Why Burnouts Should Not Be Ignored
The word 'burnout' prevails in any other industry, not just the tech industry alone. Recently, a few close friends brought up the topic to me and I decided to research more in-depth.
In this article, I want to share some misconceptions, things I've learned about the term 'burnout' and why they should not be ignored.
Let's first take a look at the definition provided by the World Health Organization:
"Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
So, as you can tell, burnout comes from 2 things: work and stress. But it is not as simple as that. Let's debunk some myths about it.
1. Burnout are for the people who can't handle stress
This is a myth. Burnout can happen to anyone, even if you regard yourself as a healthy and mentally strong person. Even someone who looks so energized and passionate at work could actually be experiencing some form of burnout without realizing it themselves.
2. Burnouts can be cured with sleep and rest
Before I started researching into burnouts, I thought people who experience burnout will only show physical symptoms like feeling fatigue, headaches and muscle strain. So naturally, I assumed that curing a burnout is like curing normal stress: get lots of sleep and reduce cortisol - the stress hormone.
But burnout is not like any ordinary stress. It is a chronic stress and people respond to it differently. According to PsychologyToday, vacations or rests do not cure burnout. They may decrease stress levels but once the employee returns to work, so does the burnout.
We will see later in this article some ways to overcome/reduce burnout.
3. Burnout is depression
Absolutely not. While there are studies that shows the correlation between burnout and depression, it does not mean they are the same thing. In fact, only 20% of burnout cases are linked to depression, the majority 80% are due to other factors.
So what are the causes of burnout?
Causes of Burnout
1. Overwork/ Over-committed
A common cause of burnout is being overworked or over-committed in your job. Being overworked is self-explanatory. You become tired, exhausted and therefore eventually burnout.
When you are over-committed, you are too involved in your work that a healthy boundary is missing. Often, over-committment causes burnout when your personal life gets affected such as spending less time on relationships, social interactions, hobbies and etc.
2. Lack of Opportunities
A job that provides little to no opportunities can easily drain the employee's motivation. Burnout is not only a result of overworking, but it can also be a result of underworking.
Performing the same routine daily tasks with no variety, growth or learning opportunities can cause anyone to feel burnout. They feel no motivation and no sense of accomplishment, which could cause unwanted stress.
Another form of lack of opportunities is the lack of freedom and autonomy. If you need to report every single minor decision to your supervisor or manager, you will feel no sense of control in your job. Several studies have indicated that a lack of autonomy in one's job can cause high levels of stress, resulting in burnout.
3. Toxic Company Culture/Colleagues
They say that company culture and values are important to create a positive working culture among employees. But what if there are some colleagues that do not adopt these values and facilitates a toxic working culture?
You can't get along with everyone but if you are mistreated with power abuse, some form of harassment and perhaps lack of communication, your mental health can be compromised, leading to feeling burnout.
Now that we've learnt some common causes of burnout, it is easy to see why a simple day off or vacation will not cure this work-related syndrome.
1. Reaching Out
The first step in overcoming a burnout is to recognize that you are not entirely satisfied with the current job. Speak to a colleague or manager you can trust and let them know what is the issue. Are you bored? Exhausted? Tired? Stressed? Motivation-less? Unhappy with certain colleagues?
If you can clearly communicate your issue, and your trusted colleague/manager is willing to listen, that is the first step. You can also suggest solutions to your problem to them. From there onwards, observe how their actions has changed. Do they give you more freedom? More interesting work? Will they help you deal with the toxic colleague?
2. Setting Personal Goals
As we've discussed before, one of the common causes of burnout is due to over-commitment and unhealthy boundaries between work and personal life.
While your job and career is important, your personal life also matters. You should not ignore your relationships, health or hobbies because you are too involved in work. Set some personal goals outside work to have a life outside our job:
- Financial goals?
- Diet and exercise?
- Family time?
- Other relationships?
- Any bad habits to replace with good ones?
We are humans, not machines. Setting personal goals can give you a direction that you can work towards so your mind is not entirely occupied with work and work-related stress. It also sets a healthy boundary for work-life balance.
3. Learn a New Skill
Learning new skills can be a great way to distance yourself from the source of burnout. Since burnouts are work-related, you need a good non-work-related activity to offset the stress. How about learning a new musical instrument? Or a language? Or even art? Photography?
This is a good solution for burnouts caused by lack of opportunities to learn, which leads to no sense of accomplishment or growth. As you learn a new skill outside work, not only will you feel a sense of progress and accomplishment, you will also feel a sense of control by developing your own methods to continuously improve on this skill.
Plus, you can meet new people and make friends outside of work. Being able to share interests with others can give you a sense of belonging and community. Increasing this form of social interaction can be helpful in reducing burnouts symptoms caused by toxic work culture or poor working environments.
4. Spend Time with Loved Ones
Another way to distance yourself from work-related stress is to invest more time in building relationships and spending some time with your loved ones.
It's easy to forget about them or take them for granted when they are always by your side. But spend more time talking with them about your worries, concerns and stress. Although they may not be able to solve your problems, your family can provide the emotional support you need to overcome your burnout.
All in all, a burnout is not an easy condition to fix. But it's definitely not something you should ignore and think it is just a phase that will go away. Find ways to overcome it before it gets worse.
Ultimately, remember that you are not alone in this. Reach out to support groups in your community if you need to and rely on your loved ones for emotional support.
Thanks for reading, I hope this article has shed some light into some misconceptions of burnout. If you find it helpful, please like and share it article around to spread the awareness. Also, if you have any tips on overcoming burnout, please feel free to share in the comments below. Stay safe and cheers!
I write daily web development tips that help you become a more efficient developer. 👨💻⚡️
Nice article, corporate stress and pushing limits is such a bad habit.
I think many people are even part of the issue, as a junior you want to work the overtime, go the extra mile, but it will always come back and bite you in the ass :(
Thanks for writing this valuable article
Important and nice article! I can recommend sport and a general healthy lifestyle to be more happier in general. Treat your body with respect and he will pay it 1000x back.
Stay safe and have a wonderful day :D
Thanks a lot for crediting my article (thevaluable.dev/burnout-software-developer). I've discovered your articles following back my referrers on Google Analytics. I'm happy I did so! You have a really nice blog here. It's now officially on my RSS feeds :)
I think we need to raise the awareness about mental health problems in the IT industry, so thanks a lot for contributing to that.
I'm happy as well that not everybody in the industry is addicted to coffee :D tea will save us all.
Great article as always 🙌🏼
How would you take Money factor into account ? Could it also be a reason in cases of burnout ?
We certainly need time-off from things that cause burnout. At times it is hard but an article like this is a great reminder of what it is, what it is not, and how to tackle it. Thanks for sharing Victoria Lo.
💯 This was a much-needed topic to be discussed. Thanks for putting this together. Having hobbies outside work helps me a lot to overcome burnout.