IT department stress relief 101: Tips & Ideas

IT departments shoulder ample responsibility in order to keep a business running, not to mention the occasional fire they must put out. But how do some teams manage to stay content and fresh, ready to battle yet another set of challenges a new day brings?

One IT pro and his team do precisely that with a variety of group activities that involve exercising, eating and generally being social. Paul Hurst, the network administrator for the City of Airdrie in Alberta, said an open concept office certainly helps de-stress everyone who works there.


Tear down those walls. “It’s very much that there are no doors closed,” said Hurst. The usual lack of interaction and collaboration issues affecting most workplaces don’t exist with the City of Airdrie’s IT team of 15. The work environment, although professional, still allows everyone to get to know each other on a personal level. And that, in turn, fosters caring, said Hurst.

Group sport. City of Airdrie’s IT team takes full advantage of a recreational centre in close proximity to the office. Lunch time basketball tournaments are a weekly occurrence and build team spirit besides just being plain fun. Team members also stay fit by working out together at the centre’s gym.

“Everyone experiences (stress) on one level or another and I think it’s something that, if you’re not aware that you’re stressed, others will see it,” said Hurst.

Social eating. Food is the glue that binds people, and the City of Airdrie’s IT team is no stranger to team-organized eating fests. The group arranges potluck lunches every couple of months. “Have fun, remember to laugh,” said Hurst.

Part of what also helps keep his IT team de-stressed is fostering a good relationship with the entire organization of 300 staff by extending some of those team-building activities beyond the IT department.

Build a good relationship with the business. For the City of Airdrie, the IT budget isn’t just for buying and maintaining software and hardware; part of IT spend gets allocated toward an annual hot breakfast of eggs, pancakes and sausages for everyone in the company.

The goal here is to move away from the unfortunate portrayal of IT departments as “the big meanie” to whom users only speak when there is an issue to be resolved, said Hurst.

“IT is always seen as that department that you only go to for problems,” he said. “They never really see us a department to interact with on a social or personal level.”

Work/Life harmony. While the City of Airdrie’s IT team follows the regular operating hours of the City, Hurst said IT staff is encouraged to take the time out to deal with personal crises before returning to the office.

At the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corp., such de-stressing activities are bundled into a “monthly IT celebration.” The goal of this regular 30-minute bash, organized and hosted by different IT staff every time, is to celebrate birthdays, welcome new staff and engage in networking, said Fariba Anderson, vice-president for Lottery IT at the Toronto-based organization.


“I think it builds a sense of community. It’s important to talk to people about something outside of projects and work,” said Anderson.

With a large IT department that numbers 400 people split across three offices, Anderson said each location has its own celebration to which senior management is also invited to attend.

Moreover, every summer, the OLG’s IT department also engages in de-stressing activities such as casual days and silent auctions for the benefit of others through the Federated Health Charities Campaign, a government-run initiative to raise money for health research and care. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Anderson.


Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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