Safeguarding On-call Tech Employees from Burnout

by Vanessa Quek
Published on January 2021

Being on-call after working hours gets in the way of your ‘me time.’ But as an engineer managing your organisation’s infrastructure and applications, it’s inevitable. Ensuring uptime on your company’s mission-critical websites and applications means having to be ‘always on,’ responding to alerts and incidents (like outages) within strict service level agreements. 

It doesn’t help that, as technology has evolved, the expected response time for incidents has shot down – meaning customers expect an almost instantaneous resolution when experiencing disruption on your organisation’s services. 

In a recent post on a Computer System Administration Professionals community on Reddit, an experienced engineer wrote a confessional on the exhaustion he faces being on-call:  

a reddit post

Does this sound a little too familiar? We’ve worked with clients whose teams shared this sentiment. As their working hours extend, they find themselves dipping in on-the-job satisfaction and feeling disengaged at work.

More time on-call, more burnt-out engineers

In a Fast Company column on Workplace Evolution, Headlight’s CEO Jason Shen chronicles the exhaustion he faced during lockdown. The column cited a survey by Blind (an anonymous social application for tech employees) in 2018, which revealed that more than half of tech employees experience feelings of burnout.

This increasingly shared experience led to the World Health Organisation (WHO)  officially recognising burnout as an occupational hazard in the following year. According to the WHO, burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It comes with:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Moreover, with the layoffs due to the pandemic, engineers might find themselves on-call more often than before. Coupled with increasing working hours from working remotely, it is unsurprising that there are widespread feelings of burnout among tech employees around the world. 

Always on, so you can switch off 

But can you prevent burnout from setting in? Yes you can!

Here are three proactive recommendations which you can take to mitigate burnout within your tech team. 

1. Review mandatory time off or paid vacation policy with employees

Flexible working arrangements are not as appealing in a pandemic, as most people are still confined to their homes. 

This can lead to an annual leave stockpile scenario, with ongoing international travel restrictions making it challenging for employees to plan their time off. However, embracing time off or downtime is essential for re-energising your body and mind. Those who take time off from work enjoy better engagement and higher productivity, which can drive creativity and innovation, compared to peers who put off their vacation.

Getting HR to review the paid time off/vacation policy with employees’ feedback is helpful in keeping tech teams engaged.  Try letting people know it’s OK to take time off – even it’s just for duvet days!

2. Create an open-channel for communication and support

 Build out your communication channels.  It could be something formal like organising town halls, or informal, like a virtual wine down on Zoom. Internal communication is key during any crisis, and efforts to maintain this will result in higher employee satisfaction. Determine the the format and how often with everybody’s input, and on top of having a communication channel, provide mental wellbeing support. 

You don’t have to retain a dial-in psychologist. You could just try out programs like yoga or meditation sessions to impart crucial self-care skills – it pays off in the long run.  


3. Working with a managed service provider (MSP) for out-of-hours monitoring and support

Even before the pandemic, we had clients approach us with the problem of overworked engineers. The high turnover rate and the inability to field the talent necessary for the job, let alone a willingness to be on-call, leads to a vicious cycle  and a real challenge in keeping mission-critical applications online around the clock.

Our role as an MSP and support partner is to alleviate on-the-job stress from your IT team. With dedicated full-stack support 24/7 or out-of-hours, your engineers can get a good night’s rest. Our clients’ teams experience an increase in efficiency in their workplaces as their engineers can now channel their full energy into what they were hired for – be it designing a better network or building more robust information systems. 

At Just After Midnight, we like to say that we are ‘always on so you can switch off.’  We see ourselves as an extension of your tech team, and we’re serious about protecting your company’s revenue and reputation. 

The takeaways: 

  • Burnout is real, no one is spared from it and it impacts productivity and employee engagement badly 
  • There are strategies to prevent burnout: review mandatory time off or paid vacation policy, create an open channel for communication and support, or work with a support partner to take out-of-hours work off your engineers’ hands 

We can work in tandem with your existing support team to provide solely out-of-office hours support or support you 24/7, 365. You can read more about the brands and agencies we’ve supported here.

If you need some advice on how best to protect your application, or to find out more about our support services, just drop us a line

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