Occupational burnout syndrome

Chronic stress related to job

Today very important, health related topic. Did you ever feel exhaustion, negativity, cynicism, or lack of energy related to your job for a long period of time? Or maybe you have headaches, problems with sleeping, chest pain, a feeling of breathlessness, or anger. All symptoms can be related to occupational burnout syndrome. Read this article to get more information about burnout syndrome before it will affect your health, relations, and life.

First things first. I’m not a doctor. I’m a programmer like you are. The reason, why I write this article, is to share my knowledge about the burnout problem. Statistics are not clear. Some of them says that 70% of working adult people can be affected by burnout syndrome (not only in IT), but some of them also says that 25%. No matter what is true in last few years occupational burnout syndrome has more and more impact on our work and private life. More and more people feel stressed about work and they are not happy with what they do. So, it’s good to know, how we can prevent the occupational burnout and what we can do if this is our problem or problem of our relatives.

What is occupational burnout syndrome?

According to the WHO (World Health Organization) occupational burnout syndrome is not classified as illnesses or a medical condition, but it can have an impact on health. It is a group of symptoms or our body reactions linked to long-term stress related to work. Sometimes it’s also called as professional burnout.


Let’s go through the most common symptoms of burnout syndrome.

Physiological symptoms of burnout syndrome:

  • various pains: headache, chest pain, stomach ache
  • chronic exhaustion
  • lack of energy
  • sleeping problems
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling of breathlessness
  • nausea problems when thinking about work
  • disgust to the computer or the work
  • frequent colds
  • poor immunity

Social symptoms of burnout syndrome:

  • irritation, anger
  • problems with relations
  • claims, attachments to others
  • problem with relaxation
  • negativity and cynicism related to work

Intellectual symptoms of burnout syndrome:

  • lack of focus
  • even small actions can be hard and problematic
  • decrease in efficiency

Psycho-emotional symptoms of burnout syndrome:

  • medicines abuse
  • alcohol abuse
  • cigarette abuse
  • drugs

Spiritual symptoms of burnout syndrome:

  • feeling of emptiness
  • lack of enthusiasm, listless
  • no motivation
  • no satisfaction from work (in case of programmers - no satisfaction from coding, programming)
  • the problem with finding goal and purpose
  • no desire to self-development
  • depression

As you see, there are a lot of symptoms, which can have a big impact on your health, relations, and life. Burnout syndrome is like a toothache. If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. The same should be with your emotional health. If you see some of these symptoms, no matter if this is a burnout syndrome or not, you should go to a specialist. Doctor, psychologist, or therapeutics can help you with finding a good diagnosis and recommend you ways of treatment. If you feel that this is not yet time for professional help, you can always use one of my suggestions on how to handle burnout syndrome. Remember one thing, if this is not working for you go to specialist. Professional burnout is a serious thing, so give your self understanding of what’s going on and time for recovery.

The reasons of occupational burnout syndrome

Now, let’s focus on the reasons for burnout syndrome. If we know the reason, we can eliminate it or at least try to decrease its impact on our life. There are two opposite sides of burnout syndrome. We can have not enough stress or too much stress. What do I mean by that? Can stress be good for us? Yes. When you have not enough stress, you are bored. Everything in every day looks the same. You don’t need to try or learn new things. You just do what you already know and nothing more. You can predict how your next day, week, or month will look like. Being in that state for a long time can affect your level of motivation. When you have enough stress, we can call it excitement, you are happy. You have challenges in your work. You can try and learn new things. You are not bored anymore. You are interested in your job. You are in flow mode. And this is a good, even a perfect situation! But when you have too much stress, too many tasks, and responsibilities. Stress brings you down. You have no satisfaction from your work anymore. Stress is no longer motivating, it is overwhelming and paralyzing.

No matter if you have not enough stress or too much stress. The situation, which you are right now, have an impact on your work and private life. People with burnout problem often say that they give everything that they could - 100%, but they got nothing or not enough in return. They feel empty inside. This is how our bodies and our mind react to stress.

Now, stress can come from the external or internal world or even both at the same time. It can be related to us internally, what we feel, and what we think or with others what they do, how they behave. Let’s check some examples of possible reasons.

Outside factors of occupational burnout syndrome:

  • too many responsibilities
  • deadlines hard to achieve
  • very hard task
  • conflicts and communication problems
  • aggressive competition
  • lack of trust, too much control
  • not enough support
  • hard work conditions (your life depends on these conditions)
  • organization structure and culture
  • overtime
  • glass ceiling
  • too high expectations (from a boss, company perspective)
  • mobbing
  • no appreciation, no respect
  • no fair treatment
  • conflict of values, illegal behavior
  • saying one thing, doing another, keeping a word

Inside factors of occupational burnout syndrome:

  • low self-confidence
  • sensitiveness
  • perfectionism
  • low communication skills
  • being introvert
  • problem with adjusting to changes
  • being too polite (not facing problems)
  • relay to others
  • too high expectations (for yourself)
  • lost control (no impact on your work)
  • fear of speaking up
  • impostor syndrome

As you see there is a lot of factors that can have an impact on how you feel. Some of them can be easily eliminated, for example by changing the work environment, but some of them no. Especially if this is an internal problem. No matter what will change around you in this situation, you will still feel the same.

How to take care of the burnout problem?

OK, so what we can do about burnout syndrome? How we can help ourselves or our friends and family members with occupational burnout? What we can do to prevent burnout syndrome? Below you can find some suggestions.

  1. Work you like

    At first, try to find work you like. The work where you feel good and safe. The work where the company supports you and your values. Each week we spend on our job around 40 hours. It’s a lot of time. You can spend this time in a nice atmosphere or not. It’s your choice. For example, how you can feel safe in your work when everything is a secret and your life is in danger, because the company doesn’t care about employee safety?

  2. Constraints

    This can help in situations when you feel bored and stuck. If your work looks the same every day and you feel no stress, nor motivation to do something, you can use a little bit of gamification just for yourself. For example, try to not use a mouse per one day. In this case, you can learn new shortcuts and appreciate, that normally you have mouse support. You can change your editor. This will show you how much you depend on your setups or your IDE. This can remind you of a structure of your programming language or framework you use. You can also give yourself some constraints in the code. Good inspiration can be Global Day of Coderetreat. No if conditions or only functional approach. There are many ways to challenge yourself in the work. Try it. It can be fun!

  3. Supportive people around

    It can be different for each of us. Someone feels better having a supportive friend, who is not related to the IT world. They can listen to you, try to understand your situation, and be with you in hard times. For others, it is needed to talk to someone from IT, who can understand deeply your problems. If you need support from people, who work in a similar environment, you can go to some local meetup, conference or workshops. Just try to talk with people there. Maybe they have similar problems or have some ideas on how to overcome them. The most important thing is to know that you are not alone.

  4. Time for work, relations, relax and creativity

    It is very important to separate work time from private life. Work in a smart way, that you don’t need to have overtime or crunch time before the deadline. Don’t bring work to your home. It will not help you to finish your work. Your home is the place, where you should relax in a different way than doing projects for work. And your family and friends also need some of your attention. Of course, it’s OK to do some coding just for fun, just for yourself, but keep the balance between computer time and the rest of your life. If you sit a lot in front of the computer, it is good to have some physical activity too during your day. Your body will thank you. Less pain in your back or neck. You can start small from walks or 5 minute exercises.

    Find time for different things, then coding. When did you read something else, then IT stuff? When was the last time when you go outside? Eat something delicious? Be aware that your body has needs too. For example, about 8h of sleep. Give your body this time to regenerate itself. Give your mind time to innovation. I often do weekends without a computer. Just to have enough time to rest, do something else than coding. I try new things without regret, that I didn’t check my email box for 48h.

  5. Live in many ways

    Try different things, be curious about life. If you have only your job, you do and think only about your job, it is more possible that you will have it too much. It is like eating the same dish over and over again. How long you can handle it? When you have many passions, you can switch between them, to have a better balance in your life. This is also good because of one more reason. In situations when you can not stand your current job anymore, you always have different possibilities, different passions. You can switch to something else.

  6. Take care of your stress quantity

    Find your stress triggers. What is the reason that you are stressed right now? Is it possible to eliminate the root cost of your stress? Can you switch to a different project, team, or different client? You don’t need to change your job at first if you mostly like it. Try to resolve the problem in another way. If this is not working, well, maybe it is time to search for a new job or even occupation. Those are some possibilities that you can do from outside factors perspective. There is also another approach. Look inside. Learn assertiveness. This is the key to more work-life balance. You have too much work, say no when someone asks you for another commitment. Embracing your stress is also an investment in ways of relax. It can be meditation, spirituality, music, yoga exercising, alone time with nature, or short holidays. Try out different things and choose what suits the best for you.

  7. Communication skills

    It is good to invest in your communication skills. I don’t say that you are the problem when it comes to not working communications. But being aware of how good communication should look like, can give us a better way to communicate our needs. What do I mean by that? I have worked in IT for many years now and I often see how communication can go wrong. This is a big topic, but I would like to just mention some problems here. It is hard to say no, to highlight needs or problems, to give feedback or constructive criticism. It is even hard to give our opinion, estimations, or tell that something is not right. We don’t know how to react in this kind of situations. If we can express our feelings, rights, and values in a good way, then it can be easier to understand us. For example, if we think that we deserve a better salary and we communicate it in a good way, our boss can see that. In this situation we don’t need to change our job, to get a better salary.

  8. Follow your values

    If you have a list of your most important values, that’s great! If no, this is a good time to think: What is important for me? What feels good and what doesn’t? Is the work the most important part of your life or maybe family or friends? You are the person, who takes care of good quality or maybe people’s interactions are the most important for you? Search for different values and think: Is this something I agree with? Choose about 5 values and base of them specify your rules. What is OK for you and what is not. Then the hardest part. No matter what, stay with your rules. If you believe, that code should have tests, do not push changes without tests, because someone tells you that. Stop doing excuse: “I couldn’t do it better…“, “I had no choice…“. If you give up on your values, it is like to give up on yourself. Like, allow to kill a small piece of you. Like, give the power on your code and your life to someone else. Do not do that! Don’t break your integrity. Stay in internal harmony. You will have respect for yourself and people will not have an impact on your mood and feelings. This is the everyday battle.

    When we talk about values, it is also a good time to ask yourself why? Why am I a programmer? How do I feel when I’m programming? Do I feel respect, appreciation? Do I see deep reason or future goal in what I’m doing right now? Am I happy? Does programming bring me joy? Is it something I want to do? These are hard questions, but it is good to have answers for them. This can also help you in finding motivation for your work.

  9. Go to the specialist

    Last but not least. If you see that all previous suggestions don’t work for you and you don’t feel any improvement in your mental health, this is a time to go to a specialist. Don’t hesitate and ask for help. Therapists are there to help you. Do not give up, if the first one will not fit to your needs. Find another one. Again, this is like with the dentist. You don’t like the first one, go to next one. You will not think that dental treatment is not working. You will think that this dentist is not the right one for you.

Now I would like to ask you: Did you ever had burnout syndrome? How did you deal with it? Maybe you have someone around you that suffers from it? Feel free to share your thoughts with me in a comment section below. If you think this article can help someone you know, spread it around the world. It will also help me a lot to hit the right people. Thanks!