Is your team feeling overworked, undervalued and frustrated? You’re not alone—the pandemic has put more pressure on almost all of us, especially on those in charge of maintaining network performance. As well as dealing with relentless demands for more bandwidth, network and IT teams have a host of other problems on their plate. Many are already at full capacity, and now being asked to manage increasingly complex hybrid environments with tools that are no longer fit for purpose. It’s no surprise that burnout and attrition within networking teams are on the rise. How do you protect your networking teams from burnout?
The response to this crisis typically comes in the form of well-meant gestures: free lunches, or a set of guidelines that are high on good intentions but low on substance. These are band-aid solutions that don’t address the underlying problem. Businesses need to support and listen to staff and improve processes and tools to reduce the stress associated with network management. The key to that lies in first understanding the root cause of burnout and what it looks like.
Learn to identify stress when you see it
The corporate world has a mental health problem, and IT teams have it worse than most. In a survey by Harvard Business School, 84% of workers reported at least one workplace factor that had a negative impact on their mental health. Among Australian tech workers, the problem was pronounced: over half would not recommend their workplace, while three-quarters said they’d experienced stress at work that made them less productive.
Individuals struggling with their mental health in the workplace may go into survival, or “fight or flight” mode. They may become less productive, be increasingly absent or feel less engaged. They may display anxiety, anger or uncharacteristic behaviour. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday tasks, these problems are not always easy to spot.
Look beyond the symptoms
To help employees, IT leaders must start by listening. That may come in the form of one-to-ones, in which managers ask workers not just “How are you”, but also “How can I help”—and actively listen to their responses. Survey tools can help you build wider, more consistent feedback, and application and network logs can identify the technical blockers that are holding individuals back.
While your research may uncover company-specific issues, you’re also very likely to come across these common IT complaints:
- Overwork: Long hours are common in many roles, and if a network outage hits, you can forget about a work-life balance.
- Churn: With the job market stretched and conditions often challenging, teams can feel they are in a constant state of flux—particularly in startups, which lose staff every 1.2 years. Churn means lower morale and more overwork, as the team strains to pick up the slack.
- Unrealistic expectations: Timelines for projects are often needlessly optimistic, and may not factor in extra tasks, such as employee onboarding and basic maintenance.
- Manual tasks: Network and application issues are often raised via user help-desk requests because IT staff do not have the right tools or visibility to identify and resolve them early. The result? A time-consuming game of catch-up that never ends. Across most organisations, portals and tools are rarely unified, which means workers have to keep switching between different tools to get a handle on the big picture. The resulting work can quickly become repetitive and frustrating.
Once you’ve found the source of the problem, you can start to solve it
Whether it’s through one-on-one feedback or wider data, these learnings should help you prioritise issues, and make a case for the best way to solve them on an individual or structural level.
At company level, that may mean appointing a leader who is directly responsible for mental health, rather than treating it as a general HR responsibility. It might mean encouraging managers to include mental health checks into every catch-up and share their own experiences. By encouraging both top-down and bottom-up approaches to mental health, you can help make it part of both daily conversations and long-term strategy.
Other actionable steps may include better resourcing, setting boundaries around projects, using ticketing or Agile processes to break workflows into manageable pieces, and working to clarify job expectations.
Giving workers the agency to choose exactly where and how they tackle their workload is another crucial shift. It’s increasingly clear that remote and hybrid work (involving a mix of office work and remote work via both local networks and cloud services) can deliver real benefits. In a Riverbed survey, 94% respondents agreed that a hybrid work environment helped organisations recruit talent and remain competitive, with greater employee happiness among the main benefits. These flexible work practices can be a huge benefit to IT staff, but unless they’re planned properly and backed by the right tools, they will only exacerbate issues that network teams are all too familiar with.
IT workers need tools to suit the modern age
Provide the right network support
Slow networks, poor monitoring, limited metrics and regular outages are common problems that heap pressure on even the most patient IT teams. They may be particularly noticeable when your organization uses platforms and monitoring that are a poor fit for the existing network architecture. However, it may not be necessary to overhaul the entire network. Depending on your situation, network performance can be improved by:
- Optimising performance via application performance management platforms and application acceleration.
- Using best-in-class network performance management and monitoring to ensure tools and hardware are working at peak capability.
- Using software-defined WAN to increase efficiency while reducing bandwidth use.
- Producing timely, relevant dashboards that can be customised and shared with different stakeholders.
Integrated, end-to-end platforms that manage multiple functions will be far easier to deal with than separate solutions. They should offer the flexibility to remedy problems and accelerate functions across multiple networks. And they should be able to produce and share data in real-time. The right alerts and metrics give IT staff a crucial advantage, and the chance to spot an issue before it turns into a network crisis that will hammer both your business and your team’s mental health.
Protecting networks and the teams that manage them
Workplace mental health issues can impact individuals whatever their role, but as we’ve seen, the specific pressures that make life difficult for IT staff have worsened in recent years. Companies must give IT staff and network engineers the right support and the right tools. That means listening and undertaking concrete actions to build a sustainable workplace. But it also means giving workers the right software and hardware to remove blockers and frustrations and help them keep data flowing.
The Riverbed Unified Network Performance Monitoring unifies device monitoring, flow monitoring, and full packet capture and analysis solutions. These solutions are tightly integrated together so that you can more quickly troubleshoot complex performance issues. They also integrate into the Riverbed Portal, which combines them into collated, easy-to-use dashboards that streamline the analysis of complex problems. Book a consultation with a specialist here.