Tech jobs take stress to whole new levels

Feeling the strain? A new study suggests you’ll just have to get in line

Attention all you laid-back IT professionals: a new study claims that IT is the most stressful occupation, ahead of engineering, sales, finance, HR, and pretty much everything else.

[Talkback: Feeling the strain]

The study, commissioned by e-learning provider Skillsoft, surveyed 3,000 people and found that 97 percent of IT pros report daily stress stemming from user complaints, managers, and deadlines. Common complaints included stress due to taking on other people’s work; lack of job satisfaction; lack of control over daily duties; and managerial pressure, interruptions, and bullying.

My initial reaction? “You gotta be kidding.” How could IT be the most stressful profession? What happened to air traffic controllers? Brain surgeons? Prison guards, cops, and firefighters? Stay-at-home moms and dads?

I did a little digging, and it turns out that over the years studies have come out claiming that any one of dozens of occupations is “the most stressful” — including bookkeepers, librarians, and even bartenders. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, the “most stressful occupation” survey has long been used as a tool by unions to get better wages or by vendors to promote a product, such as deodorant.

A couple points, however, are clear on stress: 1) It’s all about the individual’s expectations and temperament. And 2) Unchallenging and repetitive work can be more stressful than tumultuous jobs. So cheer up: That never-a-dull-moment gig might be good for your ticker.

Simulated stress dept. So what do some IT professionals do these days to de-stress? Well, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some of them participate in a worldwide online simulation of — of all things — the air traffic control system. Called Vatsim, the system has 109,000 registered users (both pilots and controllers) and is so realistic that some commercial airlines are starting to use it to train pilots. Begun in 1996 as a way to bring Microsoft flight-simulator programs to life, Vatsim includes written certification tests, extensive training, and the occasional harrowing near miss on an LAX runway.

I mentioned this to a group of IT managers over lunch, and a couple of them said they felt sure some of their employees were spending a lot of time in virtual worlds such as this, both at home and (probably) on the job. And they’d even heard you can pay people in China to keep playing your game for you if you need to be away from your machine for an extended period.

So let’s see … stressed-out professionals trying to de-stress by simulating another highly stressful profession and then offshoring that stress temporarily so they can take a break. Make sense?

According to a recent Gartner report, it might. “Playing the Collaboration Game” asserts that MMOGs (Massively Multiuser Online Games) such as Vatsim, Everquest, Entropia, and World of Warcraft provide immersive and compelling collaboration environments “superior to anything corporations have ever deployed.”

Gartner Vice President Nick Jones claims that although MMOGs are nowhere close to being potential platforms for enterprise collaboration, they are extremely comprehensive reflections of our complex society.

“Subscribe to an MMOG to gain knowledge and see the future of collaboration,” Jones advises. Or maybe just work off a little stress.

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