Is It Friday Yet?

All work and no play can dampen productivity for IT professionals, according to a recent survey by RHI Consulting in Toronto. More than half (58 per cent) of CIOs polled cite rising workloads as the number one source of stress in the workplace.

“The results come as absolutely no surprise,” says Stephen Mill, RHI Consulting’s Canadian regional manager. “The reason I say that is due in part to the rise in the necessity for any company to be technologically advanced. As a result, whose shoulders does that fall on? The IT people.”

Mill notes because of the rapid pace of technology development, IT professionals are often farther ahead in their understanding of technology than the companies they work for. “A lot of the stress is due in part to the companies they work for not being able to keep up with [the speed at which] the technology is developing. The workload is clearly going to constantly increase,” Mill says.

Faye West, director of IS at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, agrees. “Before, however long the project took was how long the project took. Now, because so many [systems] are on-line systems and you need them up, it’s a competitive advantage to have new systems in place as quickly as possible.”

However, she says some of the main causes of stress — technology newness and constant change — are what she loves about her job. “Maybe I am a stress junkie,” West adds.

There are various ways to deal with stress in the workplace, according to Dr. Margaret Shim, occupational therapist and assistant professor with the Masters of Health Studies program at Athabasca University in Alberta. Examining the workplace environment is a good place to begin, Shim notes. Office lighting, the way people sit and what they are surrounded by are important factors to take into consideration.

“We tend to just sit and stare at the computer. It’s important for a person to be taking breaks in between,” Shim says. “We recommend a five- to 15-minute break per hour. It’s very tiring when you are looking at the screen, and we recommend off and on to look away from the monitor and blink your eyes to reduce eye fatigue.”

Shim says an ergonomic workstation environment can help individuals perform at a higher level. “Sit comfortably, chin tucked in, and with good ergonomics because that helps. Once that gets going you are physically more comfortable, it helps you to relax and you will be able to perform better.”

Shim notes a balanced, healthy diet is also essential to job performance.

“A lot of the time, when people work in this type of setting, they skip lunch or breakfast, or they eat things that are pretty fast and on the run. That isn’t healthy. We focus on a well-balanced diet and a good night’s sleep.”

Shim says proper sleeping habits give individuals the energy to keep going through the day. Keeping physically fit was also among Shim’s recommendations.

“There are stress management techniques like relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. It’s OK to get up and stretch. Don’t just sit and stare at the computer, because what happens is that as you get tired, your productivity goes down,” Shim says. “If you take little breaks in between, you’ll find yourself refreshed.”

Attitude and morale are also critical. “Employers need to be aware of how employees are doing, and need also to be aware that they need to get their employees involved. When work morale is good, productivity is much higher,” Shim says.

RHI Consulting’s Mill notes that market forces require companies to provide IT employees with more than just a paycheque and a desk. “It’s all the additional things that top-notch employees are looking for today,” Mill says.

Ergonomic Tips

Body Position:

• Head directly over shoulders, not leaning forward

• Shoulders neutral and relaxed

• Elbows angled at 90 degrees

• Wrists angled between neutral and 20 degrees

• Hips angled at 90 degrees

• Knees parallel to hips or slightly lower

• Back of knees out one to two inches from sitting surface

• Feet flat on supportive surface

Workstation Environment:

• Top of monitor at eye level (adjust sight lines for bifocals or trifocals)

• Document holder same distance as monitor screen

• Monitor directly in front, roughly 18 inches away

• Keyboard at height to allow proper elbow and wrist positions

• Use a wrist rest to reduce localized pressure

• Chair armrests adjustable/flexible to allow proper forearm angle

• Chair back flexible to allow periodic extension

• Alternate light source to reduce glare and reflection

• Headset for hands-free conversation

• Multioption mouse (preferably cordless) for varied hand movements

Work Practices:

• Alternate computing tasks with nonstationary tasks

• Close eyes often to relieve dryness and strain

• Stand, walk, relax

• Regularly stretch all major muscle groups

• Avoid reaching while seated to retrieve items

Source: Massachusetts Association for Occupational Therapy