coach and trainer

The inability for technical support staff to say no to incoming service requests is often the reason behind burnout from long hours and a heavy workload, industry professionals point out.

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That tendency is innate to professionals working in support where it’s natural to go that extra mile to take care of people, said Paul Gossen, work life balance coach and trainer.

The challenge, he said, is knowing where to draw the line. “The successful IT managers are those that develop those clear boundaries around what constitutes an emergency versus what constitutes something that will get resolved in the next seven days.”

Gossen joined other IT professionals on a Web panel discussion about managing an IT career in the context of succession, skills training, and work-life balance.

Further compounding the issue of work-life balance are all-too-common budgetary restraints requiring limited IT staff to stretch themselves thin, said John Currie, CEO of technology management provider Currie & Wiltshire Inc.

But the IT team should work together to determine innovative solutions to handle the workload, said Currie. “The team has a power of its own, and it’s there to be leveraged.”

Given that quality of work generally decreases the more staff is overworked, said Gossen, senior management within an organization has the responsibility of assessing the company work culture.

It’s therefore essential, he said, to maintain communication between the IT team and management where a request from the top “has to bounce against reality.”

Companies, however, are increasingly cognizant of this issue of work culture and life balance and are moving “from a band aid that we throw on to It’s also a matter of being responsible for the fact that you love technology.Paul Gossen,>Textstop the bleeding to a strategic tool.”

In the scenario of a lone IT staff overworked from supporting a company of close to 100 employees, Currie suggested starting with frank conversations with management around realistic job expectations to avoid becoming the “bottleneck for the company.”

Outsourcing the work to third-party companies is an option, said Currie, adding that if the company is growing, bringing in additional resources to share the load might also be possible.

Besides the potential for overwork, keeping current with ever-changing technology can be a tricky component to maneuver in the work-life balance equation – especially when it’s part of an IT professional’s accountability, said Gossen. “It’s also a matter of being responsible for the fact that you love technology.”

Technology such as RSS feeds certainly make it easier the filtering the plethora of information from Web sites down to material relevant to a particular job, said Currie.

Although attending industry trade shows can steal time away from personal obligations, Currie said such forums are great for networking if the IT professional can commit the time.

But the issue of skills training probably stems from the organization’s culture and whether it supports employee learning, said Gossen. A culture that is solely focused on getting work done can remain competitive but only for the short term until it inevitably falls behind. Gossen suggested negotiating blocking a period of time on a weekly basis, specifically for skills training.

New modes of communication, like Web 2.0 platforms, also impact the work-life balance equation, said Currie, in both a good and bad way.

From a business owner’s standpoint, it’s great for interacting with clients. However, on the personal front, IT professionals should consciously manage that communication channel, he said. “The web is extremely addictive today and as we go forward I’m sure it’s going to be that much more so integrated into our daily lives.”

Web 2.0 may provide greater transparency and more channels to collaborate, but it also leads to fragmented reactive lives, said Gossen. He added the conversation should really be extended beyond Web 2.0 to recognize that we’re living in “an age of attention deficit disorder”.

Documenting accountabilities and the time required to perform tasks, said Gossen, is the perfect foundation for a dialogue with management around shaping a role that’s more realistic.

But the challenge of attracting and retaining talent in the industry is making companies increasingly conscious of employee burn out and open to conversations about workload, he said.

Documenting work may also reveal that IT professionals actually place work on themselves that falls beyond the realm of their jobs, said Currie. Three steps towards achieving work life balance are setting appropriate expectations with the manager, determining how long it takes to perform tasks, and reviewing the findings with that manager, he said.

It’s also a great idea for an IT professional to think beforehand of the options he or she would be willing to accept, be it working part time or flexible hours, said Mishelle Graney, manager of product support with Clarity Systems Ltd.

Furthermore, according to Gossen, the smaller the organization, the greater the tendency to disregard work life balance given the often fragmented roles with disparate accountabilities. He said if more time were allocated weekly to long-term systems and strategic planning, growth would be more effective and better managed. He suggested using consultants to facilitate this. “View the organization as process.”

But for companies of all sizes, remaining competitive alongside countries that don’t recognize the need for work life balance may weigh down on some Canadian businesses, said Currie, adding they just need to find ways to work smarter and live up to their set values. “It’s a challenge, but is a worthwhile challenge.”

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