Originally Published: Monday, 3 July 2000 Author: Jobs Staff
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_ask_staff/Ask the Jobs Staff Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Ask the Jobs Staff: How Do I Overcome Burnout?

Dear Jobs Staff: I've been working in the ISP/Web hosting industry for the last 5 years or so. Maybe it's the 70-80 hour weeks, or the fact that I end up working 7 days a week, but I'm just burned out. Is it just this industry, and is this the kind of thing I have to look forward to for the rest of my life, or do you have any suggestions on what I could do to get... well... un-burned out? -- Lauren

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Dear Jobs Staff:

I've been working in the ISP/Web hosting industry for the last 5 years or so. While I love my job (mostly) and enjoy coding, tinkering and generally playing with various systems usually, I can't really seem to get interested in much of anything anymore. Maybe it's the 70-80 hour weeks, or the fact that I end up working 7 days a week, but I'm just burned out. If I take a vacation (which I haven't for 2 years), I'm even more stressed out when I get back because there's not really anyone to take over and I have to deal with a week's worth of customer problems as soon as I get back. It seems like the only way to get a real vacation would be to quit my job, then look for a new one after getting my head back together, but I don't really want to leave, and there's no guarantee that a new job would be any different. Is it just this industry, and is this the kind of thing I have to look forward to for the rest of my life, or do you have any suggestions on what I could do to get... well... un-burned out? I'm about to chuck it all and go work at 7-11 or McDonald's. Well, not really that bad, but while I really love the work, I'm starting to think I want to get out of this industry.

Lauren

Dear Lauren:

This actually seems to be pretty common in the IT industry in general, maybe especially for Internet service providers or Web hosting providers. There's an old saying that "20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work," but in IT, sometimes it's more like "one percent of the people do 99 percent of the work!" At least, it can feel that way. We actually do have some suggestions, which may or may not be workable for you, but may give you some ideas.

First of all, how does your employer feel about your workload? We ask because while some employers are slave drivers, and expect everyone to work longer hours than they should, other employers are more sympathetic. It's possible that if you talk to them about your hours being too long or your workload being too high, they may try to help reduce that load or even hire another person to share the responsibility. If your employer is of the first type (which we doubt since you said you did like your job) then it probably would be a good idea to think about looking elsewhere.

Regarding your vacation problem, a common complaint from skilled IT workers is that there just is not anyone skilled enough to fill in the gaps if they do take a vacation. Air traffic control is said to be a high-stress job, but at least controllers can pass responsibility to the next shift and go home at night. IT people often don't have this luxury. There's not much you can do if it is "just you" at your job, or if you are the only one skilled enough to take care of many problems that may come up. However, you might also think about looking for a job where it's not just you, or where there are at least other people as skilled as you who can support things while you're away. The larger the company, the more likely you are to find this to be the case. If you do go this route, you might want to find out as much as you can about the qualifications of the other people you'd be working with before taking the job, just so you don't end up the last resort person again.

Another thing you can do is put some of your energy towards making things foolproof, or if not, at least making up documentation for as many problems as possible in advance so that at some point, you can take a real vacation. Some people have found it helpful to create a little searchable database, and then every time they fix something, enter in the details about what went wrong and how they fixed it. In addition, every time they configure something, they put that in the database as well, including what configuration files are needed for the program (such as Apache or Sendmail), what are the important parts of that file, how to tell if the configuration is bad, and so forth. After awhile, most common issues will be covered and others can access your documentation and take over. Documentation can be a pain, especially since it's often easier just to fix it yourself, but the more you can document, the less you'll have to fix yourself.

If none of these are feasible, then make an effort to try to force yourself to take some time off, even if it's just not working on the weekends, or leaving at 5pm every Friday. In ISP/Web hosting, there seems to always be something that needs to be done, but think about it this way: if you're working 80 hours a week including weekends, and you're still not getting everything done that should be done, your situation isn't much different if you work 40 or 50 hours a week and take weekends off. Some things won't get done either way, but you'll end up being more rested and productive, and may even get more done in the time you do work. If you're a dedicated employee, taking time off is easier said than done. Again, you'll just have to force yourself. If your boss is at all sympathetic, go to him or her and explain the situation. It's easy to get defensive about wanting time off, but remember: the whole reason for weekends was to give people a break from work. This includes you! Everyone deserves at least one or two days off per week to relax and refresh.

Sure, sometimes system emergencies or deadlines may mean you have to work late nights, weekends, holidays and so forth. This is pretty much an expected part of the job in high-tech, particularly Internet-related jobs. However, if you work late nights every night, it just leads to burnout as you've seen yourself. Saving your energy for when it's really needed tends to make you more productive and happy in the long run. The main thing is that often, the one who makes you work those long hours until burnout is really you yourself. Dedicated people want things done right and done well, so it can be hard to go home when there's just that last one thing to do. If this is the case, try to detach yourself just a little from the work environment and realize that you're only human.

Good luck!

The Jobs Staff





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