Under Pressure: How Network Performance Takes A Mental Toll on IT

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In our increasingly connected world, network slowdowns and outages can cripple a business. Outages hit organisations’ operations, reputation and profits, and the pressure to get the online wheels turning again is immense. The stress falls squarely on IT teams, and the impact on individuals’ mental health can be brutal. Companies must offer better support to teams that may be stretched thin even before an outage strikes.

Downtime can be catastrophic

No one is safe from network outages. Apple, the BBC, Coinbase and Reddit have all suffered in recent years. In October 2021, a seven-hour outage cost Facebook $100 million. Two months later, Amazon was out of action for hours, leaving customers unable to operate their networked fridges, doorbells, and speakers, and leaving thousands of robot vacuum cleaners to twiddle their smart thumbs.

Network outages can result from power failure, network congestion, cyberattacks, human error or configuration issues. They may be widespread (like the March DNS incident that saw 15,000 Australian websites taken offline) or specific to your organisation. Either way, they’re expensive, costing larger corporations an average of $144,000 per hour in revenue loss, and smaller organisations (those with fewer than 20,000 employees) $2,000 per hour.

Cost of downtime is rising year on year. Lost revenue, reduced productivity, customer complaints, regulatory issues and reputational damage can all throw your organisation into a tailspin. A blocker to one process can ripple right through your organisation, leaving staff baffled and senior executives fuming. And panicked stakeholders will be looking in one direction for resolution: the IT team.

Network teams are already feeling the strain

The pressure to get networks running again as your organisation haemorrhages money would be bad enough if it landed on an empty to-do list. But many IT teams are already overworked, under-resourced, and plagued by employee churn. Workers may be expected to deal with tickets at pace while procuring hardware and software, helping less technically minded staff, and advising on new technologies.

That pressure has been exacerbated by rising cybercrime and new COVID protocols, while the rise in remote work demands more bandwidth from IT infrastructure and the expectation of timely troubleshooting. Outage emergencies put the heat on people who may already be near boiling point.

Network outages pile on the pressure

Network outages can hammer your organisation’s bottom line commercially, but there will be a psychological impact for many workers, too. Internet addiction is recognised as a condition by the World Health Organisation, and for many of us being deprived of the internet feels deeply personal, more like losing a limb than having a tech problem. Being cut off from networks, key projects and messaging services can be deeply frustrating for employees. That great wave of emotion comes crashing down just as IT workers need to be at their most focused and methodical.

Network outages will generally mean team members being pulled out of key tasks, many of which are time-sensitive. Forget that once-urgent project, remote work or project visibility: even employers who are sympathetic to a work-life balance will crack the whip. Network engineers may need to travel to remote sites, expose themselves to COVID risks or spend long hours desperately tracing the problem while the clock ticks and panicked communications rain down from executives. Unfortunately, at this stage, it’s not just about fixing the technical problems: stakeholder management becomes a major factor. Individuals whose attention to detail and concentration makes them relish coding projects may suddenly be roped into a high-pressure environment that not only requires a quick technical response but also needs diplomacy and the ability to manage stakeholder expectations.

Recovery may be complex and frustrating

Network outages may be relatively short-lived, especially if you have a viable secondary connection. But all too often, recovery is complex and frustrating.

A single failure may trigger multiple issues, affecting different offices, partner organisations, and online portals in different ways. For network teams, that means reviewing everything from IoT endpoints to data packets and cloud-service infrastructure to trace the source of the problem. Outages can also result from cyber-attacks, operation errors, surges, network congestion, loose connections, or cables damaged by fire or water.

Teams may find themselves scrambling through dashboards and logs to get a holistic picture. Systems may need to be rebooted remotely. Weighing up possible causes and results of corrective action is hard at the best of times and is even harder while the business breathes down your neck. Without clear guidance, staff may use unsecured public wi-fi or shadow IT to keep projects on track, exposing data to theft and opening up your network to malware attacks—and the risk of further outages—further down the track.

Network outages can have a profound mental health impact

To get a sense of just how profound the impact of a network outage can be on IT teams, it can be revealing to consider it in the light of six classic causes of burnout:

  1. Workload: dealing with a network outage can take up all the hours in the day.
  2. Lack of control: outages are sudden, and the pressure to resolve them quickly gives workers very little agency.
  3. Lack of recognition: resolving an outage might be met with fanfare—or with cries of “What took you so long?”
  4. Poor relationships: friction is inevitable with emotions running high.
  5. Lack of fairness: the outage may not be anyone’s fault, but IT is likely to shoulder the blame.
  6. Values mismatch: your security team may be preaching safety first, while sales want channels reopening as soon as possible. Guess who’s caught in the middle? That’s right, the network team.

Preparing your organisation for network outages

So how can IT teams be better supported? One solution is to make network outages rarer. Better monitoring can mean you identify problems earlier and take steps to resolve them. The best Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) tools integrate device and flow monitoring with full-packet capture and analysis solutions, allowing you to assess data flow, security threats, and network issues. Smart, real-time dashboards take the strain out of assessment and troubleshooting.

Other changes that can help you stave off-network outages include using a backup connection, installing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and improving your organisation’s cybersecurity posture (particularly to mitigate Distributed Denial of Service attacks).

These measures will reduce the risk, but you should still ensure you have a clear, frequently updated disaster recovery plan—and that plan needs to be shared and agreed upon by relevant stakeholders.

Measures to improve staff wellbeing can make a real difference to mental health (and staff retention), but they need to address fundamental business processes rather than superficial signs of burnout. There’s no point in offering workers more time off if their workload remains unmanageable. And if you want to learn from the trauma of network outages, you should listen to the individuals who have worked to solve them, hear their pain points, and assess their resource needs.

Managing and preventing network failure

When an outage does occur, the pressure on IT teams can be unbearable, and that has an inevitable impact on mental health. Appropriate measures such as Network Performance Monitoring can help reduce the risk of an outage and give your network teams the tools they need to quickly resolve problems when they occur. With the right tools and policies, your organisation can support IT staff to quickly resolve network performance issues, even in the eye of the storm.

Riverbed Unified NPM unifies infrastructure monitoring, flow monitoring, and full packet capture and analysis solutions. These solutions are tightly integrated together so that your teams can more quickly troubleshoot complex performance issues. They also integrate into the Riverbed Portal that provides collated, easy-to-use dashboards to streamline the analysis of complex problems. Book a consultation with a specialist here.

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