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An interesting, albeit anonymous, comment left on a previous post:

In my Firm’s IT group (3 techs and 3 application support/trainers) we don’t have people dedicated to help desk – it’s part of everyone’s job. We all do other admin, setup, and development work which constantly change with the Firm’s needs. The model provides great support by making experienced, knowledgeable people available to everyone in the Firm. Will this setup work forever? Likely not. Do I keep people beyond the five years you mention? Yes.

That doesn’t surprise me actually. When I was a one-man shop I answered all the tech support requests, but I also wore the network and database admin hats, I worked there for almost 8 years and my leaving had nothing to do with being burned out from doing tech support. (I was burned out in many other ways in terms of dealing with the small office constraints, but not the work.)I do believe there are specific things about being responsible for just helpdesk stuff that causes the burn out.

1. The repitition: Let’s face it, the phone never stops. It may stop for a few minutes and you may get to have a few minutes to talk with your peers but your existence every single day revolves around the next call, or the next email. They never stop coming in. In our office’s case, we have a 14 person IS staff, 2 of whom do nothing but field support requests all day long. There are enough requests that come in that it’s necessary to have that. The larger the firm, the more likely that is to be true.

2. The unpredictability: While it may seem like a contradiction of number 1, it’s not just the fact that support requests never end, it’s that you never know what the next one is going to be. You go to work each and every day not knowing what you’ll be working on or what will be required of you. That can be stressful.

3. Not a “Finisher”: Your job at the help desk is to resolve any issue as quickly as possible and get the person at the other end of the ticket back to doing productive work. That means your work involves finding quick workarounds, not polished solutions. In essence, when a more complex solution is needed, even if you’re the one who suggested it, you’re never the one to finish and implement the solution.

4. Lack of authority: Not only are you not around to finish off the nice solutions, most times you don’t have the authority to do anything more than find work-arounds for people in the first place. It’s my belief that the difference between a 5 year burn out and a less than 2 year burn out timeframe is how often a support person can clearly see that something needs to be changed but bang into a brick wall trying to get anyone with actual authority to do anything about it. Good managers take their front line support folks’ recommendations seriously, bad ones don’t, and tend to burn their folks out much quicker. Nothing is more frustrating than not being given the tools to do your job properly, no matter what your job is. Yet somehow, that’s exactly what many tech support folks are stuck with, and also somehow, people are surprised that no one wants to do it for very long. It’d be like taking a construction job and being told that the foreman would prefer you not to do any hammering, but to find another way to get the project built. You wouldn’t stay at that job very long, would you? It’d be beyond frustrating trying to get your work done, wouldn’t it? Your help desk staff may feel the same way if you don’t give them the freedom to support your users how they see fit.

I do believe the folks who don’t burn out are folks who have the authority to implement solutons, who are supporting a very specific technology, and who get to work on things aside from closing tickets as quickly as possible. Some organizations can allow for that, some can’t, or won’t. But they shouldn’t be surprised that they are always looking for a new help desk person either.

Tags: helpdesk, techsupport, burnout

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