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Work Burnout – Prevention and Treatment

I am not a licensed Psychologist, nor certified in any medial profession. This post is entirely of my own opinion and reflects my personal experiences. If you believe you are suffering from Burnout, or know a colleague who is – find some help. This can be from a friend, colleague, or medical professional.

Its OK, to not be OK.

Work burnout is a very real, and scary thing in the modern workplace. Part of the modern office includes having an always online presence, and as such, we’re working more hours than ever before.

Looking after your mental health has been an ever rising topic. Not just in the developer community and IT industry, but it has also come to the public’s attention due to a lot of publicity in the media.

So, what is Burnout, how do we best prevent it? What are the symptoms of early stage burnout? And finally, what can I do, if I think I’m burning out, or a colleague I know is going through this?

What is “Burnout”

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress or pressure. Burnout reduces productivity, leaving you feeling lethargic and often “useless”. Eventually, you may feel like you’re out of energy; hence the name, all of your fuel is burnt out…

The effects of burnout will affect various aspects of lifeā€”from work, and home, right through to your social life.

It’s a serious problem, and needs addressing as soon as possible. Luckily, there are ways to identify potential burnout. Once identified, there are common solutions to recovery, most of which are able to be accomplished either solo, or with a supportive team around you.

Symptoms and “early flags”

Symptoms of burnout generally take one of three forms; physical, emotional, and behavioural. Not all of these are as easy to identify as the rest.

Physical

  • Feeling tired / exhausted all the time
  • Trouble sleeping / eating (loss of appetite)
  • Unexplained headaches, lower immunity (increase of minor illness)

These are the top 3 for me that I’ve seen or experienced. I know when I’m starting to burnout, as I’ll stop eating lunch during working hours.

Emotional

  • Lowering of self-confidence
  • Overly cynical / critical of work
  • Pessimistic outlook

These 3 can also be signs of something more serious, such as depression. However, it’s wise to be aware of the emotional sides of Burnout, as they are often the most hidden attributes. They can however cause the most damage.

Behavioural

  • Isolation
  • Excessive procrastination
  • Poor time-management

As someone begins to experience Burnout, you’ll notice that they will generally become more reclusive. This coincides with the Emotional effects of the condition.

Prevention

So, burnout is something that we do not want to experience. Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to stop it from happening. However, there are a few things that you can do to best prevent it. Think of it as a water resistance, instead of water proofing. It’s not guaranteed, but done right, there’s a damn good chance that you won’t be affected.

Engage with others – You’re never alone. There’s always people around you that want to help. If something if getting the better of you, share it with a colleague. Even if they’re not related to the issue, or able to fix it. Just sharing the problem will feel like lifting the weight off your shoulders a little.

Make time for yourself – Every hour, take 5 minutes to just breathe and take a moment away from the work. Your mind needs to switch off sometimes, and giving yourself 5 minutes now and again can actually increase your productivity as you return with a refreshed mindset.

Turn off – When you’re not at work, turn off your “work mode”. Disengage with work related situations, and allow yourself to recover. Spend time with family, friends, or enjoying a hobby. Personally, I like to play video games, and lose myself in another world. This gives me true release from the pressures and stress of work.

Healthier Lifestyle – Burnout can be a sign of poor personal health. Try going to a run once a week, or more if you have the time. Turn your notifications off, plug into some relaxing music, and put in some time for yourself. Having a healthy body, helps with having a healthy mind. This also goes for food. Eating a fresh, and balanced diet contributes to a healthy lifestyle and ultimately, a healthier mindset. Your body and mind needs fuel – give it the best you can.

Awareness – be aware of Burnout, and how it can affect yourself / others. Just by being aware of this condition, will prepare you better.

Treatment / Support

So, you’re dealing with Burnout, or you know someone who is, and you’d like to help. First of all – it’s going to be OK.

Burnout is a natural thing, and lots of people (especially in the IT and Development industry) will experience it. I for one, have experience Burnout twice in my career, and seen one colleague experience it as well.

Acknowledgement – come to terms with Burnout. Allow yourself, or other, to accept burnout as an issue. Once accepted, the condition can be addressed, and work can begin to remedy the symptoms as best possible

Support – find a trusted circle of friends / colleagues. If you’re suffering, talk to someone. This can be a partner, work colleague, personal friend – your dog. Just talk. As mentioned before, a problem shared is a problem halved. Equally, if you know someone who’s suffering, offer them support. You will have to be tactful with how to approach this. Instead of offering support, give the person a chance to ask for it.
It’s probably not best to say “You’re struggling, here, let me help”. Go with something more approachable such as, “How is XYZ going? I’m quiet at the moment, and I’d love to be a part of it”.
This let’s them decide whether they’re ready to allow you in, but also shows you’re willing to support if they do. There’s no barrier for them to break down, you’ve already offered but without being too upfront/confrontational.

Structure – lists, schedules, and other tools. Use them as much as you can, and offer them around. Give yourself a little list of things to do, and celebrate each that you complete. If you’re looking to support someone else, help them define little tasks along the way. Ensure that you celebrate their progress with them.

Variation – seek variation in what you do. If you’re on a major project for the next 6 months, try and find different ways in which you can approach the work. Have something else to hand that you can spend an hour here or there in. If you’re supporting someone with burnout, try opening up discussions around their work, and different approaches they might take. Allow them to share their problem(s).

Things to take away

My main aim with this post, is to raise awareness of Burnout, both in the IT / Development industry, but also in the wider world-of-work.

It’s a very real, and very dangerous condition that is often overlooked by employees, and their bosses.

If you know anyone with burnout, or believe you are suffering with it – everything will be OK. There’s help out there.