Work from Home Burnout #Coronavirus #COVID19

Work from Home BurnoutAs everyone rushes to working remotely, which encompasses work from home, it’s good to see recognition that burnout can still happen in this environment:

Global News Article: “Burnout is real — even when working from home”

In the article the advice is “Do not expect employees to be as productive”; but I’m not sure that’s the right statement. I think staff can be more productive in the hours they work, but do not expect them to work a contiguous 8-hour day as if they were in the office. During Coronavirus, the pressures of family life are more acute than ever. Specifically: caring for young kids, caring for seniors or both if you’re unlucky enough to be part of the sandwich generation (like we’ve been).

Why I became a Freelancer Project Manager

Myself, I became a freelancer because the freelance arrangement is focused on productivity, not the office hours you keep (see article “When Your Employees Are Remote, You Have To Stop The Body-In-Seat Mentality”). I’m able to bill my Clients for only the hours I work and they don’t have to worry that they paid for an 8-hour day when I only worked 4 because of “this or that” like what would happen with an employee.

Personally, burnout, and managing Work from Home Burnout, was a big factor in encouraging the freelancer move and in becoming a PMP certified Project Manager. Being a PM allows me to help my team smash stress as I’m in a leadership/culture role but I’d like to expand on the freelancing angle.

The Critical Personal Events that Lead to Burnout

Let me rewind to the late 2000’s. I had just been cleared as a cancer survivor and the expectation to overwork was exploding. The company I worked at unnecessarily, and possibly foolishly, decided to split into two. As I was a member of the networking team, we were the first team to work on the split (splitting and acquisitions create critical networking work). The CIO made a sweeping edict that all IT take their vacation before the actual split date. The edict decimated the networking team by 70%. Because the entire project depended on the network being installed as soon as possible, I spent an entire month building most of the new company’s data centre myself. For those who don’t work in IT that means a sterile environment with no food and water and a nice cool breeze that encourages you to forget about thirst. It’s migraine city!

Closely following the split my company decided to move data centres. I wasn’t directly part of that project but I helped out a number of times. One of the important events was that my boss decided that the on-call person would be enough to cover any issues during the actual move ignoring the team’s advice to assign a person to manage the move. It’s important to note that this is not a physical move. It’s more like transferring a consciousness from one computer system over to another one using the network. In this instance, one would assume that the network is critical.

That weekend I spent 16 hours on two conference calls in my basement; one headset on each ear. One conference call was to direct my network staff and the other call was to communicate with the wider project. This created a “firewall” so my team could get the critical work done (me included). There were no breaks. My wife brought me food. When I got up to go to the bathroom I could barely move. I called in the entire network team sans my boss who was disappointingly absent despite receiving a lot of phone calls from me and the other project leaders. Clearly, he had turned off his phone on purpose. The following week other IT leaders decided to declare that they were the person who fixed the networking issues burying my contribution to the entire project (which was ultimately successful).

In addition to this, on the same project, my boss had screamed at me over the phone about why I couldn’t move a 500 lb router by myself when it was at the loading dock. This is the only time I’ve cried at work. Subsequently this boss and three other guys installing it in the data centre ultimately dropped it because it was too heavy. The same router later caught fire while in the data centre.

Conclusion

Yes, it was events like these that lead to my burnout. In contemplating my career changes, I wanted to have control over my life because I knew there would be controllable and uncontrollable stress. Working stress, in my opinion should be largely controllable. That is, it’s my hypothesis that stress in work environments is largely unnecessary and caused by culture and leadership. And if it’s controllable, then that should free up bandwidth to deal with the uncontrollable stress.

As a freelancer I can, and have, said no to clients. I’m always clear I get the job done but how it’s done is up to me. I was often told that moving to being a contractor wouldn’t help with managing the stress but that’s because no-one considers that freelancing is a lot different than being a full-time contractor*. So more than 5 years later, I can say I proved my hypothesis.

Unfortunately, for most people, the game (employee/full-time contractor) is rigged and most people will fail and experience burnout. Hopefully, the silver lining of #Coronavirus #COVID19 is that companies accept there are alternate arrangements that exist and they might work a whole lot better in the right situations. Then maybe we can meaningfully reduce burnout, including work from home burnout.

  • I would like to call it what it is: a fake employee. It just changes where the number falls on the balance sheet. No surprise that nothing changes.

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