I'm in my 30s, married with a couple of kids. I have been working at a company for the past 3 years. Last year our company bought a competitor that was having financial issues, and laid off most of the developers (5) but kept 1 who resigned shortly after.
For the past year, I've been working doing multiple jobs trying to fill in the gaps. Since January, I have been working 7 days week averaging about 70-80 hours / week and this is starting to affect my work as I am now making obvious mistakes.
I've heard of burn out before but didn't realize it was an actual thing. I have never gone through this before. I don't know how to get out of this rut. My family has been very supportive and I feel so bad putting them through this. I'm no longer any fun to be around and I feel like I'm short changing them.
It's a small company, of good people, who would suffer greatly if I left. Financially, their hands are tied and if they could hire additional programmers to help, they would. It is very likely in a month or two we will be in a much better financial situation.
On top of the work issues, there have been numerous family health issues including death and illness in the family, and a miscarriage.
I haven't had personal time over the past couple of years -- I have had taken sick days and grief days, etc. For the past few weeks I've been getting headaches that are getting progressively worse and worse.
Has anyone ever been through this? How can I keep going? I really don't want to leave as I feel like I would be jeopardising the company and the livelihood of all the people in it.
Edit: There has been some question as to what the actual question is; I was hoping to see if anyone who has experienced this ever found a way to just power through it. I would ideally love to find a way to finish one last project before taking time off but more and more I'm seeing (and proven even more so from these answers) that I can't. I want to thank you all individually for taking the time to answer.
That question is a hard read - I've been through similar experiences to you, although in different circumstances. The answer to your question;
How can I keep going?
Or at least - not in the current circumstances. It's clear you've pushed yourself as far as you can go. It sounds like there's nothing else that you specifically can give that may improve the situation.
You need to force a change somehow, the way I see it is you have two options;
You currently have absolutely no work/life balance, and it's clear that the stress of work is starting to significantly affect your health. No job is worth this - no matter how much you feel sorry for your employer, no job is worth getting ill over. Especially when you have a family and an ill father to consider.
Given the simple thought of work makes you feel ill (a position I have also been in) - this is the obvious choice, and the one that should bring you the biggest improvement.
Obviously though, quitting a job should never be taken lightly, and I'd recommend trying to have another role in place as soon as possible.
or; Force a change at work
You might feel quitting is not an option given your relationship with your employer, and the empathy you feel for their situation. This is admirable, but if you're going to remain in you job you need to have a frank and thorough discussion with your boss.
You must be honest with them, and explain that you're overworked and on the brink of burning out completely. If you're as key a figure as it seems, your employer should be smart enough to work with addressing these issues with you and relieving some of the pressure.
The last thing they'll want is for you to leave, so you hold the cards in this respect.
The biggest thing to realise is that as important as you think the clients are, and as pressing as you think their problems are, nothing is worth sacrificing your health for. Especially not in our line of work.
The world doesn't stop turning if you leave, your primary concern is your own well being and that of your family - everything else comes second.
I just wanted to pick up on a suggestion from Julia in the comments - if you need more time away from work to get your head straight, then take it. I'm not sure what country you're in but any doctor should be able to sign you off for a week or two given the amount of stress you're under.
Please please don't think that taking time out, or simply saying you can't do this any more, is a sign of weakness. It's not. It's a miracle you've gotten this far under your circumstances, many people would have thrown in the towel months ago.
I have been through this and at the time I still thought I was 12 feet tall and bullet-proof.
I didn't listen to the signs and ended up destroying my health, my career, and my family. I hope I have your attention at this point because your situation is almost EXACTLY the same as mine was, right down to the miscarriage.
Here's what you need to do:
It is important that you start doing these two things first because you are of no use to anyone if you get to the point where you can no longer function. Your family and friends will support you if you step back for your own health. If you don't, then they are going to become like the family and friends of addicts. They are going to start thinking "I can't save him from himself" and one by one, they are going to walk away from you.
Most of all, understand that you are not 12 feet tall and bullet-proof. You are already pushing yourself past your own limits and will likely suffer severe damage to your health and relationships if you continue.
Here's what ultimately happened to me.
Please, take care of yourself, don't make the same mistakes I did.
Tell work everything. Tell them exactly what you have said here. If they try to diminish what you are saying "it's just a bad day", then make it clear again, and what will happen if they don't take you seriously.
It's not the way any of us are accustomed in dealing with our superiors, but here it is best for you and it is best for your employer. Leave it to them to make accommodations for you: it is their business (literally). There will almost certainly be way more options than you can think of in this situation, because they have more information than you do about the business.
Believe it or not, you are in an incredibly strong negotiating position here: you know what they say about picking a fight with someone who has nothing to lose. It is also a simple negotiating position (simple doesn't always go together with strong, but here it does): you know exactly what the other party might do (they accommodate your burnout or do not), and what your response will be in each case, both of the likely outcomes being an improvement over the present situation for you.
You need to find out if they are reasonable people (most are) and, if so, if they are creative and imaginative enough to work for a solution to your problems (most are not). If they are both of these things, then there's a good chance that you can continue. If they fail on either count (evil, or nice but inadequate), then you need to get out.
All you need to do in turn is to come across as sincere. Don't accept things like just offers of pay or status but with everything else staying the same. They are not what you need now, and it won't make you seem sincere if you seem enticed by them.
You want time and space to recover. Give them the opportunity to offer you some control and flexibility. Refuse anything that has the whiff of limping along. If they offer this to you, when you return your reputation will have improved, as a sincere, strong, dedicated and dutiful employee. If they don't offer you anything meaningful, then you will benefit from being certain that you made the right choice when you left the company.
Don't underestimate the lack of communication in a business environment. It is astoundingly common that managers just don't notice these things: it can be very hard to judge, from a managerial position, the difference between waving and drowning.
Financially, their hands are tied and if they could hire additional programmers to help, they would. It is very likely in a month or two we will be in a much better financial situation but I just... can't push myself to keep going.
No. Just No.
Even small companies are not tied up that way. If it is very probable that the company is better off in one or two months, where is the problem of hiring additional programmers now? It's only two months, right? Hiring a programmer for additional two months is roughly the price of a new compact car, so something even an individual person like me could pay, much less a company.
If they don't do this, it is very likely that in a month or two nothing will have changed. They just suffer from ridiculously bad management, letting the situation go on for seven months or even more and not replacing the developers (didn't they tried to take back the old ones?). And they obviously placed all the weight on you and didn't care about it anymore.
I have seen such situations once or twice in my life. They never went well. If a company is run with this amount of disregard concerning the health and well-being of the employees, and still being on the verge of bankruptcy, it is only a matter of time until everything breaks down.
Just don't make the mistake of the gambler, who thinks that surely, after the next game everything will come out better. That might be, but chances are great that everything just gets worse. And this is such a case. If your job is of such great importance that the existence of the company depends on it, they really should have gotten some more programmers months ago. Any reasonable management would have done this even in tight financial situations. If they rather chose to exploit their employees until they burn out, they deserve the shutdown.
There is a very plain and simple fact here: You can't go on like this. That's a fact. There's no need to discuss it. Any answer that I could give you or that you could give yourself that ignores this fact is pointless. So that's the starting point. (There is the alternative that you kill yourself by going on in your job like you do now; I won't consider that).
So the first thing that you do is taking a few days holiday to recover, and then switching to a forty hour week. What does your employer think about it? Doesn't matter. If they don't like it, they can fire you, but that isn't going to get the work done, is it? And you may have realised that yourself, but you get more work done in forty hours than in 60 hours.
And then you have two possibilities: You either look for a new job and leave as soon as you have found one. OR you give your employer a chance to fix the situation. By hiring competent people who can do the work, and hiring them VERY QUICKLY.
So what about your company and your clients? You solve your problems. The company can solve its problems, and the clients solve their problems. You are responsible for yourself. What's the worst that can happen? The company may go under. I just imagine the world's saddest song played on the world's tiniest violin... If they go under because you are leaving, they frankly deserve it. On the other hand, you may get seriously ill, your wife divorces you, you won't see your kids again, you lose your home and end up in the street if you go on like this. Well, that's a choice. Choose yourself and your family.
This is probably going to sound harsh but here it is:
Regarding your family: "I feel like I'm short changing them." You are. There is no nice way to sugarcoat this. You have overextended yourself at work, and your family is most definitely losing out because of it. You are so burned out that you are barely able to keep your self together, and in this case you can't offer your family the time and emotional connection they (and you!) deserve. It is wonderful that your family has been so supportive thus far, but do beware that it is very difficult for your family to endure your functional absence, and that dynamic can have lasting consequences.
Regarding your reason for not quitting: "It's because it's a small company, of good people, who would suffer greatly if I left." The potential suffering of the company is not your responsibility. It's just not. The owners and management are responsible for ensuring they have the manpower in place to deliver their product, and they have 100% failed in this regard. You simply cannot do the job of 6 people! The fact that your company put you in this position is horrendous, but that you feel responsible for carrying their bad decisions to this extent is simply baffling.
Indeed they may be good people who might suffer if you leave, but you are presumably a good person too, and you are suffering (along with your family and other loved ones) because of the crushing weight your employer has placed upon you.
I don't think you can stay with this company (even if you negotiate a long break to recover from your current state) as they have shown they lack basic sense or concern when it comes to your workload and health (and possibly their other employees as well), and it's very likely you would end up in the same dynamic all over again after you return.
I think the best solution is to quit this job ASAP, take an extended leave for yourself, and when you are truly able to return to work, find a new employer.
If you love the job, the people and it has a great future ahead of you you can do this to mitigate your stress:
Hard limits on hours spent
You set yourself a limit, you say: I will only work 36 hours. when my day ends, it ends. No matter if the server room burns down, clients can't pay or the damned thing isn't finished yet.
Keep yourself to that hard limit. Communicate to your boss that this is a hard limit you're posing to keep your sanity until he can hire help to sort this mess out to relieve the workload.
Sysadmin, server admin, etc.. all the new roles that are not your key competence, let them be at the very bottom of your priority list. Just say to your boss: I don't have a clue how to set that up. I can google it, spend 8 hours figuring it out, in the meantime I'll break a lot of stuff experimenting, and I can't guarantee it'll work good and stable because I don't know enough of that field of expertise. While I'm doing that I can't fix the broken website, clients won't be able to pay, etc... Suggest to your boss he can do the exact same thing you're doing then: google it and experiment.
Don't install work email on private phone. Leave the work phone at work.
Communicate to your boss you will NOT be available during private time.
Find a private project for your private that that brings you enjoyment. Be it a coding project like a Minecraft modification, a personal website, an Android game, etc... or a manual project, renovating the house, replanting the garden, restoring a car, painting Warhammer figures just something for fun, something to look forward to when you get home.
Walk at least one hour per day. No phone, no music, no companionship. Be alone, walk in nature where you can see trees. Trees and green relieve stress.
Get enough sleep. Go to bed on time, don't use your mobile or computer at least two hours before going to bed or in bed. Read stuff, or do your walk before going to bed.
The first thing you need to to do today is seek medical help. Go talk to a psychologist about your burnout and get him or her to put you on short-term disability for a 2 weeks to a month. You have a medical issue that you need to fix. In my experience, your office/managers will never believe you are burned out until you seek medical treatment for it. I had a therapist tell me I was required to take a month off once and I looked at him like he had three heads as I could not imagine being allowed to take a month off with all the work. But since it was medical, they had to let me do it and guess what, nothing awful happened as a result. Part of the pressure to perform at this level is being put on you by you not the company.
While you are off, spend time with your family and spend some time by yourself. Get out into nature and under no circumstances do any work at home on a work or personal programming project. This is break from your computer work, use it only for social media, writing, or some non-programming related hobby like photography. It is truly critical not to work on any personal programming projects. Doing so could invalidate your medical leave.
Next is triage of the workload. Have the therapist document that you are not allowed medically to work overtime for some period. Sit down with your manager and change all the deadlines to ones that can be met in a 40 hour week. Reduce the features asked or push them to another iteration. Work only on the most critical things until they hire more people.
Part of why you are burning out is that you have not learned to frame a successful No when asked to work too much. You need to push back every deadline, every feature request, every new project. Do not accept new work without a corresponding delay to work already on your plate. Have a priority list and show them all the things you are doing when they ask for more. Then insist they determine which things to move off the list if they need this to have a priority.
Next thing is do not work more than 40 hours a week except the occasional (and I mean once every 3-5 months) emergency. And a real emergency involving production systems that are down, not a fake deadline emergency. Almost all deadlines can be extended. In the long run no one will remember if you delivered on July 12 or August 5.
I agree with all the answers posted already, but wanted to help you "fix" your company using a quote from Joel Spolsky, of Stack Overflow fame:
Way back when I was working on Excel 5, our initial feature list was huge and would have gone way over schedule. “Oh my!” we thought. “Those are all super important features! How can we live without a macro editing wizard?”
As it turns out, we had no choice, and we cut what we thought was “to the bone” to make the schedule. Everybody felt unhappy about the cuts. To make people feel better, we told ourselves that we weren’t cutting the features, we were simply deferring them to Excel 6.
As Excel 5 was nearing completion, I started working on the Excel 6 spec with a colleague, Eric Michelman. We sat down to go through the list of “Excel 6” features that had been punted from the Excel 5 schedule. Guess what? It was the shoddiest list of features you could imagine. Not one of those features was worth doing. I don’t think a single one of them ever was. The process of culling features to fit a schedule was the best thing we could have done. If we hadn’t done this, Excel 5 would have taken twice as long and included 50% useless crap features that would have had to be supported, for backwards compatibility, until the end of time.
My point being, you are currently working 80 hours a week. You must get that down to 40. Work out which 40 hours of work are not going to get done. If that means that when a minor system breaks it is down for a few months, then so be it. That is your boss' responsibility for taking on the work of a new company without taking on enough of their staff, and people will find a way to work around it.
To give a concrete example: my company is currently going through a de-merger and are therefore losing our current payroll and annual leave system. The de-merger has given the IT dept lots of tight deadlines, so they have chosen to prioritise setting up a new payroll system and have left us without a leave tracking system until they have more time available. The leave tracking system is important, but not as important as making sure everyone gets paid on time.
You need to get the hell out of here as soon as possible.
I know this sounds rather blunt and makes it look like I haven't read anything about your ties with the company, and your will to make it work. I did. And it's simply not even worth trying.
Burning-out is a very insidious process: if you are aware you are burning-out, it's already pretty late. At first, you acknowledge the workload, but you feel like you can handle it. Even better, it makes you more focused, and you really feel like you're giving everything. It feels good, until you realize you've locked yourself up into it, and even if you wanted to step off to catch your breath, you couldn't.
You are saying you're short changing your family. It's probably worse than you think, since they probably (still) support you and are trying not to let appear the fact that you've changed in a negative way. If you keep going like this, they might burn out from you, so to speak, and they will resent you. And it will make everything worse.
You're also saying you don't want to jeopardize your company by leaving. That's pretty loyal on your part, but you need to keep something very important in mind: What you are currently doing is not sustainable. You will fail at some point. You will become sloppier and sloppier in your work. You will start resenting your employer for this.
And someday, you won't show up. You'll be burnt to a crisp, and you won't be able to bear the thought of going to work and endure this madness a single more day. At this point, you might need several months of sick leave to be able to work again, you might burn bridges with your employer, and you will have "let your company down" no matter what. Trying to keep it afloat for a few weeks is not worth all of this. You're not strong enough to save the day by yourself and are just consuming yourself to make it last a bit more.
And even if you could make it to the next two months, it probably won't get better. Even if your company finds the resources to hire people (and I personally don't believe this is very honest on their part), you will be needed to get them up to speed. While doing what has become your usual workload. It is not going to end.
You need to use the energy you have left to plan your immediate future: get rest (as much as you can), and find another job. You can tell your employer ahead of time that you'll be leaving, but this really is the most you can do for them. You will do serious harm (maybe permanent damage) to yourself and your family if you don't put an end to this as soon as possible.
I have been there. I have lost friends because of this. Please quit.
This happens to many people, it happened to me 9 years ago.
I worked for a very big telecom company for 9 years, the project I was on has been closed and I joined a team in a different project knowing that I would eventually become the team leader, which did happen 3 months later.
The next 3 months were the worst in my life, the project was very big, behind schedule and everyone was just trying to keep the head above water and the blame as far away from them as possible.
I spent 14 hours a day in the office, most of it in meetings or on the telephone with other branches of the company abroad. At any time I had at least 200 unread emails, I worked on the weekends just to try to keep up with the unread emails, I couldn't see a movie with my boyfriend at the time, because I constantly had to leave the cinema to talk on the phone on the weekend. I was exhausted, I was irate, I was having meltdowns whenever anything didn't go according to plan.
After another meltdown a good friend told me that I need to decide what I want for myself and to take care of myself. When I came back from the weekend I stepped into my direct manager's office and told him that I've decided that I can't keep this up and I'm resigning from the company.
I ended up staying for another year in the company but in a different project and position. I left after almost 10 years in the company, I think I confused between-
Nothing changed in the project after I left, but I know I could have never saved it from its problems because I was never given the tools to do that (when I asked for specific things I was denied).
Don't expect anyone to appreciate your sacrifice, ask for help and if you're not given this help - decide what's more important for you. Nobody will do this for you.
My husband went through an almost identical situation a few years ago (he's a software developer). He was stressed out for a while, then out of nowhere, just couldn't go on. He had trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and was absolutely miserable. I tried to be patient but I have to admit, it did put a strain on our marriage and our family life.
He also felt like he couldn't quit, that he couldn't take a break because his role was too important and there was no one to replace him. He ended up suffering from a minor heart attack as he pushed forward. I'm still bitter to this day about what his company and co-workers put him through; it was hard to watch him struggle like he did. My husband's a good, loyal, hard-working man, and his good heart was completely taken advantage of.
Just reading what you wrote filled me with sadness as I completely understand what you're going through. You have likely been pushed so hard that you're now in a full blown depression. You simply cannot continue this way. Also, please seek out medical assistance. This didn't happen overnight and it will take a bit of time to undo the damage that has been done to you.
Let me ask you a couple questions:
If, as you say, you're so important to the company that they'd suffer greatly if you left, why are you the only one in this role? Why not have someone else that could support you and also serve as a backup in case anything happened to you?
Will your company take care of your family if you get so sick (or worse) that you can't carry on?
Something has to change. I agree with the other answers that you should be looking for a new role, or at the very least, taking time off. This isn't about powering through or "being a man". It took my husband a few months before he started returning back to normal, to sleeping properly, etc. He used to go to sleep stressed out about his work and he'd wake up in the morning and immediately think about work. It is not the way to live life.
Please think of yourself and your family. Those are the people you're only responsible for. Your body and your mind are trying to tell you something, you have to be smart enough to listen.
Find another job. Quit.
4 years ago, I was in your boat. My company had downsized (second round of layoffs) and we were all asked to do more. Then a couple of (smart) people quit, and the workload on us basically doubled. The company itself was in trouble, especially after one of our main clients went bankrupt and a significant portion of the contract was not paid.
I was good for a while; I felt happy to contribute and try to help save the company. Slowly, it started happening. I didn't even notice it at first. I was always anxious. I had trouble falling asleep, trouble waking up, and when I did wake up I was more tired than when I went to sleep.
I was very tense, and it was harder to focus on work. The more I pushed myself, the harder it became to complete tasks. The thing was, I always loved programming and I always felt blessed to work on something I mostly enjoyed. This joy was sapped out of my job first, then out of everything I enjoyed in my life.
My wife was the first to comment on it; she said that I was becoming miserable and miserable to be around. Those were harsh words, and they stung, especially since I felt I was doing what was necessary for my company and my family. In retrospect, she was 100% right.
Then it happened. One day, I woke up, ate breakfast, got dressed and just stood at the door. Then I couldn't take another step. I just started bawling my eyes out. I mean full on sobbing. I sat on the floor and just let it all out. Fortunately my son had already left for school so he didn't see his father go through it, but my wife saw it all. I was so embarrassed but I couldn't stop. I ended up calling in sick that day.
My wife wanted me to completely be away from my computer and phone. Go for a walk, take a long bike ride, maybe see a doctor. I was a mess, but I kept checking my emails. And as the requests came in, I became even more tense.
I saw a doctor the second day. He said it was a job burnout like yours. He said I need to take a vacation or else I could never get better. I let my company know that I needed a few more days off and why, even though at the time I felt embarrassed and weak.
My manager sent a very nice reply but in the very last line, he reminded me of upcoming deadlines and milestones that had to be met.
That very same day, I got 3 or 4 emails requesting help on tasks or small updates to a client's site. Then the next day I got more requests. Finally, I told my manager that I needed a couple of weeks fully off just to be able to recover. My sleep situation alone was getting worse and worse. I felt guilty that I was letting my company down.
When they emailed and called me with more tasks the next day, I knew I could never get rest.
I ended up quitting my job a few days later, especially at my wife's insistence. It took me months to recover but I'm so happy that I did.
Along the way I learned a few things about myself and what had happened.
Stress is normal, and a part of most jobs. I actually felt like I excelled under pressure. However, constant and unending stress and tension especially on your mind adds up overtime, especially if you don't take a break. It's made worse when your job starts creeping into your life, like mine did.
There comes a very definite point where chronic stress becomes a burn out. You'll be getting through your job and life one day and the next day you won't be able to go on. When this point is reached and it seems to be that you're there, stop immediately. Don't push yourself further.
You WILL NOT recover until you take time off. Full timeoff. Your mind and body need a break. It's not a suggestion. Even if you intend to stay with the company, any short term losses will pall in comparison to you not being able to function.
This seems to hit more people in IT and software development than most job sectors (nurses as well). I think people underestimate how stressful a job like programming is "Oh, you're just typing away at a computer". The reality is, you have to deal with so many issues, and are likely writing apps that are being viewed by hundreds or thousands of people daily, and once a release is made, if it's broken you can't do anything about it until it's patched and re released. You may also be responsible for writing components that are financially critical and if a third party library or service acts up, you're the one responsible for fixing it. People don't care that service XYZ stopped working, they just care that your app is no longer functioning as it should.
Finally, just some thoughts. Please let this be a lesson in the future. Put hard limits on what you can do and what you're willing to do. Take breaks. Work for a company that respects IT and its employees. If you were so crucial to the company why is there no backup plan in case you're no longer there? People quit or die everyday. Also, if they were going to be putting themselves in such financial peril, why would they buy the competitor? This makes me feel like your company is very badly managed and put increased profits above its people. You are not responsible for its downfall.
Please take care of yourself. It took me a few months to recover but I was helped by the support from my family and friends. Along the way I've met a few people who went through similar circumstances and one thing I've noticed is that pushing on just makes things worse. People have gotten strokes, heart attacks or nervous breakdowns from pushing on. Please don't. Reading through your question just brought back everything I went through and I have so many regrets. Jobs and money come and go. You get one life. Your kids need you. They are dependent on you. You need balance in your life. Please consider everything that everyone has said. Not one person is suggesting you keep doing this. I've bookmarked this question, please update us and let us know how you're doing and what you end up doing.
Also, the reason I wrote find another job and the crossed it out as that you need time off. You also won't do well in interviews if you're still exhausted.
One thing which hasn't yet been covered by other answers...
You say you're worried about jeopardising the company. Do you or your family members own shares in that company, or is your pay or bonus directly linked to the company's performance? In other words, if/when the financial situation turns around because of all the extra hours you worked keeping the place afloat, will you directly benefit financially from that?
If you are so crucial to the company that it will fold if you leave, then typically you should have a reasonable share in the company. This may not reduce the hours you have to work, but at least then you have a strong reason for doing it. It will be (partly) your company, not just the company which pays you a salary. If you're that crucial to the company, you have the owners/directors over a barrel when it comes to demanding this. And if they don't see you're that crucial to the company, that will tell you everything you need to know about how much they actually value you.