IT Pros – we need to take better care of ourselves!

Earlier this year I became aware of a movement within the Ops community –

This is something I’m fairly passionate about. Those of us who keep the lights on, keep the computers going, keep the servers whirring, keep the network lights blinking…we’re not machines. We’re only human. We are fallible. We make mistakes and hopefully we admit to them! We need down-time and breaks. We have feelings. We get emotional. We have families and friends. We have hobbies. We have lives outside of what we do for a living. We have loves that aren’t just what we do, day-in day-out, for our employer.

But so often our own community doesn’t realise this. There is such a push to be the best, to have your career be all-consuming, turned into something you live and breathe…and if you don’t, well then you’re not *really* a sysadmin/network engineer/DevOps admin/developer/techie.

I vehemently disagree.

I say that I’m passionate about this, but it’s almost hypocritical – I’m one of the first to stay up as late as possible getting something done. I’m known for staying back if I’m in the middle of working on something…or worse, forgetting the time, skipping lunch *and* staying later than I should, not realising how engrossed I’d become. This isn’t a good thing. This isn’t something we should celebrate. This is something we need to dissuade others from doing. And we don’t.

I’m very lucky, I have friends and colleagues who look out for me – and I hope I do the same for them. They’ll tell me that I haven’t eaten food, and make me go and get lunch (or even breakfast…); they will make me tap out and hand over incidents so that I can actually get some sleep – a shout-out to the wonderful Lina for being amazing and doing this during the last major incident I was involved in! I’ll get dirty looks from colleagues if I stay late, knowing my home time has come and gone. I’ll especially get snarky comments if I have the audacity to check email from home on weekends or while on leave.

*THIS* is the kind of supportive environment we need to be fostering – because they’re looking out for me first. They’re trying to make sure that I’m okay – because if I’m fine, then my work will be fine; which, in turn, means my organisation/company will be fine. If I’m not fine? My work can suffer. The organisation/company can suffer. A sysadmin who’s sleep-deprived, who’s stressed, who’s doing too much, too quickly can certainly cause a lot of damage. Doesn’t take much to become sleep-blurred and shutdown the wrong VM or type in the wrong command.

On the flip side, I was reading a piece about looking after yourself and it mentioned that we are the first line of people to look after ourselves, and that’s true…to an extent. It then mentioned colleagues and finally lastly it mentioned leaders and management.

I think it needs to come from management to start with, especially in a culture like ours that has bred this “You must work 80 hour weeks to be successful”. There needs to be a standard set from above that the work you do should not consume you. The work you’re doing does not control every aspect of your life. You are not beholden to your organisation or company. You shouldn’t be working yourself into the ground, making yourself both physically and mentally ill, for your organisation.

You should be looking after yourself and your management should be demonstrating that. They should be telling you that you need to take leave. Telling you to stop checking your email when you’re not in the office. Telling you that you worked too many hours last night so you’re not coming into the office today. Telling you that you sounds awful and you’re sick and you should go home and get better. Telling you that you’ve done enough for the day.

They need to be the first line of defence against ourselves. Because at the moment, our management is the one pushing and pushing – telling us to do more with less, to lean in; our management are the ones questioning our commitment and dedication to our jobs when we want to leave work on time, rather than stay back an extra hour or two or three; denying leave to people who request it who truly need it because they haven’t taken a break in over a year.

One of the issues we, as IT professionals, face is burnout. We’re renowned for it. We do so many things wrong (and this post on the 10 things IT Pros do that lead to burnout is insane – I know I ticked far too many of these boxes!) and we keep doing them over and over again. We need management to help us help ourselves. We need them to set the standard that we are not to put our job before our mental and physical well-being. We need them to be examples for this – showing us that it’s okay to take holidays, it’s okay to get sick occasionally; it’s okay to want to go home and spend time with your family.

Too many IT pros (and I include myself in that box, until recently) seem to think that being a martyr is what’s important. That doing it all alone, being the very best, sacrificing the things that make you happy in order to do your job is what makes you a great. And it might – but there’s so much more to life than that.

I’m of the opinion that if you love what you do then of course you’re going to spend free time doing it – I love IT, I love the work I do, I spend time when I’m not at work looking at new shiny things that are coming out or speaking with other techs on cool things they’re working on. But I also spend a lot of my time doing things totally unrelated to my work – I craft, I play video games, I cook, I spend time with friends, I watch (far too much) TV. I have interests that are outside of my job.

I’ve lately been seeing a number of posts online (on Reddit, on Twitter, on Facebook and even on LinkedIn) about burnout and people hating their jobs and hating what they’re doing, while still trying to put in extraordinary hours and thrashing themselves to the bone trying to be the very best.

With that in mind, and because I’ve said these things many many times now to others, these are my top things you need to look at doing if you think you’re suffering from some form of burnout – and maybe even if you’re not, but you think you could be in the future:

  • Take leave – If you have paid leave and you’re not taking it, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. It’s there for a reason. Take it. Go on a holiday somewhere, relax at home or spend the time working on a project.
  • Step *away* from the technology – (Thanks to /u/-J-P- for reminding me of this one!) You don’t need to be connected 100% of the time. Turn your phone off. Leave your laptop at home. Go somewhere where there isn’t any phone reception. Switch off. We live and breathe technology and that can be good – but it can also be bad.
  • Get a hobby – It doesn’t have to be geeky, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Just something that you enjoy doing that gets you away from work and into a different mindset. That you truly want to spend time doing.
  • Exercise –  I’m awful at this (though I’m getting better) but exercising is the most amazing thing for making you feel happy. And we, as IT pros, are notorious for sitting on our butts doing very little. Get out and move a bit – you’ll be surprised at just how much better you feel (yay endorphins!)
  • See friends/family – Connect again. Often, we spend so much time working that we forget that there are people around us who actually care. Spend some time with these people talking about anything (just not work!).
  • Speak to someone – Different from the last point, this means professionally. If you honestly are worried that you’re in burnout, speak to a counsellor or a psychologist. I’m always going to advocate for sticking your hand in the air and asking for help, especially regarding mental health.
  • Speak to your management – Say something to the people you work with/for. If you feel comfortable, let them know what’s going on. Often, they don’t realise. Let them help you in apportioning some of your workload, if you think that will help. I realise not everyone feels comfortable going to their management and saying “I can’t do all this” but sometimes we have to.

We need to look after ourselves – because in the grand scheme of things, no one else will.

Update – After posting this on Twitter and Reddit, I feel I need to make a disclaimer that I am trying to live by my words. I do switch off. I now leave my work phone at work when I’m not on-call. I make a conscious effort not to check work emails of an evening or on weekends…and especially when I’m on leave. I’m now big on getting up and leaving when it’s home time – and as I’m an early starter, I’m aware that some people view me leaving at 3:30pm as a sign of not being dedicated to my job. But I don’t care.

My well-being is more important – and I need time to be me. Because I’m not my job.

4 thoughts on “IT Pros – we need to take better care of ourselves!

  1. Pete Calvert

    When I used to do systems training I used to tell the class that if they learnt nothing else, they should learn to take lunch breaks. Schedule them in and get away from the keyboard. It is too easy to work through them and then start making mistakes and not be able to get some perspective on the problems you are trying to solve.

  2. skyalin

    Great post as always, and important stuff to think about! It took the loss of my relationship and then my best friend/mentor for me to realise all this and finally try to do something about it.

  3. Tania Hinton

    thanks for this reminder, feeling a bit burn’t out and this is the sort of action plan needed to kick me into action and kick the bad habits. It’ like smoking….you know its bad for you but do it anyway, until something happens to remind you its not good for you and you seriosuly do something to stop. *sory to any somkers out there who take offense* PS Sorry not sorry!

  4. Wei-Yen Tan

    I just read this. I came back from a holiday overseas and realised how burnt out I really was. Your post comes quite timely. Thank you for your insights.


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