Career Pathing POD
Erin Geiger, Director of Content at Lumos

Is Your IT Staff Burned Out? (Probably.)

How to treat IT burnout today…and prevent it tomorrow.

Even in the best of environments, work can become stressful, due to anything from culture and policies to long hours and increasingly challenging tasks. And once work-related stress opens the door, burnout risk often walks right in behind it. This is especially prevalent in IT, where staff responsibilities impact the entire enterprise on a daily basis. If left unaddressed, tech burnout can spread, leading to personal problems, turnover and increased cybersecurity risk. And – guess what? – that leads to even more stress for your team. So, what can you do as an IT leader to recognize the signs of tech burnout, treat it now, and prevent it tomorrow? 

Today, the average American employee works 47 hours a week. That's almost one day longer than the normal 40-hour workweek. And 18% of full-time workers work 60+ hours a week.

(Now, understand that this isn’t an exhaustive list of resources or deep-dive solutions. Just an overview to help you start the conversation about how to recognize, treat, and prevent tech burnout in your organization. Let’s get into it.)

Today, the average American employee works 47 hours a week. That's almost one day longer than the normal 40-hour workweek. And 18% of full-time workers work 60+ hours a week.

First things first… what is “burnout?”

The Mayo Clinic defines “burnout” as “…a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” In and out of the workplace, it’s often the result of prolonged exposure to chronic stress that results in emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional ability. At work, burnout often presents as an employee who seems disconnected from a company's goals, and fails to produce the desired results. 

In a nutshell, burnout is the extinction of motivation or incentive.

So, how does this impact your team of IT professionals? IT and cybersecurity professionals are often the unsung heroes of an organization — underfunded, overworked and short-staffed despite their importance in keeping sensitive business and customer data safe. It's no wonder these employees are especially vulnerable to burnout. From an IT standpoint, after a few years of pandemic-mode, 24-7, tech first responder life, serving an increasingly distributed workforce, IT burnout isn’t much of a surprise, is it? 

It’s impacting…everyone

Don’t panic. It’s not just your team. Burnout is far more common than you might think – from stay-at-home parents to c-suite executives, it’s rearing its head everywhere. In fact, employee burnout is so serious that the World Health Organization (WHO) included it in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The WHO even recognizes employee burnout as an official occupational phenomenon that requires medical care. 

According to a talk by Dr. Cristina Maslach at the 2018 DevOps Enterprise Summit, stress in the tech industry is nothing new, either. It's actually been part of it since the 60s. “In the early days of Silicon Valley, we were hearing a lot about the Burnout Shop. People were trying to hire, saying, ‘We are the Burnout Shop. We don't want just type-A people. We want type-A+++ people',” Dr. Maslach said. 

Today, within the tech industry, cybersecurity professionals are specifically feeling burnout at extraordinary rates, with data breaches and cyber attacks soaring and businesses not being equipped to handle them. In fact, a recent survey found that almost half (47%) of cybersecurity incident responders say they've experienced burnout or extreme stress over the past 12 months. Just how bad is it? 

• 42% of IT professionals with high levels of burnout risk are considering quitting their company in the next 6 months*

• 62% feel physically and emotionally drained*

• 27% don't see the value or purpose in what they do*

• 42.1% of tech workers have a high risk of burnout*

Coupled with lean security teams across industries, and about 600,000 vacant cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., increased turnover caused by burnout can become a major security risk. 

What’s causing IT burnout?

“Work-related stress” is a big bucket. But there are very specific causes of burnout for IT professionals. According to a recent blind survey, these include: blurred lines of work/life boundaries, unclear role expectations, poor leadership, lack of career growth, work overload, or low reward/benefits, leading to a toxic culture. 


The common thread here is that the causes (and eventually solutions) for IT burnout can often be traced back to a shift in culture, policies, or leadership. The good news is that these are all fixable. We’ll address this shortly. 

The signs of burnout are often visible on the individual and company level. 

Recognize the signs of tech burnout

Once you’re familiar with the causes, you’ve got to keep an eye out for these common signs of burnout, on both the individual and company-wide level. 

For employees, you may note increased stress or anxiety; indications of fatigue and exhaustion; depression and/or hopelessness; cases of physical pain (headaches, muscle aches); loss of motivation or productivity; or simply difficulty concentrating/focusing.

The signs of burnout are often visible on the individual and company level. 

Company-wide, you may notice high turnover, increased absences, poor internal relationships, and/or low morale. These may seem like no-brainers, but you’d be surprised how often these signs of tech burnout go ignored or unnoticed at all. In short, when people in your organization seem like they’d rather be anywhere else, the burnout risk is real. So, if something seems off, it probably is. Trust your instincts.

You can do something

As mentioned above, the causes of IT burnout are something you can address. Through a combination of policies, check-ins, and better overall communications, you can move your team – and your organization – out of the burnout zone. Let’s get into some strategies for avoiding and treating tech burnout. 

Don’t be afraid to talk. From a communications standpoint, be sure to set, clearly communicate, and enforce boundaries to protect the work/life balance. Also provide clarity for both roles and priorities to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Foster a culture of trust and positivity at work, so team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns, and supported by managers. And encourage a growth mindset, that some challenges are opportunities to learn and grow – even this shift in perspective can sometimes make a positive difference. 

Be willing to change. When looking at your operations, policies and procedures, think about putting up “guardrails” to de-stress the environment before it morphs into burnout, such as leveraging checklists or soliciting (and responding to) team feedback. You may consider the idea of automating certain tasks to lower stress levels. Automation inherently saves time, which frees up those in IT to work on passion projects or spend more time with family and friends. (Might we suggest automating access requests.)

It might also be time to re-evaluate your employee benefits, including work flexibility (including fewer days in the office and other offsite work options). One area almost everyone will agree with is reducing the number of meetings, improving and setting clear intentions for meetings, and making some meetings “camera optional” (contrary to popular belief, you can be productive in sweats). And, maybe you can  formalize and normalize the idea of blocking off time on your calendar to decompress. (Yes, we’ve all heard about the nap pods at Google, too.)

By the way, we know that weekend work, overtime, and unexpected crunches happen. There are also team members that step up to solve problems without being asked. It could help to recognize those that show initiative and go above and beyond, so they know their efforts are appreciated. Does this mean everyone gets a trophy? No. But people want to be seen. A small gesture or token that says “I see what you did,” even if it’s as simple as a gift card for lunch, can make a difference. 

Treating burnout is a balance of culture, communication, and common sense.

Lastly, partner with HR and consider offering frictionless access to mental health resources, allowing time and space for physical activity (or offering complimentary gym access/memberships), encouraging consistent breaks from the computer to walk around or get a snack, or – simply offering more or better snacks (obviously nutritious ones that fuel the brain and body). You can go above and beyond yourself – encourage hobbies and activities outside of work: promote a team member’s art show, support the charity they volunteer at, or show up for their triathlon. On the other hand, you can actively encourage employees to unplug – don't take the laptop home for the weekend, turn off your ringer, and don’t feel bad about it. 

You can even curb burnout before your first day at work. Here’s a bonus thought for those wondering if their NEW workplace or job puts them at risk for burnout: some interview tactics to help you get a feel for the situation. Ask specific questions about the workplace culture. Inquire what the average start and end times are for most people each day and if there are planned social events. Asking your interviewer about their most recent or upcoming vacation could give you a glimpse into how they value time off. Take a close look at the offered benefits - how much paid time off will you be getting, which holidays are observed, what’s their process for requesting time-off, etc… Ensure you know how truly flexible they are if something personal crops up during the workday or if you simply need some time for yourself now and then.

As we said before, this is by no means exhaustive. Just some thoughts to consider if you’re at all concerned about burnout on your team or within your organization. A simple search will uncover much deeper resources, case studies, and opinions and advice from mental health and human resources professionals. Our point is, work should be an invigorating, inspiring place to use your skills to make things better. Something to feel good about at the end of the day. And even if you’re seeing signs of burnout on your team, you can still move the needle in a positive direction.

That being said, a little change can go a long way when it comes to avoiding tech burnout. Your people want to be heard, recognized, encouraged, and simply given a break once in a while to clear their heads. And even if you’re headed into the burnout zone, there’s always a way out. 

Want to learn more tips, tricks, and best practices from IT leaders like yourself? Check out our IT Heroes video series.