2008-02-10

IT Stress

An IT director in my organization was kind enough to send my way a Computerworld article on stress in IT. Blessedly, the article comes from a for-real CIO, William Cross, who chose it as a topic for his doctoral thesis (I don’t want to move to Tampa, but if I did, I’d definitely want to know if Seminole Electric Cooperative is hiring!). CIOs do get that we’re under stress (I know my CIO is aware of it). I’m particularly intrigued that Mr. Cross advocates stress management sessions. I’ll be adding that to my agenda for the next time I’m in front of my manager.

Interestingly, he notes that soft skills play a role in stress levels:

Is part of that stress a result of insufficient communication skills? Certainly. It goes back to the low social need – IT people don’t really feel comfortable dealing with many other people. And so you combine that with our tendency to give our computers human characteristics, and if you look at a lot of us we talk to our computers like they are people.

So, developing relationships inside and outside of our organizations, particularly with non-IT folks can be as healthy for our bodies as it is for our careers and profession as a whole? He said it better than I could.

As a sidebar to the article, Computerworld contributor C.J. Kelly makes a few positive notes in response to Mr. Cross and adds another good quote:

The CIO in this news story, William Cross, the CIO of Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc. in Tampa, Fla., recommends “steps they can take to reduce stress, such as practicing breathing exercises, setting priorities, avoiding negative people and office gossip, and ensuring that they strike the right balance between job and life. He says, “Your job is not you.”

People in my team try really hard to have several group lunches each week. Recently, we instituted a new rule: no negative work talk during lunch. We’ve made exceptions, but only very sparingly. And it’s always with the acknowledgment that it’s a temporary exception. Our already solid team relationships have only gotten better as a result as we’ve gotten better at being mindful not to be the negative person at lunch.

There are times when we can’t avoid venting, and often no one understands the issues better than a peer. But we see lunch as a break from work, not an extension of it. We still have to offer sometimes uncomfortable, adjusting and direct feedback to each other. Keeping negatives at bay during lunch is working to elevate interpersonal relationships. And that banks personal capital between us, which makes direct feedback with each other a little easier.

I still have trouble with the idea that my job isn’t me. All work is personal. Timothy Ferris seems to agree, though in 4-Hour Work Week (sorry, you'll just have to read the book to get it) that we spend too much time identifying ourselves by our profession rather than as people.

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