The IT field offers a lot of stress factors that can lead to career burnout. Here are some of them and what you can do to remedy the situation.
ComputerWorld published a piece this month called "IT career burnout: What to do when the thrill is gone." The author, Meridith Levinson, focused her advice on CIOs who were feeling burned out. The piece drew a couple of comments from IT staffers who were less than sympathetic toward CIO stress and burnout.
In defense of the piece, it was written specifically for the IT leader audience. Some staffers seem to believe that everything is sunshine and roses once you ascend to the "top," when, in fact, there is a whole other set of pressures and stress that accompany it.
But for those who were seeking guidance on how to recognize and then handle burnout on a staffer level, I have written this piece.
First, let's look at the stressors that can contribute to burnout in IT pros.
Long hours are a given in IT. Long hours in IT were an issue even before the economy tanked, causing more people to be laid off and the remaining staff forced to take on more responsibility. Some of the long hours are due to the nature of the work, but sometimes they're due to the way you work. There are tons of sources out there that give good time management advice and teach you how to use your time more wisely. I've heard good things about Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
Lack of respect
While the CIO may feel a lack of respect in the boardroom, IT staffers are often faced with it every day. Help desk personnel will occasionally get the appreciative end-user but many times they'll be treated as though they invented the technology that is causing the end-user problems.
Network administrators are usually below the radar, only showing up when the system goes down. People rarely recognize the time the system is up. In other words, the more successful a net admin is at the job, the lower his or her profile.
Probably the complaint I hear most often from TR members is that they don't feel they are rewarded properly. In a bad economy, raises and promotions aren't forthcoming. Even despite these factors, IT can be a thankless job. After all, you're not out there doing the things that get attention like other departments (e.g., Sales gets the glory if they land a big account). Savvy bosses will constantly sing the praises of their staffers. It's the best way to get the IT department on the radar.
But if they don't, you need to do it yourself. Throughout the year you should log your wins and keep track of the metrics that show you're doing your job. Take the highlights of this and include them in your yearly review. I understand self-promotion is hard for IT pros who just want to do their jobs and not worry about their images, but if you don't, you'll be hit by another stressor:
I don't care who you are or where you work, you will encounter people who seem to work less, but have more political clout. It's infuriating but it shows the power of marketing oneself.
The effects of burnout
According to the American Psychological Association, burnout can cause depression, anxiety, and physical illness. Many people suffering from burnout turn to drugs or alcohol. If left unaddressed, burnout can cause physical and mental breakdowns, suicide, stroke, or heart attack.
Here's a free burnout assessment quiz you can take to determine if you're already suffering from burnout or well on your way.