What Causes IT Burnout?

Everybody deals with burnout. No exception.
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According to HelpGuide, 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.”

You might think you’re safe from burnout. After all, you’re in the career of your dreams. You’re an IT admin, a developer, a tech support specialist, a web designer, or a project manager. You’re golden. Right?

Although that may be the case at the moment, the cold claws of burnout can dig deep into your flesh, no matter what career you’re in. And IT is no different. In fact, according to this Dice report, 31% of IT pros feel burnout. 

That’s not insignificant. It also means that your chances of suffering from burnout are probably higher than you think. And if you’re responsible for hiring IT staff, or keeping that staff happy, you’ll want to make sure to keep an eye on this. Of course, if you lean more toward IT staffing services, chances of you dealing with employees suffering from burnout is probably lower.

But what causes burnout within the IT industry? Let’s dig in and find out.

 

All work, all the time

With those in the IT industry, they often find themselves caught in a situation where it’s all work, all the time. Not only do they wind up working far too many hours on the clock, but they also tend to work off the clock as well.

Consider this. I once worked as a remote support technician for a support management firm. I worked the usual forty hours a week at the office, but was often expected to do after-hours work from home and even be on-call during the weekends. Those forty-hour workweeks quickly (and frequently) nudged into fifty and sixty hours. By the end of the week, my brain was fried and it took every hour of the weekend to recover, simply so I could rinse, wash, and repeat.

That might be fine when you’re in your twenties, but once you factor in age, those hours can cause serious burnout. 

Because of this, every young IT pro needs to learn, early on, how to say “No.”

 

Workload

Even if you’re keeping yourself limited to forty hours a week on and off the clock, you’re still facing a heavy workload. In many instances, IT departments are understaffed, which leads to fewer people taking on more and more tasks. After all, you have an entire company to keep running. Servers, routers, switches, databases, desktops, you name it – and you’re responsible for it.

This can be exacerbated when a company makes a big change. Say, for example, your company migrates from a proprietary solution to an open source option. This could mean serious work on your part—from planning, to staging, to developing, to deploying. And, of course, along the way, problems will arise at every phase.

All the while, you also have to answer to the powers that be, your fellow staff, vendors, and end users. So instead of just doing the work, you’re also having to report, organize, document, and clean up. Do that enough, and you’re going to wind up burning out. 

 

People

You might be a real people person. You love interacting, laughing, sharing. But when you’re in the world of IT, you have to deal with two particular types of people that will burn you out faster than any other:

  • Owners
  • End users   

The problem with owners is that, very often, they are the last word on everything. Under normal circumstances, this might not be a problem. However, owners tend to know next to nothing about technology. Even so, they want to think they do. To that end, they’ll not only make suggestions, they’ll demand you do X when you know (for a fact) that X isn’t possible. 

And yet, you are tasked with making X happen.

It’s like being told to bang your head against a brick wall and having no choice but to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum is end-users. They don’t mean to make your daily grind a challenge, but they do. On a daily basis, you’re going to have to remove viruses because an end-user just had to install that coupon extension for Chrome, or has (for the fiftieth time) forgotten their login password. So instead of doing the important things (like server migration and securing a network), you’re having to deal with tasks that could easily be avoided, if it weren’t for end users. 

But it’s not just about those outside of your department. You will sometimes clash with your fellow admins and developers, which makes for an incredibly challenging and exhausting workday.

People. They are an unavoidable cause of burnout in IT.

 

Never-ending education

The landscape of IT is always changing. Because of this, you are expected to always be up on the latest technology. And the second you think you’ve mastered something, it all changes again and you’re back to the books

Consider how quickly containers evolved. They went from single containerized applications to massive Kubernetes clusters, which can be a challenge to manage. Or security. The second you have your systems and network hardened, there’s a new attack out, sending you back to square one. 

With IT you will always find yourself chasing down what’s next. And, to make matters worse, this education most often has to occur on your own time. So not only are you having to constantly re-educate yourself, there are times when you’re not even paid for it.

 

Always Be Aware of Burnout

These are only the obvious causes that can lead to burnout within the realm of IT. There are other factors hiding in the shadows, waiting to take you down. Even with the idea of burnout on the horizon, a career in IT is very fulfilling. If you’re always aware of the possibility of burnout and take care of yourself, you can avoid falling prey to this eventuality. 

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