The lies and lack of self respect that lead to burnout

ronsoak on May 18, 2019

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 ju... [Read Full]
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I would add another lie:

It's not okay to be bullied at work

This can range from casual to overtly aggressive:

  • you and your work are being "gently" mock by other team members
  • you are left out of discussions because of your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity...
  • you are told you're not left out of these discussions because of your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity but because of [insert shitty excuse here].
  • you're are threatened (orally or in writing)
  • sticks and carrots all the time
  • you're never doing enough
  • ...

If you feel sick when going to work or if you keep thinking about your teammates' remarks when you're home chilling (or worse, sleeping), don't tell yourself it's normal. Or that you're being a wuss. You're not and you're probably surrounded by toxic people. Leave before being dragged in an uphill battle that'll leave you dead inside.

 

This this this a thousand time this. I feel bad for not considering this. I’ve seen it over and over again. I’ve never personally encountered homophobia in my work (has happened in my real life) but I had some older members of the communist warm me off some places due to the stuff they had faced. It’s horrible. Not to mention workplace bullying is such a stealth issue. So many people are victim to it and don’t realise or don’t know how to handle it. I hope you are speaking to the above points as an observer and that none of it has happened to you.

 

I haven't encountered the profiling bullying mostly because I'm white, straight and from a middle-class background. But the last three (and many variations of them), I had a lot, unfortunately.

My first job, as a stained-glass master, I had this boss that would use all the tricks in the book to make me accept things that were not acceptable. An example: during pre-contract discussions, I was told I would earn this compensation but when I came in to sign, I got a much lower compensation written on my contract. And he was, "take this or go home". I was 19 at the time and not prepared for this. Four years of these tactics warped my perception of work as a man-eat-man thing.

Later, I had a new manager who would simply take all my tasks and responsibilities away from me. I would come to work to discover that a big chunk of my tasks had been assigned to someone else. This would make it impossible to do my job properly. And of course, I would get smacked for not being able to do my job properly. This person also tried to pervert labour laws to intimidate me.

I see so many stories around me. In every possible type of job: public sector, private sector, small/big/whatever-sized companies,etc...

On a brighter note: you can learn how to defend yourself

Your article @ronsoak is a wonderful basis on how to reframe people's mindset about work. Then it's possible to learn the basics of labour laws to defend yourself. You can then get out of toxic environment in the best way possible.

It'll also help you keep anger at bay. Knowing the basics of what's allow and what's not, is the best way to start calm and useful conversations with your potential/current employers. No yelling, but a firm grip nonetheless.

Hope that helps someone.

 

I'd like to say a few words on the being left out of discussions part.

It's worth noting that sometimes you're left out of discussions for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity.

Sometimes (and I'll be harsh and blunt, so I apologize for that), your opinion is not appreciated on the topic under discussion. It's not your speciality, you don't know that part of the system well, and sometimes (here's the extra blunt part), the people discussing just don't want you involved because of personal reasons (I've seen people who constantly derail conversations, people who talk over others, people who can't listen to criticism).

Engineers (and developers specifically) aren't very good at communicating with others as a general rule, and so you can choose to interpret their "shitty" excuses as them not liking you because of your gender or whatever, but it's entirely possible that other circumstances are in play, or that they don't like you because of other reasons.

It's also entirely within the realm of possibility that some discrimination is in play, but from my experience as a manager and as someone who worked under women, people of all ethnicities, gays, etc. over the years, nowadays, it's usually the exception, rather than the rule.

 

It's worth noting that sometimes you're left out of discussions for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity.

Absolutely agree with you on this.

I'll be harsh and blunt

Don't! Take the time to express your opinion in a well-crafted manner. (which you did, btw ;) )

Engineers (and developers specifically) aren't very good at communicating with others as a general rule

I agree with you on this, but I don't think it's an excuse that can be accepted (being honest with you here). When you work with people, you have to step up your people-skills. I'm full of sarcasm. But when I interact with people, I gauge their sarcasm-threshold to adjust my sarcasm-"setting".

I mean, if I take the time to consider all the responses an API can send me back, I don't see why I shouldn't do the same with people. 😄

It's not your speciality, you don't know that part of the system well

Yup, that's a perfectly legitimate reason. If I were saddened by not being privy to a conversation that is none of my business, I'd question my ego and my self-esteem, rather than thinking I'm being bullied.

the people discussing just don't want you involved because of personal reasons (I've seen people who constantly derail conversations, people who talk over others, people who can't listen to criticism)

100% agree with you on this. Some people are hell to talk with. But no matter how much you dislike someone, excluding these someone from a conversation they should be privy to, is not the solution imo.

it's usually the exception, rather than the rule

Our experiences are very different for this point. I'd have agreed with you 15 years ago when I started my career. But I've seen a massive trend going downhill for the past 10 years.

To conclude, this very topic would necessitate long-form, thoughtful writing to cover all possibilities and be nuanced. Very happy to take part in a more nuanced conversation.

 

Fantastic ARTICLE! I have told myself many of these lies at one point or another. Also this quote really hit home for me.

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.

 
 

What a fantastic read. I found myself believing these lies in my first job, I found myself believing these lies in my second job, and I'm working very hard to keep from falling into the same trap at my current job.

My blind faith and devotion to my work place, coupled with some pretty severe imposter syndrome, has certainly led me close to burnout.

I think the toughest one for me to get past is, "someone else is counting on me for X or Y..." Nothing makes you feel the pressure more than when you feel like you're the hang up!

 

Ugh the imposter syndrome is the worst. We’ll all never escape it and yet it is so unnecessary! Take care of your self!

 

I had the same problem. I fell for these (and many more) at the first two workplaces. But at the third and fourth, I defended myself very well.
You've got this! :)

 

This morning, when i checked my email. I got this article from my daily dev.to subscription. When i read this, it's like showed me the light to the right path. Thank you author, you gave me my defining moment :)

Now i will not take that extra miles for my companies and started to take a seat back to my old hobbies, gaming and doing side projects

 
 

Fantastic post 😁

I’m in my early 20s and the problems you are speaking to are very much a sad reality. I especially like the part about people who don’t have hobbies because at my age people often don’t even know what to do with their lives, much less have developed hobbies. In these cases, it’s so easy to throw yourself at work because you have nothing better to do and you’d rather be “productive”. I see a lot of my friends who fall into this trap of grinding work so they can work at literally any prestigious tech company that will hire them. And who can blame them? They have the time and tech companies pay so well.

A lot of this comes down to our industry fantasy about the ideal developer who is all about using their free time to work on side projects, blog, network... so on. While I absolutely believe that people should be rewarded for their passion and work ethic, this always working culture can only become more unsustainable in the future. In China, it’s gotten especially bad with their 996 work culture. Unfortunately, to me it looks like we’re heading in the same direction.

And to speak to myself, I am also a part of the problem. I’m writing this from my phone because I was browsing career related posts during a Sunday brunch 😅

 

Enjoy your brunch! Thanks for you kind words

 

I am grateful for you sharing your experience! I am in a similar struggle currently and am trying to battle burnout while working full-time and learning new skills to move into a new profession.

Do you have any insights on how you balanced life, recovering from burnout, and learning your new job? Were you able to keep your learning at work, or did you need to take it home until you were caught up?

 

Right, so the first thing I did was stop working more than 40 hours, in fact I was regularly only doing 7 hour days. No one questioned that, besides the whole company always saw me working, if I left early I think they assumed I just started early!!

Then I stopped doing all personal projects, and took a break, and that helped heaps. Think of it like like needing to recharge the battery in your phone. It will take longer if you are using it. It will charge faster if it's off.

When you do want to start doing personal projects again, ease into it. I want to blog here, and write about space, and write a fiction book, and learn to draw, and was briefly learning German. I did not have the headspace nor time to do it all at once and when i realised success would come from focussing in on just one at a time, I got a lot less stressed when I hadn't hit my goal of 1 blog article, 1 space article, 5k words on my book every week that I had foolishly
set for myself.

And that wasn't a sure fire solution, i started a new job and i had a mini 'burn out' because I went from knowing EVERYTHING in my last job and I hated knowing nothing in my new role. I had a to take some mental health leave.

Have you considered taking some days off, Im aware different countries have different leave allowances.

Another thing I did was do an analysis of what stressed me. I look at stress like bills, if too much is going out, then you run our of money. There where things in my personal life that were contributing so I did what I could to nullify them, where possible.

Then there is the obvious ones: Eat well, Exercise regularly, reduce booze / drugs, see your friends and family more.

In terms of at work, push the problem up hill and stand your ground. I made my manager aware of everything. Right this is my 40 hours, what am I doing? and if new stuff came in all urgent urgent urgent I made him make the call every time. I even made him talk to my angry stakeholders who just got pushed back a bit.

Get selfish with yourself. The company isn't looking out for you, so don't look out for it. Put your sanity first and go from there. Also recovery takes a long ass time. I think for me it took a solid year before i was alright and even know I make sure to turn off slack and not check emails after I leave work otherwise it stresses me out, cant be stressed out by what I cant see :)

 

Thanks for breaking it down more for me! :) I really do need to take more time for myself, but using sick days gets counted against me right now, and I have my vacation spread out so I can have a week off at a time every four months. Probably not the best way to use my vacation, but I feel like it's nicer than having a random day off and not getting a full week of a break.

You do have a great system down and it sounds like you have the work life balance more under control now than before; I'll get there sometime, hopefully soon!

That week off sounds like a great idea! Your on the right track! Good luck.

 

This is a great article on staying balanced through your career! Thank you for taking the time to write this! As a software engineer, I watch as more junior developers fall prey to the thought process of "to get ahead in tech you have to work weekends and do meetups, etc." but usually those amazing and passionate developers become bleary eyed shells of the passionate young individuals they once were.. I watch as they (as I have) begin to feel lost on a project or like you aren't having as many eureka moments and you wonder why. The answer is your brain needs rest to learn, your body is in a tensed demanding state for too long and it's not able to enjoy or absorb new tasking or information.. I wish more managers would take the time to tell those new engineers to slow down and to take the time to rest their minds and watch as they become more creative and excited by the work they do, or heck even have the forethought to leave if it's not a good fit instead of soldiering on while miserable. Hopefully one day more management will try and shed a light towards sanity as your article has.

 

Thanking you!

I agree! It’s so painful to watch junior staff so willing to do so much extra work and no one is guiding them towards healthy work habits.

I’ve made it step number one for in my new staff induction to discuss cultural and work expectations.

 

As someone who has also worked too hard in the past (on what I've completely forgotten), I couldn't agree more with this article. Great work. Hope people take it on board.

The other thing I would like to add (esp with reference to business elites out to make us feel inferior): There's a big difference between a 16 hour day visting clients, having meetings etc and sitting at a computer coding. Coding is hard on the eyes and the brain. With each overly long day, you degrade a little until something gets you and you don't have the body to cope (like that cold that everyone else got rid of ages ago, but you still have mid-summer).

You'll probably earn more money coding 8 hours a day for 40 years, than 16 hours a day for 20... and you'll live more of a life doing it :)

 

Coding for 8 hours? Even that’s too much for me. I hit a wall after 6!

 

Yeah it's 3+3 hours for me too. I usually (or only able to) do maintenance or straightforward implementations after that. If I'm already done and need to start a new feature I call it off for that day and start next morning.

 

There is a few more that I used to tell myself before running into my very own burnout back in the day:

  • Stress is good!
  • I made my hobby a job, so it's like I'm not working!
  • I'm strong, and manly, I can do this, those who can't are weaklings
 

Solid gold advice here.

For example in mobile games industry most of the cost is marketing and development costs are usually a fraction of what a company spends. Some percent more or less of it don't matter much for the company.

Even if development cost is a major cost in another industry, no investor will board the ship with such tight margins. Nothing is on stake that much as it seems from where you stand. I don't believe continuous crunch is necessary (if it is necessary at all).

If business owners can learn to manage business with 60 hours a week they can learn to do that 40 hours a week too. We are human after all and we survived till this day by learning how to manage limited resources better. Don't take over someone else's responsibilities.

If I ever employ developers in the future I'm planning to lock the doors and the take down the git server after business hours.

 

Excellent piece and a much needed rap on the knuckles to folks like me who casually ignore work-life balance. Walter White said "I did it for Me, I liked it, I was good at it". I have manipulated myself by coining variations of these lies.

I rarely comment on articles I read, but this is something which resonates with me and am sure with many others. I hope this acts as an eye opener.
Good write up.👍

 
 

“sacrifice now, to benefit later’ haven't we seen this in another mass belief system?

One that involves Heaven?

Just a thought.

Glad I read this, as yesterday, though no fault of my boss, my colleague needed my help whilst I was on holiday and drifting round Rockingham out paddock.

Try fault finding on the phone whilst skidding sideways in a drift car and your the driver.

It was a challenge and quite quite ludicrous. I succeeded but nothing was that crucial that it couldn't wait and I'd forgotten that.

 

Awesome article, really well written. I agree wholeheartedly to 100% of it

 

Thanks for the read. I've written about burnout here too. It's insidious and you can actually end up repeating it.

Meditation and active relaxation are key for me, more about that on my blog at codingmindfully.com.

 

Fantastic article!

I used to feel obligated to work that extra hour or 5 and stay up in the middle of the night for deployments with very little reward, missing out on all sorts of personal things. I still feel a bit guilty sometimes for playing games or youtubing after hours when i could be doing something 'productive'. But recently I've realized how important that switching off is, especially if you want to stay sane.

 

This is so true in modern culture, i have heard so many young people say, il work now and rest when i am older, but if people continue burning themselves, there wont be any old age.

 

I’ve hired staff who do this. No matter how much I yell at them! It’s a plague.

 

I wish I can give more than one heart to this article.
Thank you!

 

I wish I could give more than one heart to your reply. Such a lovely comment. Thank you!

 

Right post at the right time. I'm glad I saw this from the Dev.To Facebook page. I don't know if it's what people call a burnout, but I'm definitely ill right now, after coding with stress for the past few weeks. Part of the stress were unnecessary as they come from the "lies". This post actually points out what I'm going through and I feel "woke", now that I know what adjustments I should make to my life from here on out. 🍻

 
 

One of my blue collar friends told me "8 and gate". Clock your hours and get out of there.

 

8 and gate????

Love it!!

This should be a sticker!!!

 

Thanks for sharing this very insightful post! I hope you've recovered since then. I can only relate too well to spending more time on work just because of bad decisions.

 

Working extra for free only makes rich to stock owners, while the worker actually loose its own time

 

This is bang on @ronsoak . Every line of this article just like a flashback of my first job. I am glad that I got out of it. Thank you for writing it. This is courage

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