It's no secret that working IT is stressful, but a new survey from TEKsystems shows that the pressure may be easing for some IT professionals. The 2016 IT Stress and Pride survey from IT talent management and solutions company TEKsystems polled 241 IT workers at all experience levels in April of 2016, and found that just 14 percent of entry-to mid-level IT professionals and 18 percent of senior IT professionals consider the work they are currently doing to be the most stressful of their career.
The findings contrast sharply with the assumption that IT is one of the most stressful occupations, with a need to constantly remain available to managers and colleagues at all hours, and one that leaves little time for work-life balance and vacation, says TEKSystems research manager Jason Hayman.
"The conventional wisdom is that IT workers are super-stressed and pulling their hair out; that every IT department is charged to do more with less and that if you're in IT you're working 24/7/365. But then when we asked the question, we found quite the opposite is true, and that was surprising," Hayman says.
[ Related story: Open source job market booming ]
Time to unplug
This discrepancy could be explained by the fact that the vast majority of survey respondents say they get to unplug during vacation; 87 percent of entry-to-mid level IT pros and 78 percent of senior IT pros say they are not expected to be accessible during vacation, according to the survey.
Technology, and the blurring of lines between work and home life could also be a contributing factor to the low stress levels, Hayman says. Even though they're not expected to, 21 percent of entry-to-mid-level IT professionals and an equal number of senior IT professionals say they experience less stress when they stay in touch with work during vacation, according to the survey.
Thirty-seven percent of entry-to-mid-level IT professionals and 56 percent of senior IT professionals say they respond to critical or emergency requests from work while they're on vacation, which can help remove the stress and overload that can happen when you return from a vacation, Hayman says.
"I think it says a lot about how the lines between work and home get so blurred because of technology. You leave an office, but you're not necessarily unplugged. You can check in, you can make sure emergencies are handled, you can categorize and prioritize work for the following day or for when you return to work so that you're not overwhelmed. If that's not managed properly, it can surely lead to more stress, but it can also be a good thing," he says.
[ Related story: Focus on tech and talent to get bi-modal IT right ]
Can't get no satisfaction
Maintaining those lower stress levels may seem key to organizations looking to retain valuable IT talent, but there's a caveat, Hayman says. While you want to make sure workers stress levels aren't causing them to burn out and look for employment elsewhere, you also must make sure they're not simply bored.
Only 48 percent of entry-to-mid-level respondents and 38 percent of senior IT professionals say they're currently doing the most satisfying work of their career - and this is a problem in an IT talent market where their skills and experience are in huge demand, Hayman says.
"Companies really need to think about keeping their employees happy and satisfied. These IT professionals are in such high demand that supply can't keep up, they're getting poached daily. The fact that our survey showed such high rates of dissatisfaction should be a red flag for employers to step back and ask what they can do to make work meaningful, challenging and satisfying," Hayman says.
One way to do that is by making sure workloads aren't overwhelming. The survey revealed that "organizational requests/workload" leapt to the top spot as top stressor for IT professionals, displacing "keeping up with technology," which was number 1 in the 2015 survey. Hayman says this reduction could be attributed to a shift in core IT duties, as organizations transition from implementing new initiatives to maintaining existing programs.
While this can, in some respects, be less stressful, it can also be both boring and can lead to burnout if projects aren't allocated evenly, or if IT workers aren't given adequate breaks to work on varying projects that are truly engaging, he says.
"Companies need to think about whether or not they're overburdening their workforce with all of these projects and not giving them enough time to rest and recharge - or not giving them enough opportunities to do meaningful, important work. If you have a workforce that's constantly straining under a never-ending workload, then they're going to be much more open to new opportunities and roles," he says.
[ Related story: If managers aren't engaged, do you think workers are? ]
The takeaway for organizations, then, is to maintain a good balance between stress and satisfaction or risk losing elite talent. In fact, according to the research, 57 percent of entry-to-mid-level IT professionals and 60 percent of senior IT pros say a stressful experience at work has motivated them to seek employment elsewhere. Forty one percent of entry-to-mid-level IT pros and 49 percent of senior IT professionals say they'd accept a pay cut in order to escape stress.
"It seems there's a finely choreographed dance between stress and satisfaction. If you're working on solving a major problem, yes, that's stressful, but it's also really fulfilling and brings great satisfaction. If you're just plugging along, punching in and out, maintaining the status quo, then how is that fulfilling? Sure, it's not stressful, but the flip side is you aren't feeling that it's very meaningful, either," Hayman says.
Another bright spot from the survey: The vast majority of IT professionals are satisfied with their career choice and are optimistic about the future. When asked, 'If you could do it all over again, would you still go into IT?' the results were a resounding 'Yes'; 84 percent of all IT professionals at all levels say they would make the same choice.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.