Workers in all types of jobs are often expected to be “on call” at all times, creating a significant problem with workplace stress and work-life balance — and it’s especially bad in the tech industry. In fact, The 2016 Health IT Stress Report found that 55 percent of professionals in the field are at least frequently or constantly stressed.
What’s more, 38 percent rated their stress intensity as high or extremely high, while 45 percent said their stress occurs on a frequent or chronic basis. Tech professionals are stressed out and burnt out, and if employers and managers don’t take action, they’re going to face major talent problems.
To get to the bottom of this issue, we talked to tech managers and executives about the drivers of stress in tech, and how to get it under control. Here’s what they had to say:
The Root of the Problem
Workplace stress in the tech industry goes beyond the stress found in most offices, but how did it get that way? What makes stress in tech so bad? There are a few underlying reasons. One is that the technology is so unpredictable, said Erica Scott, an operations manager at ezLandlordForms.
“Our company today just experienced a bug because of one minor change on our website,” she said. “This uncorrelated minuscule change made an entire system malfunction.”
All technology workers deal with constantly changing priorities that arise from errors, but many are putting out these fires in young companies without much experience and resources.
“Most tech companies are very early in the business lifecycle,” said Abhishek Lal, CEO and cofounder of Vedsutra. “As an employee, you not only have to keep an eye on your individual work, but also on the hundreds of continuous changes happening around you within your company, and very often even outside it from new competitors and investor pressure.”
And as more and more tech startups pop up, that means more competition, more pressure, and more stress for employees.
“The level of competition in all aspects of tech is at the highest it has ever been,” said Mike Catania, CTO of the savings community PromotionCode.org. “In a more global environment, it's simply expected that you'll work as needed because of the constant threat of outsourcing and contracting.”
And as if all that wasn’t enough, tech professionals work everyday knowing that one mistake can have devastating effects.
“If you mess up, you very rarely get a second chance,” said Sam Williamson, Office Manager at European Circuits. “Especially when building circuit boards as we do — mistakes are worth thousands.”
But in other areas of tech, such as healthcare, more than money is on the line. Mistakes can cost a patient’s life.
“I can’t think of another industry where technology disruptions can have an impact on a patient’s life and you have that kind of pressure on you,” said Kim Garriott, Principal Consultant, Healthcare Strategies for Logicalis Healthcare Solutions. “Sure things can be dire in any industry, but you don’t have literal life and death.”
The Signs of Stress
Workplace stress has become an expected part of the tech industry because of each of these underlying factors. That means when the stress becomes too much, many employees don’t speak up. When employees keep their stress, questions, and concerns bottled up, there’s a direct ripple effect up to C-suite leaders.
As stress continues growing, employee productivity and motivation will drop, putting even more pressure on the C-suite to solve major issues impacted by the drop.
“I can always tell when an employee is stressed because they become short when dealing with customers and get over emotional at any hump they need to overcome,” said Scott.
It’s important for tech employers to recognize when employees are stressed, and then take steps to help relieve the pressure.
“The single most important indicator of stress is how often you see your employees socializing with each other in the office,” said Lal. “During periods where employees are stressed, you will often see them rushing through their breaks to get back to work and cutting down on social activities. Increasing health-related problems in the office and sometimes even verbal fights are indicative of increased office stress.”
Managing Stress in Tech
While much of the workplace stress professionals encounter is caused by the nature of the tech industry, C-suite leaders play an important role in keeping it under control.
“At the end of the day, management is a huge factor to stress,” said Ted Chan, Founder and CEO of the online healthcare portal CareDash.com. “Things go wrong a lot in tech. Managers need to take accountability and guide employees without losing faith in them. The relationship between managers and employees needs to be built on trust.”
A big part of building solid relationships with employees is communication from the company’s leaders and how trust flows from the top down.
“Keeping lines of communication open throughout the organization is also very important so that red flags can be raised sooner rather than later,” Lal said. A very simple way to do this is to maintain an online form employees can fill out if they have any suggestions or concerns.”
Part of changing workplace stress comes down to changing the office culture. Employees need to know that taking a break is OK. Seeing C-suite executives lead by example and encourage self-care is the best way to ensure employees are comfortable taking the same liberties.
“It's particularly challenging in a team environment to be away because an employee can feel like they're letting everyone down,” said Catania. “It's important to reinforce that you work better when you're under less stress and a less-stressed version of you is more integral to the team.”
Offering employees freedom and flexibility to structure their days is another solution to the workplace stress problem, Chan shared.
“At CareDash, we have a completely flexible work environment. We find that if you hire smart people, give them the right direction, and let them optimize company and personal goals, we can get a lot of things done without unnecessary stress.”
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