People who work in IT are among the most stressed employees in the UK, according to a report commissioned by Guardian Financial Services. Of the IT personnel interviewed, 60 per cent reported a significant increase in stress factors at work. And the situation is not likely to improve.
Half of IT workers describe the industry as stressful, compared with a fifth in the manufacturing sector and a quarter in accounting and finance. A quarter say their health has suffered due to stress but the real percentage is likely to be far higher, as many may not realise it?s happening. The reasons they cite include sales targets, deadlines, squeezed margins, intense competition, the pressure of keeping up to date with new technologies, and a shortage in the workplace of people with the right skills and relationships. Many IT employees experience some if not most of these factors.
It seems we are living in a culture where work comes first and family and social life a poor second. IT employees tend to work far longer hours than they are contracted to do, and many bosses expect them to do it.
The perception is that it is necessary to work overtime in order to reach the top, even though 35 per cent of people in senior management never work after hours. And more than half of us don?t stop properly for weekends, with more than 80 per cent admitting to some work-related reading.
While some stress and an air of competition are necessary to extend our abilities and performance, too much will result in physical and mental symptoms. The first signs are often ignored, but unless people face reality and deal with the situation, they are likely to find that stress takes its toll, sometimes with permanent effect.
The problem for many reseller business managers and the people who work for reseller businesses is that they are middlemen. They have to deal with customers on one hand and suppliers on the other, so the amount of stress they have to deal with is doubled. This pressure on the owners of the business is transmitted to the employees, whether technical, sales, admin or programmers.
Phil Forshew, national sales manager for Toshiba, says: ?It?s never a happy medium. There is either a product glut or a shortage, too many customers demanding attention or too few, not the right technologies or a sudden rush of new ones which have to be assimilated.?
Forshew says many in the IT industry feel they are in some sort of race, against each other and against technological development. ?It is an exciting market,? he says, ?but it is also very stressful.?
Gwen Palmer, stress consultant and managing director of Invisible Communications, says that seeing resellers on board the Norwegian Crown for this year?s Comdef convinced her that resellers are particularly stressed. ?The behavioural evidence was most striking,? she says. Smoking between courses in the restaurant and non-stop talking about the industry were tell-tale signs. ?I?ve attended lots of conferences and usually after hours of business the conversation moves on to topics outside work, but I didn?t hear a single conversation the whole time I was at Comdef that wasn?t about computers. You people never switch off.?
Forshew adds that many reseller sales and technical staff are their own worst enemy. ?They are a very disparate bunch and many of them are, frankly, very paranoid. If only they would work together instead of competing so fiercely and so protectively.?
Forshew points out that Toshiba?s reseller channel is one of the best in the industry, but it still works as isolated units rather than a consolidated force. ?It would be so much better for them, and for us, if they would get together and combine forces. It would benefit the marketing effort and they could pool skills. The reseller channel could be far more advanced if it wasn?t so afraid of losing business to other resellers.?
At a recent conference of Toshiba resellers there were meetings to discuss common problems, some with Toshiba?s management present and some without. Forshew says that margin retention emerged as a big issue for many resellers, but the smaller resellers felt they were victimised because they were not able to offer the same economies of scale as the big resellers. ?The big firms appear to have more advantages,? he says, ?but it is often just smoke and mirrors.?
Vendors such as Toshiba rarely get involved with customer pricing so the whole area of margin retention is outside their control, says Forshew. ?Anything to do with pricing we leave to the resellers,? he says, ?but it is obvious that if they could co-operate rather than compete so overtly, they could help each other without losing anything.?
Forshew agrees that vendors have an obligation to reduce the stress on resellers by creating as much market pull as possible. ?It is also important that vendors provide high-quality products, so the resellers don?t have to deal with complaints from customers, and have the products which are being advertised available for sale. There is nothing worse for a reseller than customers asking for a product which is not available yet. Unavailability creates its own stresses.?
Kevin Lomax, chairman of software group Misys, believes that, contrary to popular belief, there are more pressures on reseller companies which have moved into services. ?As a provider of products rather than services, Misys is less vulnerable to the rising wage costs and staff shortages that are hitting other computer groups.? Misys is able to respond to that type of problem by moving its production overseas. It already employs about 15 per cent of its programming staff in the Philippines.
Steve Lamb, managing director of systems integrator ECS, agrees that life for a reseller business and its employees is more complex and stressful than ever. ?As products become increasingly complex and systems more central to a company?s infrastructure, the need for IT services is growing,? he says. But he adds: ?Those in the business of providing IT services are in danger of pushing added value to far. For many customers, more is less.?
The challenge facing resellers, Lamb says, is knowing what a customer is asking for, when to provide services and when to supply just product. ?When customers ask for a networking hub, they may well need a degree of hand-holding to discuss the options and ensure staff know how to install and configure it. This may result in a consultancy contract or training programme. By contrast, a similar request from a second customer could just lead to the hub being delivered quickly at minimal cost.?
Lomax agrees that it is important to know when services are welcome and add some value, and when they are not what the customer wants or needs. And one of the symptoms of stress is not being able to tell the difference.
Francesca Kimpton is a medium and healer who works on the TV show Revelations and a member of the British Astrological & Psychic Society. She says: ?People who work with electrical equipment all around them all day are experiencing a unique kind of stress which has a very real effect on their minds and bodies. Electrical equipment and cables emit an electrical field which creates disturbance in human bodies. Programmers and technical staff are obviously particularly vulnerable.?
Kimpton recommends that people working with computers all day place an amethyst on the top of the computer to minimise the damage. ?It is helpful if all the wires can be kept out of the way, at least.?
Kimpton visits companies to advise on stress reduction techniques. She says she sees individuals who are tired, run-down and unable to concentrate but don?t know why. ?The effects of stress can take many months, if not years, to accumulate. People put the symptoms down to other things. They also expect stress to be cured overnight if the source of the stress is removed.
?Obviously, something that has taken months or years to have an effect is not going to stabilise quickly. If someone has a bad year, they can expect it to take a year at least for the body to readjust and at least another year before things get back to the way they were before. The power and effect of stress is wildly underestimated. It takes more than a two-week holiday for things to get back to their unstressed norm. People have to make radical and long-term changes to their habits and work culture.?
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