Neil kicks his PC when it is faulty. The irritation of waiting for a slow machine when he is in a hurry is too much to bear – he gets stressed and resorts to violence.
“The thing that’s closest to my foot is my PC, so when that happens it gets a kick,” says the telecoms company operations manager, who understandably asks not to be identified. “The printer has felt my wrath a few times as well. I’m always getting told off for it.”
It is taken for granted that offices are full of computers. But with fewer resources to run IT systems, some small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) find IT is causing them headaches.
A YouGov survey in the UK found the majority (80 per cent) of SME owners are regularly stressed about work. And while technology is supposed to make life better for people, the survey, commissioned by antivirus company Trend Micro, found it added to people’s angst.
So, 22 per cent of respondents admitted to swearing at computers when they fail, and 7 per cent sympathised with Neil by kicking their machines. Further research from health charity Developing Patient Partnerships found automated call centres, mobile phones and crashed computers were some of the most stressful things people encounter in modern life.
So what happens when it all goes wrong for an SME?
Samantha Page, director of PR company Fourth Day, encountered stress when her internet service provider accidentally cut off the company’s internet and e-mail for three weeks. Her colleagues were enraged.
“One day we experienced enormous disruption – we couldn’t get e-mail or internet access and the routers stopped working,” she said. “I didn’t cry but got really cross. We all started banging the keyboards – someone said we should stop but no one really cared.”
Eventually, Ms Page signed up to a different ISP. But that in itself was difficult, she recalls: “When you switch over you need to change things like all the POP3 settings on the e-mail accounts. It is small, fiddly stuff that’s difficult to do but quite important for the business to run.”
SMEs are often faced with a resources problem – there are simply too few people on the ground to dedicate to IT. YouGov’s research found 48 per cent of survey respondents rely on the IT advice of a husband, wife or partner. Other companies outsource IT needs to a support company.
“I’ve had a user throw a monitor at me and I’ve seen someone pile his PC, monitor and keyboard in the middle of the floor,” says Simon Ratcliffe, head of managed services for Business Systems Group, an outsourcing support company for SMEs. “In both cases these were lawyers who had issues with their systems preventing them completing deals. It goes to show stress comes from the tools not doing what they are supposed to.
“It also goes some way to explaining why businesses are fans of outsourcing. It frees up time to concentrate on being productive rather than throwing a monitor around. E-mail, like a lot of technology, is now a commodity and as such it should not cause stress – it should simply do its job.”
After weeks of frustration, Ms Page decided to opt for this type of support. “When you get to a critical mass, employing an IT person is a no-brainer. But there are only eight of us and it’s not really necessary. Now we have people come in every two months to give the network a health check regardless of any problems.”
However, there are dis-advantages of outsourcing. General contractors may fail to recognise the require- ments of a specific industry, for example.
When he is not kicking his machine, Neil is a big fan of having an IT team at hand all the time: “I think companies underestimate the value of having onsite IT people at hand.
“I saw one of our guys the other day talking someone through how to delete their e-mails.
“I’ve never been a fan of outsourcing because you lose out on the knowledge of how a company operates. The whole idea of computers is that they’re supposed to make life easier for you, but all they do is get work to your desk faster.”