All of us have made it through busy times at work—a strict deadline, an intensive workload before a release, or a quick start at the beginning of a new project.
Accepting the challenge can be beneficial and push us toward professional development and growth. However, when it starts pushing too hard and for too long, that can exhaust us. As a result of that exhaustion, we may start feeling stressed, which can result in burnout.
Sergio, a Senior Systems Engineer at EPAM Anywhere from Colombia, Bogota, experienced burnout himself and managed to escape it. Now that Sergio is back to his everyday life, he gladly shares his story and some lessons on how to fight burnout that he picked up along the way. Here is his story.
I've never really been a perfectionist or a workaholic. Therefore, I never thought I'd need to fight burnout one day.
Before it all started, I had decent working hours in a regular company, where they rarely asked for extra effort. With a balanced work schedule, I had enough time to continue studying, perhaps only sacrificing rest because you must be continuously learning in the technology area. Yet, I stayed active, doing physical activity early in the morning before my working hours started.
I've always been a proactive professional, looking for challenges and opportunities to improve personally and professionally. I had the example of my mom and dad, who were very dedicated to their work. They are very responsible people, who each made a career in a single company and retired after more than 30 years of work.
Striving for growth and development, I decided to change my job. I had been responsible for the company's IT infrastructure and, when it became obsolete, the company didn't want to assign resources to modernize it. Also, when a promotion opportunity became available within the company, they decided to bring in an external candidate for the vacancy instead of considering me. So I decided to search for new opportunities elsewhere.
When I signed an employment contract with a new company, my responsibilities included managing the company's cloud and on-premises infrastructure. I had also to coordinate a team of four senior-level engineers to meet my performance goals.
Our PM committed himself beyond what could be achieved with the available resources, and he never informed the company management that our resources weren't adequate. Management, in turn, tended to burden the employees with extra workload. This is why the entire team worked on weekends and holidays without additional compensation.
This phase of very long working hours – more than 18 hours a day – lasted for almost a year. During that same time, the company kept assigning me more and more responsibilities, making it impossible to achieve any sort of work-life balance.
I worked long hours and, in half a year, I started experiencing the very first signs of a looming problem.
Every morning, I woke up with a headache. Assuming the reason was the lack of sleep, I tried to solve it with coffee and painkillers. Unfortunately, this didn't make it any better. Plus, by the afternoon, I regularly had excruciating back pain. But I kept working and ignoring the signs my body was sending me.
I felt exhausted and sick. I was also annoyed with my family because it started to seem like they were stealing time I could otherwise use to accomplish my work tasks. I thought that I wasn't able to meet the company's goals because I spent time with my family. At this point, I started to realize that I had a problem.
Continuing to ignore the symptoms resulted in a spike in my blood pressure, which led me to the emergency room and the doctor who put things straight. He told me I could collapse at any moment. At that moment, I realized that fighting burnout was inevitable.
When burnout hit particularly hard, I was frustrated at myself the most, feeling that I had failed to accomplish my goals. But things were so difficult that to fight burnout at work successfully, I believed that I had to resign from that company and take a break from work for a few months.
Without my income, the economic stability of my family would be significantly affected. To mitigate this risk, I kept working, trying to accomplish my objectives and not quit until I absolutely had to. At the same time, I tried to get more resources for my area of responsibility and reduce the workload on my team.
In addition to the overwhelming workload, I also experienced workplace harassment. The HR director of the company verbally abused me, implying that I was incompetent since I struggled to meet the (unrealistic) work goals. The PM joined in this inappropriate behavior, addressing me with vulgar words during meetings. Both of them emphasized that if I did not meet the goals, I would be fired immediately.
Fortunately, I got incredible support from my wife, who is also a very rational woman. While searching for strategies on how to fight burnout at work, she also helped me see that the company's conduct had many characteristics of workplace harassment, so we considered seeking legal support.
My grandmother passed away during this same time, and I didn't get any consideration or time off for bereavement leave. I felt utterly discouraged, unable to focus, and willing to resign and start from scratch at another company. So, that's how I realized I had more than a few reasons to leave that job and started fighting burnout.
After leaving that company, the first thing I did was take a few weeks to sleep and recharge. After that, I started looking for new job opportunities in companies that were genuinely places to grow and build a career. Then, I looked for support from a mentor who would help me see my future work more clearly. In addition, I refocused on my English classes to brush up on my technical English.
The person who became my mentor was also my lawyer and a coach. He helped me a lot along the way, including setting low fees for his services because he has a mission to help other people.
I also started visiting a therapist. In fact, I'm still in therapy, because if there's anything that burnout and workplace bullying hit the most, it’s your self-esteem and confidence in your competence.
I must say I'm fortunate to have my wife, who has always given her unconditional support. My parents also provided fundamental help in covering our financial issues since I was unemployed for six months.
It took me six months from the moment I quit my previous company until I joined another one as an infrastructure manager. Those months helped me to establish a clear horizon, grow, resurface, and eventually escape burnout.
Here's what helped me fight burnout at work and rise from the ashes:
• A lot of emotional support from my wife and daughter
• My parents, who backed me up
• Support from my mentor
• Time with my therapist, who helped me to understand the situation I experienced
• Time to study and enhance my professional knowledge, soft skills, and personal growth––everything I had abandoned due to my lack of time
On the bright side, I am happy to report that my challenging situation only took away my self-esteem and confidence for a little while. When I started with the new company, I received proof that I was good at what I did.
As a result of my experience, I put limits on my work hours and reorganized myself so that I have enough time to rest, share with my family, and dedicate myself to studying and training. I managed to strike a balance, resulting in my tranquility and well-being within my family.
The most important lesson I've picked up is––you can't buy health, family, and emotional well-being.
Tips so that you never get trapped into burnout include:
Put limits on your work
Family comes first. No one is indispensable for a company. Work deadlines and pressure are temporary, so don't steal your family time to spend it on job responsibilities.
Design a routine
Currently, my morning routine looks like this: I wake up at 5 a.m., prepare my daughter for school, and put her on the school bus at 6:10 a.m. Then, I go for a jog in the forest, returning home at 7:15 a.m. and preparing for my workday.
Reserve time for things and people you love
In the afternoons, after 6 p.m., I practice guitar and spend time with my daughter and wife.
After fighting burnout and getting back to my everyday life, I'm now with EPAM Anywhere. I'm very happy and grateful for an opportunity to make everything I asked for in my letter of career wishes a reality.
How EPAM Anywhere helps me to maintain my happy personal and work life:
I hope my story and the tips on how to beat burnout will help others like me escape burnout, maintain a work-life balance, and enjoy their lives.