Thoughts on dealing with burnout in tech

Mental Health with Kelsey Hightower on the always amazing Software Engineering Daily podcast – https://softwareengineeringdaily.com/2022/02/25/mental-health-with-kelsey-hightower/

This was a great podcast, and I want to thank Kelsey and Jeff for doing this talk. It is something we do not talk about openly in the tech community; at least that is my experience over the years. I wish Jeff the very best as he navigates this. In this blog, I share some thoughts about one mental health condition that some of us face – burnout at work. My thoughts here are tied to the software engineering occupation, but it might resonate with other fields too.

I am not a medical professional, so do not take my blog as professional advice. If anything this is to inform the reader that we all face such issues and asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your best chance to resolution is having a healthy mix of social interaction with real humans (not social media), a good friends/family network to lean on, and in some cases seeking medical help.

Whether it is stress related to the pandemic or pressure from the grinding continuity of the work that never seems to end, we all face workplace-related stresses, and we all deal with them in our own ways. Occasional stresses will always exist in work-life and in some small doses I think that is healthy since it keeps us alert. But when faced with these stresses over a longer period of time, we could quickly end up burning out and impacting our health.

Companies do speak about this topic on occasion, but it is hard to see what tangible things they may have done to reduce stress in the environment. At times it seems to be just lip service. Yes, it is hard for companies to monitor each employee’s condition, but they can definitely embrace certain cultural behaviors that can help reduce stress.

A recent example with Coinbase caught my attention. I have not worked for Coinbase, nor do I know anyone working there, but when Coinbase announced 4 weeks of recharge time for employees, that resonated with me. At times I wish everyone would stop at the same time and take a break so that there is no pressure or feelings of guilt or just the thought of work piling up when you get back to the office. I realize not all companies can do this, but they can find introduce some measurable changes that can provide a positive impact on preventing stress in the first place.

Stress at work is not isolated from our personal life. It is possible that folks can “take” home this stress and negatively impact their personal life. Some are better at drawing the lines between work and life, while others are not as much.

I look back at pre-pandemic days where my daily schedule forced certain boundaries to separate work and life. Some common boundary markers are dropping kids off at school, commuting to work & back, picking kids up from aftercare, kids activities, and taking kids to activities in the evenings (during workdays). All of those went away during the almost 2 years of pandemic-infused lockdowns or slowdowns. It is only now, in Q1 2022, that we are getting back to many of these activities.

Many of us will continue to work remotely. I certainly welcome that since it provides me the flexibility to balance things at home. But we need to redraw and emphasize those boundaries we talked about earlier. Without this, you will head towards health issues such as burnout. There is a lot of material on the web to do a self-evaluation, but do not forget to take feedback from your friends & family. In cases where you find yourself with no physical human connection, you are in more significant danger. Some symptoms are explained at – What to know about burnout. Getting help from a medical professional should be an option too. But it all begins with recognizing that you have a condition that needs to be taken care of.