Work-life balance of UK IT pros lags behind US workers, equals Australians

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A new survey reveals that poor work-life balance affects an IT professional’s ability to manage stress, leading to high turnover, as companies strive to keep digital services operating 24/7. The findings contradict a pervasive myth by many in the UK that Australians enjoy a better work-life balance than workers in Britain, and that American employees suffer even more because of fewer days off.

The survey also shows that IT managers have little or no visibility in knowing when their teams are experiencing a difficult on-call period.

The study on the State of IT Work-Life Balance was conducted in December by PagerDuty, a leading digital operations management platform. The survey covered 814 IT workers in the UK, Australia and the US.

We spoke to Steve Barrett, country manager for UK & Ireland and head of EMEA at PagerDuty, about the results and implications of this study, and why organisations should humanise their digital operations to ensure the healthy work-life balance, needed for attracting and retaining developer and IT operations talent.

1. What does the study tell us about the state of work-life balance among IT workers?

It tells us that many workers are stressed, and many don’t think anything can be done about it, which is not correct.

More than half (51.3 per cent) of the IT professionals surveyed experience sleep and/or personal life interruptions due to a digital service disruption or outage more than ten times per week. In the UK alone, half the respondents said the same.

Across all three countries, 9 out of 10 IT professionals said the responsibility for the management of always-on digital services impacts their family life. Nine out of 10 also said the interruptions to their personal lives impact their productivity at work.

All of this is proving costly for companies: Almost 1 in 4 respondents reported they are more likely to look for a new job as a result of poor work-life balance. Employee churn and cost of talent acquisition and training are significant costs to an organisation’s balance sheet.

2. Are workers screaming about this?

No, they are mostly suffering in silence. Many think this is just the way it has to be and managers are often unaware.

A full 72 per cent of IT professionals indicated their managers have little to no visibility in knowing when they are experiencing a difficult on-call period. This is still true even though more than half of the IT workers surveyed - rising to 60 per cent in the UK -  indicated that they work in an environment with best or state of the art practices when it comes to DevOps/IT Ops.

3. How do UK IT professionals rank vs. their US and Australian counterparts?

It is a mixed picture.

First of all, the work-life balance of UK IT professionals lags behind that of their US counterparts but matches Australia. Overall, 36 per cent of IT professionals in the US said their work-life balance was excellent vs. just 15 per cent of IT professionals in the UK and 16 per cent in Australia. The assumption by many in the UK that Australians enjoy a better work-life balance and that American employees suffer even more because of fewer days off is really just a myth as evidenced by our survey.

Yet UK workers also claim to be more resilient and more capable of managing stress.

More than half (52 per cent) of IT pros in the UK indicated that a fair or poor work-life balance affected their ability to manage stress vs. 68 per cent of survey respondents in the US and 64 per cent of respondents in Australia.

UK workers were also more able to maintain health, wellness, focus and achieve their desired quality of life with 48.3 per cent saying a fair or poor work life balance negatively impacted them in these areas vs. 51.6 per cent of U.S. workers and 50 per cent of Australian workers.

And, UK workers appear less likely to jump ship because of poor work life balance with 19.2 per cent saying they might vs. 21.1 per cent of Australian workers and 29.1 per cent of U.S. IT workers.

4. What do you mean about people thinking stress and poor work life balance just has to be accepted?

The survey results indicated that a lot of workers have simply given up on expecting a good work-life balance.

The majority (84.1 per cent) of IT professionals rate their work-life balance as good, very good or excellent. In the UK, it is 80.1 per cent.

However, of this 84.1 per cent, 40.4 per cent agree their work-life balance isn’t the greatest, but they deal with it anyway. More than half (56.7 per cent) believe that poor work-life balance is just part of the job.

This tells me that many workers have given up on expecting a good work-life balance.

In the UK, a full 6 in 10 UK IT workers say poor work life balance is just part of the job.

5. So, if you’re a company, what’s the problem if workers are willing to settle?

In the long run, that’s not healthy for employees or the companies who rely on those employees to deliver exceptional customer service. The use of digital services is only going to continue to rise as the IoT economy expands. What’s more, consumers and companies that serve those consumers have ever increasing expectations from the digital services they use. Outages are just not tolerated or even tolerable. And they shouldn’t be. Yet the always-on culture, perpetuated by mobile devices and multiple screens, is taking a toll on the incident responders who have to drop everything to address problems.

Families are even being affected. More than two in 10 UK IT professionals say being responsible for managing always-on digital services makes the job unmanageable at times because of its impact to families. Work productivity can suffer, too. Almost 23 per cent of UK IT pros say personal life interruptions when on-call adversely affects their work time productivity. These are hidden costs to companies and to societies.

Without a healthy work-life balance, organisations will have employees who are either unable to perform to the best of their ability or choose to walk away.

6. What’s the good news in all of this?

By focusing on the health of their people, organisations now have a way to enhance their team’s quality of life.  This results in happier employees, higher retention rates, and thus, better overall digital service delivery.

The good news is that offerings, such as PagerDuty’s Operations Management Health Services, are now available which can help organisations tackle the challenges of Human Operations (HumanOps).

By getting the work-life balance right, the unsung heroes working on-call can continue to keep digital services running 24/7, and be less stressed and more productive.

Steve Barrett, country manager for UK & Ireland, head of EMEA, PagerDuty
Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio