Burnout and the toll it takes

Jack Hughes, over at the Tech Teapot, mentions a very appropriate subject for too many systems administrators: burnout.

As sysadmins, we’re nearly always the go-to person for whatever happens. After a while, we start to get used to it, and lots of times, we can develop a hero complex, carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, at least in our minds. This isn’t healthy for a lot of reasons, the most important of which is your health.

Here’s an example of what taking your job too seriously can do to you:

Part One

Part Two

Not to ruin the ending, but the most disgusting part is that, while the guy was taking medical leave, his company fired him. To be completely honest, he’s much better off without a company like that, and if your company would do the same thing, then so are you.

To quote Peter Gibbons, “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day…”

Even one of the most preeminent Systems Administrators around, Tom Limoncelli advocates leaving the pressure at work when you head home. For those of us on call 24/7/365, that can be a little hard, but it’s important to try.

  • Jack Hughes

    Thanks for the link … burn out is a huge problem and I don’t think it is addressed at all by employers. I suspect that any kind of support role is most prone to burnout. Has your employer taken any steps to alleviate it?

  • Matt


    Typically, yes, my company is very understanding of the need to relax, and they recognize that when I work 15 hour days, I need some time to decompress.

    For the past year, I’ve been pushing pretty hard, though, and I haven’t had time to really relax since my honeymoon last September. I’m greatly looking forward to my current project being over and done with. I think I’m going to go to the Adirondacks for a couple of weeks

    It’s really tough to manage the stresses when you’re a small-infrastructure sysadmin, because you’re the only available support point. At my company, I’m the sysadmin. I’m on call 24/7/365. My boss, the CTO, can fix things in a pinch, be there’s no on-call rotation, and I know I’m not the only one who’s in this situation.

    Thanks for writing that entry. Stress is too important for IT workers to ignore, and it directly impacts your health, especially when it’s repetitive or constant.

  • jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

    Thanks for linking to the posts and I’m glad you enjoyed them. I think Gary was exceptionally generous in sharing that most personal story and it means a lot that you all enjoyed it.

  • BKaufman

    I’m the poster boy for NOT taking time off to deal with stress. At age 50, I had 4 strokes, not diagnosed until the 4th one, my blood pressure was through the roof.

    I was put on the disabled list by this.(yes I could have fought it but I fel that recoveing my health was the most important thing, and if you choose to fight it rather than give in, be aware of the health consequences.

    My doctor put me on 4 different blood pressure drugs. NOt TRIED 4 different drugs. But permanently. As a result of the BP drugs, and the sides effects of them, I take 15 different pills a day. Keeps my blood pressure down, but going out to the grocery store does me in for the day.

    So pay attention to your health, as I should have done. NO-ONE else gives a flip, so you HAVE TO DO IT.

  • BKaufman

    Sorry about the typos, above. But when you are dealing with the aftermath of 4 strokes, a little difficulty typing is in the list of good things (I can still type, fairly well, just not as dextrous as before.)

    And at least I can still read well enough to recognize my lousy typing after the fact.

  • Matt


    wow, that’s amazing. I hope people learn from your example. Thanks for the comment!

  • Ryan Nedeff

    My company recently made a lot of changes to their vacation/leave policies, to help force us to take vacations.

    From now on, we can only carry over half of the vacation you accumulate to the next year. For example, if you earn two weeks vacation per year, you can only carry over one week to the next year.

    We all tend to be workaholics, and decided to stop us from hoarding our time. The corporates keep saying, “You need to spend time away from here. If you won’t do it on your own, we’ll make you do it.”

  • Chris

    Amusing timing.

    I read this after finishing my 6th 20+ hour day in a row.

    Hard on the body, hard on the psyche, hard on the family.

  • Matt
  • Michael Francis
  • mrtbone

    Burnout is indeed a big problem. It is good to see some open and frank discussion about it. There are too many employers who do nothing and / or just “expect” 24/7/365 availability without compensation or recognition.

    I am in a position to make redommendations to the company for ways to address this issue for our IT folks and to compensate them (to some degree at least) for their dedication and loyalty.

    I would greatly appreciate hearing any comment or ideas from those here as to:

    1) Plans / ideas for reducing burnout.

    2) Monetary compensation for being on-call 24/7 either constantly or as part of a call-out rotation.

    Thansk in advance!

  • Anonymous

    At my last job I managed a staff of 5 employees including myself. Considering I worked with these guys and was constantly in the trenches, I did my best to rotate their job roles so they wouldn’t easily become bored and strongly encouraged them to take a day off here and there with proper notice.

    As for myself I’m still working on combating burnout, I have since left that position because sometimes you just need to know when it’s time to move on.

    Right now I’m in a more lacked position however with more responsibility so I find myself facing burnout again. What I do is go out on my lunch breaks, take a walk, relax, clear my head. Works somewhat.

  • Sorry for the late comment on an older post, but this is an important and timeless problem so maybe I’m not the only one reading this just now…

    Personally, monetary compensation for time on call means next to nothing to me. I would rather that an employer recognize that they need to double up on staff, create tiers of responsibility such that level 1 problems get handled by level 1 people and so forth, and as importantly, spending appropriately on infrastructure hardware, software, and training.

    In many cases, sysadmins shoot their own feet off by trying to do too much with too little, creating the illusion of being able to do anything with nothing. It’d be far better to learn the art of writing proposals, give the suits enough info to make decisions and if they opt for the low cost or no cost decision then they are made well aware of the consequences of that decision..