How to Recognize, Recover from and Prevent Burnout
So, how do you know if you suffer from burnout? Well, one could say that if you have to ask, you’re probably already past the point of no return. Of course, burnout may come from the physical effects of exhaustion, often from not eating or sleeping well. But it’s also not finding a sense of fulfillment in your work or feeling creatively blocked or helpless.
It doesn’t help that the tech industry deifies overworking, rewarding burnout with bragging rights. But how do we break this exhausting cycle? In this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast, we talk with LaunchDarkly‘s manager of developer marketing Dawn Parzych about how to identify burnout in others and in yourself, how to treat it and how to build a psychologically safe working environment that allows folks to say no.
“I love the idea of the socio-technical systems that we’re building, like tech, doesn’t exist in a bubble. People are building the technology. They’re very interrelated, and you can’t just focus on the tech; the people are the hardest part of tech. And we spend more time talking about how tech’s the hard piece, where it’s really the people and the interrelation between the people and the machines,” she said.
It also helps that one of her employer LaunchDarkly’s core values is simply an excellent reminder: Work is not life. Yet for so many of us, that’s exactly what it has become.
Now, many of us are still amid a global pandemic, so some of these feelings sometimes could be normal — or if you are going through a big life change, like how Parzych was in the process of moving states while we were recording.
“Part of what I feel has led to all this burnout is this notion in tech that you have to be a rock star or a ninja or have this passion, and passion has been coopted to mean willingness to work 60 or 80 hours and do all the stuff, and that’s not healthy. And that is what’s led to this burnout scenario we’re in.” — Dawn Parzych, LaunchDarkly
Occupational burnout is when this feeling toward your job continues beyond reasonability. How do you cure it? Well, when you are cramming 55 weeks’ work into 48 working weeks a year, it’s not going to help to just go on vacation. In fact, the stress leading up to and following that “time off” might make it worse. Or you may not fully disconnect and just find you are wasting your holiday tethered to your devices.
One of the most important things is a workplace culture that cultivates psychological safety, which Parzych defines as feeling like you can say no. This should be a right, not a privilege, especially in the time of tech’s famous talent gap. This comes not only from creating an open working environment, but also one that aims to clarify workloads, being transparent about what’s being done and asked of people, and not glorifying over-commitment.
But sometimes that could be exactly your company’s toxic culture, which means it’s time to cut and run. And for those who do, trust me, Tech Twitter is filled with folks willing to help you find a role at a place that’s actually delightful to work at.
Of course, we discuss in this episode the ability to say no or to leave your job comes with a lot of privilege unto itself, and not everyone has the flexibility to risk this. We also talk about Parzych’s own experience with burnout and the tactics she uses to never have that happen again — and the questions to ask your colleagues to help them avoid it too.
One thing to note is that a lot of symptoms of burnout can be shared with symptoms of depression, so definitely seek professional help if you think it could be that or if changing the way you work is not changing those feelings.
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