Confessions of a CIO – Well-being in IT

"Well-being in it"

It was time for me to write about well-being in IT.

For the first thirty years of my IT career (in leadership roles and as a Principal Consultant), I rarely considered the well-being of staff or our customers. I enquired if I saw a particular employee had an issue, but it was more “ask and now get back to work.” I was the sort of manager that lived with the mantra, “If you can’t deal with this, you should leave the industry.” After all, IT worked crazy because we were the business. Now with the help of, I’m confessing my sins and working to point out the errors that other managers may be performing, no matter their level.

In this article, Daniel Breston confesses the sins of his careers to help point out the errors that other managers may be performing, no matter their level. #leadership #wellbeing Click To Tweet

In the last two decades, certain events showed me what a jerk I was:

At the point of my well-being in IT “epiphany,” I felt vulnerable as a leader for the first time in my career. It hurt because, upon reflection, I knew I had hurt others. I was not accountable for the death of my friend, but I was responsible for not speaking out more on the crazy way we worked or looking at the impact of the “best practices” staff were told to “adopt and adapt” from their point of view. reran its “Well-being in IT” survey in 2022. A related article compared the 2022 survey results to those in 2020, along with a commentary on what it meant. This article provides a different view of the survey results based on my leadership-grey-hair experience. My thoughts reflect my actions #forafriend, the one above, and many others. I urge you to review the survey results and form your own thoughts.

Well-being in IT Q1. Do you think working in corporate IT will get harder over the next three years?

The well-being in IT survey agrees with me; it’s going to become more difficult. Let’s look at this from a leadership perspective:

  • Do I hire someone or use OpenAI to fill my gaps?
  • How do I maintain the skills of my team to meet the ever-VUCA demands of my business and customers?
  • How the heck do I maintain my skills?
  • What would it take for me to become irrelevant?
  • I have tech and human debt; where do I begin to repay the debt, and how will I fund it?
  • My staff want hybrid work, but my management wants folks back in the high-cost office; what do I do to keep them?
  • I am stressed with demand, as are they, but the requests are endless. HELP!!!

Leaders at all levels, from program, project, or product manager to CXX, are morphing their organizations to fit a digital economy. CXX want it now! The logic flow of this NOW is:

  • Before our competitors, and…
  • Wow, hey, digital made us global, but now we need to cut costs as prices to maintain digital and supply chains have increased, so maybe…
  • People will become redundant as we automate, and so…
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) can help us recover our skills loss, but then the rest of us need to share duties until we are stable and learn AI but then…
  • Our world is changing fast, and look at our competitors; wow!
  • We need more digital!
  • But we don’t want to transform! So we can say digital transformation, but in actuality, that is not us! CIO – get on with it!

Contrary to popular belief, going digital is the easy bit. Making the company change to accommodate digital while ensuring great experiences for staff and customers, mitigating risk, and remaining competitive is the tricky bit. As in the impact on well-being in IT.

Contrary to popular belief, going digital is the easy bit. Making the company change to accommodate digital while ensuring great experiences for staff & customers, mitigating risk, & remaining competitive is the tricky bit. Click To Tweet

Well-being in IT Q2. Do you feel your personal efforts, and your value to the business, are sufficiently recognized by management?

71% said no or not enough! 71%!!!!

Go on, walk the halls of your organization, and ask people: Do you feel your work contributes to what our organization is trying to achieve or helps someone do their job better, faster, and safer?

If they say yes, ask for an example. If they have one, ask them for a drink or coffee to thank them. If they say no, ask them for a drink or coffee to consider how best to help your leadership align with their work. Not them to you! You to them!

If you cannot make your staff or consulting partners feel they have worth, then do not be surprised that the answer to this question is NOT ENOUGH! It’s a major driver of well-being in IT issues.

Q3. Do you feel that working in IT is adversely affecting your personal well-being?

No surprise that the resounding answer to this well-being in IT question is YES!

  • Yes, it has impacted my work-life balance
  • Yes, it has made me worry about my financial future
  • Yes, I no longer feel that what I am doing matters
  • Yes, I no longer believe that what I want to do matches the wants of my employer
  • Yes, it isn’t easy to keep up or find another role.

From 1970 to 1990, I was content with my work because I believed I worked and led in the right way (long hours, hero complex). 2000-2019 changed my mind as ITSM, DevOps, Agile, and lean became entrenched in my career habits. I began to learn more, and many of my experiments on metrics or new techniques, like value stream mapping/management, while successful, were detrimental to my teams.

COVID changed the importance of work-life to life-work. I became redundant, and so I retired. Let me rephrase this: I thankfully became redundant, and so retired from the way people wanted me to work such that I could work the way I wanted. The goal for everyone, whether you’re employed or consulting, is to have a role where you work the way you want to work and you feel darn great about it as often as possible! Now your well-being issues, at least those caused by working, are minimal.

A story: I met a Microsoft Operations engineer who only works from 9-5 M-F. So does his team and manager. No overtime, no long weekends. It took them 18 months to create this culture, but wow, the difference is inspiring! Think about this versus the current state of well-being in IT.

Well-being in IT Q4. Do you feel that home working has adversely affected your personal well-being?

Amazingly the well-being in IT survey response is “no.” How can that be? IT folks, come on and be honest! All of a sudden, you had to work from home. You had to:

  • Go digital
  • Help your organization to morph and transform
  • Help staff and customers continue to do what they needed while no longer in the office
  • Become one of the few teams able to go to the office to ensure stability and availability of technology
  • Learn new ways of working as hardly any project was cancelled
  • Oh, the kids, the pets, all of a sudden being with my partner more than I have ever been!
  • I did not work 9-5, more like 6-8 and then 9-11 and then 1300-1700 to hopefully finish by 2200
  • But those Zoom calls!

Many of you will explain the “no” response by saying we were hybrid before COVID. For those, I say great! I hope you write blogs and do webinars or speak at conferences like itSMF UK so we can learn from you.

There is the other side: some of you will have fallen in love with hybrid! Then you were adversely impacted because returning to the office is not attractive. Is it?

Q5. Do you think that your immediate manager is suitably skilled to identify and deal with employee well-being issues?

Let’s start with a well-being in IT question I should have asked earlier: Do you know what well-being means? Is it a term agreed upon and defined across your organization? This may be why six out of ten employees felt their manager was unprepared. Why should they be? Their managers are not prepared! Keep going up the line! A manager would be ready only in organizations where well-being was part of the culture (the attitude and behavior of people). The rest are either (1) catching up or (2) returning to the old ways.

'Leadership needs to bring well-being out in the open by starting with them.' – Daniel Breston #leadership #wellbeing Click To Tweet

Leadership needs to bring well-being out in the open by starting with them. Staff will never feel like management knows what’s occurring unless this happens. Some companies ask management to do a far lower-level job somewhere in the company (not their department) for a week. This is an eye-opening event as they begin to see the difficulties of staff. It’s embarrassing for IT because they realize that what they introduced is not an enabling feature but loathed.

Q6. Does your organization have suitable mechanisms for preventing and helping with employee well-being issues?

The resounding feeling was “yes.” But the well-being in IT survey question 5 says “no.” If management is not leading this effort, I suggest your organization is not ready.

But let’s say you disagree. How do you know? Have you tested this? Have you seen help? Are people at all levels able and willing to spot issues, call them out, lend a hand, and escalate to management or a trained individual? If so, then wow, please share your organization’s name so we can join. If not, what are you doing to create a well-being attitude and behavior such that a well-being culture arises?

Well-being in IT Q7. If you work at home, or in a hybrid manner, how do you find it?

I must confess the answer to this question supports the response in question 4. We prefer being away from the office, so perhaps homework had no adverse impact. Many had no preference or liked being back at work. I think this is because they want to return to something representing normality, which is good for well-being in IT. I just hope that good feeling stays, but I fear that as the pressure mounts to keep the business moving in our fast-changing world, well-being in IT will be challenged like never before.

What does the survey tell us about well-being in IT (or Agile or DevOps or ITSM)?

I’m not an expert. I’m an ex-leader challenged by his ex-staff and current customers on how my actions, while well-meaning, actually promoted the opposite effect. This is why I am writing and speaking about well-being in IT. Reports and metrics will not show you what’s wrong. Some say you can map and measure experience; I’m not sure yet, but I hope to be proven wrong.

A leadership survey with some very hard DO YOU questions is needed. I am happy that almost every conference in the last half of 2022 and going into 2023 mentions well-being in IT. I hope this trend continues #forafriend.

What do you make of these latest well-being in IT survey results? Is the IT industry doing enough to address the issues? Please let me know in the comments.

Further Well-being in IT Reading

Daniel Breston
IT Management Advisor at Independent

Daniel Breston is a 50+ year veteran of IT, ex-CIO and principle consultant, multiple framework trainer, blogger, and speaker. Daniel is on the board of itSMF UK and is a Fellow of the British Computer Society. Daniel may be retired, but he will help an organization if requested. Not full-time, but hey!

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