How To Prevent IT Security Department Burnout

How To Prevent IT Security Department Burnout

IT security failure is an ever-present danger. New threats and ways to attack your organization are constantly being developed. Defending against these threats is a tough challenge for companies across the world, even small firms. You can get an early warning of your vulnerability to a security failure by monitoring and preventing IT security department burnout. When these critical security professionals suffer burnout, essential activities will be missed and security risks will increase.

What Does Employee Burnout Look Like?

Employee burnout is a pervasive problem in the modern workplace. When employees are pushed by management or feel obliged to continually work, everybody suffers. According to a Gallup study, over 20% of employees report feeling burned out often or always. Depending on the situation, burnout takes different forms. In some cases, we see burnout manifest as increased absenteeism from work. In other cases, it shows up as minimal effort – employees come in, get the minimum work completed and leave. That means you lose out on the benefits of problem solving and innovation needed to succeed today.

How Does IT Security Department Burnout Hurt Your Company?

Building on the Gallup survey referenced above, assume that 20% of your IT security department suffers from burnout often. In a department of five people, that means that 1-2 people will suffer from exhaustion. That situation has two impacts on the organization. First, the individual suffering from burnout will not be as productive as they could be. Second, their burnout situation may cause IT security morale to suffer. Joint responsibilities such as IT security projects and upgrades may slow down.

In the short term, you might ask the IT security department manager to cover for the burned out employee. That approach works in the case of short term situations such as sickness or illness. In the case of burnout, manager coverage of other duties is not sustainable. When an IT security manager has to spend 10% or 20% of their workweek taking care of work for a burned-out staff member, other duties will suffer. For example, the manager may neglect non-urgent tasks like updating employee password training and evaluating new technologies for security risk. The ultimate consequence of this situation strikes when an IT security event occurs. Since the department is already straining to keep up with normal operations, they may not succeed in responding quickly to an event.

Diagnose The Cause of IT Security Burnout

As a leader, it is your role to lead the IT security department to excellent performance. To achieve that goal, know the signs of burnout early so you can stop the problem. Rather than wait for a full security meltdown to occur, we recommend proactively monitoring for burnout symptoms.

Each quarter, monitor your IT security department for burnout by assessing these measures, which are adapted from Gallup research.

  • Unfair treatment in the workplace. This may sound difficult to assess, but we have a suggestion. Think about how you assign or offer special or unusual assignments. If you always give special treatment – like conference funding – to a star employee each year and nobody else, you may be perceived as unfair.
  • Unmanageable workload. There are a few ways to measure workload sustainability. If the organization has timesheets, review them. Second, look for how many emails and messages are sent by people in your department outside of core business hours. Regularly putting in long hours tends to lead to burnout.
  • Missing clarity on job responsibilities. Constantly adding new work tasks in IT security leads to burnout because priorities become unclear. Ask yourself if managers are providing clear priorities or simply throwing out whenever something urgent comes up. 
  • Lacking support and communication from the manager. Managers can make daily work easier or worse. One simple way to measure this factor: how often do you have one-on-one meetings with your team to listen to their concerns?
  • Unreasonable time pressure. Ask yourself how often staff have worked outside regular business hours in the past 90 days.

If your organization has recently suffered from IT security events, you may find that the department is suffering from multiple signs of burnout. In that case, you need an action plan to improve.

Your Plan To Reduce IT Security Burnout In 90 Days

Completely curing employee burnout is a long term project. However, you can make dramatic progress in just ninety days. Follow these steps, and you will be able to make good progress.

Phase 1: Clarify the Drivers of IT Security Burnout (15 days)

For your solution to burnout to succeed, you need to clarify the cause of the situation first. Therefore, we recommend starting with an information-gathering exercise. Start by looking within the company’s data and systems. For example, ask HR to provide a report on overtime and paid leave from the office. Comparing this data for your department to the overall company’s averages will help you to detect the situation. After you have this data, your next step is to gather qualitative information – get up from your desk and talk to people about their working experience.

Phase 2: Develop Burnout Solution Options (15 days)

Equipped with an understanding of the burnout situation, brainstorm solutions. To kick off your process, we suggest looking for the following types of solutions.

  • Technology Improvements. Look at software solutions like Password Station and Apollo to simplify IT administration.
  • Process Changes. Consider changing management processes such as setting a minimum number of one-on-one meetings per month.
  • People Changes. Review whether your staffing levels are adequate to deliver on your work requirements.

Aim for a mix of short-term wins and long-term strategic changes.

Phase 3: Implement Burnout Busting Quick Wins (60 days)

Based on phase two, identify one quick win to implement in the next two months to ease IT security burnout. 

Chart A Course for Sustainable IT Security

Implementing a few changes this quarter will go a long way toward building a sustainable IT security department. To prevent the situation from getting out of hand in the future, keep monitoring your staff for signs of burnout on a quarterly basis.

Written by Nelson Cicchitto