Work Burnout is used to describe the mental collapse that accompanies becoming exhausted performing specific tasks or jobs, commonly to a point where you no longer feel passion and/or a desire to perform anymore. I have worked in the Information Technology space for 16+ years as everything from cable tech to IT Director before becoming a full time developer. I have seen a number of people burn out and switch careers, giving up their comfortable salaries to do something, anything, that doesn’t involve computers.
I love what I do and love technology, so I have developed my own methods over the years to reduce stress and the likelihood of going out in flames like my coworkers, which I share below.
Customize Your Workspace
In America most full time employees spend 40+ hours at work each week. That equates to 8 hours, or 1/3, of their life. Considering how much of your time is contributed to work, you deserve to be comfortable. Customizing your workspace also helps you feel like you belong, and both are important to longevity. The more time you spend in a place, the more effort you should place in ensuring your comfort. Take time to ensure your workspace is ergonomic (some employers even have ergo specialists!), that your tools (keyboard, mouse, supplies, etc.) are enabling and not hindering, that you have friendly reminders of home or family, and at least one rubber duck (See: [Rubber Duck Debugging]).
Talk Through Complex Problems
We should probably talk about the duck in the room. This, is Count Duckerson, and based on the article link above he’s my debugging partner. When I have issues figuring out a good solution I explain my problem to him in detail. The goal isn’t to have him respond (that would be weird) but to talk through issues and in doing so better understand the problem myself. Sometimes I find one reason I’m unable to reach a solution is that I didn’t fully understand the problem, and talking through that helps me cross roadblocks that were seemingly insurmountable. That understanding leads to stress reduction and improved productivity. You also get to name your duck which is an added bonus.
Find Pleasure in Puzzles
As developers (and thought workers in general), we spend a lot of time staring into the abyss that is a computer monitor. If you don’t enjoy that, I can’t blame you. I don’t enjoy it either- at least, not that part of the process. I focus on enjoying the puzzles that writing software creates, and that intrinsic value ensures I don’t lose sight of my goals. Focusing on finding the puzzles in my own work helps time fly and reduces mental fatigue, which also helps me go home feeling like I have more of ‘me’ left.
Actively Seek Interaction with Users
Interpersonal skills are important in all aspects of life, in part because we are social creatures. Spending all day in front of a computer screen writing code can create a disconnect and lead to skill rot. One way I combat this is actively interacting with my users and treating the code as a means to a shared solution. Meeting with people also gives faces and voices to the problems I’m working to solve and provides insight into their reasoning behind bug reports and feature requests. I find my work has more meaning when I know how it benefits others and they, in turn, better appreciate the solutions I work to provide.
Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Comparing yourself to others can wear you down over time. I’m guilty of doing it just as much as anyone else. Burnout comes from stress and fatigue, so comparisons that wear on a person can also wear down the buffers that protect against burnout. When I find that I’m falling into this trap, I try to shift the focus onto positive things about myself and considering ways I can improve the person I am today- thus shifting away from the negative.
Find Your Own Rhythm
In the end, each of these methods- be it customizing your workspace; finding your puzzles to enjoy; interacting with people to understand one another; or avoiding comparisons to reduce stress, are part of finding your rhythm in the workplace, and to some degree, in life. Finding your rhythm is about finding ways that work for you. Ways that help you flow through your day in a smoother, more enjoyable, and less stressful way while giving you the room to grow as a professional and as a person. That growth and the desire for change and improvement over time is important. Otherwise, you’re just repeating the same day over again, which few want. My first mentor put it best, “you can have five years of experience one time, or one year of experience five times.” I won’t speak for other people, but I know which one I would prefer.
Work burnout is common in every workplace. Therefore, this should be an important factor for an organization’s management to consider.
Do you ever feel that mid-day slump and have trouble focusing? Here are some tips for avoiding mental fatigue in the workplace.
[Rubber Duck Debugging]: https://pressupinc.com/blog/2014/06/psychology-underlying-power-rubber-duck-debugging/ “The Psychology and Power of Rubber Duck Debugging -David Hayes”