Published on 17 September 2015 by

Editor's Note: Read the 2016 State of DevOps Report and learn how DevOps transforms teams.

Just like any industry where the hours are long, the pace is fast and the stakes are high, IT operations is affected by a high rate of burnout.

As tough as burnout is on human beings, it's also hard on employers and economic health. Job stress costs the U.S. economy $300 billion per year in sick time, long-term disability and excessive job turnover.

The 2015 State of DevOps survey and report shows that DevOps practices are strongly correlated with IT performance and organizational performance, as well as lower levels of burnout. It's not really surprising; being happy at work depends heavily on working within an effective team, and on knowing that you contribute to its high performance.

We discovered the elements of an organization that most strongly correlate with burnout:

  • Organizational culture. Organizations with a pathological, power-oriented culture burn out their employees faster. Getting to a more supportive and respectful work environment really depends on managers, who can foster an improved culture by creating a blame-free environment — for example, by instituting blameless postmortems after outages. It's also important for managers to inculcate a culture of continuous learning, including learning from failures. Managers must also communicate a sense of shared purpose, both within the team and between the team and the rest of the company.

  • Degree of deployment pain. Teams that are loaded up with unplanned work and constant firefighting experience high stress, and feel less sense of control over their work. They also experience more deployment pain. But with the right practices in place, deployments don’t have to be painful events. Any manager who wants to reduce (or eliminate!) employee burnout and should ask his or her team how painful deployments are, and should focus on fixing the parts of the process that are causing the most pain.

  • Effectiveness of the team leader. To be truly effective in helping employees do their best work and avoid unnecessary stress, a manager needs to limit work in process and eliminate roadblocks for the team. Survey respondents who felt their team leaders were effective also reported lower levels of burnout.

  • The degree of an organization's investment in DevOps. Organizations get better outcomes when they invest in helping their individual employees and teams develop their capabilities. Investing in training, and providing people with the necessary support and resources (including time) to acquire new skills, are key ingredients to successful adoption of DevOps practices.

  • Organizational performance. Our research shows that IT performance is predicted by the degree to which an organization employs lean management practices such as limiting work in progress and use of visual displays and monitoring tools, as well by its use of continuous delivery — a key DevOps practice. And our research has also shown that IT performance predicts organizational performance. At the heart of lean management is the concept of giving employees the necessary time and resources to improve their own work. This means creating a work environment that supports both experimentation and failure, and encouraging employees to make decisions that affect their jobs.

To learn more about the effect of DevOps on people and organizations, and what IT managers can do to help their teams and their overall organizations, read the 2016 State of DevOps Report.

Aliza Earnshaw is the managing editor at Puppet Labs.

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