IS workers need to deal with stress

The IS profession is getting a wake up call to reduce stress and it’s time to respond, according to Eugene Kaluzniacky.

The instructor of business computing at the University of Winnipeg explained, “The profession has got a call from within to become more emotionally literate. The taxing on the IS professional and the taxing of their inner resources is much heavier now…you’re under stress (and) subconsciously you may be moving into dysfunctional behaviour,” he said.

Kaluzniacky, who has developed a one-day workshop entitled Personal Wellness for IS Professionals, has researched stress issues and psychological factors in IS development.

“First, computers have become more powerful and users expect more and more. When companies are forced to compete, they push the information systems people to give them systems,” Kaluzniacky said.

Even more stressful, however, can be the shifting of methodologies that occurs when everything is changing on-the-fly, he explained.

“When your whole way of work is changing — not just the environment for which you produce the work but the way you produce it, the languages and technologies — you’re constantly in a state of flux. That does not necessarily sit well with people who probably went into the profession because it seemed kind of secure.”

Zorianna Hyworon, CEO and president of Winnipeg-based InfoTech Inc. and a 33-year veteran in the IT field, agreed.

“There has been a significant restructuring and reorganization of work…there’s fewer people to do more work. People are expected to be more entrepreneurial, make more creative decisions,” she said.

In addition, “the relationships people have with their co-workers have changed, many people work at home, and the work day has become a 24 hour, 7 day a week (reality), particularly in IT. You may not see your co-workers, whereas in the good old days you had things like coffee breaks and water cooler time to establish a social support network.”

Another problem, Kaluzniacky said, is that often people seek emotional security from their work, but the fact that they are working with unreasonable deadlines, difficult people and changing technologies and methodologies means this security is being eroded.

The opportunity this affords, however, is for individuals to “start digging more deeply into themselves.”

Kaluzniacky explained: “Working out of a deeper awareness of the personal self and the strength that emanates from that awareness helps the person to become interdependent with his or her work and not dependent on it emotionally.”

To attain self-awareness there are several things that can be done by both the individual and the organization.

“We’re in the era of business process re-engineering and computer systems re-engineering. I think what’s needed here is what I would call personal re-engineering. IS professionals will start to re-engineer their own selves. In other words, look at where they are getting stressed, where they feel their productivity is being lost and then find out what assumptions they are making about life.”

Kaluzniacky said it is also important for individuals to raise certain questions. For example: “What are the trends in my personality? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How can I strengthen my weaknesses? And, how can I understand how other people are different than me?”

It is also important to find out what type of job one is suited for. For example, one type of person may feel stress with more than one project on their desk, whereas another may feel stress with only one.

“Because of their personalities or the way they function, one person’s food is another person’s poison, literally,” Kaluzniacky said, adding that elements like nutrition, vitamin supplementation and alternative medicine can be helpful.

Hyworon, whose software company has developed interactive health risk assessments, said “conditioning your body” with things like exercise and breathing techniques can actually help individuals to handle stress.

And although it is up to the individual to achieve self-awareness, it is also important that his or her organization work to promote awareness, Kaluzniacky said.

“Right now, by and large, I think corporations seem to give one workshop on stress management two days a year and then the onus is on them (workers) to do everything else. And I don’t think necessarily that’s going to do everything,” he said.

“I think first of all they need to promote actively this inner awareness…and not just to have little blurbs in newsletters from the human resources department. This has to be a concerted effort where the managers see this and work with it on a day to day basis.”

Hyworon agreed. “Sending people on a stress management clinic or time management course – it’s not enough. That’s not the issue.”