March 8, 2021

5 reasons why IT professionals suffer from burnout (plus tips to avoid this yourself)

10 min read

If you or anyone you know hasn’t experienced ‘burnout’ then you could be forgiven for thinking it’s simply being overworked and tired. The reality is a lot more serious. Professionals experiencing burnout will have undergone a particular stress or stressors for an extended time period leading to total exhaustion. While it’s important to note that highly stressed states and burnout aren’t the same thing, nor do they manifest the same, burnout is contributed to by frequent stress. While the stressed professional may be working extra hard to get through everything on their plate, the burnt out professional is beyond ability to do anything anymore – they have nothing left to give.

Being in the state of burnout isn’t just detrimental to your work life, more importantly it can affect family life, personal well being and general motivation to participate in parts of life you previously were involved in. Burnout looks like:

  • No motivation for work or other parts of life
  • Loss of hope
  • Disinterest
  • Avoiding work or becoming detached with your team
  • Poor health – physically or mentally
  • Poor decision making
  • Loss of perspective
  • Sleep and diet changes
  • Getting illness easily
  • Avoidance or inability to fulfil life responsibilities (like parenting)

Before we get into some of the reasons why someone may burn out, first know this: no job is worth getting to the point of burn out. Yes many jobs, especially senior roles come with their fair share of stress, but even a CEO should not be working to the breaking point. If you are currently experiencing what you believe to be burnout it’s essential you ask for help – reach out to your employer, your family, your friends, and any of the resources available to Kiwis.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why someone may burnout.

1. Work demands are too much and/or unreasonable

Kiwis have a world-famous work ethic; there’s a reason why our expats in London are so employable! However, the hard working, dig deep approach, with all its positives, can spill over into over-working. We as a workforce want to do our absolute best, and generally will give all of ourselves to a role to be successful. While this might have short-term benefits for our career and for our employer’s business, ‘workaholics’ who have the foot to the floor constantly are prime candidates for burnout. A highly motivated, hard working team member can become burnt out and unmotivated.

While many excellent workplaces still have cases of burnout, more commonly burnouts at work are made worse by a work culture or expectations that are not realistic. Poor manager/team member relationships can leave a constant degree of anxiety in the individual. Changing goal posts or consistent overtime expectations can also bring about episodes of burnout. In some situations a company culture is simply frantic and the way work is managed and allocated leads to high staff turnover and stress.

What do you about unrealistic work demands

So it’s best to set clear expectations with an employer on what’s reasonable. If you find you’re misaligned here, then it may be time to look around for something else. Sometimes however, a frank and open conversation can reset things – not just for you but for the whole team. Don’t be afraid to sound the warning on behalf of the team – many employers will be grateful.

2. No work-life balance

Often 1 and 2 combine to cause burnout. If our job demands are such that we’re working every waking hour to get our work done, then naturally our personal lives will suffer. The lack of personal and family time outside of work can be greatly damaging to our happiness and sense of fulfilment. Regardless of whether we’ve got families or not, having time for ourselves is essential. While not at work, we’re recharging and relaxing – we’re focusing on other parts of life that make us happy. This is crucial for our own happiness but it also helps our employer get the best out of us.

For those with dependents, overworking will hurt our personal relationships with those nearest to us. Hobbies and social events – part of what makes us who we are, can fall by the wayside with an overly time-consuming role. This leads to resentment which will almost always impact our performance at work. Prolonged work-only lifestyles are destined for burnout.

What to do about no work-life balance

You need to set very clear boundaries for yourself and your employer. No one should be expected to neglect their own wellbeing or family relationships for work. Expectation setting while daunting, is critical to maintaining a healthy balance. Sometimes Kiwis struggle to use a very simple but effective word – “No”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, and could save you from burnout.

3. We don’t look after our health

It’s not fair to say that stress should be avoided – it can’t be. We all go through work and personal stress during our lives, and these experiences make us stronger provided they are managed correctly and don’t spin out of control. Sometimes burnout can happen from a combination of stress and poor lifestyle decisions that leave us more vulnerable. Professionals who neglect sleep, diet and exercise can find themselves at risk of being adversely affected by stress. Conversely, those who actively manage and invest in their emotional, physical and mental health will build up a healthy level of resilience to stress, making burnout much less likely.

Imagine this: you arrive to work learning that you have 2-3 different projects with urgent fixes required by the end of the week. It’s doable, but not without very careful planning, expectation management and hard work.

If you’ve been getting 3-4 hours sleep a night, burning the candle at both ends and keeping a diet of fast food, what are the chances you’ll be able to do this work in time, to the standard expected? How we live outside of work will always impact us while at work – while some may pull it off during BAU, what happens when the business requires everyone to find another gear? Being healthy mentally and physically gives us that resilience to ride the waves that inevitably come our way.

How to start prioritising health

If you’re living similar to the example above, let’s try tackle one thing at a time. First, start by getting a solid 8 hour sleep each night for a week – you need to reset your sleep patterns into something more compatible with a busy work day. Next, move to a diet that centres around healthy food – you don’t have to go overboard, just reduce how much fast food makes up your weekly intake. With sleep and good food, you can focus on exercise and mental health with much more energy than before. You’ll be amazed at just how manageable work feels with a strong healthy foundation in place. And of course make sure to reward yourself when you can – you’ve earned it!

4. You and Your Own Self Expectation

High performing, Type A personalities can be more susceptible to burnout because of the huge pressure they place upon themselves. In some cases a state of burnout has absolutely nothing to do with the employer or external environment, but rather what the individual expects they should be able to accomplish in their day.

These personalities, without some self awareness and management, may be burning out while producing incredible results at the same time. Are you constantly working yourself harder, squeezing every last bit of effort you have? Do you ever give yourself down time, where you aren’t running to a tight schedule or trying to be productive? If you don’t, be warned, relentless productivity without a break could lead to a long period of recovery.

How to manage stress alongside your own high standards

Give yourself a break – even if that break needs to be worked into your schedule! Treating relaxation with the same rigour as work is a common way the Type A personality ensures they avoid breaking point. And if you go on holiday and just can’t bear the thought of completely unwinding, there’s nothing stopping you bringing some books or podcasts to listen to on the beach to keep that upskilling going!

5. No control or clarity in your work

The amount of working isn’t always the issue. In fact for some the stress and toll that leads to burnout comes from having a lack of autonomy or control at work. An employee can feel like they don’t get to make many if any decisions themselves and thus are left unfulfilled. They may have ideas that don’t get listened to or concerns that aren’t validated.

Sometimes stress and burnout comes from a lack of clarity as to what you’re there to do vs. other team members. It might not have been made 100% clear what you’re accountable for, and in the ambiguity comes conflicts and work outside your job description. Add to this a lack of reward or recognition (made challenging in itself due to no clarity on who does what), and burnout is a real possibility. After all, if you’re doing parts of 5 different jobs as opposed to all parts of one job – so the likelihood for stress is very high.

Getting clarity and control back in your work

Let’s start with clarity. This is much simpler. You need to identify the issue to your management and lay out the disparity that exists between your JD and the typical work day at present. Much like the unrealistic workload conversation, a staff member identifying ambiguity in a role should be met with appreciation, particularly if the problem is found to be widespread. Raise the issues in a respectful but direct way and get agreement on what your role should look like on a day to day basis.

The challenge is that lack of control can be due to different factors – the work culture as a whole, a particular team, a particular manager (e.g. micromanaging) or even something in your own approach to work that means you feel no autonomy. So the important first step is to identify exactly where the issue stems from. If we assume the issue is a manager, then you’ll need to raise this either directly or via an appropriate channel you’re comfortable with. It’s best to start with how this is impacting you, as this frames the conversation in a way that focuses on outcomes rather than blame. If you fail to get traction, it may require escalation. If your experience is of an entire organisation that doesn’t promote autonomy or delegation, the challenge may be larger than it’s worth. In these cases, remember you’re never stuck in any job and in IT, there’s frequently new opportunities coming up.

Avoiding Burnout

Burnout can sneak up on us – we may normalise constant stress and anxiety to the point where we’re almost in denial about an unsustainable situation. As a minimum, we’d encourage everyone to stay mindful about their own stress levels. Reflection on your current role and lifestyle as a whole should be done regularly. Staying in the eye of the storm for too long without stepping back is where many professionals go wrong. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint – we want you to have a long, fulfilling career.

If you are suffering from what you believe is burnout or even high stress – reach out for support, in whatever shape it takes. Isolating ourselves to try and ‘ride it out’ is unlikely to work long term. Talking to others be it management, co-workers, friends, family or professional help starts to share the mental load of stress – you’ll be surprised at just how many people have gone through the same thing.

  • Set expectations at work and stick to these.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Communicate, constantly.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take holidays and breaks.
  • Have out of work focuses both personally and with others.
  • Avoid making your job ‘all you have’.
  • Stay healthy to build up your resilience.
  • Spend time standing back from your career and make sure you’re on the path you want to be on.
  • Don’t expect 100% performance 100% of the time.
  • Know that you’re never stuck.

Looking for a career change?

Sometimes we need a change of scenery to avoid burnout or loss of passion for our work. Absolute IT understands that a job is much more than just the work, but the fulfilment and happiness while you’re working. If you’re looking for something different, chat to our team and find out what opportunities might be in the IT market for you.

Absolute IT