The amount of overtime IT professionals are working increased last year as workers feel the strain of ongoing skills shortages.

Half of IT professionals responding to a survey that informed the latest Salary Guide from recruiter Hays said overtime had increased in the past financial year, with only three per cent saying the amount of overtime had decreased.

That’s a higher rate overtime than the general population with 45 per cent of workers across all industries saying overtime had gone up.

An estimated 56 per cent of overtime in Australia is unpaid.

Robert Beckley, regional director of Hays, said the expectation that people work longer hours can be harmful for both individuals and business.

“In the short term, it can reduce productivity and our level of attention, impair performance and increase error rates,” he told Information Age.

“Long term, excessive overtime can lead to burnout, increased mental health issues and physical health problems, such as shoulder and back pain from extra time spent at a desk. Engagement falls while stress, absenteeism, and turnover rise.”

The problem is exacerbated by skills shortages, Beckley said, which have hit all parts of the economy, although shortages have been especially prolonged in IT.

Of the Australian employers surveyed by Hays, 83 per cent expected skills shortages would affect their organisation this year with 70 per cent of that cohort admitting a carry-over effect would be higher workloads for existing staff.

Jean Scott, people and culture manager with IT managed services provider Somerville, warned employers not to let those human capital shortages force valuable staff out the door.

“IT professionals who are currently employed and not looking to move are likely to find themselves under pressure to take on additional workloads while also upskilling,” she said.

“Unless carefully managed, this could lead to a poor work-life balance and eventual burnout. Employers need to carefully monitor for this situation and proactively take steps to solve it before staff are lost.”

Fixing the shortage

The government has been consulting with industry on how to combat skills shortages in Australia, culminating in next week’s Skills Summit.

The summit will bring together 200 industry representatives from across the country and is designed to help inform the new government’s policies, some of which are likely to be included in October’s budget.

Much discussion has been made about increasing the cap on skilled migration – which former Prime Minister Scott Morrison lowered in 2019 – to 200,000 per year.

But for voters, the top priority of next week’s Skills Summit should be low wages growth during this time of inflation, not bringing in skilled workers from overseas, according to a recent survey commissioned by the Nine metro newspapers.

Low wage growth in the face of rising cost of living pressures was the top priority for 35 per cent of respondents, with only 14 per cent saying a ‘shortage of workers’ should be the summit’s focus – less than the 15 per cent who said we need to address training and education in the workforce.

As the government works out how to address these problems, employees will continue feeling the pressure of those empty positions in their teams.

Rather than expecting to squeeze more performance out of already stretched teams, managers need to be aware of the growing ‘quiet quitting’ cultural trend that is pushing back against the idea of working any more than your required hours.

Buckley said any amount of overtime should be seen as “the exception, not the norm” and suggested some ways of avoiding burnout and risking losing your most engaged staff.

“During peak workloads, save time where you can, such as by cutting back on the number of non-critical meetings and ensuring your team has the best tools to work as productively as possible.

“In the lead-up to peak periods, offer time management training for anyone who would like it, and have an effective project management system in place.

“After peak workloads subside, encourage your team to take time off.”