Are You Overworked? How to Deal with Work-Related Stress
Information technology is one of the most exciting, rapidly-growing sectors of the economy and aspiring IT professionals enjoy access to a plethora of opportunities for employment and chances to make a meaningful impact. As with most things, however, great rewards tend to come with great risk, and it's certainly true that IT can also be one of the most demanding, stress-inducing fields to work in as well.
The truth is that IT professionals regularly face stress in their careers and, in order to succeed, they must be aware of its impact on their job performance and have access to the tools necessary to mitigate its negative effects.
What Causes Stress in IT
Because of the uniquely demanding nature of the field, IT workers are exposed to a wide variety of stress-inducing externalities. In 2014, prominent IT solutions provider TEK Systems conducted its Stress and Pride survey, a comprehensive study of factors that most prominently cause stress among IT professionals. The top stress-causing variables were as follows:
Keeping Up with Organizational Requests and Workloads — It's no secret that IT professionals are exposed to a unique degree of stress due to the demanding nature of the field. IT projects often require long, thankless hours that can cause significant amounts of stress in even the most seasoned professionals, to the point where 31 percent of them "experience abnormally high levels of stress on a regular basis."
Keeping Up with Technology — It seems that nearly every day there's some sort of new app, new technology trend, new coding language to learn, or new piece of hardware to integrate that's making waves in the tech world. While these things are supposed to make our lives easier (and many do), it can be incredibly difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change. Twenty-eight percent of IT professionals report high levels of stress due difficulty in "keeping up with new technology."
Negative Impact on Work-Life Balance — As we've already mentioned, IT can be extremely demanding and, as such, it can often conflict with maintaining a healthy work-life balance. With 61 percent of senior IT professionals being expected to be accessible around the clock, it's not difficult to see why many in IT find it difficult to balance their lives with their work.
While some of the aforementioned stress-inducers are present in other fields, the fast-paced and intellectually-rigorous nature of IT makes them doubly impactful for tech pros. A whopping 69 percent of entry to mid-level professionals report that they would initiate a job search simply due to unbearable levels of stress. Clearly, IT businesses and organizations should give more heed to workplace stress and its potentially destructive impact.
How Stress Impacts Job Performance
While a little bit of stress can be a good thing, making people focus and work harder, too much can negatively impact the job performance of IT professionals in a variety of ways.
Perhaps most significantly, stress negatively affects the ability of IT workers to effectively manage their time. While certain levels of stress can spur individuals to action, abnormal or irregularly high levels of stress can impede workplace effectiveness, and make it incredibly difficult to manage time and cope with large workloads.
It's been proven time and again that excessive stress negatively affects the ability of individuals to focus on their work, process new information, and remember things they already know. This is of particular consequence to IT professionals, where the nature of the field demands rigorous analytical abilities. Stress can severely impair these analytical abilities and, as a result, significantly hamper the job performance of IT workers.
The final area where stress hurts job performance is with relationships. While many IT job roles involve periods of independence and solitude, the ability to deal with clients and work effectively on teams is crucial to success in IT. High levels of stress often lead to strained interactions with clients and peers, and can result in a significant deterioration in the social skills needed to be successful in IT.
Luckily, there are several simple things that stressed-out, or at-risk, IT professionals can do to mitigate the negative consequences of stress before it becomes a burden on their careers.
Be Healthy — Eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are clinically-proven means of reducing stress and improving productivity. It's good advice for any profession, and applicable here as well. It's important not to make excuses for not being healthy. The bottom line is that whatever time and energy you sacrifice preparing quality meals or going to the gym, you will get back doubly in reduced stress and better workplace performance.
Communicate — As noted above, large workloads are a major source of stress for IT professionals. It's important to talk to your superiors and coworkers and see if there is a way to better allocate your time, or distribute unwieldy workloads throughout the organization in order to minimize stress.
Eliminate Distractions — When you're working on a particular project, work on that project and do nothing else. This means that your phone is tucked away and your e-mails (unless specifically related to the task at hand) remain unanswered until you're finished Focusing, rather than trying to unrealistically do everything at once, is an excellent means of mitigating stress.
Ask for Help — If your situation is anything like those of the legions of other IT professionals who identify workloads and the difficulty of keeping up with new technology as a significant source of stress, then it may be beneficial to seek help and talk to your coworkers and peers. Whether it's a referral to a medical professional, or offering resources on new technology, your friends and professional contacts can certainly help you reduce workplace stress.
Rethink your Role — IT is a vast field with plenty of opportunities available. More importantly, a lot of the skills that make you successful in one particular IT capacity are transferrable and can certainly make you successful in another. Don't box yourself in, and always be mindful of other IT opportunities that may jive better with your personal preferences and workplace expectations. Sometimes a little change can equal a lot of relief.