Seven months ago, I wrote my second most popular article ever (the first was a guide for Elite Dangerous), it was about Burnout, something I had just experienced first hand.
Given the popularity of my recent article about Crunch Culture and the awesome devdiscuss discussions happening on Twitter these past few weeks, I thought I would do more than just re-post my old article to the Dev Community, I would give it a lick of fresh paint.
Early in my career, if you had asked me to work late or in my weekend I would have done anything not to. I would always be overcome with this intense knee-jerk reaction because that was my time.
Back then, I respected my time. Guarded it like it was gold, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I actually used to think I was being selfish and even got embarrassed when I reflected on those feelings. However, fast forward to 2017, where I continuously worked sixty hour weeks until I burned out.
Well...I lied to myself, over and over again about what the job really was. I lost respect for my free time, and begun to view my free time as this currency I could cash in to reduce the stress at work.
So why other lies do we tell ourselves that lead to burnout?
Somehow, working just 40 hours a week, clocking of and going home, and NOT coding / reading / researching about work at home became something lazy people did.
It’s such a stupid notion, perpetuated by career ‘heroes’ like Musk and Bezos. When in actuality they are career traitors and should not be looked up to in any way shape or form.
Musk’s expectations that successful people work 60 hours a week, and don’t join unions, are toxic lies poisoning the workforce on mass. It is because of these privileged assholes that we now have the term ‘stress casuality’.
You want to be successful in your career? View your time like it’s money, get better at spending it, as opposed to recklessly blowing it. Sit down and budget it out, just like your pay.
You will not be able to bring your 100% to work if you are sleep deprived and haven’t had a weekend in four months.
And don’t give me the whole “sacrifice now, to benefit later’ mantra. You will burn out before you benefit, the human body starts to fail pretty quickly when it’s being pushed too hard.
It’s like trying to sprint enough of a marathon believing you will be able to walk the rest of it and still win. That’s a horrible strategy, you will have to sprint for at least 25 miles, which most likely won't happen. Instead you will collapse and fail. A perfect metaphor for burnout.
You also can’t predict the future, which means you won’t be able to predict when it will ‘pay off’ and you can return to normal.
If i was only given a one off payment $1000 to live off, but not told how long I would have to live off it, I wouldn’t have a clue how to budget it. Same here, you have no clue when the pay off for your 60 hour weeks will come to fruition, so ease off the gas otherwise you will not make it. Besides, Elon Musk still works 60 hours plus a week and he’s filthy rich and ‘successful’.
I see this happen a lot in delivery type roles. It attempts to happen to my team every week and has the been the rot inside the development community, primarily video games, for over a decade now.
Effectively, too much work and not enough time before the promised deadline.
Management commits to a delivery date without talking with those who would be doing the work. Everything is urgent, and always comes with some really important names attached to them. ( I see this as blackmail)
Funnily enough at my work the CTO is attached to about 9000 projects... based on the frequency that their name is dropped.
It seems that no matter how far down the hierarchy you are, you can quickly be seen as a roadblock to some of the most important things to the company. So you work overtime, you let the companies poor decision making become your problem to solve.
I get it, in my previous role, If i got behind, customers would be effected and would start to complain, making more work for me and the call centre, and it got management involved. And yet I was never paid fairly for that level of ‘power.’
I learned three key things from this lie:
Working extra because someone else made a bad decision, means they will do it again.
Allowing people to blackmail you by dropping names is something that will continue to occur as long as you allow it
The consequences of you not meeting their expectations are a fraction of what they claim it to be. The company is not about to fail, nor is it about to loose a trillion dollars. In the slim chance that is actually the case, run, it’s beyond saving.
How do you avoid this? Move the burden upstream. What you spend your 40 hours a week doing, is the responsibility of your direct manager. If they urgently want X, then something has to give, and it’s their responsibility (and why they are paid more) to sign off on that. Do not keep your managers in the dark, they will happily let you do this.
Learn that companies can withstand a lot of failure. Just because you can directly see the impact of not doing something doesn’t mean it’s actually that significant. In the grande scheme of things, most failures are forgotten about within months and don’t actually result in that much customer loss.
At no point in an investor call will management say “we lost 9% of our customers in Q3 because Neil didn’t do what we asked him.“
I see this commonly with people who don’t have hobbies, it becomes easy for them to trade in their personal time to make work easier.
Don’t do this. Your time is finite and recovery is very important. So what you weren’t going to do anything but slob in front of Netflix tonight. That’s fine, you are recovering, and you need to recover from work.
I remember working my weekend once, to catch up. The end was in sight and so I started to make plans in my head of what I was going to do that afternoon.
So I finished working for free and started to pack up. About 5 minutes after I had turned my laptop off, my boss rang me, summoning me on call to fix a server crash.
I literally threw myself onto my bed and had a tantrum (after the phone call), I had already given my time to work that weekend and was in dire need of relaxation, I had nothing left to give. I’d like to say that was when I learned my lesson about work life balance, but that would be a lie.
The research shows that you shouldn’t work at anything more than 8 hours and that you need those two full days off. So stop working late and weekends.
I tell my staff to never work in the weekend. If they owe the company time work late during the week. Those two days off are vital to recovery.
If you don’t know what to do with your time, find a hobby. If your struggling to find a hobby, congrats because finding a hobby is now your new hobby. Don’t work because it’s easier.
Company prestige is certainly a thing in our society. I’m undecided as to whether it’s a good thing or not.
What I am certain about is that no dream career or company is worth getting burned out.
Don’t work yourself into the ground trying to get into your career or you won’t have anything left to give when you start it.
And if you arrive at your dream company or career and you are being forced or pressured to work extra then sorry this ain’t your dream. I highly doubt you dreamed about working for Microsoft and the dream involved being treated like a slave.
Wake up and get out.
Also learn to spot the difference between a work perk and a psychological trap. Google talks about having food within 100m of every employee. Sounds good, but they did that to discourage you from leaving the building to eat. Keep you at your desks for the maximum amount of time. Banks traditionally offer favorable mortgage rates to employees that of course expire when the employee leaves. Sometimes a perk can be the thing that traps you in your job.
One of the saddest things I hear people do, and I used to do it, is use their suffering as a badge of honor. Normally it involves colleagues bragging about how many hours they worked that week in an aim to one up each other. Or try and paint a picture about how their work week was worse than others.
It’s sad because it’s a luxury only the privileged do and because it’s downright sad when you think about it. Dan thinks he’s cool because he worked 58 hours this week narrowly beating our Margaret's 56.
How is Dan cool for working 18 hours for free? If I sold my car for ten thousand dollars less than what it was worth no one would think i was cool!
Stop it. Your embarrassing yourself. We should be championing Gale who got all of her work done, only worked 40 hours, and got to have a life.
In 2017 I burned out, I was only 26.
I had tanked both my mental and physical health. It left me with nothing left to give, nothing in reserves. If something bad in my personal life happened, I just crumbled.
As someone who has had to manage his depression for over a decade, I was unbalanced and losing the fight, eating right and going to the gym was no longer keeping me 'sane' because my work was poisoning me at an aggressive rate.
It took a long time to recover. Yes when I was finally sick of it I stopped working more than 40 hours a week. But the damage had been done, I changed jobs which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I got a clean cut away from the people and the environment that had made me so sick, a curse because learning a new job is stressful. I had to take some mental health leave early in my new position.
A great tipping point for me, came from my fiance. I had mentioned I was going to do some work that evening and he said "will you look back in a year and be thankful that you worked those two hours?" He was right, I would never be thankful I worked those extra hours for free, I was always lamenting not having enough time to work on my side projects or play games and here I was willingly burning two hours for nothing.
Burnout is a real problem. I see way too many of my colleagues, of all ages, frothing at the mouth to work an extra hour or so. Believing their jobs are the most important thing around, getting worked up over nothing. It's sick, have some respect.
You want to be successful, I get it, but learn that you can only do it in 40 hour chunks. The rest of the time is needed to rest, seeing friends and family, going to movies, working on side project, playing games, going on holiday, ETCETERA because you can't be successful in your 40 hours, if you are not looking after yourself.
If you liked this article, please consider reading: You are probably a victim of Crunch Culture