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Tips to Prevent Burnout

Jérôme Petazzoni described burnout as the hardest refactor he's ever done. With growing demands from the industry to constantly deliver more, faster, we asked him for some tips that can help you avoid burning out.

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With growing workloads and demands from the industry to constantly get more done faster, it’s easy to spiral into bad working habits that can easily lead to burnout. 

We had a chat with Jérôme Petazzoni, founder at Tiny Shell Script LLC, who gave the popular GOTO Chicago 2019 talk “Depression and Burnout: The Hardest Refactor I’ve Ever Done”  about his experience dealing with burnout. 

Here’s what he had to say…

How did you find out that you were suffering from burnout?

Jérôme: I took this test called the Maslach Burnout Inventory and it made me realize, oh sh!t, I’m actually pretty burnt out. I knew I was working a lot, and I knew I had a very particular rhythm of work with so many conferences and so much travel. But it was hard to know whether that rhythm and workload were normal or not.

According to an article published by the World Psychiatry, the three key signs of burnout are:

  • Overwhelming exhaustion
  • Feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job
  • A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

What are some things that would have helped you?

Jérôme: Getting access to resources like the Maslach Burnout Inventory earlier.

I spent about a year thinking I was dealing with generic depression, but after the test I realized that I should address it differently.

Jérôme: Earlier access to a community of peers.

When I pivoted my career to evangelism and developer relations, I didn’t know anyone else in that field, so I didn’t know if the amount of work I was doing was reasonable. Later, I found a community that helped me a lot. If I had found these folks earlier, it would have helped me to realized that I was doing way too much.

Are there any other things that you think are linked to burnout?

Jérôme: Toxic environments

I think there can be some common elements between being burned out, and working in a toxic environment; in the sense that sometimes, the right thing to do is to quit, but we can’t or won’t do it.

Sometimes we feel compelled to finish a particular body of work,  or we feel like the treatment we were given was unfair and want to stay and fight for our role in the company.

I’ve seen many people try to do that — I’m not saying it never works, but the majority of the time I’ve seen that making things even worse.

When someone tells me they have a situation at work, for instance their manager is always being difficult, or they’ve been doing these great things and not getting recognition, perhaps 5 years ago I would have told them to stick to it and fight, but today the first thing I say is get the hell out of there.

Best case scenario, that manager does something really horrible and HR takes them down. But most of the time the company will side behind the manager, and whatever the employee did or not doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen employees in these situations stay in their roles for one or two more years and then either burnout or get a bad case of depression leading to them needing to stop working for a year or two to heal, sometimes considering completely quitting the industry.

It’s easier to quit and remove yourself from a toxic situation when you’re at the top of your energy levels and in a great position to find a new role, rather than staying for 6 months and being stressed and depressed and having to take more time off, maybe even starting medication.

So get out as soon as you can and find a new job that will appreciate you more. You don’t have anything to prove to your old toxic job.

The bad manager leaving and the company being like “we’ve really acted badly with you and were going to fix that wrong”? That only happens in movies, unfortunately.

For software engineers and developers, there is a huge industry out there with lots of companies constantly looking for new talent. So why stay in a company that doesn’t value you?

Something that is connected to this is the average tenure in the industry. I spoke to a bunch of folks recently who were worried about it looking bad if they had many short stints on their CV. I think maybe that was the case 10-20 years ago, but as Jez Humble recently said:

“Job hopping in tech is a symptom of a more or less smoothly functioning market […] where bad management is pervasive..”

Find a place where you have the right work/life balance, the right team and wellbeing.

I also wonder how much  burnout is linked to management styles. Sometimes one way to avoid burnout is simply to switch managers.

What effects do you think people returning back to offices will have on burnout?

Jérôme: I’m a big advocate for having the ability to work from home. I know some people want to work in an office but for me it doesn’t work that way, the office is where I go to hang out with my co-workers, it’s not where I get my best work done.

I can do great work in the office, but only when I have a closed off space without distractions — the kind of work I do now can’t be done in an open space. Asking me to work in an open space  would be as efficient as asking me to work standing, carrying my laptop in one hand and typing with the other.

With that said, every person is different. I feel like companies need to accommodate for all preferences as best they can. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.