Stress Test: IT Leaders Strained by Talent Shortage, Tech Spend

IT leaders are battling high stress levels while juggling skills shortages and digitalization initiatives. Communication and planning are key to reduce pressure.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

July 18, 2023

5 Min Read
High blood pressure on the gauge against the background of the cardiac monitor.
Yuriy Klochan via Alamy Stock

Amid talent constraints, the pursuit of efficiency has taken center stage, compelling organizations to discover and invent new ways to optimize existing talent and resources within these limitations.

These constraints, coupled with the intense focus on digitalization and the need to keep up with advances in IT, are causing high levels of stress among IT leaders, according to a report by The Work Innovation Lab, an Asana think tank, in partnership with Firstbase and Sierra Ventures.

The report also revealed that while cross-functional collaboration is critical, it’s also challenging, and most (54%) senior executive IT leaders surveyed feel stress at least weekly from working cross-functionally. 

Rebecca Hinds, head of The Work Innovation Lab by Asana, explains there are ways to reduce the stress associated with cross-functional collaboration.

“First, organizations need to prioritize company-wide goal setting,” she says. “At Asana, all our goals -- across individuals, teams, and company goals -- are connected so it’s easier to see the alignment and foster a shared sense of purpose.”

She explains this reduces stress caused by misalignments or a lack of clarity about who is working toward which objective.

“By collecting data about how employees are collaborating, organizations can proactively diagnose healthy and harmful collaborative behaviors and encourage smarter, sustainable collaboration while minimizing stress,” Hinds adds.

The research also found 94% of IT executives are being asked to advise on their company’s strategic planning at least monthly, which Hinds notes can be a challenging and stress-ridden transition.

“IT leaders need to adopt a growth mindset and constantly develop and hone new skills to align with their evolving roles like strategic thinking, negotiation, and building consensus,” she says. “Failure to develop these new skills will likely fuel poor performance, imposter syndrome, and stress levels for many IT leaders.”

Skills Shortage Delaying Projects, Increasing Workloads    

George Jones, CISO at Critical Start, says a shortage of skilled professionals has led to delays in certain projects and increased workloads for existing team members.

“To combat these delays, we have looked at upskilling current employees, brought in interns with specific skill sets, leveraged contract and freelance workers, and implemented knowledge-sharing to encourage cross-functional collaboration, empowering employees to learn from one another,” he says.

He explains Critical Start employees have clearly defined roles and responsibilities that align with their team and organizational goals, and cross-functional collaboration is encouraged to leverage diverse perspectives and expertise.

“Agile methodologies promote transparency, adaptability, and iterative progress and foster a culture of psychological safety where individuals feel comfortable sharing ideas, taking risks, and learning from failures,” he adds.

Jones says to foster a culture of communication and collaboration, my teams meet regularly to share knowledge, project updates, and provide feedback on what is working and what isn’t.

“These regular channels, along with collaboration tools that leverage real-time communication and document sharing improve the social interaction opportunities for a team that is spread across the globe and strengthen relationships,” he says. “These tools help encourage empathy and ensure that everyone has a voice and feels heard and respected.”

A Framework of Shared Objectives, Business Outcomes

Ajay Patel, chief operating officer at Apptio, says a key way to reduce stress and increase collaboration is to have shared objectives and business outcomes, and then a single source of truth based on trusted data aligned to those goals.

“There are three ways Apptio does this,” he explains. “First, we have operational rigor around objectives and key results.”

Secondly, the company follows agile planning and portfolio management practice, focusing their top talent on the highest impact products and projects.

“Thirdly, we use our own tools to manage our business, with reports and insights that our executive team uses to prioritize and take action every week,” he says. “This ensures we are making shared, data-driven decisions and holding each other accountable.”

Hinds agrees effective communication and collaboration play vital roles in managing stress levels for IT leaders.

“By prioritizing clear communication, potential misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided, which can reduce stress,” she says. “Moreover, effective communication and collaboration enable IT leaders to understand their and others’ distinct skillsets and tap into the collective intelligence of their organization.”

This can result in effective delegation and distribution of work, ultimately facilitating better problem-solving, boosting efficiency, and, in turn, reducing stress levels. 

To establish effective communication channels, IT leaders should implement both formal and informal methods, such as regular team meetings, one-on-one discussions, and digital platforms for information sharing and updates.

“Creating a psychologically safe space for feedback and constructive criticism is crucial for fostering open communication,” she adds.

Focus on High-Impact Initiatives, Automation

Jones says his advice for fellow leaders that are working to minimize stress includes focusing on high-impact initiatives that align with organizational goals rather than spreading resources too thin.

“Create a culture of trust and empowerment, encouraging team members to take ownership of their responsibilities and make decisions, and continuously evolve and adapt strategies based on data-driven insights, lessons learned, and feedback from multiple perspectives,” he says.

Flexible work arrangements, training programs, and stress management resources should also be provided to support and encourage a healthy work-life balance.

“Be iterative and don’t be afraid to fail and fail fast -- even leaders are apt to fail,” Jones says. “Learn and improve every day and your teams will follow suit.”

Hinds advises IT leaders to identify tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming and explore automation options.

“Leveraging technology -- especially AI-powered ones -- can free up your team's time and energy for more strategic and impactful work,” she says. “Automation not only boosts efficiency but also reduces stress levels by minimizing manual errors and enabling team members to focus on high-value activities.” 

What to Read Next:

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How to Build a Sense of Mission in Your IT Team

Why Your Current Job May Be Holding Back Your IT Career

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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