A Stress-Free 2022

Managing burnout in IT jobs

January 10, 2022

There are ample resources available online to deal with burnout in your job, but I want to share a few ideas that I will be using this year. WHO says “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” You know that it is happening to you when a part of your inner self is screaming that you have had enough. Perhaps, you want to say it out loud too. IT jobs seem to have a high percentage of burnout, and Electric identifies that it is rising.

January is the month when employees return from a festive break to start afresh and tackle new challenges. But IT professionals return to the unfinished backlog, pushed deadlines and overcommitted sprints from December. Long hours, growing to-do lists, work setup issues, uncountable slack messages, and remote teams, all contribute to stress. We all face it. Long hours and working over the weekends contribute to the biggest reasons for burnout. Teams work throughout the week, release during the nights, and provide support over the weekends, and the cycle continues.

Few of us came into the IT industry for the passion in the field whereas others joined it to be a part of the exciting digital transformations happening throughout the globe. In either case, the field does not turn out to be the one we thought of. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I love my job. Marc Anthony quoted that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” But this may not be true in the case of the IT industry. In my college days, IT was my passion because I used to work without any pressure of annual reviews, stakeholders, production incidents, high priority emails, or slack notifications. But, the harsh reality is that we are not paid for the passion, but the expertise to achieve tough goals and meet deadlines.

The global pandemic has worsened the situation. Even though the IT industry managed to retain the jobs, it has come at the cost of an increase in help desk tickets and cancelled holidays. All of us have to call off the trips and family visits due to Covid restrictions. Like Covid, burnout is an invisible enemy. You will only get the symptoms when you are into it. If you never see the sun, you will reach your stress threshold even more quickly. If you don’t take time for yourself, you will never rejuvenate. No one has ever said, “I want to keep my software up to date until I am 80”. From my experience in the industry, working long hours, weekend bug fixes and continued out of office support are all recipes for burnout and maybe worse.

Everyone has heard the famous quote - “eat to live, don’t live to eat.” The same should be applied to work also – “work to live, don’t live to work”. Mark your day with working and non-working hours. You need to learn to enjoy these non-working hours if you are not doing so. Job descriptions from good companies often include words such as work-life balance, mental health, and hobby hours. The companies that don’t should be filtered out.

One of the most effective ways to decide your next actions is to use a Priority Matrix. We are all competent enough to distinguish between ‘Important’ and ‘Not Important’ tasks. However, we fail to identify the opportunities in the Important tasks. Usually, the first quadrant is filled with the tasks that lead to burnout, whereas the second quadrant signifies long-term life goals.

Today, I want you to prepare the Priority Matrix and focus on the second quadrant. I want you to write down at least five things that you always wanted to do. Written down goals are always more powerful than the ones in your mind. You should do it now. I am sure none of these five things has to do with upgrading your software version on all your devices, applying a security patch, or developing a critical feature for users.

The next step is to declare that you are going to do all those five things. Five goals are not too much to achieve. You might think that these are expensive, or it might take a toll on your next review cycle. But on the contrary, these activities will help you avoid burnout. Your job is only a small part of your life. Get away from your screens, turn off your phones and spend some quality time. Commit to yourself that you are going to achieve those 5 goals this year. It will even be more helpful if you assign a time frame to your goals. I will conclude by saying enjoy 2022 and make it a habit. Thanks for reading, and wish you a Happy New Year.

© 2022, Gaurav Gaur