Surviving burn and churn: Don’t sweat the small stuff

Australian IT professionals and enterprises are short-changing themselves on strategic vision limiting their career and profit prospects, effectiveness and strategic focus. Swamped by a sea of day-to-day operations, today’s IT staff need to learn to keep their heads above water and appreciate their enterprise’s big picture – or sink.

Steve Tull, chief solutions officer of Perth-based outsourcer Alcom Solutions Group, says that under-resourced organizations rob their IT professionals of valuable time and vision by forcing them to “continually put out fires. [It] gets them down after a while. It’s the old ‘address the problem, not the effect’ [rule]”. Tull says while staff may start out eager, burn and churns reduces enthusiasm to “short term”.

“Successful [IT professionals] work out how to address the root cause rather than just the symptoms. This involves getting out of operational mode occasionally and into a more strategic mode” Tull says, arguing that many IT professionals “don’t get the necessary management support or dollars to do this.

“It becomes rather mundane and very wearying, confronting the same old problems day in, day out.

“Success comes down to whether you can take a more strategic focus, and to do that you need to really be able to analyze what’s causing problems, then come up with a solution. Then you’ll feel like you’ve got somewhere,” Tull says.

Over at IT services firm Glenhurst (Sydney), managing director Grant Maxwell says the last two years on the job for IT staff have been a roller coaster ride, arguing that post-Y2K, smaller companies are especially prone to professional churn.

“The IT manager is a revolving door position with too much pressure and not enough career mobility. Many executives [don’t] appreciate the depth and breadth of work done by IT professionals, asking ‘should we have spent all that money?’ Such conditions [create] a state of “exhaustion and let down” Maxwell told Computerworld.

Adding to the IT sector’s malaise, increased cost pressures post-Y2K and GST have seen new projects such as thin client, disaster recovery, content management and benchmarking fall into a state of suspended animation – accompanied by thousands falling out of work. “The IT professionals remaining were effectively told [to] make more bricks with less clay,” Maxwell says.

Tull believes non-IT organizations suffer more from burnout than those with technology at their core. Tech companies, he says, are generally better at nurturing staff and managing the pressure cooker environment:

“IT professionals are more drawn towards IT environments. I don’t tend to see IT staff working in IT companies suffering enormous burnout. I see a lot of technical people feeling lost in other sorts of organizations and I think IT organizations tend to love them a bit more.”

Bearing out local sentiment, recent research by Meta Group Inc. claims more than 70 per cent of companies identified IT professional burnout as a serious professional issue manifesting in poor productivity, performance and morale coupled with high staff turnover.

Meta analyst John Brand says Australian IT managers have it particularly tough, constantly being forced to do more with less and with heavier workloads compared to their overseas counterparts.