Retaining IT Staff — Keep them Healthy

Tanya Lung
Jun 21 · 6 min read

As I started writing this post about retaining your IT employees it seemed, while perhaps difficult to perfect and execute, simple to understand. After all, there are tons of lists for the top 10 methods for retaining employees. As I dug deeper I realized this wasn’t going to be a simple top 10 list and mental health surfaced as the key to keeping your team.

Blind did a study across a number of IT organizations. They found 57% of their respondents were experiencing burnout. A study by Kronos Incorporated and Futureworkplace found that in half the organizations they interviewed, HR believed 20–50% of their annual turnover was due to burnout.

So keeping this in perspective — ensuring the mental health of your employees can reduce turnover by up to 50%. Since neither you nor I are likely to be health professionals, how can we keep our employees healthy? Let’s start by understanding stress our team is likely facing.

Inescapable Stress

No matter how great your organization, there are some stresses in IT that cannot be escaped. It’s our job to identify these and figure out how to help our employees manage the results.

Continuous learning.

As IT leaders we often find ourselves pulled out of the technical guts of projects. We find ourselves dealing with more of the management of deadlines, policies, budgets, etc. It is because of this that we forget how quickly technology is changing beneath our feet. I was recently reminded of the speed of change when I started coding again after a long break. I have to say that it was a rude awakening to go from my 2005 knowledge of javascript to using React with its associated frameworks and libraries to make things “easier”.

Continuous learning and understanding of technical changes are stressors all IT shares. Technology constantly evolves; new devices, programming languages, and organizational needs are added to the IT support list. The constant learning can never take a break.

Nature of the Beast

Some IT jobs have duties that just plain suck; like being on call or having to do system updates after hours. Unfortunately, unless you have a CEO who’s willing to change the fundamental way your organization works, this is unlikely to change.

In my time in IT, I’ve had my share of stressful events that are not escapable — data breaches, viruses, scammers, and even forensic IT audits. While risks can be minimized, they can never be truly prevented…unless you aren’t plugged into the internet. Even though these are regular parts of the job, this still causes stress on your employees.

Escapable Stressors

After continuous learning and job duties, everything else is avoidable, or at least it can be minimized if you prioritize your employees. At the end of the day every company is out to make money so let’s think about employees and work hours in another light. How much money does your organization lose as a result of employee turnover, sick days, and employees not working to their fullest potential? I bet it’s more than you know or expect.

There are many lists that talk about the most reported work stressors. These items can be controlled by your organization AND are often part of your culture. In general they include:

  • unclear goals,
  • workload/deadlines,
  • coworkers,
  • long hours,
  • culture,
  • poor equipment ,
  • and lack of control.

Keeping your team healthy

Ok — now that we know what the possible stressers are, let’s discuss how our employees will have to take care of themselves and what you can do to support them.

There is already advice out there on how to manage your stress. Important ones that your company can have direct or indirect influence over are things like:

  1. Exercise
  2. Get more sleep
  3. Manage time
  4. Talk to someone
  5. Eat well
  6. Eliminate your triggers

Let me guess — you’re looking at the list thinking, “as if our company can do anything for those items on the list”. My answer is — of course you can.

First off, does your company ACTUALLY let your employees take care of themselves? Here’s a scenario. Your team works 5 days of overtime during a high stress week. They don’t get home till somewhere between 10pm and 11pm every night. How much exercise could they get? Did they stop to eat, or did they work through? Or if the company bought them supper — let me guess Pizza every night? How successful were they managing their personal time when it most of it was spent working? What about sleep — how did that amount of overtime affect their ability to get enough sleep. Something as simple and perhaps as normal as a week of overtime can considerably affect one’s ability to take care of themselves.

I’m guilty of this as well. We let the team down by making it tough for them to care for themselves. It’s up to us to provide our employees, with at the very least, time. My challenge to you is to provide self-care time as part of a regular workday. There are studies that claim six hour workdays are optimum or a 4-day work week is best — so why don’t you give employees 30min to an hour each day to take care of themselves?

Below are some things your company might try to implement to help your employees.

Firstly — Lead by example! I have to admit, I failed at this miserably in my last job. I didn’t take my full lunches, often eating at my desk on a regular day. I didn’t take breaks and in general, I felt like a chicken with my head off. Guess what — my supervisees saw this. When there were crunches, they acted like this too and that wasn’t good for any of us.

Exercise is easiest to tackle with benefit packages that helps pay for gym passes or exercise equipment. If you’re in a larger company you may have your own gym. You can lead wellness initiatives like lunchtime walks or morning yoga in the lunchroom. My challenge to you is to give them 20 minutes for exercise.

Eating is next — entice employees to walk away from their desks to eat. Offer healthy food and snacks onsite (could be for them to buy) instead of the regular chocolate bars and chips. Bring in healthy food choices instead of Pizza.

Give employees time to manage their time. Allow employees flexible hours to make appointments during a regular work day and if you allow them to work remotely from time-to-time it makes work-life balance easier.

Allowing them to talk to someone — this can be implemented in many different ways, but my advice is at least have regular checkins with each employee to see how they are doing. Provide the opportunity for them to form peer support groups. The company could also offer counselling services through the benefits package.

With sleep — you can only offer time. If they work late through the night into the next morning, they shouldn’t be expected to come in the next morning, or day if you can spare it.

Now here is the kicker, If employees aren’t given time to take care of themselves they will eventually eliminate their stress trigger — your company.


Tanya Lung

Written by

Partner of Dyad Solutions, Tanya managed and built many IT teams & software over the last 18 years. She thinks outside the box when she’s hiring and so can you!