One question that's always come up around my career, or those who I've worked with, has been when to spot or address burnout. I've always worked in high-tempo, stressful situations. I'm clearly attracted to it. I like being busy, and I have trained myself to have quick reactions to scenarios, and mechanisms to run my day. Triaging emails/Slacks, organising days for meetings, days for output, etc. But I am in my late 30s having worked in tech for most of my career. And when I was a student, I worked in high stress retail, which really prepares you!

I'm in my current company just over 18 months now. I'm very settled. I don't trip-up and say "I work for $oldCompany" anymore. I know the product. I'm comfortable with our partners, customers, colleagues, etc. But with my experience, life demands (read as: 2 toddlers), support network (family and friends) I'm able to completely manage a quite hectic schedule. That's not withstanding the fact that I have "work outside of work," as current Chair of the Irish EV Owners Association among other volunteer things.

Burnout occurs when several inputs yield no output, in my experience. Too much is being demanded, so you effectively shut down. Because you feel unable to cope, catchup or get anywhere close to running effectively, stuff drops. When stuff drops, those external pressures build up and you eventually have to burnout. Burning out means admitting you're over-burdened, stressed, tired and need to drop things.

Knowing I'm burdened with work that either has no direct impact on my salary and impedes family time, that's what'll be dropped first to avoid burning out. So I'm stepping down from my role as Chair of IEVOA, for example. That frees up a number of hours per week, number of commitments per month and gives that time back to family, primarily (because it doesn't, or rarely, crosses over to actual professional work time).

However, in talking to some close-to-burning-out ex-colleagues in $formerCompany, I've noted a familiar pattern. It's unprofessional for a leader to expect colleagues to drown in an ocean of work without any ability to hire into that work, delay it or move it somewhere more appropriate (where appropriate = somewhere it can actually be completed meaningfully). And while that's not explicitly happening, it is happening. And it's not being addressed. Which was my experience of that company, where I worked for 9 years from startup, through IPO, through to enterprise business today.

I recalled, when discussing this with a friend, that I was once so under water with work that there's a photo of my working on my laptop. In a hotel. On a tropical island. On my wedding day. At the time I thought it as a way to use some free time while getting dressed/ready to offset pending work when I return from my wedding vacation. It wasn't a badge of honour, something to be proud of or anything like that. It was just grotesque expectation that the work would be done. Where and how didn't matter.

When I wrapped up my tenure at that company there was no fanfare. It was covid so there wasn't even a goodbye drinks, which is still upsetting. I had 90 people in my organisation that touched 40% of the entire revenue of the business. I felt like those 5am wake-ups to get to the office in the early days through to working on my wedding day was something I hallucinated and should strive to never repeat. It wasn't worth it.

The company explicitly doesn't tout a hustle culture. It doesn't expect you to work on big occasions, weekends, etc. But people do because they'll lose control of their inbox, Slack or jobs-to-be-done. Even when your job is fairly tangibly measured. Like sales, where your job is building/managing pipeline and closing enough of it to hit your target. You have to trust that the sales operations team has managed the numbers correctly so you can hit your target. And that you have appropriate surround-sound support from pipe building colleagues in marketing and/or BDR. And you have technical resources in presales. Etc. etc.

Yet, $formerCompany has a rep that announced the best part of last weekend was not checking Slack for the first time in months on a Saturday or Sunday. Another who said they were on holidays; with their laptop.

The issue there isn't the downward pressure from leadership. They don't mandate that. But the culture defines the issue, and that's never been addressed. The company allows this to happen because it's happened since the early days when it was a VC-funded startup. But back then we had no kids, no other pressures, no volunteer work in the community. We were fully dedicated to "the cause." That's unacceptable today, but the culture allows for it because it benefits the business to have folks run to extreme levels of "productivity," even if the downstream impact is harmful.

It's something I look out for as a leader. But my current team is mature, has kids, knows when to down-tools. We catch up and reflect on relaxing weekends. But work mega hard when in work mode, driving lots of success, promotions, business wins, etc. Balance can be achieved, but experience is important. Importantly though, I've come to recognise when someone is over-burdened. Either because they got caught in a loop agreeing to jobs-to-be-done or projects outside of scope, or they underestimated other aspects of the work as they ramped up or settled in. My job is to help identify, halt or move that work away. Facilitate balance. But making sure no one is coasting, either. It's tough. But that's the reward the job provides.

If people burnout, they leave. If they don't leave, they become ineffective. It's bad all-round. As an individual, you need to learn how to identify and manage it. And speak openly about it with your leadership. No one wins when someone is burned out, or burning out.