Reflecting on the past year one of the most interesting topics I have had the opportunity to discuss with many is the topic of IT Burnout. Some people have not ever had burnout, many are deep into their burnout phase, others feel slightly burned out and some have recovered. One of the more commonly discussed aspects of this topic seems to revolve around tips for recovery. While I have personally been through my own version of work-related IT burnout I still find that the answer to the question will vary greatly depending on the level of burnout, and the individual person. This article will cover IT burnout tips for recovery from burnout based upon my own experience, and talking to others in a similar situation. Many of you reading this may also have advice based upon your own experiences and I encourage you to use the comments section of this article as a platform for forming a community to share and support each other with your recovery and healing process.
IT Burnout Defined
Before I share any tips, I just want to be clear about what I mean by burnout, so I sought the web for what I found to be a good definition. According to VeryWellMind.com, Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.
Also, if you are experiencing burnout and having challenges finding your way out; seek a medical professional for treatment. This post should not replace medical treatment.
The topic of self-care is critical to the healing process from IT Burnout. My personal experiences with burnout left me always only putting others and my job first and I almost never put myself first. What I have learned from my healing process is that how you start your day matters. Starting the day with your own activity to center and clear the mind allows for true focus when it’s time to dive into the tasks you have in front of you. Activities to consider, but are not limited to, are as follows: Exercise, Meditation, Yoga, etc. I would also strongly encourage reading the following book for support as you re-center and refocus how you start your day.
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Self-care goes beyond the morning, but I personally find that it is the one thing that I cannot skip.
Beyond the morning consider how much you are sleeping as a factor. I used to get about 5 hours of sleep a night during the week and sleep 9 or 10 on the weekend. I never actually felt rested with that sleep cadence. Post burnout I now plan for about 7 hours a night every night, and it makes a big difference on how rested I am. It’s much easier to tackle the day ahead when rested.
Figure out what your hobbies are and take time for them, eat healthy, and engage a support network for your healing journey. Your support network can be friends, family or even a medical professional. It’s anyone that will help you stay the course of healing confidently and for the long-term.
Prioritize for Work-Life Balance
This is something I struggled with for about the first 15 years of my career. I ran on a work first mindset. I almost never took lunch breaks, if someone scheduled a meeting in the evening during my family time I would join – no questions asked, if I blocked something personal and work meeting landed over it – I would cancel the personal appointment, and vacation – if it took it never involved turning off my work email. It was toxic and was a huge contributor to my burnout.
As you many suspect, I have made some changes that work for me. Remember burnout recovery will be different for everyone. My day now involves typically 2 breaks that include some walking, when I am with my family/friends – the time is for them – not work, when I am working that time is for work, and if work is busy creating challenges with balance in the evenings I will schedule the personal time I need right on my calendar.
Also, reconsider what you spend time on. For example, do you have someone mow your lawn, clean your house or watch your kids? The choices you make here are completely personal, but sometimes balance comes from hiring someone or asking for help. Know that it is ok to ask for help with your daily chores/activities. I highly recommend reading The Subtle Are of not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson to start helping figure this out.
I was engaged in a twitter conversation recently with a person that insisted they weren’t burned out and had work life balance. They commented that they balance the two well and proceeded to share the following example. They stated that while standing in line at the amusement park with their family waiting for a ride, they would respond to work email. Hmm, wait a minute, that really isn’t true balance? And before I comment further, I will share that I used to do this too and I thought it was balance. The fact is that when I was answering those emails I was missing out on key conversations and moments with those around me. They were being pushed aside in that moment. I was missing out and I was not truly present in that moment. What I have learned since is that my time for work is my time for work, and my time for family is my time for family. Be present with work at work, and be present with family/friends when with them.
I also realize this is easier said that done. This takes some planning to make it happen but do know that it is possible with prioritization of work and carving out achievable work goals with your leaders.
In many ways we have only scraped the surface on the depth of this topic, but hopefully this article gets you thinking differently and starts your burnout prevention/healing process today. You can find several other posts we have done on this topic here. Last, but not least, I also encourage your comments and idea sharing here today. Let’s support each other with IT Burnout tips for recovery!
** If you are experiencing burnout and having challenges finding your way out; seek a medical professional for treatment. This post should not replace medical treatment.”
One thing I’d add: don’t be afraid to get professional help. Sometimes the underlying cause can be our own unresolved issues from childhood. In my case, I had to relearn how to react to things.
The coping skill I learned as a child was to shut the world out and work very hard. This makes burnout a very real outcome if I’m not mindful of it. With help, I’ve learned to recognize that tendency. I’ve been able to work on resolving issues instead of putting my head down and working myself till I’m useless to anyone (especially myself).
That is all so true! As for the coping mechanism you mentioned you learned as a child, I still sometimes do this. As someone who has made changes to now prevent burnout, my new awareness of how I feel and what makes me feel human is a new safety mechanism for me.
A very timely article Theresa! I am going through this right now and working my way out of the doldrums.
Checking Slack and work email first thing in the morning as soon as I wake up only to become over reactive to whatever offshore has done or not done that will need my attention to fix. Working from home is far too easy these days but only when kids/spouse are not there since I can’t context switch anymore and it’s unfair to them (work/life balance) plus I miss out on impromptu conversations.
Another example is not taking vacation during the year and trying to not lose it at the end of the year carryover, only to still be “connected” since you are too valuable to be unplugged or promoted to a better position (I applied for two opportunities this year with nary a peep from HR).
My company has gone through three reorganizations in the past four years and I’ve stuck with them, hoping for what the people half my age enjoy now with DevOps and Cloud. I’ve been able to keep up and learn/get certified but still do two roles at the same time since our region is thin for legacy skills.
Regardless, thanks for calling out what it is, burnout. I do remember you working thru your lunches and never thought anything of it.
Merry Christmas and Happy New year to you and your family!
You call out some great points that I didn’t even get to. Your realization you have been diving into your phone right away is another thing I have also stopped doing. Focusing on your own activity first ensures clarity when you start working. It likely gives you quality time with family before starting work too.
Wishing you only the best while you work through this. Let me know if you want to chat further.
Happy Holidays to you and your family as well!