It’s no secret that work stress and burnout have become commonplace amongst cyber security professionals. The importance of cyber security has increased exponentially in recent years, and the increased workload, and pressure that comes with this, is causing high stress levels for those in the profession. With advancements in technology, organisations have expanded their surface area for potential cyber attacks, and the rise of remote working has created an abundance of security pitfalls that need to be patched up. Those on the front line of cyber security are now paying the price.
A 2022 report by ThreatConnect found that the current rate of turnover in the industry is 20%, with 55% saying stress levels have increased in the last 6 months, and ‘high stress’ stated as one of the top 3 reasons to leave a cyber security job. In fact, over a third of Security Managers are considering quitting in the next 6 months.
Over half of leaders are admitting that their organisation struggles to retain cyber security talent. So, what is burnout, and what can you do to try and avoid/recover from it?
Mind explain that if you are experiencing burnout ‘you may feel completely exhausted, have little motivation for your job, feel irritable, or anxious and you may see a dip in your work performance. Some people also experience physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches, or have trouble sleeping.’
Causes of burnout
So, how do we get there? Burnout is something that’s normally associated with industries such as healthcare, hospitality and education, but the hammer seems to have now fallen on the cyber security realm as well.
When your workload increases, your hours often increase, and the pressure starts to boil over. When this happens, it can often feel like you’ve lost control over your role, or you’re only just keeping your head above water. You might be spending less time at home, and missing out on social situations, or the things you normally do to relax. It can also affect your personal relationships. It’s a slippery slope, and the heightened stress can quickly turn into full burnout. A lack of resources at work can also contribute to your stress levels, particularly if the resource shortage existed even before your workload increased, and this hasn’t been acknowledged.
The overall culture of your organisation might be a huge contributing factor. As above, if there is little acknowledgement of the things that are causing work stress, this can quickly manifest into poor relationships with management and other colleagues. It can create an ‘us and them’ mentality, where you feel like you’re forever at the mercy of the ones pulling the purse strings, and they’re just not listening to what you need. Over time, work performance can slip if you are invested in an organisation that doesn’t seem to invest in you.
Lack of support is usually a very important variable. If you’ve reached a point where both your work and/or personal relationships are suffering, it can feel very isolating. Not feeling heard at work, or feeling like you can’t come home and benefit from some human compassion, can contribute to reaching a point of total exhaustion.
How to combat burnout
There is no magic wand or overnight cure. It normally takes time to reach a state of burnout, and it can take as much time, or more, to recover. There are a few things you can do to try and stem the tide.
Your time away from work is hugely important, and that includes annual leave/holiday and break times during work. You don’t need to book a week on a beach somewhere to get time off; schedule your PTO at regular intervals during the year, and if you spend a week watching telly at home and going for coffee with friends, that’s just as important as being horizontal in the sun. It’s nobody’s business what you do with your time off, and you don’t need an excuse to take it. The same applies to your break times. Stepping away from your desk, going for a walk, or getting some fresh air may help give you that small respite from work stress and help you cope with your workload for the day.
Speaking of stepping away from your desk, leaving work on time can be one of the most compassionate forms of self-care. Making sure you get home in time to put the kids to bed or take the dog for a walk could be the most valuable hour of your entire week. It comes under the notion of setting boundaries between your work and personal lives. This is particularly important if you also work remotely. If you’re struggling to shut off from work, try moving your desk away from the areas of the house that you use to relax, or work somewhere else entirely.
Have you tried talking to your manager yet? It might feel like it’s glaringly obvious that you’re suffering from high stress levels at work, but your boss might be so consumed with their own stress that they don’t notice you’re at risk of burnout. Or you might just be a swan. Having open and honest discussions about their expectations of you, your workload and the resources available to you could result in the solutions you need. If you’ve tried this and haven’t been successful, or the culture at your work organisation doesn’t facilitate this kind of collaboration, is it time to re-evaluate your options?
If this resonates with you, don’t be alarmed. 51% of cyber security professionals feel that the stress of the job and work challenges keep them up at night, so you’re not alone. Mind have some great resources to help support those suffering from stress at work.