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

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IT and cybersecurity professionals are often the unsung heroes of an organization: underfunded, overworked and understaffed despite their importance in keeping sensitive customer and business data safe. Not surprisingly, these employees are vulnerable to burnout: chronic job stress that results in mental and physical exhaustion. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly half (47%) of cybersecurity incident responders say they have experienced extreme stress or burnout in the last 12 months.

Striving for a better work-life balance is not a new concept and this only intensified after the pandemic. While employees may frequently see advice or messages about what to do to reduce burnout (such as setting boundaries between work and personal life or taking time off), in truth, these actions can be much more difficult to put into place. practiced at the individual level and can be extremely difficult to manage and support from a leadership perspective. If not implemented into the cultural core of a company, ad hoc relief tactics may grant employees a temporary release, but they will never truly stop the cycle of chronic burnout. For leaders to ensure that balance becomes the norm in the workplace, leadership must start with stepping in and doing routine, intentional top-down work.

The work-from-home movement also led to an increase in cyberattacks and data breaches, up 15.1% in 2021, according to a report. Eliminating burnout among technology and cybersecurity professionals is not only good for company morale and employee retention, but 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 handle.

The truth about PTO

Many organizations recognize the importance of taking time off work to rest and recharge, and encourage their employees to take advantage of their PTO, but talk only goes so far. If an IT administrator, for example, is completely underwater with responsibilities that are key to keeping a business running, they may not feel comfortable taking time off or putting it off until a time when they are less busy, a time never. arrives. Or, worse yet, they’re the only person on their team and there’s no one to cover for them when they request to take that time off.


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To circumvent this, I have instituted the concept of “low days” in many of the companies where I have had leadership positions. This is a program where different groups within a company have a required day to disconnect from work separate from their normal PTO. The intent is for the employee to do something just for himself, whether he enjoys hiking, going to the movies, or gardening, and then when he returns to work the next day, he can share what he did with his team. This serves to bring teams closer together and provide time off simply to rest, rather than taking time off for a specific reason (such as a doctor’s appointment or sick day).

I grew up and spent the beginning of my career in the UK and like many have noticed a huge cultural difference in the way people take time off in the US versus Europe. People in Europe make the most of the time off they’re given, but in the US, many in the IT industry will save up their PTO, allowing them to carry it over to the next year and cash it out when they leave work. We as leaders need to change the concept of earned PTO and move to a flexible PTO that everyone is encouraged to take to ensure separation of work and relaxation.

Down Days and flexible PTO offer a good alternative to this hoarding PTO mentality, and to policies that seek to address this by requiring employees to use their PTO for a certain period of time or they will lose it. While they are likely well-intentioned, such requirements only serve to create another type of barrier for employees looking to take time off.

Preventing Burnout Starts at the Hiring Stage

Creating a culture of trust in your organization is one of the most important aspects of preventing burnout. Requiring your employees to stay at work for long hours or strictly monitoring their work only adds more to your plate and wastes time. To enable employees to do their jobs effectively and in a way that they enjoy coming to work, leaders must trust their employees to get the job done.

This means hiring on the basis of values, rather than just skills. Skills can be taught, but if a person’s values ​​don’t align with those of the company, it will be difficult to maintain a workforce that you can trust and embody the energy of your corporate culture. I am looking for employees who are flexible, team players who leave egos behind. They need to have a fundamental sense of morality, that is, to think in terms of making things better rather than just making money.

Once you hire these talented and intelligent people, your primary job as a leader is to create an environment in which they can excel. This means implementing strategies to avoid overworking employees and putting more emphasis on production, rather than hours worked.

Be the change you want to see

Creating cultural change like this has to start at the top. It really is the responsibility of the CEO to set an example and an expectation that reducing burnout is a priority.

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

Additionally, bringing IT professionals into broader business conversations will not only help your business run better, it will educate others in the business about what the role of the IT team is and why it is so essential. This will reduce the workload on these employees, making them more than just a dump in the eyes of those not involved in IT.

Making burnout prevention a priority is essential to keeping your employees happy, healthy and productive, leading to better results for your business and your team. Giving employees the time and headspace to contribute new ideas will help retain them and fuel their growth within the company. If the industry continues to take IT and cybersecurity professionals for granted, I have no doubt that innovation and security will suffer as a result.

David Bennett is a technology veteran and seasoned channel executive with more than 30 years of IT channel leadership, currently as CEO of object firstwhose goal is to reduce ransomware and simplify data protection.


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