How technology leaders can reduce burnout and protect their most valuable employees

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IT and cybersecurity professionals are often an organization’s unsung heroes: they are underfunded, overworked and understaffed, despite their interest in keeping sensitive company and customer data safe. It’s no wonder these workers are prone to burnout — chronic workplace stress that leads to mental and physical exhaustion. In fact, a recent one questionnaire found that nearly half (47%) of cybersecurity incident respondents say they have experienced burnout or extreme stress in the past 12 months.

Striving for a better work-life balance is not a new concept and this was only reinforced after the pandemic. While employees often see tips or posts about what they can do to reduce burnout (such as setting work-life boundaries or taking time off), in reality, these actions can be much more difficult to put into practice on an individual level, and they can be extremely difficult to manage and support from a leadership perspective. If not implemented in a company’s cultural core, ad hoc help tactics can temporarily release employees, but will never really end the cycle of chronic burnout. If leaders want to make balance a norm in the workplace, leadership must start by stepping in and doing deliberate, routine work from the top down.

The work-from-home movement also fueled an increase in cyber-attacks and data breaches – a 15.1% increase in 2021, according to a report. Eliminating burnout among tech and cybersecurity professionals is not only good for company morale and employee retention, it is also essential to ensure the overall security of the organization. Here I share my top recommendations for how leaders can reduce burnout in their organizations while balancing this effort with the essential work IT professionals do.

The truth about PTO

Many organizations recognize the importance of taking time off to rest and recharge, encouraging their employees to take advantage of their paid time off (PTO), but talk only goes so far. For example, if an IT admin is completely swamped with responsibilities essential to running a business, he may not feel comfortable taking time off, or may put it off until a time when things are less busy — a time that never arrives. Or, even worse, they’re the only person on their team and there’s no one to replace them when they ask to take time off.

To get around this, I’ve introduced the concept of “Down Days” to many of the companies where I’ve held leadership positions. This is a program where different groups within a company have a mandatory day to disconnect from their work, separate from their normal PTO. The idea is for the employee to do something special for him or her – whether he enjoys walking, going to the movies or gardening – and then when he returns to work the next day, he can share with his team what he has done. This serves to bring teams closer together and allow time off to simply rest, rather than taking time off for a specific reason (such as a doctor’s appointment or a sick day).

Growing up and spending the early part of my career in the UK, I have noticed, like many, a big cultural difference in the way people take leisure time in the US versus in Europe. People in Europe make the most of the time off they get, but in the US many in the IT industry will save up their PTO so it can roll over to the next year and be paid out when they leave their job. We as leaders need to change the concept of earned PTO and switch to flexible PTO that everyone is encouraged to take to ensure separation of work and play.

Down Days and flexible PTO provide a good alternative to this mindset of hoarding PTO, and to policies that try to solve this by requiring employees to use their PTO for a certain amount of time or lose it. While likely well-intentioned, such demands only create another barrier for employees seeking to take leave.

Burnout prevention starts with recruitment

Creating a culture of trust in your organization is one of the most important aspects of preventing burnout. Requiring your employees to stay on for long hours, or to keep a close eye on their work, only adds more to their plate and wastes time. To empower employees to do their jobs effectively, and in a way they enjoy coming to work, leaders need to be confident that their employees are getting the job done.

This means hiring based on values, not just skills. Skills can be learned, but if an individual’s values ​​don’t align with the company’s, it will be difficult to maintain a workforce that you can trust and that embodies the energy of your company culture. I’m looking for employees who are flexible, team players who leave egos behind. They must have a basic sense of morality, that is, think in terms of making things better rather than just making money.

Once you employ these talented and bright people, your most important job as a leader is to create an environment where they can excel. This means putting in place strategies to prevent employee overtime and putting more emphasis on output rather than hours worked.

Be the change you want to see

Creating such a culture shift must start at the top. It really is the CEO’s responsibility to lead by example and expects reducing burnout to be a priority.

Leaders can begin this journey by taking a step back and gaining clarity on what matters most to their business, or more specifically, to their unique teams. Everyone has an ever-growing to-do list, and some tasks can feel tedious or pointless. It’s important to emphasize how tasks in each role fall back on overall business goals. This can remind employees of their purpose and show how they are actively contributing to the company and creating impact with their work, while removing unnecessary pressure on tasks that don’t contribute to the overall vision.

In addition, involving IT professionals in broader business conversations will not only help your business run more smoothly, but teach others in the business what the role of the IT team is and why it is so essential. This will reduce the workload for these employees, making them more than just a dumping ground in the eyes of those not involved in IT.

Making burnout prevention a priority is essential to keeping your employees happy, healthy and productive and driving better results for your company and your team. Giving employees the time and mental space to contribute new ideas helps them to be retained and grow throughout the company. If the industry continues to take IT and cybersecurity professionals for granted, I have no doubt that innovation and security will suffer.

David Bennett is a tech veteran and seasoned channel executive with more than 30 years of IT channel leadership, currently serving as CEO of Object firstwhich aims to reduce ransomware and simplify data protection.

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