The Rigors of the Job: IT and Your Mental Health
May 23, 2019
Sue Urses | Vice President of Human Resources | Ivanti
Kevin J. Smith | Senior Vice President | Ivanti
As new technology is introduced in the office, the workforce is increasingly demanding immediate response to IT requests and issues. These issues don’t just exist from 9-5 either, users often expect 24/7 support from the IT department. From the IT perspective, that’s a lot of pressure!
In this unique webinar, we’re talking to VP of Strategic Initiatives Kevin J Smith and VP of Human Resources Sue Urses to discuss the stress of working in IT and how corporations can help. We’ll cover:
- How new technology is impacting your quality of life, both positively and negatively
- How AI and automation will impact mental health in the IT industry
- The rise of remote workers in IT
- Stress management techniques to improve your mental health at the office
- Work-life balance tips
- Advice on how to talk to HR about work pressure and mental health
Erica: Hi everyone, welcome to our webinar. Today, we've got a really unique topic we're going to cover, so, hopefully, you're excited. I know we are. This webinar is titled "The Rigors of the Job: IT and your Mental Health." And this is a very applicable topic for a lot of you. Especially this week, we didn't plan it to be the week of [inaudible 00:00:25] vulnerability, but we just thought we'd kind of keep you on your toes, hopefully, you've been able to kind of handle that vulnerability and the stress of that all right. And looking forward to the weekend, hopefully, you can relax a little bit this weekend after that surprise for everyone. So anyway, we're glad you're on this webinar today.
Before we get started, I wanted to mention that this is actually the first or the final installment of a webinar series that Ivanti has hosted around career development. So about a month ago, we hosted a webinar about how to get a better job in IT where we had two IT executives talk about career progression and give tips and advice on how to better yourself in the job market. That was a really interesting one. The other webinar we did, in the series, was a panel where we interviewed three women in IT about their successes and challenges they faced and just kind of about being a woman in IT specifically.
Both webinars were really cool and there was great conversation between the panelists and interaction from the attendees as well. So, hopefully, this series is invaluable to you. After this session ends, we are going to send up a follow-up email and that will have all the links to watch both of those webinars on demand, if you're interested. And speaking of those recordings, we'll also be recording this session and we'll send out that recording as well.
So this is also a unique series because the focus is entirely on career development. There's no pitch or product we're trying to push. There won't be a demo at the end of the presentation. We're just trying to provide some value and thought leadership. If you know of Ivanti, you know that our whole focus is unifying IT and really the goal is, if we unify those processes, you can be better at your job and your job satisfaction will increase, your stress will decrease. But that's really the only connection here to Ivanti today that we're gonna push. So, again, thanks for joining us, we hope you find this helpful.
So, before we introduce our speakers today, I wanted to get a better idea of who we have with us, who's joined us today on the webinar. So if you open up the chat function in WebEx, go ahead and send me a message and let me know where you're calling in from today. So I'll start by introducing myself. I'm Erica Azad and I run the webinar program here at Ivanti. I actually... already I'm recognizing a lot of you here from past webinars, so welcome back. I'm calling in from London and I'm actually suffering from my very first sunburn of the season, which I didn't think was possible in London so I'm pretty happy about that. And so, I'm seeing some other people from the UK, Canada, Denver. The Midwest is really representing, I love that the Midwest [inaudible 00:03:38] mental health right now. We've got loads of people from Colorado. Cool. So awesome.
Now, thanks for sending those in, keep those coming. And now that you're familiar with that chat function in WebEx, go ahead and use that throughout the webinar if you have questions, or thoughts, or comments on what we're saying. We will try to address all the questions throughout the webinar. I wanna make this webinar as interactive as possible and as helpful as possible for you. So yeah. Let me know. And we're still getting those in, so that's great to hear. Oh, we even have someone from Italy. Lucky you.
Okay. So, with that, let's introduce our panelists. First, we have Sue Urses who is the Vice President of Human Resources at Ivanti. Hi, Sue, how are you doing today?
Sue: Good, Erica. How are you?
Erica: I'm good, thank you. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Ivanti?
Sue: Well, yes. As you mentioned, I'm the Vice President of HR and I'm responsible for everything people. So from the hiring function to helping them develop in their careers, and even when they leave Ivanti, we help make that as smooth as possible as well. I've been in the IT industry for about 15 years now, but I have about 25 years in HR, which I'm almost ashamed to admit.
Erica: Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today still. And then, we also have Kevin J. Smith who's our VP of Strategic Initiatives. How you doing, Kevin?
Kevin: Great. Great. Good to be with you.
Erica: Awesome. And, Kevin, if I'm not mistaken, you just published your third book. Is that correct?
Kevin: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for keeping track of that. Thank you for noticing. Yeah, my third book on IT. I just find there's so many important topics that need to be addressed in IT, so much is changing. IT is so important to the business. But yeah. My third book, it's called "One IT, One Business," and it's about the coming together of IT to create a new model for IT, but also in order to better serve the business, and what that means, and how that's gonna realign everything we do over the next 10 to 15 years.
Erica: Very cool. So as our attendees can tell, we've got some awesome panelists today. I've also included Sue and Kevin's Twitter handles on here. They're both really active on Twitter and post some really great content, so be sure to follow them if this is a topic you're interested in. And let's get started with our topic today. I know I'm already seeing some comments and some questions in the chat. So, that's great, keep those coming. Before we dive directly into mental health, I kind of wanted to address where we're at in the industry which is impacting mental health. So, I wanted to pose the question, what are some of the changes happening in the industry that are causing more stress and pressure for IT professionals?
Kevin: It's Kevin. Hi. I'll take that one if that's okay, to get it started. The thing is that, if you look at the landscape of business, there's this new unavoidable connection and dependency on technology. And this wasn't always the case. A lot of businesses were successful in the past and not necessarily great at technology at the same time. Well, our world has changed in the last 10 years. And today, for business to be successful...let's broaden that a bit, for business to be successful, a business has to offer a product or a service that's compelling to a customer, and leverage technology to make that experience the best that it can be.
And it used to be that the world's most valuable companies were retail organizations, automobile companies, banks and the like. And they just did what they did and they weren't necessarily invested in leveraging technology. That's no longer possible and the world's most valuable businesses today have to do both. They have to have a brand. They have to be great at delivering a product or a service to a customer. And they have to see technology as a strategic enabler.
Well and when we think about that for a minute, well, where does all that run back to in the business? It comes back to IT because IT is the steward of information and the steward of technology. And I'm using technology broadly here, because I think that includes data and information. And so, now you have this perfect storm that is driving seismic changes in business and creating new dependencies in IT that are gonna forever reshape IT.
Erica: So, Kevin, when I think of technology, I think non-stop, 24/7, it never ends. Right? So, I'm sure that that's a significant change that's happening in the industry that adds pressure in IT.
Kevin: It does. It does. And where that's coming from, it's coming from the customer. It's coming from the customer, because what they want is, customers have become increasingly impatient, customers have become very demanding, and customers want what they want exactly when they want it and how they want it. And, as a result, a lot of people do...they kind of do the things they do around the clock, the traditional schedule has changed. The traditional clock has changed. And that's changing business as well, so it's changing business and it's changing our personal lives. And in fact, we find it harder to identify a line. There was always this traditional line.
Think about how our parents and our grandparents worked. There was a very distinct separation between business and work, and our personal lives. That separation is getting blurred, and it's gonna go away. I really think it's gonna go away in the next 5 to 10 years. And so, as a result of that, people are wanting to do what they need to do in their personal lives at any time, and in a way that's convenient, and they're wanting to work at any time in a way that's convenient. And all that gets smashed together and it's changing, ultimately, it's changing how we live. And once again, there's this unavoidable connection to technology because this is only made possible through devices like smartphones. Well, these smartphones are in our handbag, or in our pocket, and they're with us everywhere we go. And it kind of cuts both ways.
Sue: Yeah. I would like to add to that in that, it also creates stress in the way that mistakes become very public. Right? I mean, as you said, customers want what they want when they want it. Employees want what they need when they want it or what they want. And those mistakes become very visible, you know, with the ability to tweet things and publish things on some of our employment tools like Glassdoor. And I think it makes companies and employees who have to deal with that a lot more stressed because they have to figure out how to handle that one disgruntled person when the 20 that aren't disgruntled don't post anything.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, it's an open book, and Glassdoor is a great example. So everything's out there for everybody. And through Twitter, social media, Facebook and the like, information about everything is everywhere. And that's just something we have to live with.
Sue: I mean, before you buy anything these days, you go out and you read all the reviews on it. And once again, our products are generally evaluated by people who have had an issue. So, I think it creates an opportunity as well, because you rarely get to find out how good a company is until something goes wrong, and then, they have an opportunity to fix it. But fixing it, being available around the clock to fix those issues is very stressful for humans.
Kevin: Oh goodness, yes.
Erica: It really is a lot of pressure. And I wanna come back to the idea of pressure a little bit later in our conversation today. And [inaudible 00:12:53] it does have positives for professions as well. I wanted to talk about just...I mean we all know that technology has a positive effect on our lives and that also has a negative effect on our lives, but I wanted to talk about how technology impacts the quality of life that we're living. And that's kind of overall, but in IT specifically, what are you seeing, as you're talking to customers and people in IT, how this technology is impacting the quality of life?
Kevin: Well, having had a chance to work with a lot of IT organizations around the world, it's clear that there is this shift that's happening and that shift is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. And that is what technology represents, is this quality-of-life question being raised and each of us having to meet that challenge of, "Do we take advantage of the opportunity or do we let the challenge of it overwhelm us?" And every IT organization, every business is asking themselves that question right now. And I'll give you an example.
We think in terms of mobile devices, so tablets and smartphones, so the fastest growing segment of devices in IT. And devices are just a fundamental part of the world of IT, these assets. These are assets that IT has to manage. And by far, the biggest growth, in the past 5 years, has been in endpoints, and mainly smartphones and tablets, because they're just so convenient. They're so darn easy to use, we just do more and more on them. But that raises this quality-of-life issue. So we can see that, having that smartphone that now gives us access to company resources, we can see that, as our business following us everywhere and creating more pressure, or as an opportunity to get some of our work done quickly and conveniently without having to get on an airplane or drive to the office. Which used to be the case.
Just a few years ago, we had servers, and systems, and infrastructure that were requiring us to be in the office, to be tethered, if you will. That's no longer the case. And so, we have this amazing duality of...we have this powerful technology we take with us everywhere we go, well, sometimes it's really cool because we can get something done, we can get a task at work done and do it in 10 or 15 minutes. And before, it would've taken us hours to go to the office and do it, or an escalation happens, or we get an email that's upsetting to us because something happened, and we've got to address it. So I think we all have to have this balanced view of opportunity and challenge, and then, what are we going to make of that?
Sue: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it's an ability to be able to draw that line, and that's really difficult to do, between when you're going to disconnect and when you're not gonna disconnect. And you know, I do think that we've become addicted to this unit in our hands, and you know, it affects everything that we do. I think there are some benefits that it brings to us as well. I mean there's opportunity for education that we wouldn't have had before. For example, this seminar or this webinar, you might have to leave the office and take an hour or two away from work to attend something like this on the short-term. And you know, we joke in our house that there's nothing that Alexa doesn't know. So you start talking about some movie and you can't remember who's in it, and you don't bother to let the subject drop anymore, you just ask Alexa. So, I think there's the positive as, you know, with things like education and the ability to get some things done quickly and not have to drive into the office, but I think it does impact people's ability to separate their work life from their personal life. And that creates emotional challenges, not only for the employee but for their families as well.
Erica: Absolutely. So just to all of our attendees, I'm already seeing some great questions come in. We're gonna try to get to all of those. Before we get to some of the tactical advice pieces, I wanted to kind of raise one more question. And pulling back the curtain a little bit, this is actually kind of the inspiration for this webinar today. So, back in January, Ivanti hosted a webinar where we had some of our IT experts, including Kevin, give their predictions on what IT looks like in the future. And Kevin predicted, in that webinar that by 2028, only 10% of IT staff will work in a corporate or regional office. And I'm thinking this is going to resonate with some of our attendees, because it looks like we have people from all over the world in attendance today. I wanted to ask, how does the rise of remote working impact IT professionals from a mental-health perspective?
Kevin: It is definitely creating new issues. And I use issue in a generic sense, not necessarily bad, not necessarily good. But what it creates is questions that we need to answer, questions we need to answer in IT, and questions we need to answer in the business that just didn't exist before because we just couldn't do what we could do today, and we didn't have the technology that we have today. And the mobile workforce is a reality that's here to stay. It simply is. And with that, we all have a responsibility, as individuals in a business and as teams in a business and as part of IT, to find a path that does strike the right balance. Because the needs of the business don't go away, the needs of IT aren't going away, it's not like the pressure on IT is less than it used to be.
So the mobile workforce what it does is it creates an opportunity for us to be more productive. And this is a concept we haven't spent a lot of time on, but what I see happening is, and I think increasingly it will become an understood model, is to be more productive with less time. Because we simply can't keep throwing hours at the problem. We can't keep working more, and harder, and doing more with less. And that, that sounds kind of crazy, but that is exactly the curve that IT's been on for the past 30 years. IT's always been under pressure to do more with the same, or more with less. We can't throw people at the problem, we can't go hire a bunch of people, but the demands of the business don't go away.
Sue: Yeah. I think that's true for professionals who aren't in the IT world. I read a statistic that 49% of remote workers struggle with wellness, mental-health-type related issues. Twenty-two percent responded that they couldn't unplug after work, 19% said that they feel lonely, and 8% said they can't stay motivated. So that's a hard reality when you're looking at managing a remote workforce. You know, there's the plus side, you know, because it does enable you to keep costs low because you're not having to have such a large business footprint. It works for employees because it gives them more flexibility to be there when children need the flexibility. Also, it allows you to work for a company without having to relocate. But having to overcome that 49% of your workforce, your remote workforce, is really struggling emotionally. [crosstalk 00:21:29]
Kevin: That's kind of a new agenda. Right? It's kind of a new agenda.
Sue: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:21:32] productivity.
Erica: Well, and we actually got a great comment from someone in the chat who was saying that they've worked remotely for 70% of the time in the past 3 years. And they definitely kind of echo what you said, there was definitely social isolation. But they felt like they could focus more and spend more time with their family. So it is kind of I guess a pros-and-cons situation, from what you guys are saying.
Kevin: Well, it does, and it creates this need for focus. It creates a need for focus because, with focus, we're able to instill some more discipline in how we do our workday. In the traditional model, you're in the office...and look, there are still a lot of people that do today and will continue to come to the office. And there's a new social, there's tremendous social value in being in the office, and that doesn't go away. But in being in the office, you naturally reduced a number of distractions, potential distractions that exist when you're working remotely. And so, if we get the focus right and we begin to understand the call to be more disciplined in how we structure our day, and we understand that we have a number of things that have to get done...and, you know, this is, as we were saying earlier, because this is kind of the new agenda, is allow yourself to improve your quality of life because that really comes down to you first and your teammates, and the professionals that the business offers to help you through that journey. And when you have that opportunity, when you do it right...because what we find is many remote workers will say it's the best thing that ever happened to them. And so, we kind of have this polarization of experience. Some people are really struggling with it, some people are saying it's been a great experience and it's kind of creating a new phase of their work life they're really excited about.
Sue: Well, and I think, as employers, you have to be able to meet the needs of both, which brings other challenges. I saw a comment, in the chat room, about being able to disconnect that you know your boss doesn't disconnect. And that does create some challenges. I know, for my team personally, you know, I struggle with this myself and I have a hard time disconnecting. But I've made it really clear to my team that just because I send them an email at, you know, 7 p.m. at night or 11 p.m. at night, I don't expect them to respond until the next day. But without actually voicing that to them, you know, their expectation was that I thought they needed to be available 100% of the time as well. Now, if your boss doesn't actually say that to you, I think it's important to ask, you know, "How quickly do you expect responses when I'm not in the office?" And you might be surprised as to the answer.
Kevin: Yeah. And, as those that are on the call that are individual contributors, there needs to be an agreement, there needs to be an understanding of what those expectations are, from your manager. For those on the call that are in position of leadership, or managers, they [crosstalk 00:25:02]. It's very important to set that. And if you have already, great. If you have not, it's something to think about going forward because you set the tone in many ways.
Erica: I do think there's something to be said about kind of setting that example because...and someone actually just mentioned this in the chat, you say you don't expect a response at 7:00 p.m. but a lot of people will still, you know, maybe feel pressured or stay engaged anyway. So it's kind of a tough situation to be in, especially if you feel like that precedent is being set by your manager.
Kevin: Well, and that's another thing, Erica, where the technology creates the opportunity to be online and to be available. And so, we now have access to company information. Email is a great example as a conversation resource. And increasingly, it's quite common, it pretty much becomes standard that people have access to a laptop or a smartphone. And so, they can see their email around the clock, whereas that wasn't even an issue before and people were just offline and everybody knew that. Well now you're online but that doesn't mean that you're active in your responding and you're actively working work issues. And so, back to this balance, the issue of balance and the culture, we're having a cultural shift. And that goes from leadership in every leadership position in the organization, through every contributor in the organization, what is that cultural expectation? What's that cultural standard? What's that cultural balance? And let's just assume that we have access to everything around the clock. Now, that doesn't mean we're all working around the clock, actively working, or should.
Erica: Or should. Yeah. So I think one topic that really plays into this idea of the ability to be working around the clock is burnout. And this actually came up on our last webinar about career progression. How do you avoid burnout in your career in general and in IT?
Kevin: Oh goodness. It's a bigger issue than ever. Because, back to where all these forces in the business intersect in terms of information, data, what customers are asking for, systems, they're all intersecting in IT. Think about, just think for a minute, because we take these things for granted, think for a minute about, in your average workday, how much you rely on email, internet access, and telephony. Well, we rely on that stuff a lot. Could we do our job without that stuff? Probably not. Now add to that an ERP system, a CRM system, whatever your systems may be, well, it quickly becomes impossible to do our jobs without...take those things away. Take one away, and it's hard. Take four or five of them away, it's impossible. Well, who's watching over all those things? It's IT. And one of the great challenges in IT is that, when it's working well, nobody really notices, we take it for granted. But if you take down the phone system, or you take down email, or you lose internet access...
Erica: People are screaming.
Kevin: The building's on fire. People are screaming and now everybody is in the face of IT. And that is not an easy thing. That immediately escalates the stress. And IT has enjoyed this anonymity for many years because these systems weren't critical to doing our job. Now they're critical to us doing our job, and there we go with...you know, IT is now the firefighters that slide down the pole how many times a day?
Erica: Well and, I think, certainly when you have a larger IT team, you make arrangements to have certain people cover off hours at certain times, but the smaller teams where there's only one person, that makes it extremely difficult for that person to disconnect. And, you know, I don't know what the answer is there.
Kevin: Well, and we're all trying to discover answers in this because these issues have risen to be become so critical. But one thing, Erica, is people need to think about that's not natural in IT is better teamwork. Because the first line of defense in managing stress and in managing mental health are your teammates. Each of us, we don't, nor do we claim to be mental-health professionals, but a lot of times the beginning of stress, the escalation of stress, if we're starting to struggle, sometimes a teammate can really help just listening, just being there to talk about something that's going on. And so, awareness is where a lot of this begins, is the awareness of stress, the awareness of the growing demands in IT. And as teammates, paying attention, paying attention to what's happening around us, noticing that one of our teammates might be struggling, noticing that something's not quite right, and just starting by being aware and talking about it.
Sue: Yeah. I mean looking for those things where somebody maybe reacts more abruptly than normal, where somebody who's chatty starts to be working in isolation and not want to engage with people. And looking for those signs, and then, just asking, "Hey, are you okay? Is there anything I can help you with?" and making sure that you work with a team who will do the same thing for you and make that okay to be checked on. There's a few things that we encourage our remote workers to do, and one of those things is to invest in a home office, as far as to draw those separations and try to avoid burnout is to make sure you've got clear boundaries. And that helps when you have a separate home office so that you can plan on working when you're in that room, and then, when you walk out of that room, you, hopefully, can step away from the work. Make sure that you have interests outside of work that help you unplug. If you don't do anything but work and sleep, then it's really hard to avoid burnout because you're always thinking about work. Even sometimes maybe when you're sleeping, I had some strange dreams myself.
Then making sure you communicate. As we've said, is that making sure that you tell people that you need help and when you need help and how you're feeling. And then, increasing your movement. When you're working at home, you know, sometimes you can all of a sudden realize it's 5:00 and you haven't even left your chair to have a restroom break. And then, just building that support network, whether it's with your family, or with your friends, or with people at work, making sure people know that...you knowing that they're there to help you and listen to you is a really key thing. But those are just some of the things that we encourage our folks to do.
Erica: I think that's great advice. I also wanted to ask, and maybe it just kind of falls into the HR perspective a little bit. What advice you have, you know, for people who are feeling overwhelmed consistently and overworked, or maybe having workplace anxiety, how do you recommend they go about talking to maybe their manager about how they're feeling?
Sue: Well, I think it's human nature, when you're at work, to feel like when you're asking for help, you're either admitting that you don't know how to do something, or that you're gonna be judged as, you know, not somebody that they would want on the team. And I think it's really the opposite and taking the time, and if you're not sure how to have that conversation with your manager, your HR team is there to help you practice those conversations or even maybe guide you in what you need to say. And if your manager isn't somebody that you can talk to about that, talk to your HR department to see what resources are available to you. Many companies these days have EAP programs that are mental-health resources that you can talk to and share your issues with them, you know, won't judge you and give you some really helpful advice. And usually, that's free. And take advantage of those.
Kevin: Yeah. That's great guidance, Sue. And I think, Erica, one thing that magnifies this issue a bit, to some degree, is the culture, the traditional culture of IT. We've always been so focused on technology, it's an organization of technologists. And those people are not necessarily naturally communicative, outgoing, whatever we wanna call it. And have in many cases, been working as individuals, working as individual contributors, focused on their technology. There are all kinds of, you know, social evaluations and grading scales and things like that out there, we won't go into that on the call today. But IT people may not be as naturally inclined to speak up or to ask for help. And this process, when they are, what Sue described, is a wonderful resource that exists in most organizations.
As the second line of defense, we have to go back to just kind of paying attention. As Sue said, somebody who's naturally more talkative or outgoing and has become very quiet. Or, you know, somebody is showing signs of frustration. You know, normally, when things escalate, many of us saw early signs. And grabbing somebody and say, "Hey, you wanna go have a coffee?" or, "Hey, why don't we go grab lunch?" or, "Why don't we go for a walk?" it's amazing what a simple thing like that can do for a teammate.
Erica: I wanted to also ask, just kind of going back to what you were saying about involving HR and talking to HR for things like this. I think sometimes, for a lot of people, the idea of going to HR is may be intimidating or you think, "Oh. My issue is not big enough to talk to HR about that," or, "Is this that big of a deal?" And I kind of wanted to get your opinion Sue on, when is it okay to talk to HR about things like this? And is this why HR exist or, you know, is there a line that you should cross before talking to HR? What do you think?"
Sue: I think there's this misnomer that, if you come to HR, you're complaining about something. And I can't tell you how many times we have an issue that escalates to us, and I say escalated because it's gotten really bad. And we wish that we would have gotten involved when somebody just needed somebody to talk to and ask, you know, "Am I being unreasonable in what I'm feeling or expecting?" Because, by the time it escalates, then there's usually not a great outcome for one person or the other. You know, we really work hard to try to make sure that everything that we solve can be done in a win-win type of fashion. But sometimes, you know, things get too late. I mean I'm sure it's just like IT equipment, you know. You notice a little glitch and you don't say anything, and then, pretty soon, your hard drive blows up.
Kevin: Yeah. I think it's kind of the same guidance. In IT, we're learning that the sooner we take action, the better. And if something looks small, well, let's deal with it then before it gets bigger, because it's not gonna get any better.
Sue: Yeah. Exactly. And we're really not the complaint department, we're a resource for human resources, not human complaint department. So use them. I love it when somebody comes and just says, "Hey, I need to bounce an idea off you and need to understand what you think if I said this to you, as I approached my boss, that they're impeding on my personal life too much?" And that's what they're there for.
Erica: I think that's fantastic. I do think, a lot of times, people don't realize that HR is a resource, you know. So I think that's great and it's a great idea.
Sue: It has it right in the name.
Erica: Well, we can address kind of general things on this webinar but we don't know, for all of the people who are on this webinar, we don't know the nuances of your specific company. Right? Whereas, your HR department will and they'll be able to, hopefully, give a bit more specific advice on a lot of this. So I think it's a great suggestion to utilize that.
Kevin: Well, if anything, Erica, it's more important than ever is human resources has always been important. It's always had a vital role in the business, but so much of the...and let's take a step back and think more broadly over the next 20 years. It arguably has a more important role than ever because of the changing role of people, the strategic nature of people, we have to nurture our people. It's always been important, no HR professional would say it was never not important. It was never not important, but it's becoming more important because people are an increasingly valuable asset in this landscape of technology.
Sue: And getting increasingly harder to find.
Kevin: I mean every, every business, think about how we all struggle. That's a great point to find the next hire, to find workers for the future. It's fundamentally a different world we live in than it was just a few years ago.
Erica: Right. Well, and I do think that often this sort of thing and burnout and feeling overwhelmed can sometimes be minimized by other people around you or often yourself. You know, you might be the one kind of minimizing your own feelings. But I wanted to ask, I mean, it is a big deal, how does burnout, and some of the issues we've talked about, impact the business overall?
Kevin: It's having an impact on the whole business and IT is a microcosm of that just because the IT culture is shifting, in many ways, faster than the rest of the business. But make no mistake, it's shifting in all of the business. And Sue's touched on a few things around managing burnout, taking advantage of human resources, because they are there, they're the pros, they're there for this very reason. I think also, is we touched on this concept of teammates. I talk about this in my book, is that IT has to get into the habit and it's really an organizational discipline of working in teams, working in small teams, whereas it may not be natural because we haven't always done that. But we do better work when we work in a small cross-functional team. We make better decisions when we work in small cross-functional teams. We have a better dialogue when we work in cross-functional teams.
That's a business model that has these tremendous advantages, and there are all kinds of business benefits to that. But also there are cultural and people benefits to working in these small cross-functional teams. And like what we just talked about, our teammates are a safety net, in many ways, for us as we do that.
Sue: You don't own the problem all by yourself when you're on a team.
Kevin: And normally, it is a shared problem. But IT people, bless their hearts and the heroes they've been for so many years, for decades, their natural instinct is to dive into it and to solve that problem on their own. We have to stop doing that because it's gonna be better for the business and it's gonna be better for IT.
Sue: And companies don't wanna see their employees burn out because the employees that are most subject to burnout are usually our strongest performers because they're really committed, they're really loyal, and they just wanna dig in there and get the work done. And if you allow yourself to get to that burnout phase without asking for help, you're eventually gonna just say, "I'm done. I'm gonna go find something else to do." And my advice to people who come and talk to me about that, is that typically, that's a "me problem" in that it's, "I'm not taking the time to do those things that will keep me from burning out and just drawing those boundaries for myself." And so, I always kind of say, wherever you go, there you are. So if you do that in one company, chances are you're gonna go to that new company, it's gonna be okay for a little while, but just by the nature of how committed and how dedicated you are, you're gonna be right back in the same boat. So my advice is always stay where you are and solve the problem. And again, it's that "me problem" because you can control how you react to people, even if you can't control them and expectations.
Kevin: Well, another thing is is that we have this natural pull. So this happens to us every day. We have this natural pull that's coming from the business because the business needs so much from each of us and the demands continue to grow. So we naturally invest in what the business needs, we pour ourselves into it. We need to remember that we need to pour ourselves into our personal passions also. Every one of us, and we're all different, we're all different, but every one of us has a set of passions that give us joy, and they give us energy, and they allow us to recharge our level of enthusiasm. And it's really important, at this time, in this cultural shift, that we invest in our passions.
And companies, I think, we'll find, and I know that's certainly the case here, under Sue's leadership, is more willing to work with our people to invest in their passions, to give something to their community, but we don't think about work, we work super hard, we need to relax super hard. And so, you know, plan a vacation you'll be excited about, look forward to that, you know, be thrilled about it. And if your passion is travel, go take a trip to a place that's on your list you haven't been to. If it's fly-fishing, go on a fly-fishing adventure. You know, whatever it is, it's different for all of us, you're investing in your business. I bet everybody, on this call, would shake their head yes, invest in your passions and in your joy because that will make you better all the way around.
Sue: And let me give you a little sneak peek behind the curtain when we talk about staffing management, staff or people planning. And that is typically that, when a team stops being able to produce the result, you begin to look at, "Okay, what's the problem?" you know, "Are they all working hard? Yep, they are. Do they have the right tools? Yep, they do. Okay, then maybe we just don't have enough resources." But if the work keeps getting done and that's because you keep expanding your work hours, then the company never realizes that there's a resource shortage. And so, sometimes I think we create our own...you know, we're creating our problems. You know, "Why won't they give us more resources? It's because we typically don't know we need more resources."
Erica: That's a really good point. And there's so much great information and so many questions coming in in the Q&A, and we'll try to get to everything. One kind of question I wanted to ask in regards to what we're talking about, is kind of people bringing up the "me issues" or expanding the work they're doing maybe past the brink of what they can handle. When you are on the path towards burnout, let's say, and you feel yourself becoming more aware that things are getting a little crazy or out of hand, what are some steps you can take to dial that back or to maybe take control without being, you know, seen as weak, or lazy, or like you're doing less? How do you kind of manage that?
Sue: Well, my first suggestion is talk to your leader. Most of the time, our leaders care about people. Now, there are bad leaders out there but, most of the time, they care about their team and they just don't know, they're busy too. And sometimes we don't take enough time to really see that our employees are struggling because they're really good at hiding those problems, for the exact reasons that you said. But they want to know. And again, if you talk to your manager and say, "These are the things I'm struggling with. Can you help give me some advice?" versus the conversation that, "Hey, I'm done doing this. You've been abusing me for too long and I'm done.," You know, that's a very different conversation than, "I'm really struggling with work-life balance," you know." Is there some tricks or tips that you can give me?" and engage that manager as an ally versus the person who's putting all that work on you.
And I know people are fearful that, if they bring that up or have those types of discussions, you know, that they're gonna be marked to be let go. And the reality is, if that's the company culture that you have, is that a company that you wanna work for? But I think, in those cases where you have that bad manager, that's when you get HR involved. Because if you're feeling that way, chances are you've got co-workers that are feeling that way. And if you don't escalate that, then the company doesn't have any idea as to which leaders that they need to help build skill with.
Erica: So, on the flip side of that, what about, as a manager, what do you recommend? How can managers help their teams? It seems like we've got quite a few managers on this today. How can they help their teams? How can they promote mental-health awareness on their team? What do you recommend from that perspective?
Sue: Just asking. Asking what the team's needing and spending some time in a one-on-one. I think one-on-ones are typically, "Hey," you know, "How are you doing on this project and where are you with this deadline?" and less about, "How are you doing as a human?" And, you know, there's certain boundaries that you wanna be careful about crossing, obviously, but engage your employee, "How are things going? Are you spending enough time doing those things that you have passion about?" as Kevin said, and caring and engaging. And if they're having trouble in knowing how to solve a problem for a particular employee, again, human resources. I feel like I'm doing a pitch for human resources, but, engaging those people who maybe have some training in areas that they don't necessarily have training in. But ask, you'd be surprised at how much you would learn by just asking an employee how they're feeling. Because they're waiting for you to ask that question.
Erica: Absolutely. I agree. Okay. Well, so we had a lot of other topics we kind of wanted to cover but what I wanted to just do before we get to our Q&A, I wanted to open up to both of you and say, what final thoughts do you have? What advice do you have? Anything else you kind of wanted to talk about before we get to our questions today?
Kevin: I'll start, if it's okay. I think, Erica, I wanna come back to this concept of the value of humanity. Many people are struggling with the role of technology in the future. We've talked about Alexa, you know, we have Siri in our life, and we have these AI elements all around us now. We're likely going to have robotics that we leverage to do field service in IT, bringing this back to a focus on IT for a minute. And the fact is is that all these wonderful advancements of technology are not making people less valuable, they're making people more valuable. And they're gonna call attention to the things that humans are uniquely able to do, that AI and an intelligent technology won't be able to do in our lifetime. Things like empathy, and humor, and strategic thinking, negotiating with a client, negotiating with an employee, listening. Those are things that we take for granted and they remind us that just how wonderful us humans are and how incredibly skilled.
And this issue is so important, Erica, because our business, and our teammates, and IT, and our families need our people more than ever. And so, we have to learn to invest in helping ourselves to be healthy, and to be happy, and to be productive because, kind of a crazy idea, but it's gonna become reality is technology needs humans as mentors and as leaders. It won't just be humans leading humans, it will be humans leading technology. And so, we all together have to figure this out, we all together have to help each other because humanity is the only hope we have for a better future in business.
Sue: Yeah. And I would just add to that that, you know, people began working in order to make a living, to feed their families, and put a roof over their head. And I think too often we live to work versus working to live, and that's cliche, but it's something that we as individuals have to take control of and make sure that we are drawing our own boundaries as to when it's time to stop working. And, you know, Kevin shared, you know, how urgent it can become if things shut down, and then it's all hands on deck. And that's okay, those are those times. But it's rare that any of us work a job, unless we're in law enforcement or public safety, in some way, that people don't generally die if we don't answer an email before morning. And so, I think it's keeping that in perspective, and knowing that when it's important to spend the time working those extra hours. But don't spend time working extra hours to do the routine work that really can wait till the next day. So just taking ownership of your own mental health and asking for help when you need it and setting those boundaries.
Erica: I think that's great advice. And we've actually had some people, on the Q&A, ask about, you know, let's say, easy to, once you open up your email when you get home in the evening, to just start responding to less critical emails. But I think that prioritizing what can wait versus what can't is huge and really does help overall.
Sue: Often times, if you let that less urgent stuff go overnight, it'll solve itself before you get up in the morning.
Erica: That's true. Okay. So a couple questions from the audience that I wanted to cover. And please keep your questions coming, everyone, these are awesome. So, we talked about remote working for quite a while, early on, and one attendee kind of mentioned frustration about proving your value, as a remote worker, to your boss and to your team. I wanted to see if you had any advice on how to kind of shine as an employee when you're not actually in the office.
Sue: Yeah. I think it goes back to the day when hard workers were seen as those people who had their butts in a chair, and were in the office from the crack of dawn till the sun went down. And now, with remote working, nobody knows how long you're sitting in that chair. So I think it's identifying those clear deliverable objectives that the organization needs from you, and then, making sure you deliver on those, and keeping people updated along the way. That's gonna demonstrate that you're working, that you're contributing, and that you're working on those vital things that the organization needs. I think it becomes less clear when you or the company haven't clearly identified what you should be working on and what your deliverable is. There's enough metrics these days that I think it's really easy to determine what it is you should be working on and how to measure it.
Kevin: It sort of creates this natural attention on focus on priorities. And a lot of the people, Erica, and having talked to some IT organizations recently about this very thing, I talked to an IT leader, last week, and they're going through a big merger and a lot of the staff in the merger, the merger of the organizations are remote. And it's really important, it's more important than ever that everybody understands priorities. And it calls attention to that because, when you're all sitting together, it's more kind of a social sharing of that, "We're all working on this," or, you know, "We got to go look at that." But the teams that do well remotely have achieved this level of focus and clarity around what the top priorities are. And a big part of each day has to go to those top two or three priorities because, when those things get done, then everybody notices and everybody is more productive, and the business works better.
Sue: Another piece of advice that I have for people who are maybe struggling to prove their value remotely, because my manager works across the world from me. I found, and we talked about this a little bit on our last webinar, having a brag buddy is something that a lot of people try to do. So find someone on your team, or on a team adjacent to you, who, when you do something really awesome, will brag to your manager about how awesome you did. Sometimes it's hard to kind of brag about yourself, and that's been something that's been a massive benefit, especially in the women in technology community we talked about brag buddies a lot, but anyone can do it. So I think that's another...just a piece of practical advice I'd recommend when it comes to wanting to get a little bit more visibility. And then, be someone else's brag buddy as well. Right? I think it kind of works both ways.
Erica: Okay. One other question I wanted to ask about that I thought was a really good one. Someone mentioned struggling with reacting to other people's stress and frustration. You know, when other people kind of have that intense emotions, how do you not match their emotions? How can you keep calm and kind of keep control when this environment is a little bit more stressful around you?
Sue: Well, they call that the reptilian brain. You know, it's we're kind of bred for the flight-or-fight reaction. And so, when somebody challenges you, you know, you're either gonna have that, "I'm gonna address this head-on and fight or I'm gonna run away." And so, I think it's making sure that the...taken a few minutes, or not a few minutes, you don't have a few minutes, but maybe counting to three in your head and stepping back and thinking about what you're gonna say before you actually say it. Or even saying, "Hey, I need some time to think about this. Let me come back to you." But usually that space, the reptilian brain happens when all of your blood rushes out of your major organs...or from your brain into your major organs to prepare you for that fight. And without blood in our brain, we don't make very good decisions. And so, making sure you just take a second and think about what you're gonna say, and is it going to help or hinder the problem, and really seeking to understand whatever the point of view is of the person that is reacting. And if they believe that you're seeking to understand, your conversations can generally deescalate.
Erica: Awesome. Okay. One quick question. I know we're a couple minutes over, I wanted to just ask one more question. And please let me know, attendees, if you guys like this webinar, this kind of style, this conversation, and would like things like this in the future, let me know in the chat, shoot me a little message. So one question from...
Sue: And Erica, I'll volunteer as well. If someone has a question that they wanted to have answered but didn't get answered, if they'll send that to you and forward them to Kevin and I will be happy to answer any questions that we didn't have time to get to.
Erica: Oh, perfect. Okay. Great. Fantastic. So just one that I thought, it's a lot of people's end of day or maybe as you're finishing up your week, Dean asked, "On top of a long day, for the people who have a long commute, what ideas do you have for people to kind of switch off and relax and step away from their day?" What recommendations do you have?
Sue: I had a commute that was about an hour long each way for a couple of years. And I read more books during that time then I have ever in my whole life. And so, I just got a bunch of books, audiobooks, and listened to those back and forth on my way to work. And so, it helped me disconnect from traffic, number one, and number two, give me something that fed my soul personally. And I made sure they weren't business books, by the way. And that helped me disconnect, even though I was stuck in a car.
Kevin: I talked to somebody yesterday about this very thing and they were sharing with me the...you know, we have this continuing need to learn. We just feel like we got to learn, we got be learning professionals and there's so much I've got to get access to. It is a great opportunity to use an audiobook, either in something that's a passion, your passion is gardening, you can get to the book that you've been trying to get to, or if there's something in work, you're trying to get caught up with learning at work, "Hey, AI keeps coming up and there's this great book on AI, and I'll listen to that." That's one. And I talked to a guy, on Monday, about music. And we all have our pump up playlist and we have our relaxed playlist. Well, maybe that relaxed playlist is one you can use getting out of the office to help bring you down by the time you get home.
Erica: Right. Or even a podcast that makes you laugh or, you know, something that'll just get you in a good mood I think is big.
Kevin: Yeah. There's just so many wonderful resources out there. A comedian. You need to laugh, we all need to laugh more, listen to a funny comedian, you know, that helps you laugh, and that changes everything.
Erica: Right, I don't think there's [crosstalk 01:01:22]
Sue: One of the great advantages of technology.
Erica: Right. Awesome. Well, full circle then. Well, thank you everyone for joining. We're getting some great feedback, it seems like everyone really liked it, the hopes for webinars like this in the future. So I'll keep that in mind. Thank you again, Sue and Kevin, for your thoughts. Feel free to tweet at us, if you have questions. Message us directly if you want us to kind of get into some more deeper questions or personal questions. We're happy to kind of talk through those with you. And yeah, thank you again for joining. Thanks, Sue, Kevin. Have a great rest of your day.
Kevin: Thank you, Erica. Thanks everybody for joining us.
Erica: Yeah. Thank you.
Erica: And we'll be sending out this recording after the session in a couple hours. Have a great day, everyone.
Sue: Okay, bye-bye.
Kevin: Bye now.