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6 ways to prevent burnout in your IT staff

Mary K. Pratt | June 29, 2017
Running employees ragged is bad for them – and bad for business. Take these steps to lower stress and boost productivity among your IT workers.

“We don’t want people to be at the max of their available vacation time. Instead, we encourage them to take time off,” he explains, adding that managers watch for other signs of work-related fatigue, such as slipping job performance and negative emotions.

Takacs says it’s tough to keep an eye on hours, particularly when overseeing self-motivated high-performers who thrive on sticking with tough jobs until they’re completed. So sometimes he has to take a stand: Takacs says he and other managers have had to encourage people to take days off, and have even informed employees they would be willing to cut off access to email.

Takacs recently took this approach after noticing that the technical support team had gone through a particularly busy stretch and showed less camaraderie than usual. He gave each member an extra vacation day that had to be used during the following several weeks. Then he started working with the team to restructure workloads so the problem didn’t creep up again.


2. Set realistic goals

Joel Jacobs, vice president and CIO at Mitre, a not-for-profit that operates federally funded research and development centers, expects managers to set realistic timelines and requirements for IT projects. Certainly, there are times when managers have to make a big push to get something done, and that can make timelines tighter than usual. But he says hearing managers acknowledge that they’re asking for some stretch goals helps people understand the extra work is neither the norm nor an ongoing demand.

joel jacobs

He explains: “I know my staff works a lot of hours, but we’re careful in recognizing when [a project] will take a big push for a finite amount of time. People will work really hard, as long as they think what they’re working on is realistically achievable. If it’s relentless and unrealistic, it will just wear them down or, if they [see things going in that direction],they’ll leave before they burn out.”

IT leaders might find moderating assignments, creating realistic timelines and engaging in honest communication about them tough to do, says Mackenzie Kyle, Vancouver-based regional managing partner for consulting and accounting firm MNP and author of Making It Happen, about practical project management, and The Performance Principle.

IT organizations typically “have a setup that rewards the behaviors that lead directly to worker burnout,” Kyle says, explaining that many IT departments run their workers on full speed for long hours to try to make unrealistic deadlines that, when they’re inevitably missed, further discourage those same staffers.

Kyle says managers should set realistic targets and then divide projects into smaller deliverables, allowing workers to chalk up wins every few weeks so they don’t feel that they’re in a ceaseless grind.


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