More than downtime: the cultural drain caused by poor incident management

When every incident is chaos, the people problem gets overwhelming, and there’s no culture of improvement — engineers get burned out and seek greener pastures. That’s the cultural drain caused by incidents.

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By Robert Ross on 9/12/2023

The costs of lackluster incident management are truly far-reaching. We’ve learned they go beyond explicit costs, like lost revenue and labor expenses. And that they go beyond the opportunity cost of engineers being diverted from building revenue-building features. The final area of incident cost that’s often overlooked is cultural drain. 

When every incident is chaos, when the people problem gets overwhelming, when there’s no culture of improvement — engineers can quickly get burned out. This leads to disengagement and detachment from their core responsibilities and goals. And the next thing you know, you’re dealing with a retention problem in your engineering org. 

In our latest ebook, Beyond Downtime: A Practical Guide to Minimizing Incident Costs, we delve into the explicit costs, opportunity costs, and cultural drain caused by incidents. In this post, let’s explore how the right incident management practices can help fight burnout, improve your engineering culture, and ultimately save you money by preventing cultural drain.

To do this, we’ll use data-backed research from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) that dives into the average cost of incidents modeled for a high-tech company with 5,000 employees and an average of 51 incidents per month. For a more complete view of the data, be sure to check out the book.

The cost of cultural drain caused by incidents

The drain on engineering culture caused by poor incident management practices can be overwhelming. Engineers get caught in a cycle of constant firefighting, leading to decreased productivity and job satisfaction. The lack of a blameless post-incident review culture and a focus on learning and improvement can hinder the team's ability to grow collectively. And eventually, they seek greener pastures. Of course, not all turnover can be mitigated, but incidents can certainly add up and tax engineering patience.

According to research from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), the annual voluntary turnover rate in a company of 5,000 employees with 1,500 engineers is as high as 10%. Each lost engineer comes with a significant replacement cost of half their fully burdened salary. When you add it all up, turnover accounts for a substantial $8.6 million annual impact.

Tips to improve your engineering culture around incidents

However, it's not all doom and gloom. We can change this narrative and create a more positive and productive incident management culture. Here are three ways how.

Embrace a blameless post-incident review culture

Let's shift the focus from finger-pointing to learning and growth. By encouraging a blameless post-incident review culture, we create a safe space for engineers to share insights and lessons learned without fear of repercussions. This transparency fosters a culture of openness and continuous improvement.

Invest in incident management training and skill development

Incident management is a specialized skill that requires training and ongoing development. Invest in incident management workshops, simulations, and resources to empower your teams with the knowledge and tools to handle incidents efficiently.

Celebrate incident response successes and efforts

Recognize and celebrate the hard work put into resolving incidents promptly and effectively. Celebrating incident response successes fosters a positive and resilient culture where engineers feel valued and motivated to tackle future challenges.

A brighter future with efficient incident management

By prioritizing incident management and nurturing a supportive engineering culture, we can overcome the hidden costs of poor incident management. Adopting modern incident management tools and best practices streamlines incident assembly, improves incident handling, and reduces downtime costs.

Let's foster a collaborative work environment where learning from incidents is embraced, and engineers can thrive without feeling overwhelmed by constant firefighting. With these changes, we can build more robust systems, resilient teams, and organizations that are prepared to face any challenge that comes our way.

Read more about the total economic impact of incidents and how FireHydrant lowers them in the report, Analyzing the Economic Benefits of FireHydrant Full-cycle Incident Management

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