At a recent Veeam User Group UK meeting I presented a session on burnout within IT. The title of my session was “And now for something completely different ….with Irn Bru“. I deliberately kept the title vague and non-descriptive, so the attendees/listeners could come into the session with pre-conceived ideas. The idea was to give every attendee a can of Irn Bru and open the session up to them to discuss a couple of slides about the subject. I have to say it felt like the session was well received, with some discussions and general nodding of heads all round.
Let me start by putting a disclaimer in place. I am not a councillor, a psychologist or a qualified professional. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition
About 5-6 months ago I was driving into work, very close to tears and to be honest I was asking myself “what’s the point of going there, I’m really not enjoying my work anymore“, That’s when I realised that I might have a problem. I have been working for the same company for over 15 and 1/2 years, and honestly this was the lowest I felt in those 15 and 1/2 years. I decided to start looking for some kind of understanding or information about what could be the reason behind all this. Now you may be reading this and saying “well 15 years in the same job will do that to you” and you would be correct, if it wasn’t for the fact my role had changed over the years and every week brings something new. So it had to be something else.
During my searches I came across 2 excellent videos :-
After watching the 1st video I was thinking I have depression ….. Or do I?
Some of the symptoms were very familiar to me, but not all applied.
Burnout == Depression. The Symptoms are almost indistinguishable from one another
After watching Nara’s excellent session I realised I might be suffering from some of the symptoms of burnout. In her session Nara does a great job of relating burnout to depression :-
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, hopelessness
- Angry outburst, irritability or frustration
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Sleep disruption (insomnia or sleeping too much)
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Changes in appetite
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
Again not all of the symptoms applied, but quite a few of them did. I was feeling a little hopeless. I was prone to angry outbursts, (I thought it was called being Scottish !) and I definitely lost interest in normal activities. I stopped blogging, blaming it on writers block, but I know now that’s not the case. Not getting enough sleep was something I was experiencing. I found it difficult to switch off after work. I’d lie in my bed, mind going through all the days problems. Of course the downside to lack of sleep is lack of energy. I stopped going to the gym or playing rugby.
So I did a little more research and found a relatable description of burnout
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Source
I think it’s fair to say that in the months leading up to and after that episode in the car, that things had been quite hectic at work and certainly would have been a huge contributing factor. But everyone in IT is busy, right? Well sure, but that doesn’t mean we’re all immune to the effects. In fact I’m willing to bet at least one person reading this article is going to present one of the following symptoms :-
1. Emotional exhaustion.
You feel tired all the time. You don’t feel up to facing your workday, even if it’s just a normal day. You may wake up every morning with a feeling of dread. Day after day you feel this, and it doesn’t lift, even after a week off. It’s more than likely that you are dealing with heavy workloads or difficult workplace circumstances that are wearing you out.
You may have started out as someone who really enjoyed working with people or dealing with clients. Now, you find yourself feeling increasingly angry and irritable toward them. You have a growing sense of detachment from your work and may even be alarmed by how cynical you’ve become.
3. Reduced personal efficacy.
You’re losing confidence in your ability to do your job, even though you used to be quite good at it. You work harder and harder, but seem to accomplish less. Your productivity has dropped significantly, and your belief in yourself has fallen along with it.
Now you’re saying “yeah ok, one of them but that doesn’t mean I have a mental health issue” and you would be both right and wrong. Everyone has mental health, EVERYONE. Just as we all have physical health we have mental health. Now let me ask, when was the last time you were at the doctors, getting that ache/pain/niggle looked at? Just as it’s good to get these things checked out, it’s equally as good to get a mental health check over.
What can I/we do?
Learn to recognise the symptoms.
Not just in ourselves but in others too. The vCommunity has a great reputation for talking about all kinds of technology subjects, but who says we can’t talk about this subject too?
Ask for/offer help
Asking for and accepting help is very difficult, due to the stigma around mental health issues. Offering a colleague/friend or peer out for a coffee or walk to talk about what’s on their mind, will help remove a potential source of stress.
If you’re the talker, then you should consider no subject taboo, and that includes suicide. Get it all out, honestly no one is going to judge you. The person you are talking to can probably relate to most situations/subjects. If you are the listener then listen non-judgementally. Do not try to argue or jolly them out of their low mood, and do not offer advice like “pull yourself together” or “cheer up”.
Work on surrounding yourself with a positive support network, whether that be friends,family or colleagues. Accept their reassurances and information. Encourage the talker to seek professional help. It’s worth getting checked out, it may be nothing, then again it may be something.
There are some really good online support articles, a few of which are below.
If you are interested to hear more from others in a similar situation, then I can highly recommend the excellent blog post and associated vBrownBag Session from Eric Lee. It was Eric’s session that led me to present my session and write this blog. So a heartfelt thank you to Eric for sharing his story.
Do I feel that I’ve overcome this issue? I recognise I may still have a way to go, but I’ve started to put plans in motion to address the issue. I do feel like I’m making some headway, and sharing this information is certainly put me on the right path. I am also quite lucky in the fact my employer has recognised the effect mental health can have on its employees and has introduced Mental Health first aiders in the company. These are employees who have volunteered to undergo mental health first aid training and offer support services.
So let’s not ignore mental health in IT …