Working in the IT industry seems to be more stressful than working in other occupations. Coming from a completely non-technical perspective and despite never having worked in the IT industry I always assumed that it would not be a very healthy way to earn your living. I thought about the long hours of sitting in front of a computer causing neck and shoulder strain and back problems, not to mention repetitive strain injury from constantly typing on the keyboard and using the mouse.
Only recently I realised that professionals who work with technology are quite used to the fact that technology goes wrong and lets you down at the most inconvenient times. It is just part of the deal. They just go about fixing it and it often takes a substantial amount of time. Once the problem is fixed they continue on their path trying to achieve what they set out to do in the first place.
This way of working would not suit my personality. I wonder how an IT expert handles deadlines, I can imagine that the pressure is fairly constant and that things never go as planned. Do workers assume a certain amount or percentage of down time and calculate that into their quotes when the give an estimate how long a job is going to take? Or do they hope for the best and when things do go wrong they work through the night or whatever it takes to finish the job?
New research has shed light on a whole lot of other issues that workers in the IT industry are facing that are causing extra stress. Here are some of them:
- Work is divided up into contracts, there are no long term, ongoing projects that have busy times and slow times.
- A contract means go, go, go till it is finished and then the next one is already starting. There are no down times and each contract or project is different. Every single one requires extensive background knowledge which the worker often has to acquire in his or her own time, very quickly and they do not get paid to study the project before they start work on it.
- There is permanent, relentless time pressure
- Often there are many and conflicting demands placed upon the worker at the same time and all are high priority.
All of the above often leads to virtually bottomless hours of work which are simply considered to be part of the deal For all the above reasons, in case you are employed in the IT industry, you have a four times increased risk of suffering from burn out symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Chronic, sometimes extreme tiredness
- Inability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand
- Stomach problems like nausea, ulcers, lack of appetite
- All different kinds of sleep disturbances
- Tense and painful muscles
These symptoms mean that you are well on your way to develop more serious problems. Ignoring these symptoms long enough and keeping up the same pace and pattern of work will eventually lead to a breakdown. I had a number of clients who never fully recovered from their breakdown or were living in constant fear that another one was just around the corner! They could not enjoy life any more, it was very sad to see. Stop and think - you do not want to go down the same path.
You might still be very young and bounce back easily from any stress, sleepless nights and long working hours. Do not take this resilience for granted. It is not going to last forever. Now is the time to:
- Have a serious look at your career - where do you want to be in 5 years time?
- Think about how you can steer your career into a direction that suits you and at the same time make sure your chosen path does not lead to burn out.
- You need simple techniques and exercises to manage your stress and prevent stress related problems.
- You need to learn about the symptoms of stress and burn out and how to recognise them early enough to take swift action before it is too late