IT Burnout is a topic that is gaining momentum, and people are finally talking about it.  We have covered it here a couple of times first Sonia Cuff wrote a great post here last year, and then was recently covered again by Gina Rosenthal and can be found here. Both shared different perspectives and thoughts on this, and now it’s my turn. From my side I would will focus on work, email and vacation time.

Also, just to be clear I am an IT professional speaking strictly from my own personal experiences as an IT professional for over 20 years.  I am not a medical health professional, and you should see professional guidance from your medical professional if you are having negative thoughts or experiences of your own.

My goal is to have you start thinking different about your work and personal life boundaries/balance.

Jumping into work

It is great to love your work as I always have, and my career has been a great journey where I have worked at some fantastic organizations working on fantastic projects.  With that though came accepting roles where the enterprises functioned 24×7 and leaving IT staff that support the enterprise on-call.  Even when an on-call rotation was at play, it seemed it was still expected people would be available to their team all the time. If a major outage occurs overnight, on-call or not some issues still become “all hands-on deck”. I even heard a story once of an employee that asked to finish dinner with their family when called, and they were let go from their job because took an extra 20 minutes with their family anyways when asked not to. The person that let them go is the one that told me about it.

Then there are the maintenance windows that are almost always done off business hours, or during the slowest time of the business day which is the middle of the night.  IT professionals give up countless weekends or work overnight shifts all in the interest of keeping the business functioning.  It’s this mindset of being available all the time that doesn’t let the IT Professional rest.  No one wants to lose their job, and everyone inherently just wants to be helpful.

Now do this for any period of time, burnout is likely to happen.

Email and Communication Methods

When I first started out in IT we had pagers where we could be contacted on, so even though we were on-call or needed to be available we didn’t have email at our finger tips.  Even as time went on and people had palm pilots, the email was at your fingertips, but it wasn’t real-time.  As technology has advanced we all can be reached through anyway a person would like.  Weekend texts, phone calls, social media, and email at all hours of the day means that we need to work hard to take our personal lives back.  If we do not make the conscious effort to separate from work, we won’t.  We should work to live not live to work, and there must be some balance.  Without balance there will eventually be burnout.

Vacation Time

This leads to my next point of consideration.  Should an employee be expected to check their email when on vacation?  Where does the pressure to work end?  I used to be someone that would go on vacation and spend the first half of it never really being immersed in my family time.  I couldn’t get myself to let go of thinking about work or disconnect from my email, and what was going at work.  By the time I would disconnect enough to really “be present” in my vacation time it would almost be over.  I wouldn’t go back to work rested, and then I personally went through burnout.  The worst part of all of this was that the culture at the time in these enterprises rewarded people for this level of abuse to personal time.

When burnout set in for me I wasn’t able to just quit working, so I decided I needed to change my pace.  Choosing something different that would let me remain technical, but not have the demand and pressure to work 24×7.  This was when I went independent taking only the work that we allow me to maintain balance.  Looking back an observing how I felt emotionally and physically it took me 4 months to feel human again, to feel clear-minded and balanced.

When I finally decided I was ready to go back to enterprise culture became more important to me than ever.  I have been very lucky in the companies I have worked for since.  First a European company that really enforced what I learned the hard way about work-life balance, and now for another amazing organization that has similar values here is the US.  I am also very blessed to still maintain my IT Community website  Again, balance front and center working with a great team!

Concluding Thoughts

Work-life balance is different for everyone, but it’s important to understand what it means for you. For me I have learned that I do my best work when my life is balanced.  The clear boundaries mean I am able to truly be “present” in all moments leading to higher quality work and personal experiences.