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IT managers in the dark over work-life balance pressure of on-call work, research shows

PagerDuty's inaugural work-life balance report highlights how unspoken frustrations about punishing on-call schedules can contribute towards employee attrition and workplace stress

IT managers who are oblivious to the toll that punishing on-call rotas are having on the work-life balance of their teams are at heightened risk of losing staff, suggests PagerDuty research.

The digital operations management platform provider’s inaugural The state of IT work-life balance report looks at the impact on-call work can have on the personal lives of technology teams, and how it can contribute to higher levels of employee churn.

The report features responses from more than 800 IT professionals in the UK, US and Australia, who were asked to participate in separate regional surveys in December 2017.

More than half (51.3%) said their sleep patterns and personal life are disrupted more than 10 times a week as a result of being called on to deal with IT outages while on-call, with 94% claiming these incidents are affecting their family life.

A similar percentage said lack of sleep affects their workplace productivity, while around one-in-four respondents said the “always-on” nature of their work affects their family life so much their jobs can become unmanageable.

Being unable to achieve a good work-life balance was cited by 23.1% as being a prompt for them to consider looking for a new job.

Shadow IT stress

The report further suggests that senior management have no idea how on-call work can negatively affect the personal lives of the IT professionals they employ, with 72% of respondents claiming their management team have little to no visibility of its impacts. From this sample of respondents, 18.1% described their work-life balance as “fair to poor”.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Steve Barrett, the head of Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) at PagerDuty, said there is also a tendency, as highlighted elsewhere in the report, for IT professionals to keep quiet about the detrimental effect on-call work is having on their personal lives.

Interrupted sleep, out of hours disruption and poor work-life balance is just considered part of the job for 56.7% of respondents, the research shows, as consumers have come to expect the digital services they rely on to be accessible and operational whenever they need them to be.

“When you look at the expanded internet of things economy, other digital services, this is going to become even more of a problem. The appetite today, where everyone wants everything instantly, is only going to increase,” said Barrett.

It is also a situation senior managers need to get a handle on for commercial reasons, as it can contribute to people leaving the organisation, and it can affect the productivity of those caught up in it.  

“No-one [in the organisation] is being vocal about it, and managers have little or no insight or anyway of knowing when there is a difficult on-call schedule in place,” he said.

“At certain levels of the organisation, we’re seeing from our data and our customers that there is that inertia to speak. What we’re also seeing at senior management level is [some] recognition of the commercial impact if they don’t act on this.

“Attrition can be expensive, especially in London and San Francisco where it can be $300,000 and upwards to replace people,” he added.

Read more about work-life balance in DevOps

The survey’s publication coincides with the launch of PagerDuty’s Operations Health Management Service (OHMS), which is a managed service geared towards helping organisations monitor the health and well-being of their staff.

The system tracks 15 indicators pertaining to employee health, including how many times their sleep is interrupted by on-call work, and assigns each worker a score of zero-to-100 so senior managers can keep tabs on work-life balance matters.

The company has also accrued anonymised performance data from customers operating in 53 vertical markets that users of the services can benchmark their organisation’s performance against.

A lot of the themes touched on in the PagerDuty survey, with regard to the importance of helping developers and operations staff achieve a good work-life balance, have emerged as recurring talking points in the DevOps community over the past few years.

According to Barrett, these discussions are now filtering through to other parts of the organisation, and increasingly becoming board-level conversations.

“When you look at talent and competition for companies in certain areas, whether that is London or the north of England, there is not a surplus of talent,” he said.

“So, for a lot of HR [human resources] directors, this is becoming part of their agenda now because the cost to get these people or retain them is having a business impact.

“It’s not just a DevOps or middle management challenge: it is now a CIO or HR director issue, because they are competing for the same talent. And to differentiate as an organisation, they have to think about the people element.”

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