Overworked IT professionals ask: Is it Friday yet?

All work and no play can dampen productivity for IT professionals, according to a recent survey by Toronto-based RHI Consulting.

More than half (58 per cent) of chief information officers polled cited rising workloads as the number one source of stress in the workplace. Office politics ranked second at 21 per cent.

“We take 270 CIOs from a stratified sample of Canadian companies with more than 100 employees, and basically we extract information we think is relevant on a quarterly basis,” said Stephen Mill, RHI Consulting’s Canadian regional manager. “The results come as absolutely no surprise. The reason I say that is just 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 noted that because of the rapid pace of technology development, IT professionals within companies are farther ahead in their understanding than the are companies themselves.

“A lot of the stress is due in part to the companies they work for not being able to keep up with [the speed] the technology is developing. The workload is clearly going to constantly increase.”

Faye West, the director of information systems at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, agrees.

“Before, however long the project took was how long the project took. Now because so many things are on-line systems and you need them up, it’s a competitive advantage to have new systems in place as quickly as possible.”

According to West, some of the main causes of stress -newness, the constant changing – are what she loves about her job.

“Maybe I am a stress junkie.”

battling pressure

There are various ways of dealing with stress in the workplace, according to Dr. Margaret Shim, occupational therapist and assistant professor with the Masters of Health Studies program at Alberta-based Athabasca University.

“As occupational therapists, we tend to work with people and we look not just at the emotional part, we look at the person as a whole,” Shim said.

Examining the workplace environment is a good place to begin, noted Shim. The way a person sits, what they are surrounded in, and the lighting, are important factors to take into consideration when determining job stress levels.

“We tend to just sit and stare at the computer. It’s important for a person to be taking breaks in between,” Shim said. “We recommend a 5 to 15 minute break per hour. It’s very tiring when you are looking the screen, and we recommend that off and on to look away from the monitor and blink your eyes to reduce eye fatigue.”

Occupational therapists often focus on ergonomics, and Shim said individuals will feel better and perform at a higher level when they take care of themselves.

“Sit comfortably, chin tucked in, and with good ergonomics because that helps. Once that gets going you are physically more comfortable and it helps you to relax and you will be able to perform better.”

Shim noted that a balanced, healthy diet is essential to job performance.

“A lot of the time, when people work in this type 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 sleep.”

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

“There are stress management techniques like relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. It’s okay 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 said. “If you take little breaks in between, you’ll find yourself refreshed.”

the value of laughter

There’s nothing like having a good laugh, according to Shim.

“We’ve had people e-mailing us jokes. There’s nothing like a great laugh. Take some time out to enjoy things,” Shim said. “When you eat, taste your food and enjoy it, instead of just gulping it down.”

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 said.

Mill noted that market forces require that companies provide IT employees with more than just a paycheque and a desk.

“It’s all the additional things that I think top-notch employees are looking for today,” Mill said.

Shim added, “we have to learn about how to manage (stress) and work with it, rather than be controlled by it.”