Skip to content

078: Why Does Tech Seem to Burn People Out So Quickly?

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
4 min read
078: Why Does Tech Seem to Burn People Out So Quickly?

This the 78th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, a PM, resilience coach, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

🧠 Why Does Tech Seem to Burn People Out So Quickly?

Some time ago I came across this thread that asked why tech seemed to burn people out despite being on the surface, a "cushy" job where you get paid well to do work that's not physically demanding, with a lot of good amenities and more autonomy than a lot of other service jobs or even other white collar work (finance, law).

The question clearly struck a nerve and sparked a lot of conversations.

@traversymedia suggested that running your brain hard for a whole day is taxing in a way that's less visible but no less punishing. Chess grandmasters have been shown to burn upwards of 6,000 calories in a single day of tournament competition and lose 10-20 lbs over the course of a series.

@visakanv made great points about how other industries don't have it easier either (for instance, a 2016 survey of 12k lawyers found that 21% qualify as problem drinkers, while 28% struggle with mild or more serious depression) and also the massive differential between moderately and massively successful people from similar backgrounds can be hard to deal with.

@dannygarcia built on that 2nd point and noted that you can take a risk and fail for reasons outside of your control. Unexpected change happens to everyone, but particularly in results-oriented cultures at big tech companies, how hard you tried matters less than the impact you delivered, while other industries there's maybe a closer connection between effort and outcomes.

@mekarpeles echoed that point and noted that there are also those who are super clever and can deliver great impact without breaking their back. (I'm watching a version of this play out at work right now). But this puts even more pressure on mere mortals.

@weswinham and @mdavidallen, like visa, challenged the original premise. Lots industries are mentally and emotionally demanding AND not well paid.

@mekkaokereke suggested it might relate to the fact that many tech employees are enjoy more social privileged due to their race, gender, and socio-economic status and are willing/able to be more outspoken about their struggles, which makes them more visible than, say, truck drivers.

@PeaceAlgorithm had a slightly different take on truck driving and Mekka expanded on his thoughts on tech (actually not bad if you practice mindfulness and work with teams that treat you well).

@terronk didn't quite answer the question but pointed out that burnout is more about purpose than workload, something I've argued for as well.

While the term “burnout” is often used loosely in casual conversation, most formal definitions state that feeling tired is only one of three dimensions. (The other two are negativity and cynicism, and reduced sense of professional efficacy.) Working less is only part of the answer.
As I’ve written in the past, I’m very much against late-night emails and working excessively long hours. But in my view, the two other dimensions of burnout aren’t caused by a deluge of work but rather a dearth of meaning.
Feeling burned out? This is why working less isn’t enough
Instead of just recharging with a break, try these three strategies to avoid burnout.

Your turn: do you work in tech? Do you feel like it's easy to get burned out? Write me back and let's talk about it! I read every response.


🖼 Character Art + Results from "Exquisite Corpse"

I recently met up with a couple newsletter writers: Leon Lin, Frederik Gieschen, and Robert Terrin for a drink and draw session.

I was working on some character art for a new member of the Scotch and Bean crew but what was most fun was a collaborative drawing game we did at the start, inspired by Frida Khalo and Surrealist artists of the past. I've included two of our 4 creations here along with some sketch for a new S&B character.=

I've been thinking a lot about cover images with my new publishing platform (you can see what I've got right now at the top) but taking a look at this gallery is giving me ideas. Even if you're not a designer, seeing how other companies have created eye-catching cover images for their brand (OG stands for Open Graph not Original Gangsta)

OGimage.gallery

Like this edition of Cultivating Resilience? Help me reach more people who could use these ideas by sharing it!

  • Book Notes: Summaries / quotes from great books I've read
  • Scotch & Bean: a webcomic about work, friendship, and wellness
  • Birthday Lessons: Ideas, questions, and principles I've picked up over the years
Newsletter

Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.