Is work-life balance nothing more than a myth for IT professionals? Are burnout levels on the rise? Is it possible to implement healthy work boundaries in IT?
These were just some of the questions tackled during the Elevate panel on The IT Work-Life Balance Myth. Moderator Jeanne Meyer, Chief Client Officer at Kite Hill PR, was joined by the following panelists to share their personal experiences and insights:
- Dan Pupius, CEO, Range
- Jeremy Brennan, Co-Founder, Brief
- Aaron Warrick, Co-Founder & CEO, Reju
- Sargun Kaur, Co-Founder & CEO, Byteboard
Read on for their advice on work-life balance, or watch the session on demand here!
Is burnout becoming more prevalent among tech professionals?
“Absolutely,” says Aaron. “As a mental health advocate, unfortunately, it is something I have both observed and experienced. Burnout is becoming more prevalent.”
He says this rise is partly attributable to the way we view and reward work. “We’re typically financially rewarded to work more – not work smarter, not work more efficiently, simply do more work. Ultimately, this may lead individuals to experience work stress, and struggle to meet deadlines and deliver.”
“We tend to glamorize hustle culture,” he added. “It seems like a great thing because it encourages us to push our limits and capabilities. But despite the call to rise and grind, that typically also leads to burnout.”
What are the impacts of burnout on a team?
Sargun says burnout can manifest and impact a team in many different ways. “When simple tasks start to create a barrier in your mental health and in your life, you know it’s really impacting you.”
“But it’s not just impacting the individual, it’s obviously impacting the organization, as well. When that paralysis hits, when you’re walking into work and feel like you can’t be there… you start to make poor decisions, whether as a leader or as an individual contributor,” she says.
Dan echoed this observation. “When anyone is in a depressed or stressed state, they are less resilient to change, which means they can’t make decisions as easily or quickly. People feel threatened, and they can’t embrace high-level cognitive functioning or creative thinking – essentially, everything that makes for business and tech progress. You just won’t be able to reach your business goals, teams can’t function that way. It’s viral, it spreads. If one person experiences it, it spreads to other people,” he says.
What can leaders do to get ahead of the risk of burnout on tech teams?
“There’s a misconception that burnout is an individual problem,” says Dan. “WHO has actually classified it as an organizational phenomenon, not a medical condition. Burnout is systemic, it’s about the environment you’re living in. Personal band aids don’t work. You can’t just offer a yoga class or breathing technique classes to solve burnout, you have to look at the work environment you’re creating.”
He shared the five leading causes of burnout as:
- Unfair treatment
- Lack of clarity
- Lack of communication and support from your manager
- Unmanageable workloads
- Unreasonable time pressure
Sargun agreed that a lack of clarity can be particularly harmful, especially in remote work environments.
“It felt a little counterintuitive to me in the beginning, but adding more structure has been something that my team and I have appreciated,” says Sargun. “When you don’t have ambiguity around expectations and you have those systems, it takes less emotional bandwidth to show up to work… Particularly in a remote environment, where we have such a lack of structure around us, building those intentional boundaries is really helpful.”
Aaron highlighted the importance of communication in preventing burnout. “With my team, we learned to openly express how we feel without any consequence,” he says. “Creating a healthy work culture that allows us to communicate stressors, or ways we can improve, or things that are mitigating our performance as a unit is always great.”
How can tech professionals manage competing priorities?
Aaron says it may seem obvious, but delegation is key to effectively managing your workload. “It’s easier said than done, but if you’re spinning too many plates, some will fall. Learn to delegate tasks and share the workload to avoid feeling overwhelmed.”
He also advises healthy boundaries to allow for downtime, with simple steps like taking a lunch break. However, for this to work, it needs to start at the top. ”IT professionals, senior leaders, managers, and HR professionals should all prioritize developing programs to support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, as well as effective task management strategies for employees,” says Aaron.
Jeremy also urges leaders to ensure work is properly aligned with the organization’s goals. Otherwise, priorities can shift and burnout can follow. “It’s important for a team to understand the organization’s true goals for the year and each initiative should really be aligned with those goals… it’s really frustrating and demoralizing for a team when the project they’re working on gets shelved or the priorities change.”
What can tech professionals do to achieve a better work-life balance?
All of the panelists spoke about the importance of identifying the time of day you are most productive, but also allowing for other team members to work in the ways that best meet their needs. This is especially important if working across multiple time zones, so employees have shared windows for collaboration but also time for independent work.
“Sleep is so important,” Jeremy added. “If you’re not sleeping, your cognitive ability goes way down. You have to prioritize it, optimize it, and create an environment for a really good night’s sleep.”
Sargun says we have to be intentional and protective of our time. Recently, she signed up for art classes as a way to carve out time away from work “That structure really helped me to be a lot more present, motivated, and active at work. Introducing these artificial structures, signing up for classes, or signing up for something outside of work… I heard this quote once, ‘if you work with your mind, it’s really important to play with your hands’. Taking that space to play with my hands has contributed to a healthier mind for me.”
Aaron calls this approach healthy distractions. “Indulge in the things that you love but feel guilty about. If you’re working really relentlessly for a couple of weeks, take the time to binge watch your favorite show, go out and have dinner, do the things that you love. It provides restoration to your body so you can come back eager and ready to work.”
Learn More From Elevate 2022
Want to hear more from our speakers at Elevate 2022? The event recordings are now available to watch here, and we’ll bring you more coverage on the Electric blog over the coming weeks!