8 ways to fight burnout on IT teams

Is your team's morale and well-being at risk? IT leaders share strategies for watching out for the troops – in an era of ever-increasing demands
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The IT organization has evolved from a back-office department quietly toiling behind the scenes to the department getting requests from every corner of the organization. While the era of digital transformation has been good for technology’s strategic standing, the ever-increasing burdens can have serious repercussions on IT staff. 

Workplace weariness costs businesses more than $300 billion a year in terms of absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity, increased health and legal costs, and related issues, according to the American Institute of Stress. Within the IT group, fatigue can quickly erode morale, culture, and outcomes.

In fact, says Conal Thompson, CTO of Monster, mitigating the risk of burnout among individuals and teams is one of the most important tasks for technology leaders today. “Sincere and committed employees will strive to give you their best, even when they are exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally,” Thompson says. “It’s critical to keep an eye out for the signs in your employees, as well as for yourself.”

[ IT leaders need to take care of themselves. Learn why in this first-person account by CIO Brian Beams: Is IT bad for your health? How our jobs might be killing us. ]

CIOs can take action to better manage burnout levels in the organization. Consider these eight best practices, shared with us by CIOs, CTOs, and other experts:

1. Be vigilant

There are a number of signs of impending burnout that CIOs should monitor. At an individual level, signs in technologists include diminished interest, aloofness, reduced quality of work, or a weakened sense of personal accomplishment, says Thompson of Monster. 

At the team level, those same signs show up on a larger scale. It’s crucial to address such issues as soon as possible. “There’s no better way to help relieve pressure and tension other than making sure that people who aren’t performing are moving on to other opportunities before burnout happens,” says Keith Collins, executive vice president and CIO of analytics provider SAS.

2. Get to know your people better

“IT leaders should work to build more direct connections with their team members,” says Russell Raath, president at strategy execution and change management consultancy Kotter
Understanding individual and team dynamics, and grasping the scope of work everyone faces are all important to managing workloads and monitoring the organizations for worrying deviations from baseline norms. “Maintaining open lines of communication with team members is the first step to identifying burnout,” says Jason Katcher, Vice President and CIO of ITA Group. “Connecting regularly helps identify the signs, which may manifest as mental and emotional frustration or physical strain and stress.”
IT leaders should request one-on-one feedback from team members to understand “how they are feeling and how you as the leader are contributing to those feelings,” says organizational psychologist and executive coach Emma-Kate Swann, co-author of the forthcoming book, "CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life."

"With virtual teams, it’s harder to determine who is stressed out. It’s critical to find ways to develop touch points regarding the overall wellness of team members," Swann says.

3. Embrace sustainable work practices

At Monster, cross-functional team structure provides a support mechanism that helps stave off burnout, while agile development processes tend to keep work at a more manageable level, Thompson says. “They also help to create a real sense of team work and accomplishment, while ensuring delivery in a sensible time cycle.” 

The Agile methodology distributes work in a way that is less likely to overload specific individuals and teams.

The Agile methodology also distributes work in a way that is less likely to overload specific individuals and teams, says Eric Garton, partner with management consultancy Bain & Company and coauthor of "Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power."

4. Shift the IT mindset: Stop playing "Survivor" 

“The default in an IT environment is an abundance of ‘survive’ mentality – deadlines, uptime, SLAs, et cetera,” says Raath. “Leaders need to really focus on creating an environment that activates and nourishes the ‘thrive.’ CIOs must create the conditions where people can feel excited about the work they are doing, see the connection of their work to the future, and feel good about the importance of their role.” Timely one-on-one and group feedback can help to create a sense of meaning in the work and a belief that individual IT professionals matter.


Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.