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Staff Alert

Staff Alert

CIOs who think there’s no real threat of turnover in tough IT times and put off dealing with the situation may be in for a rude awakening even sooner than the highly anticipated spending turnaround

With outsourcing on the rise, CIOs are at the centre of a morale crisis. They see many of their workers battling stress on the job. The best leaders learn to help employees now - and keep them in the future.

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  • Eleven tips to work effectively with staff under stress in tough times

Dianah Neff's staff was sick a lot last northern winter, but the CIO of the City of Philadelphia was worried that it wasn't just the record cold and snow that had her employees under the weather. With the city facing its worst fiscal crisis since 1991, Neff had been forced to cut 10 per cent of her staff through an early retirement program. She started cross-training the remaining 535 to deal with increasing demands being placed on IT. Meanwhile, as each new project request came in, Neff was openly looking at whether outsourcing some work might be more cost-effective - another anxiety source for her already stressed staff.

"People have become anxious. We're watching to see if we're getting increases in sick leave or if other issues are occurring. People deal with the stress of [retrenchments] and increased workloads in different ways," Neff says. "The staff is realistic. They know it's a tough job market. I don't know that you can ever really reassure people in these situations."

Neff expresses a pervasive feeling. According to META Group's 2003 IT Staffing and Compensation Guide, among the many areas of high concern to IT organisations this year, few are as evident as employee morale. In fact, among those IT managers surveyed, more than 71 per cent indicate that IT employee burnout is currently a serious issue in their organisations - an issue that could spell longer-range turnover, lower productivity, and less overall shareholder value to the organisation as a whole if not addressed.

CIOs who think there's no real threat of turnover in tough IT times and put off dealing with the situation may be in for a rude awakening even sooner than the highly anticipated spending turnaround. "Your best workers will leave and go somewhere else, and you'll be left with heavier workloads and fewer top performers," warns Diane Morello, a Gartner analyst. "We're already seeing the start of a workforce backlash. There's a subtle pulling back on the part of employees who are saying: 'If you're not going to help me put the brakes on [the workload], I'm going to do it myself.' "

Instead of waiting to see productivity slip, CIOs must to do everything they can now to prevent employee burnout, stress and doubt. (See "Eleven Simple Rules for the Care and Feeding of Your IT Staff", below. Read on to share the experiences of CIOs who have learned the importance of adjusting office conditions - from establishing project management controls and making staff workloads more reasonable to recognising top workers.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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