Burned out unit

Exhaustion. Low morale. Stress. These are the symptoms of burnout, which, according to a recent survey, affects 71 per cent of corporate IT departments.

Meta Group Inc. found that preventing burnout was a primary concern for IT managers in 2003, largely because it can lead to lower productivity, long-range turnover and a loss of shareholder value. Maria Schafer, a Meta Group analyst, said that because IT budgets have slipped or remained flat over the last two or three years, many IT jobs have been eliminated, forcing IT managers perform the same tasks, maybe even additionaljobs, with fewer workers.

“This is a topic that I’ve been hearing about for more than a year,” said Schafer. “It’s enough of a problem that a lot of managers are taking the time to assess it through employee surveys and performance evaluations. There’s a tremendous morale issue in IT departments now.”

Most companies (84 per cent) measure morale through employee surveys. Others (18 per cent) obtain feedback through a performance review process. Some companies (15 per cent) use the old-fashioned suggestion box to keep the lines of communication open–something that, in Schafer’s opinion, should not be overlooked.

“You don’t have to be an outstanding leader if you can communicate,” Schafer said. “A lot can be accomplished by dealing directly with the issue and laying out what the realities are and asking for input.”

Once the problems are identified, said Schafer, solving them takes a little money and creativity.. Many companies surveyed (55 per cent) said they have begun implementing skill development programs, but such programs hard to do on the cheap. For those plans to work in a cost-efficient manner, Schafer said, companies will have to avoid the discretionary training and target specific areas and courses that will impact the business the most. Even then, she said, sparing a member of the staff for a few days of off-site training can impair a lean IT organization. “The intention is to build skills, but it is a difficult environment for that,” Schafer said.

According to the survey, it’s also a difficult time to find funds for raises or bonuses. Just 11 per cent of companies surveyed planned to raise salaries, while 8 per cent planned to offer cash bonuses to reward burned-out staff. Another 11 per cent planned to make new hires to relieve the burdens on their IT workers.

In terms of low-cost answers to the morale problem, Schafer suggests a recognition program that rewards employees by mentioning their efforts in newsletters, on the company intranet or in small, simple ceremonies or meetings. The key is not to overdo it, said Schafer. Employees are keen enough to recognize when their managers aren’t being genuine. “Money is important, but it’s not the primary driver of someone’s career path,” Schafer said. “Recognition and appreciation are right up there. There’s a lot that can be done without spending a lot of money.”