Paging Dr. Phil, MCSE


We’ve all heard the term “going postal.” I wonder how long it will be before a similar phrase enters the lexicon of bad taste – “going techie.”

It appears the IT profession, once popularly known as the line of work where jobs grew on trees, may soon be regarded as the fast-track to early retirement. And not in a good way.

On page 26 you’ll find a story about Warren Shepell Consultants, a Toronto-based firm that helps employers make sure their workers achieve a proper work-life balance. It recently completed a study of IT worker stress, and what it found is alarming. While rates of depression of come down since a very big spike in 2001, we’re on the whole more anxious and more stressed than the average Canadian worker.

And the outlook is mixed. On one hand, the report notes, this industry has a lot more youth and racial/cultural harmony in it relative to other professions. The downside, however, is that the profession also attracts those with “high intelligence, a high need for order (with a corresponding rigidity) and high introversion (often, but not always, corresponding with low social skills).”

Other than that, we’re just fine.

Before making any hasty conclusions about why technology workers are getting so stressed out, let’s get a few things straight. First is that term “work-life balance.” This is a phrase that cropped up in the 1990s, and which is really code for finding a way to keep in touch with your family/leisure activities while your cut-to-the-bone employer asks you to squeeze 60 hours of work into a 40-hour week. In that case, there are only two ways to solve the problem: quit already and find a more progressive employer, or learn to really, really love your work. No one can find your “balance” – that’s up to you.

Next is the workaholic, the good and bad kind. Many young people just out of school happily become workaholics because they like their jobs and want to get ahead while they’re single and have the time. That’s good. Others devote a little too much of their “work-life balance” to the work, even when life beckons, to the point of ruining their health. That’s bad. Either way, it’s an individual choice.

Then there are the factors largely out of our control. As Sylvio on The Sopranos once said, there are only two industries that have historically been recession-proof. “Certain aspects of the entertainment industry, and our thing.” IT has certainly had proof of that in the past several years, going down the same path many of those in manufacturing, retail and government tread nearly a decade ago. It has been, and continues to be, a rough ride for some.

Also out of your control is the stress inherent to the job. As the Warren Shepell report notes, only a small percentage of IT workers enjoy the perks and benefits offered by the IBMs of the word. For the rest, it’s the rewards and pitfalls of working in small or very small companies.

And, to complicate the matter, many IT folks seem to occupy that unfortunate place on the corporate ladder – just high enough, just low enough – that sees them taking a lot of heat from below and above, and with little wiggle room to make the situation better. The president needs his PC fixed. Why is the Web so slow? I opened that free porn e-mail with some attachments – is that bad? What’s the holdup on that new database project?

In other words, lot of hats to wear, and little praise when things go right, because everyone simply expects that it will, and rather than giving you credit in the good times, they simply give you a hard time when things go bad.

It’s good to keep in mind that truism used by addiction treatment groups to change what you can, accept what you can’t and, most of all, to know the difference. And hey, like the report says, you might be a bit rigid and introverted, but at least you’re smart enough to figure it out.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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