Software Executive Magazine

December 2017

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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The Subtle Shift emotions like fear and anxiety. There is also evidence for eroded connections between the amygdalae and the ante- rior cingulate cortex, which helps regulate emotional dis- tress. Burnout causes a neurologic downward spiral that leads to people feeling a heightened level of negative emo- tions and having difficulty calming down or talking them- selves through those feelings. It is a hard cycle to break and can lead to impaired productivity, memory, and attention. In a separate set of studies, a team of researchers tracked health screenings of 8,838 employees for an average of 3.4 years. They found that people who demonstrated high lev- els of burnout had a 79 percent higher risk of being diag- nosed with heart disease. SO, WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT? Unfortunately, for most, burnout creeps up slowly and is easy to miss. Many executives don't realize they are deal- ing with burnout until their performance is compromised or their relationships are beginning to fracture. Burnout is partially driven by long hours and an unreal- istic workload, but that's not the full story. The other sig- nificant predictors of burnout are: ▶ insufficient support from other people, ▶ a lack of clear or meaningful goals, ▶ few observable successes, and ▶ limited control over key variables that shape work (like schedule or timing of deadlines). Burnout happens when the workload is heavy and de- void of the sustaining positive experience of clearly ac- complished goals, acknowledged successes, and mean- ingful connections to other people (be it teammates or customers). Understanding the causes of burnout is key to preventing it. It is helpful to break large projects into small steps with clear win moments along the way. It is import- ant to keep work relationships supportive and healthy. The central component of both prevention and recovery is staying connected to the life-giving parts of work – the things that you find most meaningful and are central to why you've chosen this work. This may mean hiring out tasks that take you away from the core of what you love. It may mean mixing up your job description to include a little bit more interaction with customers or a role in site architecture – not because you're needed in those tasks, but because these tasks sustain you. It is possible to recover from burnout. Time off is helpful but not enough. The true way to recover from burnout is meaningful work. No one is able to spend a lot of time do- ing something they don't care about — time on the ham- ster wheel makes anyone, but especially an executive, feel depressed and burnt out. Keep your values and passions close at hand. You'll be more productive and better off in the long run if you do. S ver the past 10 years, burnout has been the featured topic in hundreds of articles in tech magazines and blogs. It might be a trendy term, but it isn't a phenomenon that any ex- ecutive can afford to ignore. Burnout is common. And it is serious. Burnout is not simply the result of long hours or hard tasks. It is not depression. It is not weakness or whining. And it is not something that just happens to other people. Burn- out can happen to your team. And to you. WHAT IS BURNOUT? Now a formally diagnosable syndrome in the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition), "burnout, a state of vital exhaustion," was popularized by Dr. Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to: ▶ physical and emotional exhaustion ▶ cynicism and detachment toward clients, col- leagues, and other people ▶ feelings of personal ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment (regardless of actual success). Burnout is no longer caring about your work, no longer having energy or drive, and no longer believing that your effort matters. It is existential weariness. Burnout is toxic to productivity, creativity, complex prob- lem solving, interpersonal relationships, and motivation. Research on the neuroscience behind burnout has shown that burnout has the power to change the function, struc- ture, and chemistry of the brain. For example, functional MRI scans of folks in burnout demonstrated enlarged amygdalae, the part of the brain that regulates negative O D R . S H E R R Y W A L L I N G D R . S H E R R Y W A L L I N G is a licensed psychologist and the founder of ZenFounder, LLC. She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and two master's degrees. Her life's work is to help high- performing professionals maximize their potential while maintaining personal sanity, life satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment. She consults regularly with executives regarding burnout, anxiety, productivity, existential angst, relationships, major transitions, and personal balance. She co-hosts the weekly ZenFounder podcast, which focuses on mental health and entrepreneurship. Burnout: You Can't Afford To Ignore LEADERSHIP LESSONS Insights By S. Walling BURNOUT: THE SUBTLE SHIFT YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO IGNORE SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM DECEMBER 2017 42

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