We all keep hearing about how stressed out the average worker is. And even though the economy continues to show signs of improvement, hiring within many organizations has remained tepid. Revenues are picking up but staff growth hasn't kept pace with new project demands.
How big a problem is this? Consider a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association as reported by CNN in which more than a third of U.S. employees (36 percent) say they're experiencing chronic work stress. Meanwhile, another 32 percent of the 1,546 respondents say they plan to seek employment elsewhere over the next year.
If you're a CIO or an IT director, you obviously don't want your best people to jump ship. But how can you cultivate a less stressful environment while making sure that the needs of both IT staffers and the business are being met?
There are no easy answers to this vexing problem and there's no way to eliminate stress altogether. Still, there are a few steps that IT leaders can take to help alleviate the pressure that IT workers are feeling.
- 1. Open up the lines of communication and listen. It's important for bosses to create an atmosphere where people feel like they can freely share their concerns and anxieties without fear of retribution. Make time in your schedule for one-on-one meetings, town hall discussions, and even take drop-in visits to engage with staffers. Although opening up communication channels with employees won't diminish stress on its own, an open dialogue can provide IT leaders with insights about some of the levers of employee stress they may not be aware of and help to spark action items.
- 2. Act on employee feedback where it makes sense. Listening to employees and identifying their triggers for stress can help decision-makers in other ways. In some instances, IT leaders can identify pain points that one worker or set of workers are experiencing and determine whether certain components of the work is necessary or if a process can be simplified and made easier for workers. IT leaders can also use employee feedback to help determine whether certain types of work can or perhaps should be outsourced or supported by contractors, especially mundane tasks that free up staff to work on more engaging undertakings.
- 3. Spread the wealth. Once you've developed a good understanding for the triggers for worker stress, consider whether some portion of an overburdened employee's responsibilities can be transferred to people who are looking to take on additional responsibilities. You don't want to add to other employees' stress levels, but some people in the organization who have demonstrated their capabilities and shown that they can take on additional workloads may be hungry to take on new challenges.
- 4. Use that training budget. Granted, your organization's training budget has probably been whacked over the past few years. But in most enterprise companies, there is training money available out of the HR department that can be tapped to help people to stretch their skills. Providing people an opportunity to learn new skills to do more work may sound counter-intuitive when it comes to dealing with stress, but many IT workers will jump at the opportunity to beef up their skills, especially if it's on the company's dime. Meanwhile, off-campus or even online courses during normal work hours can help employees separate from their workloads and provide them with a refreshing outlet.
- 5. Inject some fun. It wasn't that long ago when it was common for many IT organizations to have pizza parties, bowling outings, movie nights and other leisure/bonding activities to blow off steam. If your organization has reverted to an all-work-and-no-play atmosphere due to budget constraints and other factors, consider some low-cost activities that can help people feel connected with each other and the organization while enabling them to blow off some steam. Even the occasional leisure activity can break up the usual hum-drum, spark staff enjoyment, and offer a potential productivity boost to the organization.