It’s hard to work in the tech industry without hearing about the “burnout” concept. Especially in high tech startup employees burnout rate is the highest level and has been reported as high as 86% in the fastest growing startup. Indeed with narrow deadlines coupled with uncertainty and an environment that is constantly mutating to adapt to growth, high growth startups are quite stressful. In the news, high growth startups seem fun, exciting, and endurable, however in reality that high growth is continuous stress that can lead to burnout. Burning out is a process that happens when the amount of stress exceeds the threshold that your body can tolerate. Most newbies would not even know that they are burning out until their mind, and body cannot bear it anymore, leading them to act recklessly similar to someone under the influence of a substance such as alcohol or drug. It is worth noting that burnout exists in all sectors and not just in tech. Even a housewife could experience burnout. It is just that in tech it happens a lot more frequently.
Everyone burns out eventually
Even if some people may say they have never and will never burn out, burning out is very similar to being drunk. Everyone gets drunk if they drink enough alcohol, but the threshold to get drunk is not the same for everyone. Once you are drunk, many people can tell that you are drunk, but if you are a newbie in drinking you are unable to realize it yourself. That said it is hard to tell which glass was the one that got you drunk. Same way as being drunk, you end up burning out when you accumulate enough stress, and the stress threshold is not the same for everyone. Some people can tell you have burnt out when you might not realize it yourself and it is not easy to know when it started. In a working environment, your manager and close colleagues you are collaborating with will probably realize that you are burning out but you might still not realize it yourself.
Burnout has symptoms
Symptoms are not experienced the same way by everyone. In the majority of cases, people who experience burnout feel exhausted, empty, and feel like not doing anything. They struggle with tasks that they would have easily accomplished a couple of weeks ago in no time. In addition to reduced performance at work and emotional exhaustion, burnout has physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches. Individuals who experience burnout tend to grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with.
Burnout is contagious
If we know what burning out is and it is similar to being drunk then it should be easily manageable, right? Burnout is more dangerous than being drunk, as it could be contagious in some cases. Seeing a colleague going through burnout can create anxiety for yourself and therefore increase your stress and thus increase the probability that you would burn out faster. That's why fast-growing startups have a burnout rate that could grow out of control. 1 colleague burnout impacts 2 other colleagues, 2 impacts 4, 4 impacts 8, and so forth.
How to not burnout
Imagine a glass where you are pouring stress into. Once the glass is full and you add more stress to it, the glass overflows and then you end up burning out. However, if you empty the glass before it gets full, you won’t burn out, and you can continue pouring stress into it. So the idea is to manage your stress level before it overflows. In a real-life, to empty the glass, you should perform activities that help you lower your level of stress. Things that could be seen as non-productive but that you enjoy doing, ideally not for profit (as when money enters an activity, it can become stressful de facto).
The best is to not burnout
Not to burnout is not impossible, but is not easy either. If you are drinking and you don’t want to get drunk, you need to stop before you get drunk so that you could still maintain control over your body and spirit and not do things that you would regret doing once you are sober. If you know how many glasses will get you drunk, you will know exactly when to stop. Similarly, when you know that you are reaching your stress limit, you know that you should switch to activities that help you lower your stress before you overflow.
The secret is to have a balanced life
Even jobless people burnout, and when they do it is quite severe. Being jobless is also stressful by itself for many people who have responsibilities or are ambitious. Therefore not doing anything is not the secret to never burnout. The secret is to find the right limit you can tolerate. For example, you know your limit is 60 hours of work per week? Try to not exceed that limit without reason, unless there is an emergency. Over time you can gradually increase that limit, the same way as people who have experience with drinking don’t get drunk after a couple of glasses. If you see your colleague work 80 hours a week or your manager works 130 hours a week, they probably did not get to that level overnight and by pushing yourself too hard, you will end up burning out. Avoid trying to be a perfectionist, it will only get you into trouble. Have activities outside of work such as sport and social activities.
If you burn out, get help
If you are going out to drink, don’t go alone. At best, there is no-one who will prevent you from doing the irreparable once you are drunk, and at worst you will end up an alcoholic. If you have ever been drunk, you will always remember that friend who has prevented you from sending an awkward message to all your contacts. And if you are asking yourself what would have happened if you did send that message, has he not been there, the short answer: "nothing good for you". If you burn out at work, talk to your manager, they are in the best position to advise you on what to do, and review your workload accordingly. If you decide to not do so, then you will find out what happened to those who sent that text message to all their contact while they were drunk.
If you are going to push your limit, you will definitely experience burnout a couple of times. But like many things, if you learn how to manage it well you become quasi-immune to it, giving yourself more opportunities to expand your boundaries.