There’s been a great debate on social media and online forums about stress in the IT sector.
Per usual, various factions emerged, each saying their job was the most stressful. As fascinating as such discussions are, they bring little value to understanding who is the most stressed, how often, and why.
That’s why we went a step further and surveyed IT and non-IT professionals to understand the big picture and dive into the details.
We paid close attention to DevOps because they are closest to our hearts. Also, some strong voices suggested that DevOps is arguably one of the most stressful areas in the IT world.
Read on to learn more about stress levels in the IT sector versus the rest of the world.
We asked 1,142 respondents to tell us:
- How often they felt stressed at work
- What they regarded as top stressors
- What symptoms they experienced most often
- How they coped with work-related stress
Here’s what we learned.
- IT professionals are significantly less stressed than the general population. 34% of them feel constantly or frequently stressed by their work, and this is 20% points less than the non-IT sector.
- Women working in the IT sector experience much less stress than those in non-IT jobs (35% vs. 53%).
- Around 31% of employees in the entire IT sector missed a workday because of stress.
- The most stressed IT area is Data Science & Machine Learning, which is 16.16% points more than the average in the IT sector. The least stressed are IT Project Management & Business Analytics.
- DevOps engineers are more frequently stressed than the IT average. Over 40% of them admit to being stressed “often” or “very often” compared to 34% of the IT average.
- Heavy workload is the top stressor at work, with an average of 51% of all respondents identifying it as such.
- Over 39% of DevOps engineers admit that work-related stress impacts their personal lives. This is the highest percentage in all segments we surveyed, with the others ranging between 21% (other IT) and 12% (non-IT).
- DevOps are also the most stressed because of insufficient skills to do their jobs (13% of them compared to 8% among IT average and 9% non-IT).
- Irritability has been pointed out as the most common stress symptom among IT professionals, especially DevOps (55% of them selected this answer). For non-IT professionals #1 stress symptom is depression.
- Listening to music is the most common way of coping with stress for both IT and non-IT professionals (73% and 66%).
- However, for DevOps, playing video games is the most popular stress coping mechanism, ranking at 62%. Over 45% of IT said the same.
- Almost 60% of DevOps choose to blame themselves as a way to deal with stress. No other group was revealed to be as self-critical.
- The IT sector doesn’t work weekends and is less interested in changing jobs. 66% of DevOps and 52% of IT never or rarely work on the weekends, whereas only about 25% of non-IT could say the same. 39% of DevOps and 43% of IT would never or rarely consider changing their jobs (with only 25% of non-IT).
- DevOps are also the ones who take off the most time. And those who don’t take any time off are on average 35% more frequently stressed than their IT counterparts.
Our survey revealed that DevOps engineers are more frequently stressed than any other group of IT professionals.
Interestingly, the entire IT sector comes across as less stressed than non-IT, where the number of those admitted to feeling stressed often or very often at the level of 55% (compared to 34% for all IT).
Over 40% of the surveyed DevOps admit to being stressed often or very often. Out of all the IT professionals, 34% admit the same. For non-DevOps IT, the number is about 33%.
The most stressed IT area is Data Science & Machine Learning, with 50% of the surveyed feeling stressed often or very often.
DevOps is the second most stressed IT area. The least stressed are IT Project Management & Business Analytics.
We collected answers from 38 Data Science & Machine Learning Specialists, 89 DevOps Engineers, 113 Software Engineers & Architects, 172 IT Support, 85 Network Engineers & Cybersecurity, 18 IT Project Management & Business Analytics, and 87 other IT specialists.
In addition, stress levels are substantially lower for women in the IT sector (35%) than those in non-IT jobs (53%).
The question that arises is what factors contribute to DevOps feeling stressed more frequently.
First, the number of people who have no degree and work in DevOps is higher than in other IT jobs (27% vs. 20% respectively), and they’re 10% more likely to feel stressed. Which means, higher education may reduce the likelihood of feeling stressed in many IT-related professions.
Second, there are about 7.5% fewer individuals with graduate degrees in DevOps than other IT professionals. But those who do hold a graduate degree and work as DevOps are the most frequently stressed of all the groups we surveyed, with a stress level score of 3.44 out of 5. Interestingly, those working in the IT sector (excluding DevOps) are the least stressed group (3.04 out of 5).
In terms of salaries themselves, DevOps engineers are more content than the IT average, with as many as 75% of respondents being satisfied (or neutral) with how much they earn (vs. 71% among all IT). Interestingly, a higher percentage of people in the non-IT sector compared to IT and DevOps admitted that they are satisfied with their salaries (50% vs. 43%).
Furthermore, the least earning DevOps engineers (under USD 100k) are on average 7% more frequently stressed than least earning other IT professionals. Therefore, it seems like one of the quickest ways to reduce the frequency of stress among DevOps is to ensure they get paid fairly.
Among our respondents, DevOps engineers took the lead in delivering what was expected of them in the previous month. As high as 65% admitted that they never or rarely had problems with their tasks. In comparison, about 34% of non-IT and 61% of all IT respondents said the same thing.
Suggesting that DevOps is arguably one of the best organized IT areas and DevOps engineers seem to have the most flexibility in managing their workload. Our survey shows that up to 86% of DevOps engineers are free to decide when to take a break during the day. The same is true for about 80% of all IT professionals, and 77% of non-IT professionals.
A similar trend was visible in another question we asked—about having to work on the weekends.
As many as 66% of DevOps engineers admitted they never or rarely work on the weekends. This starkly contrasts with the non-IT sector, where only about 25% of respondents can fully enjoy their Saturdays and Sundays. Among the other IT (non-DevOps) professionals, only 48% admit this is the case, and 52% of all IT professionals.
However, DevOps managers turn out to be one of the most stressed professional groups in the IT sector.
They are, on average, 14% more frequently stressed than DevOps specialists, which appears normal as the levels of stress increase with growing responsibilities.
But what’s really interesting is that DevOps managers are also 21% more frequently stressed than managers working in the other IT areas.
It may be hard to identify the exact reasons, but it appears like the level of control over their work has nothing to do with it.
As much as 33% of DevOps admitted that in the last month, they “rarely or never” felt that they were on top of things. It’s a high number because only 26% of IT and 15% of non-IT claimed the same.
Additionally, our analysis shows that those DevOps who admitted not being on top of things were on average 20% more frequently stressed than their IT counterparts. Interestingly, those DevOps who claimed to have full control over their duties were also, on average, 20% more frequently stressed than the rest of IT.
In other words, regardless of whether or not they feel on top of things at work, DevOps are more stressed than others anyway.
In the workplace like DevOps, SRE, or Cloud engineering, we work a lot with critical systems that are usually required by the business to be highly available, running all the time, and never go down. So when something goes wrong, everyone expects you to fix things as soon as possible, and that makes you feel really stressed. – Ioannis Moustakis, DevOps & Site Reliability Engineer
The biggest stress is knowing a DevOps process is going to affect hundreds or thousands of servers. Also, becoming an expert with multiple DevOps tools can be cumbersome and overwhelming at times which leads to stress. – Brad Simonin, Senior Engineer at ConocoPhillips Company
DevOps is very stressful. When things go wrong, you’re on the hook to get a resolution quickly. Every minute of downtime is lost revenue. – Paul Delcogliano, VP of Technology at IPX Retirement
DevOps can also appear to be more sensitive to stress regarding how they perceive their work’s value.
DevOps who feel their job is not worth doing (0 on a 0–5 scale) are 18% more frequently stressed than other IT professionals who feel likewise.
A similar trend is visible in the context of a career change—
With higher salaries, little work on the weekends, and job flexibility, it’s hardly surprising that a high percentage of DevOps engineers would never or rarely consider changing their jobs (39%). For the entire IT sector, this number is even higher (43%).
In contrast, the number of those who share this view in the non-IT sectors is only around 26%.
These DevOps who don’t consider changing their careers are 54% more often stressed than their IT counterparts.
For starters, we found that about 31% of those working in the entire IT sector missed a workday because of stress. Interestingly, according to the American Institute of Stress, stress causes around 1M US workers to miss work every day.
Now, it’s common knowledge that one of the best ways of dealing with stress is taking time off to recharge the batteries. In fact, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, proved that a resort vacation boosts your energy levels and positively impacts “molecular networks associated with stress and immune function.”
Knowing that DevOps is a more frequently stressed group than other IT pros, it came as no surprise to us to learn DevOps are also the ones who take the most time off. About 72% of DevOps take at least 9 days off per year, which is 16% points more than the IT workers and 37% points more than those employed in the non-IT sectors.
Futhermore, DevOps take on average 14.2 days off, which is 37% more than the other IT workers.
DevOps professionals who don’t take any time off are 35% more frequently stressed than their IT counterparts.
Even though DevOps engineers are more frequently stressed than their IT counterparts, they are the least likely to skip a workday due to stress, with over 70% admitting they’ve never done this.
In the non-IT sectors, about 55% of those surveyed skipped a day of work because of stress, 32% for IT non-DevOps, and 31% for the entire IT sector.
APA’s 2020 study identifies the following as the top stressors:
- Low salary (56%)
- Long hours (54%)
- No opportunity for growth (52%)
On the other hand, the American Institute of Stress lists these as top causes of workplace stress:
- Workload (46%)
- People issues (28%)
- Juggling work and personal lives (20%)
- Lack of job security (6%)
According to our respondents, the top three workplace stressors are:
- Heavy workload: 52%
- Long hours: 36%
- Tight deadlines: 30%
- Heavy workload: 50%
- Tight deadlines: 32%
- Long hours: 28%
- Heavy workload: 42%
- Work interfering with personal or family time: 39%
- Tight deadlines: 36%
Even though it may sound obvious, the heavy workload has been universally identified as the top stressor by all the groups we surveyed. In fact, this finding lines up with Statista’s study from 2017 and reveals that not much has changed over the past five years.
Interestingly, DevOps stood out as a group for whom the number two stressor was “work interfering with personal or family time” (39%), which for all the others appeared much lower on the list. This may suggest that DevOps are more family-oriented than other groups.
In terms of stress symptoms, DevOps also differed from the other groups we surveyed.
The most common stress symptom for the surveyed IT professionals is irritability. 55% of DevOps noted irritability as the #1 stress symptom (44% of all IT did the same). However, for non-IT professionals, the #1 stress symptom is depression (44%).
When you look at the overall results, DevOps come across as 16% more irritated but 18% less depressed than non-IT professionals.
There was one more interesting thing we noticed, of all the groups, DevOps are the most stressed about having insufficient skills to do the job (about 13%), which resonates with our other finding that this group has the smallest percentage of workers with a degree.
Namely, DevOps engineers pointed out insufficient skills to do the job as a stress-generating factor more than any other group we surveyed.
Insufficient skills to do the job as a stressor
- DevOps: 13%
- IT: 8%
- IT non-DevOps: 7%
- Non-IT: 9%
Here’s what the numbers look like for the same symptoms among the participants in our study:
- Irritability: DevOps (55%), IT (44%), non-IT (39%)
- Mood swings: DevOps (42%), IT (32%), non-IT (24%)
- Anxiety attacks: DevOps (33%), non-IT (29%), IT (28%)
- Depression: DevOps (26%), IT (22%), non-IT (44%)
Overall, DevOps engineers accounted for the largest percentage in four out of eleven stress symptoms.
This may result from the fact that IT and DevOps engineers combined create the largest professional group that wouldn’t feel safe reporting stress issues to their employers, 45% of IT and 44% of DevOps. For the non-IT sector, the number is only 26%.
DevOps engineers are also the largest group whose members don’t know whether or not their organizations provide mental health support (29%). Plus, the smallest percentage of this professional group works in companies that do provide such programs (37%).
To put this into perspective, about 20% of respondents from IT and 6% from non-IT sectors didn’t know if their organizations provided mental health support to their employees, and 43% to 61%, respectively, worked in companies that do provide it.
How do DevOps cope with stress?
Interestingly, they’re the most self-critical group, with almost 60% of them criticizing themselves to relieve stress, which is more than 20% of other surveyed groups.
I feel that DevOps is supposed to be some kind of senior role, providing guidance, and helping others. So, in the end, when you fail, it is painful because you were supposed to be helping others, not failing them. I think that’s why people might choose to blame themselves as a negative way of dealing with stress. – Ioannis Moustakis, DevOps & Site Reliability Engineer
What’s worth noting is that the most popular negative way of coping with stress for all groups is excessive eating or not eating enough.
DevOps professionals are also the most solitary group as they avoid friends and family (as a coping strategy) over 20% more often than other IT professionals.
In terms of the so-called positive ways of dealing with stress, DevOps also differ from the other groups.
While the most popular way to cope with stress across the IT and non-IT sectors is listening to music and exercising, as many as 62% of DevOps choose to play video games as the #1 stress-relieving activity.
In addition, DevOps enjoy exercising and getting outdoors at least 19% points more than other groups. Moreover, DevOps laugh or cry at least 7% points less frequently than others as a way to cope with stress.
My way of dealing with stress at work is to define objectives and goals as it helps me stay focused on achieving them rather than getting digressed by minor details. Another way is to introduce a healthy lifestyle and keep a positivity induced mindset, that requires one to be very empathetic towards others. – Ali Abbas Jaffri, Machine Learning Engineer at ML Reply
I found having hobbies unrelated to IT necessary to reduce work-related stress. For example, I ride a bike and travel and often go hiking – a change of scenery helps a lot. What’s more, understanding that there are many external factors and inevitable incidents related to those factors that you can’t influence is crucial to keep the mind at ease. – Kirill Kotov, Head of Integration and Automation Department at ASAP Lab LTD
IT professionals experience workplace stress much less than people working in other sectors. The primary stressors in the IT industry include heavy workload and tight deadlines; the most common symptoms are irritability and mood swings. Some of the best ways of coping with job-related stress are listening to music, playing video games, and exercising.
The DevOps area appears to be the 2nd most frequently stressed out group within the IT industry. With the highest percentage of people holding no degree, doubting their skills, and criticizing themselves, DevOps also come across as arguably one of the least happy groups of IT professionals.
That said, DevOps are the only ones surveyed who put “heavy workload” almost on a par with “work interfering with personal or family time” as the main source of work-related stress, which suggests that they’re family-oriented people.
Regarding the stress study, we collected answers from 1,142 respondents from the United States. The survey was conducted online via Centiment (316 responses), Reddit (97 responses), and Amazon mTurk (729 responses).
Respondents consisted of 57% males and 43% females. The survey comprised 29 questions—mostly based on the Likert scale and multiple-choice.
Fair Use Statement
If our study helped you understand the subject of stress in the workplace, you can share the insights and numbers we’ve arrived at. Please, don’t fail to mention where the information comes from and provide a link to this page. Thank you.
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