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CIO warns many IT workers face dangerous stress

CIO warns many IT workers face dangerous stress

Seminole Electric CIO's 'brutal' approach all part of a larger effort to avoid stress

When it comes to testing an IT system, William Cross, the CIO of Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc. in Tampa, Fla., uses an approach that his staff describes as "brutal." But it's a system Cross hopes will avoid sleep-disturbing middle-of-the-night production failures -- part of a larger effort to keep his staff from getting stressed out.

"I work very hard to make sure that my staff doesn't work overtime," said Cross, who spoke in Baltimore on Tuesday at the Share conference for IBM users. "We go to great lengths to help keep people from being called on nights and weekends."

The reason: People who work in the middle of the night are more prone to mistakes, he said.

Cross is a different kind of CIO. He has a Ph.D. in information sciences, and he did his doctoral thesis on how stress affects programming. He found that the more stress a programmer deals with, the lower the quality of the code.

Cross said his interest in stress and IT began in the 1970s, and he has pursued it ever since. In addition to running IT operations for his large utility company, he holds sessions at the Share conference about reducing stress and explains why high levels of stress are prevalent among IT workers. He tells them flat out that the stress is a danger to them.

"I bet I know you and know a lot about you," he said in a presentation to Share attendees.

According to Cross, IT workers have high divorce rates and personality types that can be cauldrons for stress. They tend to avoid people but have a need for recognition and praise, a "very seriously flawed combination," he said. IT workers often work long hours and deal with systems that can cause frustration.

"Stress is a big deal with us," said Cross, who warned IT workers that they face health problems if they don't address it.

Many in the audience nodded their heads as Cross listed some of the problems IT workers face. But he also detailed steps they can take to reduce stress, such as practicing breathing exercises, setting priorities, avoiding negative people and office gossip, and ensuring that they strike the right balance between job and life. "Your job is not you," he said.

Cross says he also practices what he preaches to his own staff, and often reiterates "the importance of getting away from the job." For those workers who are "job addictive" and put in too many hours at the office, Cross said he will tell them to take time off.

It's an approach, he said, that works. "We have an awful lot of people who have been there for a while because they want to be, and that retention kind of speaks for itself," Cross said.

One Share volunteer, Jamie Giovanetto, an IT consultant in Louisville, Colo., said Cross' presentation rang true.

"If this convention center was open all night, that PC workroom they have for the volunteers ... there would be people in there all night," said Giovanetto.

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