Supporting your team in times of stress

Frustrated person with hands on head, hunched over laptop
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Fortunately, tackling mental health concerns and stress at work is now at the top of the agenda for many business leaders. Organizations are no longer sweeping conversations around working practices under the rug, but are shaking the stigma and prioritizing the mental health of their employees to provide better working environments.

Yet, that’s not to say the problem no longer exists. Day-on-day workplace stress continues to have a detrimental effect on team efficiency, affecting behavior, performance, and relationships between colleagues. IT departments have been particularly impacted and, in many cases, face greater stress than other departments.

Current figures on workplace stress are not hard to find. According to Hubspot, 42% of IT professionals experiencing burnout, for example, risk quitting in the next six months. Meanwhile, OneLogin research states that 77% of workers say they are working under more stress than ever before - something that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

While there are challenges associated with every job role, a combination of interrelated factors are contributing to heightened stress levels for IT departments. So, what’s causing this situation and how can businesses offer greater support to their IT teams amid a challenging economic backdrop?

The IT skills shortage

During the Covid lockdowns, while there were no massive layoffs, a substantial backlog of unfilled tech vacancies occurred as organizations scrambled to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. Three years later, the impact is still being felt with Skillsoft research saying that 66% of IT decision makers are facing departmental skills gaps.

With fewer people to carry out daily tasks, many IT teams are struggling to keep up with mounting workloads. This in turn is having a negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals.

Compounding the situation is the widening technology skills gap. Many organizations are finding it difficult to fill technology roles, causing their existing IT talent to work across different disciplines, including areas where they may lack experience.

Not only can this result in mistakes, but it can lead to tasks being delayed or left incomplete. In fact, 80% of IT professionals say that skills gaps pose a medium to high risk to their team’s ability to meet their objectives.

Jonathan Bartlett
Jonathan Bartlett

Jonathan Bartlett is Chief Product Officer at Exclaimer.

Lack of job satisfaction

From navigating lots of operational tasks, to mitigating high pressure scenarios, and keeping up with the pace of change, many factors are impacting the employee experience for stretched IT teams.

The sheer number of routine operational tasks IT professionals are required to carry out on a daily basis can lead to a ‘groundhog day’ scenario for many. Not only can this result in overwhelming workloads, but it leaves no time to focus on the more fulfilling, creative aspects of their role, such as thinking strategically to solve problems and boost innovation.

It doesn’t help that many of these routine tasks are business critical, meaning that if an error is made, the consequences could impact the day-to-day running of a business. This, coupled with external threats such as cyber attacks, can mean that IT departments experience more ‘pressure cooker’ events than others, leading to greater scrutiny from management.

Then, there’s the challenge of constantly adapting to the pace of digital change in a short timeframe. As organizations place increasing emphasis on digital transformation, IT teams need to implement new technologies and working practices. This can lead to greater complexity, which IT teams need to simplify and manage with limited resources.

However, bringing in new technologies and working practices can be met with resistance from the wider organisation, leading to stressful interactions with colleagues and stakeholders.

The uncertain economic climate

Underlining all of this is the uncertain economic situation we are currently facing. In the midst of layoffs, budget cuts, and the increasing cost of products and skills, it’s likely that IT teams will have even fewer resources in 2023.

Consequently, teams are having to ‘do more with less’, staying within tight budgets, while at the same time trying to hit organizational targets.

So, how do you support your IT team?

The challenges are multifold and navigating them during the current economic climate requires a change in mindset and approach.

Companies will need to focus on creating business resiliency. This requires a ‘pragmatic approach’ that focuses on automating business processes and supporting IT teams through potential budget cuts.

Simplifying and centralizing the management of key processes is essential for ensuring routine tasks are as straightforward as possible, especially as workforces are more distributed than ever. Rethinking workflows, such as documentation and file systems, automation of remedial jobs, and reducing meetings to maximize time, will be important for easing the burden on IT teams this year.

Open communication is also vital for maintaining consistency between the senior management, the board and IT, ensuring that each group knows exactly what is happening and when to mitigate any pressure points and conflicts.

When it comes to hiring challenges, offering alternative routes into STEM such as apprenticeships could help to provide support for entry-level tasks. Not only can this enable fresh faces to the industry to gain some valuable, hands-on experience, but it can also free up time for IT teams in the long-run.

Practicing what you preach

Having a strong, healthy IT team is critical for getting through challenging times. While awareness has grown around the importance of mental health at work, it is vitally important that organizations practice what they preach when it comes to supporting their employees to reduce stress and burnout. After all, an organization is only as successful as its people, and retaining valuable IT talent is crucial for building greater business resilience both now and in the future.

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Jonathan Bartlett

Jonathan Bartlett is Chief Product Officer at Exclaimer. Exclaimer is the industry's leading provider of email signature solutions, empowering businesses to unlock the potential of email as a key digital advertising channel.