Workforce Stress: Are You Looking After Your IT Staff?

Mental health in the workplace is increasingly becoming recognised by CEOs and MDs across the globe, with businesses finding that happier employees means increased productivity. However, it is still a largely unaddressed issue that cannot be ignored. Stress seems to be considered normal; in his 2018 book, Jeremy Pfeffer refers to long working hours as a necessity for employees wanting to advance in their career.

Cybersecurity, in particular, is an area that is suffering, with 59% of stressed IT workers in a 2018 study by Chess Cybersecurity reporting working over 45 hours per week. This contributes to a negative working atmosphere of increased stress for those dedicated to protecting and maintaining our online systems.

“If so many of those responsible for our IT services, hardware, software and security are stressed out, should we not be concerned, particularly as organisations are so dependent on the proper running of their digital systems?” Gavin Wood, Technical Director, Chess Cybersecurity

Clearly, stress in IT and Cybersecurity is not something that can be ignored, and a lack of change could lead to serious ramifications for businesses and individuals.

Why is Stress Such an Issue in IT?

According to Health Assured CEO David Price, almost half of IT workers feel the pressure from maintaining operations in their department and suffer from stress regularly in their jobs. IT systems are constantly at risk of an attack. There is no ‘downtime’ or quiet periods for a hacker; they operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This can be a huge source of stress for an IT employee, as responsibility for detecting and defending or youthese attacks rests on their heads.

The current threat landscape is constantly evolving; hackers are finding more and more ways to infiltrate a company to wreak havoc and perhaps even steal data. To keep up with this, mitigation systems must also evolve and keep up with the modern methods of unforgiving hackers, placing more pressure on IT workers.

If, in the worst-case scenario, there is a data breach it is the IT workers’ head that is on the chopping block. The Managing Directors are going to look to IT, even if they’ve maintained the systems as well as they can within any restrictions such as budget.

All these sources of pressure can combine to cause a huge amount of anxiety for workers. The global push to digitalise business means more focus on IT than ever before, placing increasing responsibility on those working in the sector. Often, these pressures go unnoticed making things worse for those facing the challenges.

Main Issues and Consequences

A key issue faced in the workplace today is the lack of respect shown to personnel in IT. According to a 2018 report by Chess Cybersecurity, less than 4 in 10 staff who identified as ‘stressed’ at work said they felt valued in their organization. This lack of respect could lead to a negative attitude amongst staff, potentially lowering enjoyment and therefore productivity at work.

Another problem is the lack of resources. Due to the low priority of the IT department for many bosses, less money and resources are allocated. This can have several repercussions, from struggling to keep systems up and running, to the inability to protect against a cyber-attack.

The lack of personnel with sufficient training is also a headache for many businesses. The 2018 Black Hat USA attendee survey found that 65% of infosec professionals said they do not have enough qualified staff members to protect against potential threats; a figure that has remained at this level for the past 4 years.

The Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) surveyed over 300 cybersecurity executives in 2017 and found that lack of personnel produces higher rates of burnout and staff turnover. The additional stress placed on employees to not only complete their own tasks (potentially outside of their skill set) but to also cover for positions that are yet to be filled can have a significant impact on their anxiety levels and productivity at work.

These issues all have consequences for the employees and for the business. Lower levels of productivity mean that money is being lost every day, and with the lack of personnel, most businesses can’t afford to let the staff they do have be unproductive.

According to the Health and Safety Executive UK (HSE), high levels of stress can be factors in causing physical health symptoms in employees. These symptoms can vary from increased forgetfulness, tiredness, and anger on a regular basis. In worse cases, it can also lead to more serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, and heart and cardiovascular problems. This means more sick days, more money lost, and less time spent ensuring you are adequately protected, resulting in a higher risk of an attack.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Stress?

Clearly, with the number of issues and their consequences, something needs to change within businesses to not only improve an individual’s wellbeing, but a company’s too. To reduce employee stress levels, there are a number of actions that can be taken:

A company-wide Mental Health Programme can help ensure good practice is being followed. Requirements could include monthly 1-to-1s with management to talk about workload and wellbeing, ensuring overtime isn’t a regular occurrence, and encouraging holiday to be taken. Those in charge should also be trained in recognising the warning signs and managing sensible stress levels in their employees.

Furthermore, management should be looking at remedies for the issues previously mentioned; low morale, lack of staff, training needs, low productivity and high levels of sickness all need to be addressed.  Often this can be addressed by the introduction of new technology or by outsourcing elements of IT security either in the short-term or for longer period.

“We can see that IT workers need to proactively take steps to manage stress in the workplace, and that means first understanding it’s causes and effects. We should provide employees and managers with training to identify and manage stress, and by actively supporting employees in the workplace, we can not only reduce workplace stress but also prevent consequential health issues.” David Price, CEO, Health Assured.

A technique that is on the rise is the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence). AI can reduce workloads by completing repetitive tasks for workers. Furthermore, machine learning means that the technology is constantly improving itself, so the more it learns, the more complex tasks it can deal with.

Employing some or all of these solutions could help boost your business, encouraging a healthy relationship between employees and work, which in turn will increase productivity and quality of work. These issues need to be addressed company-wide, but especially within IT as neglecting these could result in your organization not being adequately secure, and potentially putting your business at serious risk of an attack or data breach.

To help take the pressure off your IT department, activereach not only provides bespoke security solutions, but an ongoing service of help and advice. To find out what solution is right for your business, give us a call on 0845 625 9025 or email us at