Are you always on?

I just finished reading a very interesting article in CIO magazine that details the condition of the "always on" employee. Although the article, "The Extreme CIO," focuses strictly on CIOs, its message can apply to all IT workers. The "always on" individual works 70 to 80 hour weeks, is often on the road, is responding to crises 24/7, is a stranger to their family, is never disconnected from the organization, etc.

Matt Villano, the author of the article, states that what makes CIOs extreme is that "they are at the nexus of three forces driving business today: a global economy, the ability to be in touch 24/7, and the increasing reliance of business on IT." These forces according to Villano foster an extreme work style.

I don't disagree that those factors drive people into this lifestyle because it's been ingrained in many of us that in order to get more work done, you have to work longer and harder. I also know that the reliance on IT for mission critical applications places a stress on all who are associated with supporting them even when things are running correctly - kind of a free-floating anxiety while we wait for the next crisis.

But I also think there are other factors that contribute to the "extremeness" of IT and that they play a larger role in creating the problem. I think the organization is to blame and therefore should be part of the solution.

Working with greatly reduced staff increases the amount of responsibility for the remaining positions. Organizations have pushed the whole doing-more-with-less scenario so far that it's reached a point where it actually erodes efficiency. Working in this style causes more errors, reduces proactive behavior, and leads people to work continuously in a crisis mentality. Thus people are working in an extreme fashion just to keep up.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when staff are so thin that they're working themselves to death, either the organization needs to spend money on hiring or acquire the technology needed to automate more of the work. Spending on IT above and beyond what it takes to actually keep the wheels on will save the organization money in the long run, by creating better processes, allowing proactive behavior, and keeping employees happier and healthier.

The expectation that one should be available at all times is something that can be handled culturally in any organization. We must accommodate legitimate 24-hour operational needs, but this doesn't mean everyone needs to be available at all times. The organization needs to actively discourage the practice of its staff members being available at all times. This can't happen if management is acting in a crisis mode at all times. Smart organizations have to figure this out if they want to remain successful.