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Study finds IT experts particularly prone to work stress

The information technology (IT) industry is famous as a driver of innovation. But according to the results of a recent study, innovation within the sector is being held back - not because of funding or infrastructure, but because IT workers are particularly prone to burnout. ...

The information technology (IT) industry is famous as a driver of innovation. But according to the results of a recent study, innovation within the sector is being held back - not because of funding or infrastructure, but because IT workers are particularly prone to burnout. While statistics from insurance companies would have us believe that those working in the IT industry are some of the healthiest people on Earth, the figures are deceptive, according to researchers at the Technische Universität Dortmund. The Pragdis study, partially funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), found that IT specialists do not figure prominently in sickness leave statistics because they continue to work even when they are ill - a phenomenon known as presentism. In fact the study found a particularly high incidence of health problems within the sector. And freelancers are even more likely to be affected than permanent employees. Some 65 per cent of the freelancers surveyed complained of presumably work-related musculoskeletal disorders, while 52 per cent made reference to mental problems that the researchers assume can be traced back to work. Moreover, over half of the freelancers interviewed reported suffering from fears and negative emotions, all of which are typical symptoms of burnout. Such is the stress on IT workers that only 30 per cent of freelancers and 40 per cent of permanent employees believe that they will be able to remain in their chosen profession until retirement age. For many however, the stress that comes with work in the IT sector is not necessarily bad. One quarter of those surveyed denied feelings of exhaustion, while two thirds of freelancers reported very high levels of job satisfaction and even thrive on work-related stress. The study led to the team drawing up a 'hierarchy' of the work-related problems causing burnout and mental problems, as well as a plan for a burnout prevention centre. The top stress-inducer is performing tasks that are difficult to manage, followed by tasks that are regarded as 'pointless' and not worthy of the person's time. Third is a lack of appreciation from superiors or customers. Other stress inducers include pressure for outcomes, an unsatisfactory salary and time pressure. The burnout-prevention concept is currently being tested in three German regions - Münsterland, the Ruhr and the Rhineland. Each location has established a network bringing together all aspects of burnout prevention and treatment including psychology, medicine, labour studies, law and more. The services are available for employees and businesses alike. The Pragdis project ('Preventive work- and health safety in discontinuous work biographies') is looking into prevention strategies for three specific and low-profile target groups (freelancers, intelligent mobile workers and discontinuous employees) who are in danger of falling through the cracks and not receiving protection from recognised industrial health and safety standards. The Technische Universität Dortmund is working together with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and the Team Gesundheit GmbH on the project, with funding from Germany's Federal Ministry for Education and Research as well as the ESF.

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