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The stresses of the IT administrator continue to become a mainstay of office culture that people see as inevitability. Whether their time is spent dealing with issues that should never have occurred in the first place or explaining common knowledge to end users, IT admins often feel that they are working far outside the scope of their job description and that they are continually underappreciated.

With that in mind, GFI Software™ surveyed more than 400 IT administrators in the US and the UK to gauge their stress levels and the various workplace issues that factor into them. Among the stressors were managers, lack of budget and lack of additional IT staff, but end users are always a particular source of stress. As one respondent put it when asked about the ridiculous things that end users do, “just showing up is usually bad enough.” You can read the full results here, but in the meantime, here are some of the more outlandish and (surprisingly) common issues that IT admins say they face when dealing with end users and the questions they wish they could ask.

Why did you feed your machine?

It’s hard enough to keep machines healthy and networks running smoothly in the face of cyber threats, regular maintenance and plain old aging hardware. It doesn’t help when end users consistently fail to take basic steps to care for the work-issued hardware with which they have been entrusted. A large number of admins recounted times when users inexplicably used their DVD drives as cup holders, not only endangering the computer’s life, but also that of the user. Even with proper beverage placement, spills will happen, but IT admins then face uncomfortable conversations with users who refuse to admit that the spill was theirs.

Would you treat a person that way?

IT admins are often baffled by the complete lack of common sense that some end users seem to have. Time that could be spent addressing legitimate IT issues or performing time-intensive maintenance is wasted when admins are called to “fix” computers that aren’t plugged in or turned on. One respondent reported having to help a user that broke the plastic connector on an Ethernet cable by trying to force it into a telephone jack, while another became angry because a non-touch screen computer was not responding when touched.

One of the most puzzling responses described an encounter with an end user that would say “my screen messes up when I do this” before “violently twisting the screen on their laptop.”

You just don’t care, do you?

While clueless users can be a hassle, IT admins have an even harder time dealing with careless individuals who generate avoidable problems and then complain when it isn’t dealt with immediately. Multiple respondents said that they had been called to clean malware off users’ systems because they had been visiting inappropriate sites and one of them even left the window open and didn’t try to hide it. Another left their device in a public place and grew irate when the IT staff said that they did not have any way to track it down. Most IT administrators would say that they didn’t sign up to clean up others’ messes, but they often find themselves doing just that.

What’s the problem again?

Admins also express frustration over having to become de facto teachers for users who don’t have the most basic computer skills such as the ability to turn their computer on, restart their system or to find a key on the keyboard. They are also often surprised at users’ inability to answer simple questions that would speed troubleshooting processes along.

One admin reported that an employee responded “Microsoft Word” when asked which operating system their PC was running on. Another recounted a time that he was called to explain “if a zero was the letter zero or the number.”

Are you sure you should be working from home unsupervised?

One admin reported that during a support call with a remote user, this exchange actually occurred:

“When I asked what version of windows they were running I was told they have patio doors. Good old days on the help desk for home workers.”

Do you have any idea what I’m actually supposed to be doing?

Some users view IT admins as office handymen or really emphasize the “information” part of information technology, and regularly call the help desk with questions about burned out light bulbs in the office or about what time it is in a foreign country.

Did you just destroy my network?

Most of these issues with end users are mere annoyances and can be remedied quickly. But several respondents had to throw their hands up at one point when their entire network was crashed by a user. Although they didn’t get into details, comments like “crashed our system” and “destroyed whole IT department” sound much more serious than the average screw up.

Similar to the findings in last year’s first annual GFI IT Admin Stress Survey, end users are still inadvertently deleting important files, inserting media into the wrong slots, responding to obvious phishing attempts and downloading malicious files. It is interesting to note that in general, employees seem to be aware that their actions when using company hardware have consequences and are monitored by the IT staff. In fact one survey respondent described an employee that would cover his machine’s webcam with a sticky note for fear that IT was watching him remotely. However, this does not seem to cut down on the number of end users caught sleeping on the job, browsing non-work related sites or endangering the company network with careless web browsing.

Maybe having an annual System Administrator Appreciation Day just isn’t enough. Ultimately, IT administrators are there to protect users’ machines and ensure that everything is running smoothly so that others can do their work without worrying about whether their PCs are going to work properly that day.

Have you ever been the person that caused an unnecessary problem for your IT department and later felt guilty about it? Are you an IT administrator with an IT horror story that no one believes? Let us know in the comment section below.

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