Do IT pros work too much? Survey says 'Yes'

More than 600 IT pros made their collective voice heard in a new survey conducted by Spiceworks. You're working longer hours and there's no end in sight. The people who work the longest hours won't surprise you.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor
Offshoring, automation, staff cuts, and long hours all combine to make for some very disgruntled workers in the IT business. To say that IT staffers are overworked is somewhat of an understatement. We've known it for years, but now we have the numbers to prove it. Spiceworks conducted a survey of IT pros that helps shed some light onto what's going on in IT.

From the full report, it looks like the original purpose of the survey was to find staffing disparities and to figure out optimal IT staffing ratios. But the additional results were so overwhelming that the data suggests that IT pros are generally overworked and that there isn't going to be a resolution for it in the foreseeable future.

But, if employers know that IT staffers work this many hours, why don't they do something about it? The supposition goes something like this:

If you only work 52 hours per week, we can't afford to hire another full-time employee, because there's not enough work for a second person. So, the theory is that if you're not working 80 hours per week, then another employee can't be justified. So, if you aren't working at least 16 hours per day every day, then there's no new hires available.

Do you want to know the definition of burnout or disgruntled?

I'm pretty sure it has something to do with working more than 80 hours per week.

An employer once told me that he didn't see me working 60 or more hours per week, so he couldn't justify hiring someone new to assist me. My response was that I can only "put out fires." I can't fix anything new. Projects are slipping. I have no time to do research and I do have a life outside of the office. None of those answers were satisfactory.

Spiceworks survey numbers suggest that it wasn't anything personal against me. It seems to be a universal problem. See the featured results below.

  1. Hours IT pros work per week: Full-time IT pros reported working an average of 52 hours per week, but 18% of respondents said that they work more than 60 hours per week. Long hours like these are a definite red flag that IT pros could use more help.
  2. Average number of help desk technicians & IT staff: The data from our survey tells us that the more dedicated help desk technicians there are in your IT department, the less hours everyone in IT works. Adding more headcount in these areas can help IT departments and businesses get more done.
  3. Number of devices and responsibilities IT supports: We found that in IT departments where responsibilities extend to cover datacenter lab environments, data integration projects, wireless access points, or phone systems, IT pros end up working longer hours than average and likely need more help.
  4. Industry of your organization: IT pros who work in education (average: 47.2 hours/week), government (average: 48.7 hours/week) and healthcare (average: 50 hours/week) work fewer hours per week than most IT pros. On the other hand, IT pros in finance, insurance and legal reported the longest hours with an average of 55.4 hours worked per week.
  5. Location of IT pros:Our data shows that 57% of IT pros in North America work more than your average 40 hour week while only 49% of IT pros in EMEA work more than 40 hours per week.

As you can see in the data above, the average number of hours worked per week is 52. That's 12 extra hours per week or the equivalent of 78 extra days per year. At an average of 22 working days per month, that adds up to working an extra three-and-a-half months per year. That's a nice bonus for employers who still complain about staffing costs. And if you look at the almost 20 percent of respondents who work more than 60 hours per week, they're donating an extra six months of work per year to their employers.

Unfortunately, a lot of what we do as IT professionals takes place between the hours of 11PM and 6AM, which are not regular working hours for most of us. And the expectation is that we'll also be at work from 8AM until 5PM regardless of implementations, installations, maintenance windows, outages, and on-call situations.

But now I want to explore the other side of this discussion too.

The other side is that it is my experience that IT folks are really not the most focused or the most efficient workers in the hive. I'm sorry, but it's true. I'm sure that a lot of you know what I mean. Some of the long hours are because work hours aren't efficiently used. Sure I think it's OK to collaborate and have a little personal discussion here and there, but trying to get some people to focus on the task at hand before 4PM, when at last they realize that it's almost quitting time for other people, is often difficult.

Of course, inefficiency isn't always the cause. There are some of us who just have entirely too much to do and the length of our tasks is longer than we can manage in an eight-hour day. I understand. And often, you can't leave in the middle of something just because the five o'clock whistle blows for everyone else. It's often worse in smaller companies, where the IT personnel not only have responsibility for computers, but also the networking equipment, the printers, the phone system, and personal gadgets. And everyone's "thing" is your top priority.

North Americans "win" the most hours work prize with 57 percent of staff working more than 40 per week. Our EMEA counterparts are also burning some midnight oil. 49 percent of them work more than 40 hours per week.

So, what do all the numbers really mean?

The numbers indicate that in IT, you're going to work more than 40 hours per week, regardless of which area or sector you work in. And that's not likely to change. Employers want to extract as much as they can from workers. However, if people are overworked, as many of us appear to be, then employers must take the negative aspects of these longer hours in stride. Bad attitudes, more mistakes, stress, health problems, burnout, turnover, and less overall efficiency--which adds to the problem are the major pitfalls with overworking your IT staff.

Spiceworks offers a video that teaches you "How to Speak Boss."

What I think is that employers should realize that employees are not commodities; they are an investment. And with any investment, you should expect a certain amount of return. But, as any smart investor knows, you can't just leave your investment sitting there, you have to manage it and nurture it into something. The same goes for employees.

How about you? How many hours per week do you work at your IT job? What do you think should be the solution for working so many hours? Talk back and let us know.

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