End users are killing your help desk staff

OK, not killing; just rotting their brains

Frontline IT support is so widely considered a painful, entry level, pay-your-dues job that few people worry much about the effect on help-desk staffers beyond making sure they're not dissatisfied enough to quit so quickly that turnover skyrockets, IT morale and end-user satisfaction dropand training costs rise.

Demand for help-desk support is rising quickly at two-thirds of U.S. companies, largely due the the increasing number of non-PC devices end users want to use at work and the number of methods available for them to lodge questions or complaints with IT, according to a new study from the Help Desk Institute.

With the number of calls comes additional stress and more blame end users can slather on IT for not knowing the ins and outs of whatever new phone they just picked up or the wicked-cool tablet they got dirt cheap from China on DealExtreme.

Did you ever think of the health effect all those stressful support calls have on the staff?

Stress and abuse may actually be causing their brains to deteriorate, according to physiological psychology researchers such as Douglas Fields, of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Studies have shown that children exposed to serious psychological trauma during childhood are at risk of suffering increased psychiatric disorders, including depression, anger, hostility, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis as adults...
  • ...Early-childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence undermine the normal wiring of brain circuits, especially those circuits connecting the left and right sides of the brain through a massive bundle of connections called the corpus callosum...
  • ...A series of studies by a group of psychiatrists and brain imaging scientists led by Martin Teicher, of Harvard Medical School, shows that even hostile words in the form of verbal abuse can cause these brain changes and enduring psychiatric risks for young adults...
  • The main causes are stress hormones, changes in inhibitory neurotransmitters, and environmental experience affecting the formation of myelin electrical insulation on nerve fibers.

So, if I read that last sentence correctly, you can assume it's literally, clinically, verifiably true that annoying end users are getting on help-desk staffers' very last nerve.

You can also be sure that, as the wave of non-PC computing products becomes a tsunami, the number of help desk calls will continue to rise, the frustration of both help-desk staff and end users will cause more friction and the whole tablet/smartphone thing will become a major morale and interdepartmental political problem for senior IT managers.

If you can't afford to install an MRI to monitor changes in their condition (or think a giant, ultrapowerful electromagnet would have some detrimental effect on the servers in your data center), do something stuffy and important-sounding to improve conditions. Or ask enough questions to look like you're interested.

Or, if all else fails, empower the help-deskers instead of the end users. It may not raise your satisfaction levels, but at least you won't have to deal with anyone flopping out of a cube after a tough support call with a corpus callosum flapping out of their ears.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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