Book: The Truth About Burnout

The Truth About Burnout I found the Truth About Burnout (Amazon) from this article, which I think gives the main takeaways from the book far more succinctly. I did find the book interesting and I’m glad I read it, but I wouldn’t necessarily encourage other people to. It’s a little dated in places (it was published in 2000), and what it goes into in depth is mainly fixing the experience within broken organisations. If you’re not dealing with a broken organisation, the summary would give you a good list of things to look out for in yourself, or so that you don’t become one.

The concept of the Maslach Burnout Inventory was really eye-opening for me. There are six causes of burnout… and only one is overwork. When I was working in a job I hated, and wondering why I felt so terrible, thinking it couldn’t be burnout because my hours were reasonable and it turns out it totally could be. It was.

The other five causes of burnout: lack of control, lack of reward, absence of fairness, lack of community, conflict in values.

I’m currently watching the stats about the attrition of women in technical roles play out in my network, which is depressing. Leaving myself seemed less bad because I thought “maybe it’s just me” or “maybe I was just unlucky”. Now, when women tell me that the job they have is their last in the industry, and why, I connect those reasons to the five causes.

Lack of control -> HR process. Opaque hiring and promotion processes.

Lack of reward -> In SV women make 86.4 cents on the dollar (the pay gap varies across the US and internationally).

Absence of fairness -> Men promoted on potential, women asked to “be patient”.

Lack of community -> Being on of few people like you, having to take on the bulk of the work of “fixing” things.

Conflict in values -> Where do I begin, maybe with white men’s obsession with “meritocracy” and the hiring “bar”.

My point: I have been thinking about the concepts in this book a lot, and I’m glad I read it as an exercise in taking the time to connect these things together.

2 thoughts on “Book: The Truth About Burnout

  1. Huh. I think I might be burned out. At my last job I spent a good six months on the edge of flipping a table and storming out for basically the same reasons you just described.

    Lack of control -> HR process. Opaque hiring and promotion processes.

    Yep. To this day I have no idea why I wasn’t allowed to even interview for a senior dev position that opened up when a former colleague left. I had been performing at a senior dev level for a good six months by then and was the obvious choice for that position. But to be fair, HR was so profoundly incompetent at that company that it could just as easily have been apathy as malice.

    Lack of reward -> In SV women make 86.4 cents on the dollar (the pay gap varies across the US and internationally).

    It’s not even a question that I would have made more money if I was a man. I undoubtedly made less money than far worse programmers who were lucky enough to be male.

    Absence of fairness -> Men promoted on potential, women asked to “be patient”.

    While my manager was fighting for my promotion I got to watch a (male, of course) coworker get promoted twice in one year. Good times.

    Lack of community -> Being on of few people like you, having to take on the bulk of the work of “fixing” things.

    Gotta love being the only woman in the meeting. Every meeting. Being one of few people who cared about doing things right and minimizing technical debt also sucked. There is code in the project I used to work on that exists solely because a coworker and I couldn’t convince the lead of a related team that an obviously fucking terrible idea was terrible. That code might still be causing app-breaking bugs, but at least it’s not my problem anymore.

    Conflict in values -> Where do I begin, maybe with white men’s obsession with “meritocracy” and the hiring “bar”.

    Oh yes. If I have to hear about the hiring “bar” one more time I’m going to whap someone with it. Also fun is the idea that programmers are replaceable cogs who aren’t worth listening to when they say trying to rush a feature is a bad idea. And project managers and producers who wouldn’t stand up to head office and say “this feature idea isn’t done. Come back when you know what you want” or “our sprints are only two weeks long, the sky will not fall in if we put this in the next sprint and do it properly.”

    You know, after all that venting I feel a little better now. Thanks for the tip about burnout, I assumed that I’d keep feeling better after my last job – the rush of freedom was great for a while but it turns out that doesn’t actually fix burnout. I was really starting to wonder what was wrong with me.

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    1. Thanks for this comment – I really appreciate you sharing. I hope the concepts help and you feel better soon!

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