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What Kind of Burnout Do You Have?

#1, #2, #3, or all of them?

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

I recently heard the term “Mom in tech,” which resonated with me. My wife and I are women in tech and moms to our 6-year-old son.

Despite no snow in our region on Monday, we had a Snow Day, which meant our son was home with us while we worked. We both posted the message to our teams, “My son is home from school today, so I’m WFH but may be slow to respond at times.”

We got very different responses from our employers. Luckily, mine is fine with it, and they have set the expectation that I take the time I need to care for my personal life and plan and communicate accordingly if it impacts work. I know…lucky me. That’s a rare response in this day and age.

Her’s responded with something like, “We need to know exactly when you are going to be available and when you are not.” And, I know for many parents working in tech, this is way more common to hear. The lack of understanding of how parents try to balance the demands of both parental and employee roles and still feel like they are failing is prevalent.

When he’s home, our son usually floats between our two offices, playing games and chatting with us. He’s 6.5, so he doesn’t need constant attention, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want it. Trying to set boundaries with both him and work to maintain some sense of peace and harmony is a balancing act that is easily off-kilter if one or the other isn’t in 100% compliance. It’s also a lot of context switching from dealing with an emotional meltdown to focusing on deep and detailed work and back again.

This is parental burnout, and moms and dads in tech know how draining it is.

Other types of burnout

In addition to Parental Burnout, workers are prone to feeling four other types, possibly as singular entities of burnout or combined into one massive stinky heap of it.

Professional Growth Burnout

Women in tech are especially prone to feeling this. It’s the burnout from working harder than most to get ahead, take on new responsibilities, and get promoted. Often, the work is thankless and, unfortunately, fruitless. You can spend years working to be on the Leadership Team only to lose the job to someone else, not even be considered for it, or have someone else determine whether or not they think you are cut out for it.

People want to grow, but often, someone else decides an employee’s upward growth within a company.

Those who don’t see an upward growth opportunity within their current company may try to leave to advance in another. While this seems like an easy way to navigate this, it piles on the additional work of applying for jobs, interviewing, and starting fresh with a new team. You may get the position you crave, but it isn’t without an exhausting transition, only to have to do it 2–5 years down the road again for the same reason.

Personal Fulfillment Burnout

Focusing on values and fulfillment is now at the top of the minds of younger workers and parents coming out of a post-COVID environment. People saw their time as valuable and wanted to do something that mattered. It’s hard to convince employees that an increased conversion rate matters when they have struggling finances, young kids, ailing parents, and no time for personal well-being at home.

It’s hard to convince employees that an increased conversion rate matters when they have struggling finances, young kids, ailing parents, and no time for personal well-being at home.

If workers spend their precious time on this Earth working for someone else, they better be doing something that matters at least a little to them.

As humans, we all need to feel like we are both valued and delivering value to feel motivated. Otherwise, we feel it’s pointless and a waste of our precious time.

Nothing burns you out more than feeling that your efforts are in vain and you have no connection to the outcome.

Financial Security Burnout

We are entering an era of a widening wealth gap and rising costs of living, and even individuals making six figures a year are feeling the financial strain.

Nearly half of Millenials and Gen Z have a side hustle or additional job to earn extra money and create a financial cushion for themselves.

Feeling like you are not getting paid for your worth as an employee can lead to burnout, as can the exhaustion of managing a full-time job and additional work to make ends meet.

The stress of no longer having the dream of a financially secure retirement, owning a home, or even having a savings buffer in a time of mass layoffs is chronic. It undergirds every personal decision and strains relationships and the ability to care for yourself and others.

Personal Time Burnout

This is a big one for me. When I started my business, I was eager to work on it after all my other duties were done for the day, the hour I had left before bed. But that hour didn’t feel like enough. Hell, by the time I sat down with tea and got comfy, it felt like I only had 5 minutes left. My nights got later and later, and I eventually had to force myself to go to bed no later than 11pm because the lack of sleep was affecting my mood.

I was addicted to that downtime, though, the quiet time of the evening when I finally could do what I wanted and decompress. It’s becoming so common that there is a term for it: Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, and it feels just like that. It’s the rejection of the lack of control over your time.

We have no leisure in America. We don’t waltz around downtown looking to see who we might run into. We don’t stroll or sit and have a coffee while watching people pass by. Nope, we strategically plan everything from personal time to sex to playdates.

If someone asks us how our week is going, we are trained to respond on autopilot with “Good, but busy!” We’ve been taught to say it confidently, but it’s not a badge of honor. It’s a downright sad statement.

We’re too busy. We wake up early to rush into the office to make early meetings and eat granola bars in the car on the way; we rarely take lunch breaks because we need the extra time to complete projects with obscenely tight deadlines; we work late and come home to takeout and the short time we have to complete necessary domestic duties with even less quality time to spend with our families, we go to bed early only to stay up binging Netflix or scrolling Instagram because our brains are so fried we can’t fathom forming thoughtful sentences to talk to our spouse about our day in any sort of real way.

And then we reject rest because rest means it all happens over again too soon.

We are dying to get off the conveyor belt. Most of us don’t know exactly how to, and we’re too drained to put any more effort into the day.

Hobbies are mere memories of things we used to enjoy pre-career and pre-family. “What did I used to like doing again?” and “How would I even find the time now…?”

Where do you go from here?

The thing about systems, whether they work well or are broken, is that we are all part of them. We often subconsciously follow the system and continue to behave in our trained way. It’s easier.

With burnout, it’s a bit of a catch-22. We’re too tired to disrupt the system, but we will only stay burnt out without the disruption.

So, if you want to be a burnout badass, here are a few ways to do it.

Disruption #1: Weekends are only for pursuing hobbies, community, and leisure

Unless it calms you, brings you joy, relaxes you, and makes you feel full, say “No” on Saturday and Sunday.

Disruption #2: Stop spending money on meaningless shit

Take a closer look at your budget and cut out everything you don’t need. Instead of buying, invest back into your savings account. Even a little bit adds up, and at least you won’t be in the red every month.

Disruption #3: Move your body

We sit too much. We must stop sitting, walk around more, exercise, hike, clean, or do whatever brings joy. Leisure is not lazy; it’s doing something that makes you feel good without time constraints. The science of exercise and movement is strong, and we know it has a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Disruption #4: Learn something new

Whether it’s related to your job or not (ideally not), learn something new that opens your mind to things you don’t know. Creativity comes from making connections between seemingly unrelated topics. You never know; that online course about how to make the best dumplings might hold the tidbit of wisdom you need to get your work project to the next level.

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