back to article IT freely, a true tale: One night a project saved my life

Everyone knows that IT is a byword for burnout. Admins, coders and hardware jocks frequently keep unsociable hours. Putting in 60-hour weeks is something of a norm. Such punishing workloads can and do push people over the edge. Everyone deals with stress in different ways. Some people snap and end up taking it to the extreme, …

  1. joeldillon

    If 60 hour weeks are 'the norm' at your job, you should probably change job.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: should probably change job.

      Easy to say.

      Easier to end up in a worse one.

      Over 35 and not a manager in Tech? Don't get unemployed. They want people 3+ experience, working in a similar or more important company and don't want people over 40, except as managers.

      The jobs and qualifications give away your age.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: should probably change job.

        "Over 35 and not a manager in Tech? Don't get unemployed. They want people 3+ experience, working in a similar or more important company and don't want people over 40, except as managers."

        Well, perhaps.

        I lost what I thought was a job for life when I was 57, and I had loved it there.

        I was hired on at my current job at age 61, another job I love - but I was employed during all the preceding years, at times unhappily.

        I am 65 now - which is normally retirement age - and have had HR of two large competitors contact me directly in the past month. Both firms knew my age, because the people who had them contact me, know me.

        There is nothing special about me - I have just been extremely fortunate.

        For what it is worth - my advice would be to always be prepared to leave your current position, voluntarily or otherwise.

        Deliver what you promise and be respectful of your coworkers - don't be a source of the type of misery people are posting about here.

        Maintain your current skills and cultivate new ones, because tech skills can have a short shelf life.

        And for God's sake, if your job is miserable, your primary job should be working to move on to your next one. You can do it - even old farts can do it.

      2. Mark 65

        Re: should probably change job.

        @Mage: Not necessarily. If you've stuck with a sector, like finance for example, then you will have plenty of domain knowledge and employers will pay handsomely for those that know what works and what doesn't and can bring a wealth of experience from competitors. There's a valid reason why IT contractors in the City constantly travel on a merry-go-round between the banks. Can't speak for other industries.

    2. paulf Silver badge

      These kind of comments may make sense to the poster but get me annoyed. There can be all sorts of reasons not to change job even if the superficial logic is to do so.

      There may be no other suitable employer in the area - not everyone can just up sticks and move (with/without family in tow), nor can they always justify a significantly longer commute which would just swap workplace stress for travel stress.

      Other nearby employers may not offer the same pay/benefits/conditions - that becomes a trade off: do you value the p/b/c more or the potential of reduced stress more.

      Other companies will tell you anything in the interview to employ you then you find out the reality only once you start. As "Anonymous survivor" notes in the article, "Things started out fine; I was happy." so even a good start can go down hill.

      You could find yourself in a worse outfit i.e. out of the frying pan and into the fire.

      You may relinquish valuable benefits in your current contract e.g. a final salary pension or long service (important if you face redundancy, remember you get nothing in those first two years of service!)

      Ultimately it shouldn't be the victim who has to make significant sacrifices because an employer has failed in their duty of care. Resolving the problem makes more sense than treating the symptom.

      Likewise, thanks to "Anonymous survivor" for sharing their experience and hopefully things have now improved for them.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Some of us have family, or have themselves gone through things like this.

    It's good to have something positive posted and hopefully those will read it who can benefit.

  3. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    A great article

    How many don't talk about this?

    I don't do IT but did develop safety critical systems to evacuate large sites such as airports and refineries with the same kind of workload.

    An article like this would have helped me.

    Best for to describe this article? Vital.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: A great article

      Ideas for future articles - coping with health problems (including but not limited to stress, anxiety, burnout) or useless PMs/bosses with strategies like negotiation, diet, mindfulness, etc...?

      More of this and less DevOps stories, which itself is probably not a very good thing (perhaps DevOps should be called firing people and constantly firefighting problems with those that remain, it would sound less glamorous then).

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: A great article

        When all is said and done, DevOps did one thing for me and it's best thing I've ever done... I retired. Completely, fully, never to set foot in that door again. And I did it in the middle of the DevOps kick off meeting at the half-way point in the BS.

        I do pick up a bit of spot work/temp stuff, every now and then but it's work that I WANT to do and if it turns out to start sliding down the slope, I'm gone.

        Not everyone can do this, I understand it full well, but a bit of luck, being of a certain age....

        To quote Martin L. King: "Free at last, free at last!!! Oh Lord, I'm free at last.".

  4. A K Stiles

    Priorities and empowerment

    Can't agree more strongly how vital it is that the workload is prioritised and then the people handling the work are trusted to get on with it without being micromanaged.

    Every time a new task appears I have a conversation along the lines of "Here's what is on my worklist, I'm currently doing the thing at the top. Where does this new task fit in to the list?" That way the only thing they can complain about is how inaccurate the estimate is for how long the vaguely specified task will / did take.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      Being micromanaged is the worst. Especially if the boss micromanaging the completely irrelevant bits because he has no idea what the project is actually about or to produce.

      But the priorities thing really works. Every time you get a new task you must ask for its ranking. Turns out a lot of jobs aren't that urgent after all and can be re-scheduled, combined with other jobs or just dumped.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Totally agreed, priorities is your personal lifesaver.

        It is the only way you can get out of an argument with the eternal Get-It-Done-NOW boss. Shove the list in his face and watch him battle his own demons while he reluctantly degrades this new enormously-important-must-get-done project to the seventh or tenth place.

        He will leave muttering and cursing and getting another coffee.

        You will serenely return to what you were doing before the unwanted, useless interruption.

        It works every time. Except if there really is something insanely urgent - but in that case, you're most likely on it already.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      Micromanaged, my current CEO is known to look at internal quick emails between us to sort out issues, the ones you write when you have already been there working for free for a couple of hours and would like to go home. They will pick aprt an spelling or grammar mistake, go on a rant about how no one could be trusted to talk to a customer because we do not know how to communicate and site this as a reason you should not expect to go further in the company. Often they make spelling mistakes in their rants. Thats actually one of the lesser shitty things they do, HR is completly in their pocket do not know an employee here who would go to HR at all, might as well just stab yourself in the back.

      Leaving there in a couple of months (saving up, before you ask) for my own sanity.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Priorities and empowerment


        If I didn't know better, we work at the same place. However, I won't be leaving as soon as you leave. I have grown a very thick skin, and cover my ass at all turns.

        If you're happy and you know it...

      2. A K Stiles

        @AC Re: Priorities and empowerment

        Desperately resisting the urge to "pick aprt an spelling or grammar mistake" in your post now.

        Hope the job shift works out for you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @AC Priorities and empowerment

          @A K Stiles....well bollocks. :D I do not mind being corrected (although I am somewhat better when I am not writing a quick missive I don't become a dyslexic typist for a start.). However there are ways of going about it and our CEO always chooses the complete cunt option.

          *This is a rant you may ignore it*

          @ chivo243

          If you had a reciptionist who started to lose her hair because of stress from the CEO, a CEO who phones you up in the eveing and swears downs the phone at you, one who takes any stress they have out on their staff (seriously I have seen them smiling after doing it, when they started off in a bad mood), one who lectures you on how poor they are when they are driving a car in whose replacement tyres cost more than the (poor) monthly salary of some of the staff (who are expected to be playing violins at this point), who will scream at you in front of other staff, ah man I could go on really I could but those examples should be a good start. Covering your arse does not work, if you are one of the minion crowd you are fucked. I once helped win a 3 million quid contract running a pilot project very succesfully and bringing it in with 15% more profit than asked for, and getting compliments from the board of the company we did the project for, (for a million pound turnover company thats not bad), the CEO's Brother in law, and Husband lost 40K on theirs. I was being paid 16K my pay was the brother in law got 3 pay rises that year. I haven't had a review in two years, everyone else in the place gets them. I could go on but lets stop my rant there an agree I work for massive fucking twats.

          *Rant over*

          Ok so after the rant you may wonder why I had not left earlier. I would say it was a combination of extreme poverty I started there after being unemployed for a year, and took it as a job on promise of training to a full PM (I had already done similar roles as project co-ordinators and project eng/tech), and so I woud be off the dole because working is better. I started on 13.5K, I spent a lot of my first couple of years struggling to have enough to live on, and was almost certainly (or definetly according to a friend) battered by work to the point of clinical depression, my get up and go got up and went. It makes it a bit hard to leave a company when your confidence is shot to shit, the economy is tits up, and you actually are sturggling finacially enough you are not sure you can even move from where you are to find a better job.

          Now I realise that maybe I should have solved the problem and fucked off ASAP when I realised how bad it was and I was a bit stupid not just giving up straight away but i do not think just moving is as easy said and done for all.

          Ta for the good wishes, going travelling actually, will look for a job when I return, better to be sane and risk unemployment, than carry on working for employers like mine.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        Currently we are in a similar sort of position, though perhaps worse. A previous head of IT had been covertly setting up the entire department for outsourcing, then when estimates of the cost of this were made known was unceremoniously told to revise the cost downwards pronto. Once or twice round the block on this one made said IT boss chuck his toys out of his pram and resign, but not before "strategic staffing reductions" had taken place.

        We are currently struggling along with 30% fewer staff, some having left under a pay-off scheme and others merely scarpering for pastures greener. Worse than this, the IT management have looked upon a redundant machine room and think that converting the entire thing into one huge open-plan office will be the very thing that will turn IT around in this place.

        Just for once, I'd like to see a management-led solution which achieved success by actual rational thought, not by visiting each and every crap solution before happening upon a working one by chance after the initial money has run out.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      Getting your workload prioritised sounds simple enough but doesn't always work.

      I was once in a situation, working for a large London Borough, where I had ten different projects on my work list. When I asked the management to prioritise the ten projects, six of them were assigned priority one, three priority two and one priority three, which didn't really solve anything.

      The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the effective prioritisation scheme that the management used was to pacify whichever client made the most fuss/noise; each day it would be "drop everything and work on client X/Y/Z's project". So although I could try to plan work, to make the most effective use of my time, it was pointless because any plans I made were more than likely to be overridden on a daily basis.

      It finally reached the point where, on arriving at work one day, my manager told me to visit four different clients, in four different locations around the borough, and "pretend to work on their project" (and he did say "pretend" because he knew that after having to drive between the different locations and then back stuff up before doing anything I wouldn't actually have any time left to do any proper work).

      1. Number6

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        When I asked the management to prioritise the ten projects, six of them were assigned priority one, three priority two and one priority three, which didn't really solve anything.

        You can try to resolve that by comparisons. Take two of the priority one tasks, ask the management which one is more important, preferably in email. Repeat with other pairs of apparently equal tasks until you get an ordered list and am email trail to justify it. Then work on the list in order. It doesn't stop management being an arse later but it might help. Try to avoid circular references so that A>B, B>C and C>A, which may need a bit of thought and deduction when asking the questions.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        "When I asked the management to prioritise the ten projects, six of them were assigned priority one, three priority two and one priority three, which didn't really solve anything."

        Never leave wriggle room. You should have asked for them to be put in order.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        "..six of them were assigned priority one.."

        Someone was kind enough to inform that I would just start shaking my head when I had to listen to that kind of nonsense.

        I was glad they pointed it out to me, because I wasn't aware that I was doing it.

        I had to invent an imaginary neurologically based tremor and make sure my bosses knew about it.

        It was hereditary and untreatable, as all my faults are.

        My wife includes being alive in that list.

      4. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        "Totally agreed, priorities is your personal lifesaver. It is the only way you can get out of an argument with the eternal Get-It-Done-NOW boss."

        As long as they're dumb enough to go for it, yeah, sure. But any half-decent boss will inform you that they're all very important and none of them are optional, and that you should definitely be able to do them ALL, in arbitrarily small time-slices if they do decide after all one of them is more urgent right now four times a day. Where an earth have you ever seen a boss admit that there's a task you don't actually have to do if you don't have any time left to do it?!? Don't know what you're smoking but I'd like some too...

        Oh, and I'm happy for you if you're in a position to push back against unreasonable requests without getting sacked in short order, but around here you're nothing but an eminently disposable drone, with dozens of fresh new ones straight out of college competing for the chance of sitting in your chair and work all day for nothing...

    4. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      Work on the priority items and fuck the rest. If something more urgent comes along, make sure management are aware of it.

      This applies even more to project management. Multiply the impact by the number of people on a given contract. Truly good advice.

    5. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      Absolutely right A K, if you already have a list of jobs and more 'urgent jobs are heaped onto you, you must go to your boss with the list and put the onus on him/her to place new work in the relevant place on the list. That way you are moving at least some of the stress for the added work load onto the bugger that's trying to load it onto you.

      After all a higher level of responsibility is what your boss is paid for.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Priorities and empowerment

        "After all a higher level of responsibility is what your boss is paid for."

        It's not necessarily what they do, however. A very short time into a new job I was given the project of taking an application the boss had written (have you ever seen C dressed up with macros to try to make it look as COBOL-like as possible?) for a specific client and make it into a marketable product. There were a couple of client sites already even though it really wasn't fit to use at that stage. Sales then sold it to a third site promising that it would be an exact equivalent for what they already had. A quick look showed that the way their existing package worked was so different that ours would have had to be rewritten from database schema upwards to make it look anything like the one they had.

        I had a vision of being the one in the middle when the writs started flying so I went to the boss and asked for a spec of what I should be producing. I was told that was OK, whatever I produced would be the spec.

    6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Priorities and empowerment

      "Where does this new task fit in to the list?"

      Or the alternative: "what do you want me to leave out?"

  5. Alan Sharkey

    Been there - done that

    Everyone I know in IT has been through something similar (if not as extreme). A useful article.

    In my case, changing jobs (I was actually made redundant for setting a priority that the bosses didn't like) made a lot of difference - but it did cost me my first marriage (OK, it was an influence). I had the 'too much work, too much coffee, not enough sleep' stress, so I can sympathise.

    I'm now in a position where I can choose what I do - but it's taken me 30 years to get there.


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for sharing

    Was in a similar situation, though not as severe. I remember sometimes thinking on the commute to work "what sort of disaster will I have to clean up today?". Micromanagement also made the job hell. Having to describe to senior managers the exact steps planned to resolve an issue and awaiting their approval, spending hours every day in telephone conferences. I even heard of a situation where several department managers demanded that the SAP admin share his desktop session so they could watch him clicking and typing commands. I often thought that management regarded Dilbert as a "How-To" guide.....

    Was also losing my appetite and not sleeping well. I realised this was a problem, and as soon as I found a job elsewhere I was gone.

    I agree with "Work to live, not live to work". I'm enjoying life again, I have time for my kids (though I'd like more).

    One tip I received, and can endorse, is that if you have a work mobile phone, do not use it privately. Get a separate phone for private use. It means I carry 2 phones during the day, but when I go home, the work phone goes in the bag (on silent) and I don't take it out until I'm in the office next day.

  7. Groaning Ninny


    Very much "Been there, done that" - burnout's no joke, and well worth avoiding if at all possible. If you're in the middle of it all - it will get better. If you're out of it - learn from it, you really don't want to do it twice.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Everyone's circumstances differ but I'd say get out if you can.

    I spent the first half of my working life in science, mostly trapped at the top of my pay scale in a place that simply didn't offer promotions and in a job that I'd only taken on as a temporary measure until there was an opening in my preferred field. Eventually I found myself heading into the situation in the article with too many people wanting a piece of me. Things worked out doubly lucky. Firstly I had had some programming training and experience previously; we were early adopters of a RDBMS & Unix in lab management & it was largely my baby so I had a jumping-off point to get into IT. Secondly we'd worked out previously that we were coming up to one of the dates were we could move without too much disruption to schooling. I managed to get a techy IT job and handed in my notice - at which point I was offered a promotion to stay, no board, no formalities at all. Bloody cynics. Or maybe they thought that was what I was really aiming for. Anyway I took up my new job, a complete career switch a few days short of my 42nd birthday. If you've got the right skills to offer age might not be a barrier but more of that below. Actually the schooling bit didn't work out as well as we'd hoped. It took months to sell the house and I spent months in B&B with very little chance to visit back home - somewhat traumatic all round. However, the release from stress was so great that workwise it felt like an extended holiday.

    Roll forward another decade and a few job changes in IT (yes job changes in my 40s and also a relocation, spot on the other date we'd identified) and I was fed up with being managed by idiots. By this time I was just short of my 52nd birthday. After failing to suppress disbelief or conceal disgust at a particularly bad [de]motivational event I was made an excellent early retirement offer as from the end of the year. Maybe another permie job would have been too much to expect at that point but freelance was the solution there - age doesn't matter as far as I can see, in fact it's advantage if you have the kids off your hands. Actually, as it happened I had to turn down a permie job offer from a client - it was management and one reason I was freelance was to avoid that sort of crap.

    After a further 10 years freelance I was eventually pushed into retirement by sheer annoyance at vacillating micromanagement by a client's development manager. Between his assigning jobs at the end of the day he was leaving on holiday and my getting home he'd reassigned them again at which point I decided I just didn't need to put up with any of this any more.

    So, to reiterate, getting out might be feasible and, if you can manage it, could be the best solution as it draws a line under everything that's gone before. And freelance is an age-independent means of doing that.

  9. Geronimo!

    Been there twice, there'll be no third time

    Of almost 20 years in IT, I have spent 10 years as an employee.

    In those times, I have been "on the couch" twice, the first time when "burn out" in Germany didn't even exist. (It did not yet gain the attention it does now.)

    Both times I was sacked, which is officially not possible, but with the first one I was too tired to go to court. The second company was too small, which gives such companies certain possibilities, when firing people.

    By then, I had had more than enough and decided to build up my own business.

    60 hours a week had been standard for years already, now, as CEO I often have weeks that are over 80hours long.

    But... The money we're making is ours. We decide what we do with it, if we're investing it or not.

    Employees are in for a lively discussion, if they work more than 10 hours a day. I will only accept it in emergency cases and will remind the employee to go home earlier the days after that.

    And being my own boss, I can have a lie down at 2 in the afternoon. I can decide if I take the day off, If I am going to get up early or late and so on.

    The responsibility for my life, the life of my family and of my employees: It is a burden and it turns quite heavy, ever so often.

    But I am free. Free to decide for me, but also to decide for my employees, that they will not run into such environments like I did twice.


  10. Jim-234

    One possible tip when dealing with horrific soul stealing traffic on the way to work year after year, is if you are able to leave just a bit earlier so you can arrive say 10 minutes before normal, bring an alarm with you and once you get to park, grab a quick cat nap for 10 minutes or so (either with or without music) & it will greatly help reduce your stress before going in to work.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I recognize SO much of my former life in this article

    Really glad it worked out for the author. If this article had come along six years ago, I might still be officially in IT.

    I was burnt out to the point where a "workplace violence incident" was beginning to look attractive. I mean most of us occasionally fantasize about it, a la BOFH, but I got to the point of actually starting to figure out how it could be done. It was a scary time in my head. Fortunately, I realized the danger of such thoughts and began to seek additional help. Antidepressants weren't enough any longer. I began smoking again - and a few other self-destructive behaviors. This was all further complicated by a string of bad managers who either didn't understand or didn't appreciate what I knew and what I did. Several YEARS of Performance Reviews wherein I was told "Oh, you are SO close. Push just a little harder and you can get that promotion." Even pushing a broom around the local supermarket or flipping burgers for minimum wage became viable options. Starting completely over in one's late 40's is NOT an attractive proposal but, desperate times and all...

    Fortunately for me, just when all hope seemed lost, a former IT manager (now in another department) whom few of my colleagues liked but I respected immensely called me up out of the blue to ask if I was interested in "something he was working on." I asked him when I could start. He inquired if I would like to know what it was or what it paid, etc. I again asked when I could start. The details and even the pay didn't matter. This would allow me to stay in the company and therefore retain years toward pension, etc.

    Six years later, I'm in Procurement doing sort of similar work to what I did before but for a smaller and more focused group who - most importantly - understand and appreciate what I do. That value of that simply cannot be overstated. I am once again happy with my job (as much as one can be in the daily grind) and with my life. For me, rescue came in the form of a lateral move within the company - offered by a former manager who remembered my talents and work ethic.

    So, in summation, I echo the article author's thoughts of hang in there, seek help that works for you, and cling to those you love. You can and will survive if you persevere and you could, like me, wind up in an even better place. From one who's "been there, done that, and got scars to prove it" I say best of luck to one and all.

    1. Kevin 6

      Re: I recognize SO much of my former life in this article

      Yea I almost went to the BOFH side at my last IT job too.

      Eventually I hurt myself, and couldn't work at the place anymore so I quit, and honestly don't ever want to go back to IT.

      You would think companies would treat the people that keep them able to do business better, and not like some dog shit they stepped in. Which in all honesty probably would get treated better then the entire IT department was at my last IT job. One of the worst parts about that job was the distance between sites one was almost 20 miles away(btw I live in a city that is rated one of the worst traffic wise in the entire US) from the other, and they expected me to basically teleport site to site with some startrek transporter... One day I snapped, and started just punching the server at one location till my hands were bleeding, and I put a pile of damn good dents in it. Boss walked over, and was like uhh man cool down I stayed like a month or 2 after . After I quit he quit 2 days later my boss quit as he couldn't take the way the dept was treated either.

      I will say though at my 1st IT job it was where I learned about the BOFH as one of the employees remarked my actions reminded him of what the BOFH did. I actually did go a bit over the BOFH limit there due to stress. Using the bosses coffee mug for paint thinner, cleaning dog crap off my shoes with their eating utensils, booby trapping their PC to emit smoke when they turned it on, etc. I honestly didn't care anymore as I was getting minimum mandatory raises while people who did nothing got the max. Funny thing was after I stopped giving a damn about my job not caring if they would fire me they started treating me better lol.

  12. Erik4872

    Not sure if HR is the best choice of confidant...

    At least here in the US, where there are very few worker protections, HR is not tasked with making sure you're happy. Their primary goal outside of basic payroll/benefits functions is to reduce the company's liability caused by their employees. I'd liken it to having to call the police to resolve a problem -- once the police are involved, the situation is typically so bad that you can't recover from it easily. Police are just going to sort it out the best they can, and someone will (figuratively) "go to jail" to resolve it. I've never had anyone I know who went to HR for a problem not regret it later. This is especailly true for some friends I've known in long-service government jobs where they're basically stuck with the same manager they've had a dispute with for their entire tenure.

    I'd say the best choice, if you can manage to do so, is to find a new workplace. That's not an easy thing always -- I have a family and am not about to move across the country for a job that may or may not be stable, for example. When you stay somewhere you're miserable, everyone has to deal with it.

    There's no doubt that stress in IT is real, and it takes many forms. Some workplaces are constantly in layoff mode and threatening the staff with that blunt weapon. Some work you to death. Some are just so backwards and clueless that it drives the clueful crazy. My personal way of dealing with it has been to continuously remind myself that it's only a job. You'd be surprised how many people forget that and let it eat them up inside!

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Re: Not sure if HR is the best choice of confidant...

      Most are snakes but I have been lucky with HR a couple of times.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HR involvement

    Regarding involving HR, always remember what their job is: they exist to protect the company from the employees.

    If that involves keeping you safe (so you don't die and cost them money when they replace you/pay compensation to your surviving family/pay fines to the government) that's good for you. If it involves making sure compensation flows to your bank account properly so you continue to show up at work, that's good for you. If it involves throwing a holiday bash to keep the masses happy and productive, that's good for you.

    If it involves pushing you out of the company because you're potentially a nutter that needs them to pay for time off/mental well being services/etc, well, guess where you end up.

    At least on the LHS of the Atlantic...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: HR involvement

      The few times HR has been involved in something affecting me, the outcome has not been in my favor. I would not consider them a helpful resource in a personal crisis. Their purpose, at least in the US, is to implement policy without exposing the company to legal liability (and administer the insurance plan). They are highly unlikely to take your side against higher management in any dispute, even if you think you have clear evidence.

      They do, however, have the ability to irrevocably terminate my employment immediately, should they feel so inclined. And they're perfectly capable of making up any justification after the fact, and getting away with it.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: HR involvement

      "At least on the LHS of the Atlantic..."

      And on this side too. In my case what would have passed for HR in my first instance would have been fully part of the "no promotion" approach. To be fair, in the second it may well have been the local HR who got me the good release package - we always considered ourselves a little semi-detached from the big organisation. But on the whole, if there's a serious conflict with HR stuck in the middle they're going to ensure they're on the winning side.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: HR involvement

      "Regarding involving HR, always remember what their job is: they exist to protect the company from the employees."

      That's true on both side of the Atlantic.

      A top UK university's HR department happily threw me under the bus(*) when I was suffering from burnout. It was only the intervention of senior departmental staff which allowed me to stay.

      (*) After umming and ahhing for 3 weeks, then deciding it was too hard. An hour's consultation with a lawyer changed that tune rapidly but they still didn't want to keep me on, whilst the department did.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not surprising to see so many ACs posting here - I'll add to that list for obvious reasons (not to mention some of it is under non-disclosure) !

    "Me too" about sums up a significant part of that article. At a previous employer, we went from the "it's nice to work here" with management that were technically inept but who understood people. The MD would often introduce me as "I have no ideas what he does, but he keeps things working" - his job wasn't to understand IT (though actually he wasn't actually that bad), but the main thing was that he recognised that it wasn't his job and was happy to let others (with some oversight and direction of course) handle that.

    Then management changed and the bean counters were in charge. They f***ed stuff up so badly that sales slumped by something around 50% for the last figures I saw - but like housetraining puppies they were unable to link cause (slashing R&D) and effect (old products that customers didn't want to buy), just like puppies can't associate that smelly pile on the carpet with anything that they did if you tell them off the next day. "Do more with less" was the mantra - that being a euphemism for "we've less people to cut costs but we expect the same amount of work done". There were more minor issues like constantly being told by the FD that we had to "plan ahead", only for any proactive things to be turned down. Example: back then our network was 100Mbit hubs (yes hubs), and from discussions going on it was clear that we were going to need a better network. When we raised this proactively it was dismissed with no discussion as "something we can address when it happens" - which in reality means "don't plan a head, fix it when it's broken".

    For a while I had this feeling that "something isn't right" but couldn't put a finger on it. Then one day someone had a leaflet (from a union) about stress. List of symptoms ... tick, tick, maybe not, tick, tick, tick ... List of causes ... tick, maybe not, tick, tick, ... Which led to one of those "lightbulb moments" when all became clear.

    My immediate supervisor started being helpful, within the limits of her influence, after I snapped back one day with "will it make the amount of work any less of the demands any more reasonable". But by then it was too late. One day I just had that "had enough" moment, phoned up and was surprised to get an appointment with my GP after work, left work at normal time without saying anything. Doctor asked the usual "what seems to be the problem ?", and had signed me off before I'd finished the first sentence !

    I contacted my union, and the rep I was assigned was great. Company had no intention of having me back, it was an opportunity to lose another head off the headcount. They were intent on making it "my fault" so I'd quit and save them any compensation - but fortunately my union rep put them straight when they outright bullied me during a meeting which was supposed to be able airing the problems and finding a way forward.

    As an aside re HR departments. I'd written a long letter over Christmas - and revised it several times over several days to make sure there was no "heat of the moment" stuff in it. It took the HR person several months before I eventually got to see here - it just wasn't important to here to address a written complaint. My union rep described her as the "slipperiest person he's ever dealt with". The company offered an insult of a package to leave, my union rep talked them up to an offer - I took it.

    Luckily, the old boss of the company was still around, and very quickly put me in another company he had influence in. It was a pay cut, and poorer T&C, but not too bad.

    But here the MD is so laid back he's nearly inverted. SO much so that a junior person was able to effectively make himself a manager - and he was (still is) a bully. Two written complaints were ignored as the boss didn't have the go to challenge him.

    Eventually one day things came to a head, and I walked out before saying something both of us would regret. Again I got signed off with stress.

    But, at around this time my diagnosis came through - "I'm an Aspie", or to be more correct "I'm on the autistic spectrum". One of those "I'd always been a square peg" things, but only recently I asked my GP and got a referral. News that I had this, and that it's officially a disability, seemed to spur the boss into action. I suspect he was also starting to recognise that this other person was wrecking the business.

    When I was ready to get back to work, things were somewhat different ! Far from perfect, but different.

    Now, I do have projects of my own. that's a great idea. But, I know that most of what I do here they are actively trying to get rid of. Shove customers onto "cloud" stuff for pretty much everything I have a hand in, until I'll have no server room to be responsible for. As most of the rest of the work done in the company is stuff I really want to not do, that makes the future a bit uncertain.

    But aspects of the ASD mean that I really struggle in interviews, and given the limited options locally, I'm really struggling to find another job.

    Oh well, about time to knock off, forget about work, go home, and fuss the dog - now there's something to distract from work ! Oh, and the wife gets a look in too :-)

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " Shove customers onto "cloud" stuff for pretty much everything I have a hand in"

      Yup. I see this time after time.

      The thing to do is encourage the people pushing this aspect to investigate it, including all the associated costs and if they come up with a plan which doesn't cover every part, keep asking about the missing bits.

      Various project managers here have discovered that farming out to cloud computing/storage would easily end up costing 3-5 times as much as keeping it all inhouse - and that trying to get performance guarantees simply doubles the price again (or more). This may be because what we're doing is storage and computationally intensive but every time I've priced cloud stuff it's always been pricier than keeping it in-house.

  15. JaydeeEire

    Thanks for posting this.

    I have been there and never want to go back but at the same time I am glad I have that learning experience so I can never end up being that person again.

    I will say that I did not feel talking to HR would help. I went to my manager/supervisor to resolve some of what I felt were key issues to have it fall on deaf ears or half hearted that where only partly kept promises and in the end I just stopped trying to do more than the bear minimum.

    I became a clock watcher and more than once I was a belligerent ass to my supervisor.

    I will own my mistakes in how I acted but I will also stand firm that I was a good employee who was let stagnate and get rusty by the powers that be too focused on little skill boxes or bars to see the wood from the trees.

    I am glad I got out before I got to the point where I grabbed for hardware or just quit on the spot leaving me with no option but to take the first role I could. That taught me alot about myself and what I need to do in the future to protect myself.

  16. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  17. Herby Silver badge

    No good deed goes unpunished...

    This seems to be a common thread in the stories I read here. We in IT can at times preform "miracles" that solve BIG problems. It DOES impress everyone and then the rewards happen. The "management" and sales droids get the bonuses, but the people who actually do the work get "more work" as their reward. This cycle of things leads to the stress mentioned.

    Then there is another side. The "higher ups" need the "miracle" to get the sale to happen, and tell the underlings that actually do the work that they must contribute the long days and nights (forget about family) to get the job done. Well, those in the trenches slog it out and eventually the "miracle" is produced, only to have management repeat the process upon seeing how well it worked the last time.

    Sanity is a wonderful thing to have. Keep it while you can.

    Me? I've been through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a couple of times when "new management" comes in to "fix things'. Found out that "fixing things" usually means layoffs in about 2 weeks (happened twice, one good, one bad!).

    Life goes on, and I try to remember: "What is life but to live it!". Hopefully with a vacation day or two.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: No good deed goes unpunished...

      "Found out that "fixing things" usually means layoffs in about 2 weeks "

      If the company you're in is obviously circling the drain it's best to leave the ship before it finally sinks.

      That way you at least have the opportunity to select jobs, rather than having to grab whatever comes up.

  18. Pete 2

    Learn to say "no"

    > if your boss assigns you work, they should also assign the work a relative priority

    There are only 2 levels of priority: the important job (note: singular) and everything else. The top job gets worked on at all times when progress is possible and everything else is filler in the gaps while you are waiting for the top job;s critical path to come back to you.

    When a new piece of work comes in, the conversation has to be: "My highest priority is X at the moment. I expect it will take so-many more days / months. Do you want to me to stop this and work on the new job, instead?" Unless the answer is "yes", the new job goes on the bottom of the pile.

    Needless to say, all of this must be conducted by email - never merely in a conversation - so that there is a paper-trail, come review time.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Glad they could help you, last time I called them they effectively said 'you're on your own, good luck to you.'

  20. cd

    Couple of little things...

    -There is a diff between valuable and irreplaceable. Job can be replaced, things lost can be replaced, body/life cannot. Don't trade irreplaceable things for valuable things. And stay away from people who ask you to do that.

    -The more responsive you are the more stuff is piled on. Being less available and less interested can improve your respectability. It creates a threshold.

  21. energystar

    Asking for the OS...

    Of the executed PC is not necessary.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Burnout is a bitch in many ways.

    Love the job I do.

    Still working for the company - and at one time it was a great place to be working.

    Lived through an outsourcing -> IBM is currently utter s417 to work for. Management so ADHD and beancounter ridden that the "blazing fire" changes hourly, never mind daily. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater on a daily basis just to make the dollars line up with the projections and to *hell* with the customer.

    Made it out of IBM - i was too good at what I did get done in the slim moments when I wasn't putting out management fires, and I was far far far too available to the general team for diagnostics. It damn near killed any joy I get out of being an IT geek/nerd/wizkid (various labels slapped on me over the years). -> several of my colleagues pasted a giant orange "By Appointment Only" sticker to the glass trim of my cubby. -- I was that in demand.

    Back at the original co. - I *hide*. Seriously - since they now have open plan, I *hide* move desks every day - find somewhere far away from the team. That way I can get work done. Sadly - my face here is too well known and it sometimes gets me in more trouble. I've actually begun to think about a career change -- at my age that is a seriously scary thought -- but it is there. I work hard, and have days that go through to the next, but I do make up for it - I take the occasional day and just *breathe*. I work from home a lot too - and they don't harass me too much about it either. I'm hoping that I find something attractive that will take me out of IT. -- As I keep telling my teenager, I know what it feels like, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up......

    I do not ever ever ever have to go through what existed as a "workplace" called IBM again. I'm horrified that the entity still exists and consumes people the way it does. Having had relatives in the company and friends who were there at *very* different times it sounds like it was a great place to work prior to the mid 80's. Sad really.

    Do it folks. If you find that moment when your sanity is slipping, take that moment. Walk away, take another job, or get your DOCTOR on your side -- at least your medic is responsible for your health first, and dollars second. Take a leave, take the happy pills if you must, but do not let your job take your sanity away. Your children will notice it first and will be the most terrified by it, and that is not an image you want to leave them with.

  23. Number6

    This is why my desk is an untidy tip. If you put work on it for me to do, I might not notice it for several months.

  24. niksgarage

    Echoes of my life

    I devoured the article and the comments in response. I could tell you some stories about IBM and some other companies.

    In the end, you have choices. I gave up working for IBM after 27 years. I was afraid that I was not going to be able to find work again, and indeed there were so many companies who turned me down because they didn't think I would fit. But, eventually a job opening came up, I became a contractor and started building my portfolio. I am now about to turn 60, and looking to complete the sorting out of my financial situation in the next three years so I can retire properly. I've never had one moment of regret about leaving the corporate world - but I can also tell you that the inability to provide prioritisation is pandemic.

  25. Bibbit
    Thumb Up

    Hear hear!

    Nice to see worthwhile, pertinent articles are not a thing of the past. About 12 years ago had the Job vs Health decision thrust upon me. As I had no dependencies or assets to speak of I could afford a substantial drop in wages and retrained in something I liked and felt was more worthwhile. Now I have a real life again. Hope things work out.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This all seems to support the theory that one of the reasons why few women go into computing is that they have more sense. Perhaps a better question to ask would be why so many men do.

  27. WireBug

    Happened to me once

    I didn't realize it at the time, but I had a job that did this to me. They kept increasing my work load. When I finally broke and said "This is too much" I was told "We'll deal with it and see what can be done"

    Things were OK for about 2 weeks, then it started all over again... only now it was "Your the best we have, you HAVE to take this, no one else will take it!".

    Anyway, in the end, I broke, I burned out and walked away from the employer mid work day. I walked into my bosses office, said "I'm fucking done with this job, here!" handed in my laptop and phone and walked away, without a single word and went home. I spent the next 3 months healing and trying to cope with what happened. It wasn't until I got a new job that I realized it was the job, not me... with a new employer I fell right back into IT and loved it again!

    I was fortunate in the way that I had established a solid reputation as a tech and a few months later a few of my old "Contract" companies called me to offer me a job.

    The take away for me, I now know my personal warning signs of burning out, and I am able to better identify bad employers. In the end, we have to stand up for ourselves.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019