IT Policies

Recognising the signs of help desk burnout

Does your help desk lose people due to burnout? If so, IT pro Jeff Dray offers his thoughts about how the attrition might be managed.

Do you find help desk work to be a chore lately? Is it hard to get up in the morning and get yourself into the office? Are you finding it harder to pick up the phone and sound cheerful and interested? Do the users get on your nerves these days, when you used to be very happy to provide help?

If you answered "yes" to two or more of these questions and have been working the help desk for more than a couple of years, you may be approaching help desk burnout, and it might be time to move on.

Most IT pros start out on the help desk and move on to other specialisations. Although the help desk is often seen as the entry point for the industry, I have always maintained that a good help desk analyst's skills are often different from the ones shown by other members of the IT department.

After too many phone calls and too many callers, you can find yourself struggling to maintain your professionalism. For some, it indicates the end of a help desk career; for others, a temporary change of job role might be the answer.

Learning about another branch of the business is, in my view, always a good idea. A few days of working with another IT department can have great benefits, both in terms of skill set and developing strong links with other teams -- links that you can exploit later when you need to find answers to users' problems.

If you are shrewd, you can exploit your help desk burnout and come back a wiser tech -- or even find your next rung on the IT ladder, if you decide not to return to the help desk.

Every team in the IT department has to learn how to dovetail into the organisation. I have often been surprised at how poorly this is done; departments fail to truly communicate with others in the organisation. This is not just poor practice, it is wasteful.

At worst, you can have a situation where teams are working against each other; sometimes you have two people working on the same task. By rotating your help desk analysts around the different teams, you will develop them as workers and lengthen their support careers. In addition, you will build those all important bridges between different departments and teams and be more efficient.

Does your company follow this practice, or does the help desk constantly lose people to the rest of the organisation?

27 comments
tom804
tom804

organisation = organization

mgordon
mgordon

The sense of the article seems to be corporate helpdesk. In this case we are one big family and good, prompt, successful support pays immediate dividends. The very best helpdesk technician is one that has "done it all" and can spot any problem, recognize any software, and suggest how to proceed in any circumstance; no matter how creatively the problem is described by the client. Having just gotten off a 9 minute phone call getting a client's username typed in correctly, I must admit that some days can seem a lot slower than others. However, solving this one entailed persuading the client to reveal the hostname of the computer ("Log on to xxx"), then a visit to the domain controller's DNS to look up the IP address, then invoking VNC to grab control of the desktop is not perhaps "tier 1" work you give to inexperienced interns EVEN THOUGH the problem itself is trivial. That's the rub -- it is easy to hire interns, even high school geeks, they understand technology very well. The problem is that people do not describe problems in meaningful technical language. The value of an experienced helpdesk technician is knowing what callers MEAN when they say various things. One of my favorites was, "Why are my commas in the air?" That's an apostrophe ;-)

Joe_R
Joe_R

Did you post your message in the wrong discussion thread? I don't understand your message at all.

Joe_R
Joe_R

As a person who is the whole IT department, per se, supporting all the IT functions of the whole company, I'm not in exactly the same position as the ones you describe, but there's burn-out to be sure. You suggested that learning about another branch of the business is a good idea, and you're exactly right. After all, the IT functions of most companies are only a means to an end, not the end itself. What product or service does the company provide to the general public? That's how the company makes its revenue, and if a tech can have some knowledge, interest, and involvement in that, it's nothing but a win-win. In my case, I actually wear two hats, only one of them being of the IT variety, and I've always been involved in the production aspect of our business. In fact, that actually preceded my involvement into the IT aspect. However, to combat the inevitable burn-out, there's nothing like a spontaneous three or four day weekend. I take a vacation day or a comp-time day (or days), leave the cell phone behind, and go someplace. A visit to the family, a two-day hike in the mountains, or a quick trip to Las Vegas seems to recharge the mental batteries. And if It's ever suggested that it's a bad time to take a day off, then it's a clear-cut sign that it's the best time to take a day off!

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

What steps do you take to reduce the number of people leaving the help desk?

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

I had help from less than technical family members to ease my transistion into helpdesk, but it was still a shock to see some of the things that people (even professors with phd's) come up with. But the problem with the helpdesk at my last job was that they considered (still do, actually) all help desk staff to be untrained labor. Even after we got our Associates and different cert's. I completly agree that the Help Desk needs more respect from not only users, but the big guys up stairs too. Help desk support isn't exactly a cake walk day in and day out. But I was thrown to the sharks as the greenest tech you have ever met. It shapes you very quickly in that kind of atmoshpere and even a young college geek intern can learn what an apostrophe is :)

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

Understanding the technology isn't normally the problem understanding the users can be a challenge

tmalonemcse
tmalonemcse

Take no notice of that crazy BALTHOR. He comes along when comments need a pick-up. He has been a major source of entertainment for many over the years. I have my suspicions as to who it is but there is no need to expose him. BALTHOR is a great help to the Tech Republic community. We bow to his genius that is so often so far above ours.

catfish182
catfish182

They didn't want to hire another help desk person so they started having the on site techs do a lot of the work. We have a bunch of clients that are not full day so i am the help desk for them when the tech isn't around. The volume went down so now i have to invent ways to stay 'billable' and wait on phone calls that sometimes don't happen. Honestly its worse, i would rather be busy and stressed then not be busy and more stressed.

tmalonemcse
tmalonemcse

Like Joe, I used to be the whole IT department. I have worked several jobs where the signs of burnout became obvious after a year or two. Here is what I did in several situations: 1. Ask management for an "junior" to mentor. This helps spread the workload and provides a team atmosphere where those crazy calls can be tossed around and laughed about. 2. Ask management for a flexible schedule. The burnout sometimes comes from the same routine day after day. If some days start at 11am instead of 8am, it can help the problem. 3. Arrange to work from off-site. If your job is pure help desk and no desk-side support, then phone calls can be transferred anywhere. Remote Desktop or some other remote control software works wonders. 4. Cut the hours back to part-time and find outside consulting work. This one is not always possible but it has worked great for me. The help-desk stuff is second-nature and can be done in my sleep. The consulting is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Joe's comment about outside activities like a family visit or a hike in the mountains is a great one. I heartily concur. Sometimes I get so intense in my work that I think they can't do without me. That change in scenery always seems to do wonders to recharge.

jfyksen
jfyksen

I have a small helpdesk I allow them to do installs, desktop support as well as answer calls. Keeping them busy and changing technology is a great way to motivate techie's.

bparkhomenko
bparkhomenko

Pay help desk support staff a reasonable wage. There are a lot companies go with temp agencies hiring temp/to hire staff. This shabby business and to be honest, insulting for any IT specialist and there so many temp agencies that it practically impossible to find a full job. I assume most of us know how these schemes works, 70 to 30% or 50/50%.

bfpower
bfpower

I concur wholeheartedly that to be a good phone technician one must have a mode of thinking that is different than other divisions of IT. I do deskside support, but occasionally do phoen support as part of my position. They are different, and the sort of analytical thinking involved with phone support is unique to phone support. I think that there are good Help Desk technicians who will make a career of phone support. Some people are uniquely gifted in this area. However, the rest of them may be using it simply as the ground floor while they get past the 2-3 years experience ceiling. Maybe it's not bad - maybe we need that in our organizations - people who know how to support applications before they start developing or managing them. One last thought. Sometimes I think that every person in our IT department should work the help desk for a week or two. They might learn better how to do what they do if they thought about IT from the support side.

rkinney
rkinney

I tell you....it's like being Columbo or Mike Hammer when it comes to taking calls. Thank God for remote tools :)

juan.sifuentes
juan.sifuentes

You are correct sometimes I try to place myself in their shoes and visualize the situation. Understanding them and trying to help solve their issue without losing it is the hardest part.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Balthor is a nutbar that has never posted a comment that is relevant to the discussion. :D

Beaniesway
Beaniesway

I have been a Help Desk Coordinator for about 2 years (total 5 years in IT) I do not see it as "entry level" Generally our users submit "Help Desk" Tickets with I deploy to my co-workers in IT,and assign to myseld as well - but there are also many cases of phone support as well. I believe the "Trick" to being GREAT "help desk" support is to "rememner" what it was like to be a "User" - most of my co-workers at total "GEEKS" hard core "IT" actually - they are young (earlier 30's ) and have all this "know how" they simply do not know or remember what it was like to be just plain "Joe user" so they become frusterated and aggravated (slightly) when users have simple everyday questions... That cause's problems in the help desk area. I on the other hand find helping these users very satisfying not only for me, but for the user as well. Showing and teaching a user something as simple as how to save all their documents to the Network drive gives them such a sense of 'satisfaction' which in turn rubs off on me a bit too. I do remember what it was like to be a "user" because to be honest.... That's what I am. Chicago, Illinois

Selltekk
Selltekk

I run a small helpdesk. Occasionally we get overloaded with calls and need to ask other people, Network admin, developers to help with the excess volume. I have no problem with this. What I do have a problem with is the poor attitude that our network administrator has about answering helpdesk calls and helping our users. He really feels like it is beneath him and frequently, if the calls spill over to his phone, he will sometimes just take a message and tell the user that the helpdesk will call them back when they are done with the call they are on. Now, if he was busy with something very important, then I would understand. However I know for a fact that this guy is the most underworked person in our department. And to top it all off, I'm the most educated! I feel that no matter your position, be it IT manager, CIO, network admin, developer, or helpdesk support, no one in IT should be above answering the phone and helping a user if the call volume gets high. We are here to provide a service, and without our users, we would not have jobs. My 2 cents.

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

"One thing's been bothering me. You say you used your pinky finger to type your comma, but when I look at most people typing, I see they use their middle finger to type a comma. I think you didn't type a comma at all, sir."

Jaqui
Jaqui

:D when it comes to the Balthor, anything is fair :D

Joe_R
Joe_R

sorry.......

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

that too is my experience of help desk.

Selltekk
Selltekk

I'm glad to see that there are other who share my opinion. But alas, I am not the one who can fire or hire.

its just me
its just me

I have been working in help desk for quite a while now. Its not beneath anyone to help take calls and triage them, after all these are the folks who give us a paycheck. Perhaps its time to get rid of the network admin? Find a person who is sincere in their work ethics.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I really dislike arrogance and hubris in the workplace when it comes to dealing with fellow co-workers. A joke here or there is one thing (i.e. "Sally must have tried to feed her keyboard")...but to show overt disdain is unacceptable. Great way to limit upward mobility or pay increases, in my book. It amazes me how people like this continually make it past HR, since that is precisely what they are supposed to be screening for before forwarding the candidate along to the hiring manager. That's a discussion for another time, though. Oh well, I'm sure there are people in accounting right now laughing at the capital expense request put through by some IT person, and preparing to red ink it. I just hope it isn't me!! ;)

carrollce
carrollce

Good comment on the fact that we would not have jobs if it wasn't for our customers! What I don't get is the arrogance of helpdesk people when a user is asking for assistance - most users can barely turn on the computer but then again, that is not their specialty - they may be accountants, admininstrators, etc., who are not expected to know the nuances of computing - hence, the reason for help desk existance - it all fits nicely in the scheme of things. Can't we all just get along!?