For IT support teams using IT service management (ITSM), it can be all too easy to get sucked into living and breathing tickets. How many come through to the IT service desk, how many get dealt with, and how the team is performing. All this information can provide quantitative performance data to the service desk manager. However, for many, the IT service desk can be a stressful working environment. The sheer number of calls – and the potentially stressful nature of those calls – can progressively affect agents and their well-being.
This article looks at the potential for well-being issues on the service desk and offers advice on how to best tackle, or ideally, prevent them.
How big is the issue of stress for service desk teams?
Before talking more about well-being, and mental health, issues, it’s important to look at how big an issue stress can be for agents. Whether you run an internal IT service desk, customer-facing help desk, or a business process outsourcing (BPO) team, stress can affect the well-being of members of your team.
While we all may have good days and bad ones, consistently high stress levels can have a negative effect on well-being and contribute to more serious mental health problems. Research published in the Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences, by a team from the Department of General Medicine at Bharath University, found that around 54% of IT and BPO staff suffered from depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Other research studies have found similar results on stress, with around 67% of IT professionals reporting health issues due to stress at their workplace. This impact on personal lives can, therefore, be significant.
Tackling the issue head on
Encouraging individuals to share when they’re feeling stressed and need help fulfills two requirements: one, it can provide assistance to agents that need it when they have one-off bad experiences; and two, it can help prevent those individual stressful events from leading to more problematic anxiety or mental health issues over time.
It can also be worth looking at your ticket data to gauge how much workload each agent has to deal with. If employees are fully stretched and not able to take time out from their work every now and then, this can add to the problem. Use workload data to identify where employees are at, or over, capacity and where either more resource or smarter working practices can remove some of the personal burdens.
Dealing with stress and well-being issues
Looking ahead, it’s important to look at agents as people and how they deal with stress. To address this means looking at how they’re feeling and performing, and how your culture supports them over time.
It’s therefore important to recognize that well-being and mental health can be an issue for individuals on your team(s) and that you should develop processes that can help.
For example, physical activity is a proven treatment for well-being issues. For team members who might be sat at computers for hours on end dealing with fractious customers, getting away from a screen for a break and walking can help. The challenge here is how to build this kind of activity into daily routines when there’s so much pressure to perform.
Team culture is also important. Support professionals and agents tend to want to help – it’s what they do every day, after all. So, establishing a culture that allows these physical breaks away from the desk is important. If people feel they can’t take breaks because there’ll be more pressure on their colleagues, then everyone will be affected over time. Similarly, it’s important that the whole team feels that the load is being shared fairly during these busy times.
Building in formalized well-being management capabilities
Acknowledging stress and providing support should help “in the moment” is great. Yet it’s equally important to look at the long-term impact that stress can have on people.
The Mental Health Foundation worked with YouGov to poll 4,169 adults in the UK during 2018. The results, published alongside Mental Health Awareness Week in 2018, found that over the past year, almost three quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Mental health is often a difficult topic for people because many of us don’t feel comfortable discussing how we are and how we feel at the best of times. Yet talking about these issues is an essential first step to recognizing where issues might exist, and then help being made available. Encouraging frank discussions around stress, regardless of what time of year it is, or how busy teams are, should be encouraged.
Alongside supporting and encouraging this kind of discussion, it can be worth putting together guidance for your team on what steps to take if they’re feeling that work and/or other factors are affecting their health.
From an official process, that team members can invoke to talk with you, through to internal human resources (HR) and occupational health support, or recommendations on how to access outside medical services, providing this can help normalize the situation such that people feel more comfortable asking for help.
It’s also important to look at which elements your agents enjoy most about their work. Being good at your job and receiving recognition for that work can help alleviate the impact of more stressful tasks, making them easier to bear. This can help alongside providing adequate breaks and opportunities to step away during stressful times.
It’s OK to not be OK
As Sophie Danby pointed out in her article based in part on the well-being and mental health discussions at Refresh18, it’s OK to not be OK or to need help.
The key question is what are you doing to identify and help with well-being issues? Or, ideally, what has your organization put in place to help prevent them from happening in the first place? If you have already improved things in your organization, please help others by sharing in the comments section below.
Simon is the UK General Manager at Freshworks, the Google-backed leading cloud-based customer support software company. Simon heads the company’s operations and revenue strategy for the UK covering IT service management, customer service and support management. Prior to Freshworks, Simon has led global sales teams for Microsoft and Oracle database and development software providers. Simon is a Dad of two boys, and a keen sportsman, having completed Marathons and England trials for football.
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