IT health questioned

For an industry that continues to sing the economic blues, stress and depression can now be added to IT’s list of mounting problems. Workers are feeling stressed, or so says the recent Information Technology Sector Report, released by Toronto-based Warren Shepell Consultants Corp.

The report found IT workers’ stress level increased by 60 per cent over the past three years, costing Canadian employers $1.7 billion in lost work time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2020, depression will become the leading cause of disability among developed nations.

The report focused on three key areas – stress, depression and the work-life balance – and determined that IT workers are rising above the national average in depression. Depression levels increased for IT workers with the dot-com blowout, companies downsizing and the volatile IT market in 2000.

Stress, depression and anxiety, the company says, now rank among the most serious mental health issues in the workplace and it is something that companies should address.

“Our objective to the research is to help educate employers and employees about the mental health environment,” said Rod Phillips, president and CEO at Warren Shepell Consultants Corp. Of the workers suffering with mental health issues, only 6.5 per cent received treatment.

CIPS Toronto is taking the report’s findings to heart. CIPS said it has also recognized unhealthy trends developing among IT professionals, and said the report’s results could be linked to understaffing, lack of budget and longer working hours.

Rob Black, CIPS Toronto’s executive director, said companies need to take more responsibility for the health of their employees. One place where he’s noticed organizations cutting back is in their benefits packages, including employee assistance programs.

With the industry still feeling some adverse effects from the Y2K hangover, the dot-com bomb and the meltdown in the communications sector, Black said there is factor affecting the health of IT workers.

“IT people are not really necessarily the best managers [and] IT people aren’t always known for having the best social skills, yet these are the people that are promoted. We have a significant lack of managerial training and that’s a key area,” Black said.

CIPS advocates actively participating in an outside interest, and honing social networking skills as a way of protecting against stress and depression.

The report estimated that it costs companies 14 per cent of their net annual profit because of issues related to the costs associated with employees suffering from or with a mental illness.

Warren Sheppel says it handles approximately 70,000 counselling cases per year and responds to 30,000 inbound calls per month through its call centre. The data for the report was compiled over a three-year period from 153 organizations with roughly 86,000 employees.

Additional information on trends as it related to the report were collected by the Human Resources Development Canada, the BMO Financial Group and Industry Canada.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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