and to the right” one. Here’s a visual representation of the data we found.

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Data Source: HDI

Apart from this, the 2017 SDI Service Desk Benchmark Report states that the number of service desk analysts who have a tenure of 3 years and above has dropped by 15% between 2015 and 2017.

Of the people leaving the IT organization, those leaving the company itself has gone up from 38% in 2015 to over 50% 2017. While it may not seem like a huge difference, the trend is concerning. Something else we found was that successful retention of the IT staff for 3 years or more went down from 50% in 2015 to 35% in 2017. Which, I think, is a good segue into the next finding.

Recognition for IT efforts and value

It might not come as a but surprise to most of us that IT, as an organization, is underappreciated. We wanted to find out how much this resonated with folks in the industry. So we looked for more research in this area.

We found an ITSM.tools report entitled The Future of ITSM that published some insightful data. 82% of the surveyed respondents believe that working in IT will get harder over the next three years. Grim, but hardly a revelation. What drove the point home for us was that only one in four IT professionals believed that their efforts and value to the business were sufficiently recognized by management.

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Data Source: ITSM.tools

Needless to say, we could all make recognizing hard work and dedication more consistent. A weekly or a fortnightly rewards and recognition program would not only keep the staff morale high, it might even result in unprecedented performance and goal attainment.

We found a ray of hope when the SDI report indicated that 35% service desks were conducting regular staff morale surveys in 2015. What’s even better is that this number has almost doubled to a staggering 66%. Although 2 out of 3 is not a bad ratio, hopefully we can keep this up and see better results overall in initiatives aimed at boosting morale.

Health issues among IT professionals

We’re aware that an unhealthy lifestyle causes stress and stress causes issues that are in turn exacerbated by stress. An article from the National Institute of Health sheds some more light. A study of 1000 IT and BPO employees revealed that around 56% had musculoskeletal symptoms. 22% had newly diagnosed hypertension,10% had diabetes, 36% had dyslipidemia, 54% had depression, anxiety and insomnia, 40% had obesity. The article goes into way more detail, should you like to learn more.

TEKsystems conducted a survey that dove deeper into the specific causes. Respondents were asked what they thought the most stressful part of being an IT professional was. Here are the results.

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Data Source: TEKsystems

Improper work/life balance and keeping up with the workload were the top contributors of stress in IT, with more than half the surveyed respondents concurring with one of the two. Nearly half of them also revealed that they had missed a personal event because of work. Likewise, one out of two respondents admitted to have considered taking a new, less stressful job even if it was for less pay.

The ray of hope

The TEKsystems study did reveal some reassuring trends. Only 14% of the respondents thought that their current job was the most stressful of their career while 61% denied it. A quarter of them chose to go with neither.

Also, the percentage of IT professionals expected to stay available 24/7 dropped from 18% in 2016 to 9% in 2017. It’s worth noting that this number was 13% in 2015. So, not only is the concept of “me time” making a comeback, it’s more aggressive and widespread than ever. Again, 2 out of 3 said that they could switch off from work beyond their standard 8am to 6pm shift, which is great news for those of us in the technology world.

Data Source: TEKsystems

We all knew that working an IT job was stressful. But what about when you’re on vacation? Do IT guys really take vacations? And if they do, are they completely cut off from work?

Surprisingly, almost half the respondents said that they took vacations when they expected lighter activity at work. Only 27% said they were too busy for vacations. I say only because I remember this number being a lot higher. Even more heartening was the fact that over 50% of them thought that it was possible to have vacations where you can completely unplug.

Not surprisingly, 27% admitted that they took part in work-related activities while concealing it from their traveling companions/family members. And 37% got in trouble for addressing work-related issues while on vacation. Figures!

All this suggests that there are issues and that we are taking action to fix them. Things will continue to break and the train will need to stay on track. But to do a good job of it, we’ll need to stay healthy so we can continue to give our 100%.

We know the expectations are sky high. And there are always fires to put out. But let’s not let that bog us down. In the midst of keeping the system running let’s not forget what matters in the long run – living a healthy, fulfilling life. Professionally and personally.

Cover illustration by Nidhi Shah

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