A Process Model of Job Stress

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Another IT periodical (Fischer 1998) reported results of a survey of 1,180 networking professionals in which 94% of respondents indicated they work in deadline or crisis mode at least some of the time (12% indicated “always,” 50% often,” 32% “sometimes,” 6% “rarely,” and 0% “never”). In addition, 84% of the respondents reported that they bring work home or work nights and weekends at least some of the time (15% indicated “always,” 39% “often,” 30% “sometimes,” 14% “rarely,” and 2% “never”).

Moreover, IT workers are expected to keep technologies working and computer applications functioning around the clock in organizations. Workers can be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Technology is so distributed and vitally indispensable in organizations that an IT professional offering technical support can feel swamped by demands. In addition to reports in the practitioner press, IS researchers examining the work environment of technology professionals have found evidence of antecedents to exhaustion.

Numerous studies have reported evidence of work overload, role ambiguity, and role conflict (Li and Shani 1991& Sethi et al. 1999). It has been suggested that IS professionals in many organizations are perpetually asked to take on impossible workloads and deadlines (Bartol and Martin 1982). Indeed, work overload and insufficient time to complete work have been reported as common occurrences in the work environments of IS professionals (Ivancevich et al. 1983).

Further evidence is discerned in a field study of 109 IS managers in which work overload was reported to be the major source of perceived work stress, followed by role conflict and role ambiguity (Li and Shani 1991). These connections can be related to job demands or to moderators presented in figure 1 (Le Blanc et al. 2000). A contributing element to the occurrence of role conflict and ambiguity seems to be the boundary spanning activities often expected of technology professionals.

One study found that significant variance in role conflict was explained by the degree to which IS personnel were involved in boundary spanning roles (Baroudi 1985). Similarly, another study reported a significant relationship between boundary spanning activities and role ambiguity (Guimaraes and Igbaria 1992). Researchers also report that technology professionals encounter symptoms normally associated with work exhaustion.

Stress-related symptoms reported by IS managers include feeling restless and unable to concentrate, feeling irritable and tense, feeling tired and having low energy (Weiss 1983). In preliminary data on 69 professionals who had worked in IS for at least 20 years and were currently holding expert or manager positions in IS, it was found that approximately one-fourth of the subjects: felt used up at the end of the work day, felt fatigued when they got up in the morning to face another day on the job, and felt they were working too hard on their job (Kalimo and Toppinen 1995).

Impact of Burnout on IT Professionals In today’s ambience of constantly changing technology, increasing customer demands, and dogged pursuit of efficiency, IT managers are likely to have a tendency to assign critical projects to select highly-regarded employees. These high-performers can easily find themselves in exhaustive situations as projects pick up steam and efforts become more realistically defined.

Without proper involvement, the supervising manager may be unaware of the pressure the employee is experiencing and may not be present to provide acknowledgment, support, and additional resources where needed. In such situations, valued technology professionals are likely to become trapped in prolonged situations of high-pressure demands and burn out. When this happens, the exhausted worker can be expected to experience a higher propensity to take a break for a prolonged period or leave the job.

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