Sleepless over stress

IT managers' stress levels in Europe are definitely rising, but Julia Vowler finds that the increase in stress is not just...

IT managers' stress levels in Europe are definitely rising, but Julia Vowler finds that the increase in stress is not just because of a struggling economy

If you run corporate IT, don't expect a worry-free existence. According to a newly published survey by IT services company, Synstar, IT managers face pressure from three distinct sources - from IT itself, from business and in their personal lives. And they worry about all of them.

For nearly half (46%) of IT managers at the 600 European organisations which responded to the survey, the biggest worry keeping them awake at night is managing too great a workload, finds the report.

In concrete terms the biggest concern on the substantially long worry-list of IT managers is systems crashing - 35% say their greatest fear is losing all IT systems for 24 hours. Not far behind system failure is staff defection - 28% of respondents say losing a key member of the IT department is their greatest fear.

But even when the IT function is running smoothly, managers do not enjoy peace of mind. That smooth running has probably been achieved at the expense of their personal lives, which imposes a bigger external pressure on them than does meeting the needs of the board for strategic IT.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of IT managers say that the pressure of their job has had a negative effect on their personal happiness and health. Nearly a quarter (22%) say that work commitments have led them to miss a special event in their child's life, while more than a third (35%) have missed other special family events and nearly half (47%) have missed important medical appointments (perhaps to ask their doctor to help them manage stress better). Almost two in five say they frequently take work calls in personal time.

With job pressures creating so much stress in their personal lives, only 19% of respondents consider that losing the confidence of their board is the most important thing on their agenda to worry about.

This may be because many IT managers don't seem to enjoy the confidence of the board in the first place - or don't think they do. The study showed that more than two-thirds (69%) do not sit on their boards, a third of respondents believe that their board sees IT as peripheral to the business, and 19% say that IT is neither understood nor valued at board level.

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents say they are very or extremely worried about IT not being voiced or valued at board level.

On the upside, more than a third (36%) of respondents say they think IT is already well represented at board level.

And the 32% who worry about the absence of proven business benefits from existing IT strategy do so because they see it as the second biggest threat to their job security - after fear of being outsourced, which, cited by 35% tops the worry polls so far as their roles are concerned.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents say they are worried about the pace of their career development, compared with a third who don't worry.

"Concern about career development is particularly low in the insurance industry and particularly high in the telecoms industry," finds the report.

Nevertheless, a refreshingly small number of respondents, only 12%, say that lack of education, background and interpersonal skills is holding them back from gaining a seat on the board.

Demanding end-users are a perennial source of pressure on IT - a third of respondents say they are worried or extremely worried by overly demanding IT users - but the sales and marketing function tops the polls as making the most demands on the IT support function with 37% of respondents putting them at the head of the list, followed by shopfloor and distribution (27% of respondents) and then accounting and finance (24% of respondents).

So, with all this relentless recipe for worry and pressure, is there an upside to the job? Perhaps IT managers would do well to think along the lines of John F Kennedy commenting on his new job as US president, "The pay's not bad and there's no heavy lifting."

Switched on Across Europe: Synstar's business technology pressure point index can be downloaded from

Security tops the pressure scale
IT managers feel most of the pressures on them come from the operational deployment of IT, and then pressures on their own personal lives, rather than from the strategic exploitation of IT for business and their relationships with the board.

System security topped the pressure point poll for respondents, a bare point ahead of the pressure of keeping up with new technology, and nine points ahead of the demands of making sure IT supports the business.

Rolling out new systems and upgrades was the fourth biggest internal IT pressure for respondents, then managing IT costs and budgets, and the insatiability of IT systems.

Managing a personal work-life balance was the biggest external pressure they felt, followed by continued worrying about the skill shortage. Business issues exerting pressure on IT managers included IT being undervalued and unheard by the board, overly demanding end-users and managing mergers and acquisitions.

Least pressure, from any source, was felt to come from issues of job security, or lack of government support for IT.

Is government on your side?
The national government most on the side of IT is Germany's, say 33% of respondents, followed by the UK (27%).

After these two countries, government support for the IT economy plummets seriously to the Netherlands and France (12%), down to a pitifully low level in Italy (polled only 1%).

Key topics of concern for European governments when it comes to IT are promoting e-business (top of the poll), followed by electronic government, the IT skills shortage, the value placed on IT by businesses and the shortage of women working in IT.

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