Despite the industry doing remarkably well in the face of the pandemic, relentless WFH contributes to stress and burnout of IT professionals
By now, we all know that although economy and business operations have been hit hard by the pandemic, some sectors have coped exceedingly well through remote working facilities. Information Technology (IT) is definitely the foremost among them, as IT companies already had most of the work-from-home (WFH) infrastructures in place even before COVID-19 struck. They have been nearly as productive as they were in the pre-pandemic days, and in many cases even overshooting previous output. Job monitoring portals confirm that the IT sector is one of the few that are currently in growth despite the lockdowns. However, things are not at all rosy for the IT professional. An overwhelmingly large section of them is falling easy prey to stress and burnout. In fact, the pandemic situation serves as a clarion call for aspiring IT professionals and highlights how important it is for them to learn how to handle these pressures.
Tech recruiting agency Harvey Nash performed a survey across the IT industry during the ongoing pandemic to come up with some gloomy results. The survey showed that among the respondents, nearly 36% of tech professionals felt that their mental health has deteriorated due to the prevailing situation. Significantly, more than a third of them confessed that this was the first time in their lives that they had felt worried about their mental well-being. Delving deeper into the responses, the survey unearthed two primary reasons for such worry – while 46% said this endless cycle of WFH is not allowing workers any personal time to switch off (46%), 41% were overwhelmed by possibility of losing their job or contract as a fallout of the crisis.
Such stress is not surprising, but what is worrisome is the fact that the changed mode of working and the consequent “new normal” that we are staring at even when the disease retreats is appearing like a tunnel with no end – making employees claustrophobic and uncertain. Most of them now feel anxious all the time, and many are just not finding the focus to work in the absence of face-to-face exchanges.
Teamwork had traditionally been the driving force in IT, and suddenly there is no team around and all interaction is being conducted through on-screen chats and calls – communication technologies which were always in a supporting role are taking centre stage. This is going on for close to eight months now and no one knows how long it will continue. Unless extraordinarily self-motivated, organised and in control of emotions – which very few of us are – this is not an encouraging work environment indeed.
The anxiety that comes with such pressure situations has created behaviour patterns which has contributed to more stress. Afraid of layoffs and eager to remain in the good books of authorities, a vast majority of workers have started working extra hours each day. Some are also logging in on weekends to keep ahead of the rat race. Being out of the manager’s sight, they feel apprehensions that their contributions might be overlooked or ignored – making them redundant to the organisation.
This is another manifestation of presenteeism, and although HR departments are trying their best to alleviate such unnecessary notions – this is hard to eliminate as it stems from insecurities innate to the human nature. And it is true that job cuts are also happening in many organisations and some roles are indeed getting redundant.
Naturally, such self-imposed pressure is bound to create a lot of stress – and the situation at home is adding to it, instead of being a source for solace. According to the Harvey Nash survey, 32% of employees with children felt that WFH in addition to day-care for children and making arrangements for their online schooling was making the situation worse. When you attend office, you only work.
But when you work at home and the normal routine is disrupted for everyone, you feel the necessity to handle family responsibilities and yet remain productive at work – all the while goaded by a fear of job uncertainty looming at the back of your mind. Add to this the restrictions of not being able to go out anywhere, no external entertainment or dining and all family members staying together at home all the time for eight months and counting. This is a certain recipe for stress, and none can be blamed for succumbing to it.
The situation is without precedent but provides us an opportunity to learn and make ourselves future-ready. Stress is a part of life and external forces are responsible for a greater portion of it. The aspiring IT professionals should study the current situation, understand the areas of concern and brace themselves psychologically. That is a lesson no tech school can impart.