Career coaching can help disillusioned and burnt-out IT employees get back on track

Steve Errey was a successful IT project manager with a string of contracts behind him at companies including Bristol & West, Telewest, Kingfisher and Enron.

Steve Errey was a successful IT project manager with a string of contracts behind him at companies including Bristol & West, Telewest, Kingfisher and Enron.

But four years ago, after 12 years in the profession, Errey reached his 30th birthday and suddenly found himself incapable of working, suffering from what he calls his quarter life crisis.

"It was a horrible period. I have never been more low than that time. I had to put myself back together. It was most bizarre; I couldn't even speak," he says.

Such early life crises are far from rare in the IT profession, claims Errey, who now specialises in coaching professionals in their thirties who may be going through similar experiences.

His clients often feel they have hit a wall. After years of meeting deadlines, keeping up to date with technology and working long hours, they suddenly feel they "just don't care about it any more," says Errey.

"When they first come to me, people don't know what they want. All they know is that they are demotivated with the industry, their morale is low and they feel like something must change."

Coaching can help IT professionals put their careers back on track, says Errey. It is about helping people identify what they really want from work, and encouraging them to take the steps to achieve it.

"I use some of my project management skills to lay out strategies for people to get from A to B, getting people to define where they want to go, and working with them to get great results - pretty much what a project manager does," he says.

The nature of the job means many IT staff have problems with work-life balance. But often this can be a sign that people have an underlying issue with self confidence and self esteem.

"Often it is about saying 'you do have the right to say no'. You are contracted for 40 hours a week, so if you want a weekend off, then have a weekend off. It is getting people to the point where they see that and feel comfortable with doing that, and they feel assertive enough to do that," he says.

For some IT professionals the answer might be to temporarily take a less demanding job, to free up time for family, or to develop other career interests.

Women find it easier to change direction, says Errey. They are "more aware of the internal stuff," and feel less constrained by the financial safety net of a well paid job. One female IT professional decided to move into PR after a series of coaching sessions.

"She knew that learning about IT and keeping up with the industry wasn't for her. She didn't enjoy it, so she knew she had to make a change," says Errey. "Her energy levels went through the roof when she talked about PR, so that was a giveaway. She didn't realise it herself, but part of my job is to echo that back, and when she realised how fired up she got when she talked or thought about it, slowly it all came together."

Sometimes people simply need encouragement to make a decision about a change in direction or finding a new job.

"The classic one is, 'I am just waiting for the next pay review to see what happens'. It is a classic case of giving away responsibility for what happens to you," he says. "You might get a pay rise, you might not. Great. What next ?

"To go on a coaching course is an investment, because it is all about saying 'I want to make changes. I want to do something better'. The results that come out of it are sometimes priceless, like self esteem and self confidence."

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