IT career burnout: What to do when the thrill is gone

Seven practical ways to reignite your passion for your IT job, as suggested by IT leaders who've experienced burnout first-hand

Burnout is as predictable in an IT professional's career as the long hours that precipitate it. The demanding nature of IT jobs, coupled with a perceived lack of respect and appreciation, leads many IT professionals to lament, à la blues great B.B. King, that "the thrill is gone." Many eventually wonder whether a career in IT is still the right choice.

These days, even more IT leaders seem to be suffering from burnout, judging by the experiences they recently shared in a conversation on CIO's LinkedIn forum. It's no wonder: The recession has forced them to spend the last 18 months focused on the more tedious aspects of IT management--namely cost-cutting, politics and more cost-cutting.

The burnout conversation was kicked off by an IT director wondering if there was anything more to the CIO role than "paperwork, politics and squeezing the last penny out of every dollar." The IT director, who did not wish to be named in this article, asked his fellow CIO Forum members what keeps them going in their jobs.

His query elicited an outpouring of empathy and support: When this story was reported, 54 IT leaders from all over the world left 60 comments commiserating with the IT director's experience with burnout and offering advice.

Here are their top seven suggestions for reigniting one's enthusiasm for IT while on the job and for battling burnout.

1. Take pride in your team.

Developing your staff members and observing their camaraderie makes all the politics and bureaucracy that otherwise grinds you down worthwhile, say several IT leaders.

"What keeps me coming in each day, other than the family-man responsibilities..., is my team," wrote Julian Lamb, the head of technology at Tony Ferguson Weightloss. "We get these (young) people and build them into professionals capable of keeping the company running. If we're good at what we do, we try to shield them from the constant carping and criticism that is our lot in IT, and we try to install in them the best of our own work ethic, so that perhaps [they can] reach the work life balance that escapes many of us."

Added another forum member: "...what still excites me is when I take a step back and look around my office...and see the people that I have employed laughing, joking, going out to lunch, arranging events for evenings together--all the while doing a fantastic job and working really hard. ...that's where I get my kick, from knowing that I am at least in part responsible for that happening."

2. Look for a new challenge on the job.

In his post that sparked the discussion about burnout on the LinkedIn CIO Forum, the IT director noted that he used to love working in IT. He didn't mind the 14-hour days because, as he put it, "New technology, new ideas, innovation made it seem as though anything were possible."

But after 12 years in IT, the IT director's time is now spent on "paperwork, politics and squeezing the last penny out of every dollar," he said.

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