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In the last 3-4 years I have noticed an increase in the speed of which things are done within companies. By that I do not mean that we produce things faster, I mean that we take decisions or share information faster. That may sound like a good thing, but as always when things are done fast the quality drops. What I see however is even worse and that is that people, often young people, are getting hurt. Management is not an easy profession, regardless of position in an organization. There are important decisions to make, ton of information to absorb and people that need to be cared for. This is nothing new, but what is relatively new is a sense of urgency, that seem to spread to an almost frantic pace these days. In some cases it's more like full panic mode even. I have seen organizations that spend more time in meetings than actually do anything on a management level. Some organization even take this to a whole new level. The lack of proper communication and a complete lack of trust within the organization lead to hundreds or even thousands of people who spend most of their days shuffling information back and forth in meetings. This is a very, very dangerous situation because when managers process information with no context and little to no actual knowledge of the topic they process then poor decisions are taken. If you add a constant stress to that situation where managers spend 30+ hours in meetings with other managers then the decisions quickly become erratic and irrational. I see this in many large organizations these days and I hear it from friends and colleagues in other organizations as well. Most agree that while this has always been the case in management to certain extent, it has never been as bad as it is today. No one seem to think that this is something that will change anytime soon either. Quite the opposite as we have seen this slowly escalate over the years and it has come to the point where people are getting hurt mentally and physically. I have seen people pass out in meetings and more than one person that leave mid day to never come back to their work again. I see daily people in the development areas with dark rings below their eyes and tired eyes. I hear people almost weekly that ask to leave their assignment due to health issues or mental fatigue. Everywhere I see the same tragic trend and that is that management is running frantically making poor decisions with little to no communication. People are frustrated, confused and more often than not they are becoming defensive as their managers mistrust everything they do. More often than not there will be control mechanisms that are implemented to control rather than improve the work. This will make people feel like they are constantly being judged and mistrusted. With an increased pace from the managers demands that comes with unclear information and little to no access to clarification there is no wonder people are breaking down. In some companies there are even activity based offices as icing on the cake to make things even more stressful for the already battered employees. People are getting hurt from this and you have most likely seen more than one employee cringe when you mention the Agile word or the Activity based Office. That is not because they are against these things, it's just that they are so abused by managers to avoid taking proper responsibility for making sure that communication and interaction are working. There is still hope! It is easy to blame the managers for the situation, but the fact is that most managers are really, really great people. They are also suffering from the situation of an increased pace and stress. I know more than one manager that have taken a time out in the bathroom where they silently cried over their hopeless situation. So the managers are not the problem, it is the collective sense of urgency and lack of control. Step 1 - Reduce the meetings. Meetings are the cause of many issues today. We have meetings for almost everything with little to no thought of why we have them. Many managers are easily in 20-30+ hours every week and most meetings include 10+ people where half is just there to make sure they do not miss information. If you want to measure something, then this is something to measure to reduce waste of resources and cost. Make it mandatory with one full day with no meetings. This allow managers to process the information and make educated decisions what to do next. For best effect, make it the same day for everyone. Also follow up on meeting statistics to make sure that no more than 15 hours each week can be allocated to meetings. That is 3 hours each day, which should be more than enough if you have the communication and information strategies in place. Step 2 - Establish trust. Control is a big problem if there is no trust in the organization. The reason for that is that no matter how well the development teams are doing it will not matter of the management chain can not feel sure about that. If all managers are always sitting in meetings, then how will they get the information they need and how will they have time to forward this information up the management chain? The first step is of course to free up time by reducing the time spent in meetings. The second thing is to clarify responsibility. It is very difficult to provide the right information if you do not know what is expected from you. Once you know what information you need to provide, then the flow of information will improve with relevant information. Once you clarify responsibility and expectations you will reduce confusion, which in turn will reduce frustration. Clarity also will make it possible to provide accurate information from the development teams when it comes to estimations. This will make it easier for manages to feel that they can trust the information from the development teams. This is done by having clear role definitions and a proper process for clarifying requirements for the development teams. Step 3 - Establish proper communication channels. The last "easy" fix is to make sure you have communication channels. One thing that I see often is that just to implement a documented decision process will improve the understanding in the organization a lot. If you can understand what a decision mean, why it was taken and who took the decision, then it is much, much easier to understand. Verbal decisions are easily misunderstand, easy to override and easy to ignore. So make sure that important decisions are clearly documented and easily accessed. No common way of working is also a big problem. You should define a baseline for everyone to avoid that everyone in your organization create their own way of working. This is especially important in the handover points where you handover information between different groups. If this handover is done in dozens or hundreds of different ways, then that will not only cause confusion and frustration, it will cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Having a common way of working does not mean that you can not have different ways of working. It just mean that you can understand the reason for having a different process as there is some need that the common way of working can not fulfill. The changes are not arbitrary as they are when there are no common way of working. Step 4 - Take care of your people No matter where you are in the organization you have people around you that you work with every day. Make sure you take a moment on a regular basis and look at the people around you. If you see someone that does not seem to feel well, then make sure you act on that. You can support the person by talking to them and listen to their problems, you can tell your manager or your managers manager and you can contact HR. If we fail to see the people around us that are slowly being broken down from stress, then that person could end up being sick. Some refer to this as "hitting the wall", others being "burned out". This is one of the most devastating events in a persons life and it is something that you never really get over. So take care of yourself, the people around you and please, please.... stop running, because people are getting hurt.
2019 was not a very good year for me. It has been filled with stress and unexpected changes on all levels and I started to feel the signs of getting burned out. As a result I took some measures to counter that and it seems that this year will end on the positive side after all. I started my year at H&M, even though I did not think I should continue there. My work had been completed and it did not feel right to add another 6 months just to keep the work I was doing going. Working at H&M is good though and I got some new projects to manage, so I stayed on against my better judgement. This turned out to be a big mistake. The great atmosphere at H&M changed drastically and where there was a form of organized chaos before it now became just running blindly in all directions. Decisions was issued left and right with almost daily counter decisions from a management that never seemed to stop and process before taking decisions. Expert advice was dismissed and ignored pretty much everywhere and I started to feel the effect of the non-existing decision making process. I was just about to go talk to my manager and end my assignment when he called me and told me that my assignment was ending prematurely. It was a great feeling, but it did not last. Even letting me go turned out to be an exercise in frustration as the handover was changed multiple times with no communication or reason. It became so bad that I had to call in my boss because I was getting burned out from the constant changes and unreasonable demands from management. As I was let go other parts of the organization wanted my help to get their work processes in line with the bigger processes I had already designed. As they learned that i was getting burned out they reached out and asked how I was doing and if I was ok with continuing at H&M. This is so typical of H&M that no matter how chaotic and bad things are the people are just the best in the world. I ended up saying no to continue at H&M because I did not think it would be good for my health to stay. Not just for the crazy situation in management, that I am sure was just temporary, but also because of the effect the many renovations had on my SHR. it was a great time and I met some amazing people, but it was the right decision to move on I think. Checking my health I also started the year by doing a full physical checkup. I did a pretty extensive checkup and got a good result on pretty much all areas. Nothing strange with cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar or liver values and so on. My cardio was a bit poor however, which was to be expected as I spend almost 12 hours a day at work or in commute with little physical activity in my spare time. So I went back to the gym at SATS Liljeholmen to work on that while I was working at H&M. I also did a test for SHR (Sensory HyperReaction) which confirmed that I do have SHR. It was a fun test where you inhale the active ingredient of Chili to see what your reaction is. Mine was not overly bad, but it was enough to put me out for a few days after the test. With this confirmed I invested in a breathing mask from Airinum that I use when in commute. This helps pretty good and you look like a ninja, which is always cool. My last check was dental and I fixed a chipped tooth and got my teeth cleaned up. As always it's a bit expensive and it hurt a bit, but it's all worth it and now I am back on track with dental as well. Next year I will focus on training and food. Switched back to Invision Community During the summer I took the decision to move from Wordpress to Invision Community. I had felt the need for something a bit more stable that I could build upon for some time and since I have been working with Invision Community since 2003 it felt like a natural step. Wordpress is nice, but it lack the structure and stability I want. The progress here on the site has been very much experimental this year, but I learned a few things here and there so now I can focus on building a bit more next year. I feel that I have more than enough at this point to build pretty much anything I want, so it's just a matter of deciding on what to build. Next year will be a bit more organized and I am going to use Jira and Confluence for many things. This will be a fun exercise to see how Jira and Confluence can be used in a bit different situation than just for software development. Returning to Elextrolux for a short assignment In the fall I took an assignment at Electrolux again, which took me to Moscow for a few days. This was amazing and I had a great time. Unfortunately the project itself was bit unclear and having two of the greatest architects I know on my team did not help when they were assigned only 75% in the project. This made time management much more stressful than it should have been and again I felt the sting of my time at H&M flare up again. Fortunately this project was short and I could hand it over in just a little over a month. Quit as Atlassian Group Leader As energy levels kept dropping I felt that the time and effort I put into organizing the Atlassian User Group only depleted me of energy even further. I was planning on handing over the group at the end of the year, but as the cost of Electrolux project was adding up I decided to quit right way. In doing so I had to cancel the last two events, which is regretful. I simply did not have the energy to actually pull those through without risking my own health. I will continue the work I have done to connect and discuss the Atlassian Suite here on the site. I do love discussing work processes and methodologies, especially in relation to Jira and Confluence. I also got some time with the Atlassian team to give feedback, which was nice. Hopefully I can plan some trips to Atlassian events in 2020 to meet more of the Atlassian team to discuss the future of their products. Changes at the company I work for Changes happen all the time and at the company I work for this has been very true this year. We changed name in the fall and we have seen some changes in management that I am not sure how I feel about yet. We have upgraded our offices and opened up a new office in Norway. Overall it feels like we are stepping up a bit as a company, which is amazing. Amazing Christmas break We have just returned from an amazing Christmas visit to my mother in law that gave much needed rest and refill of positive energy. It's amazing what a house full of caring adults and toddlers can do for the spirit! My energy levels are renewed and as crappy as 2019 has been in many ways I look forward to 2020 and a new year filled with great things.
Almost every day I see someone posting about stress related illness. I meet people who I see are close to hitting the wall and burning themselves out on a regular basis and it makes me sad. Why do we struggle with this and for what purpose? How can you come back once you hit the wall and what do you do to come back? 25 years ago I hit the wall. I burned myself out and spent a year in rehab. It was so bad that I once went to the store to buy milk, but had to stop halfway home and call a friend to drive me home. I lived 10 minutes from the store. This experience is one of the worst I have ever experienced and the effect of it will never go away. This is why I react when I see people do the same stupid thing as I did and work yourself to the brink of exhaustion. No one will ever thank you for getting burned out and the road back is very long indeed. The worst part is that it is almost impossible for anyone to understand the way getting burnt out feel, so it is hard to find someone to talk to. How to burn yourself out Working hard is not the same as burning yourself out. Working hard is for me how you should work. It is when working hard under constant negative stress happen you risk burning yourself getting burned out. The tricky part with this however is that everyone have different things we respond to with negative stress. This makes it hard to know when you are risking your health and when you are just working hard. Stress is when we trigger our natural defense mechanism called "fight-or-flight" or stress response. This is one of our strongest subconscious mental responses and as such it is often something we are not even aware of. In short it is the way our mind defend itself from harm. What we protect ourselves from varies from person to person and it is triggered differently in different people. You can for example be a person that handle chaotic environments such as restaurants well, but get stressed over meetings with authorities or economic problems. Other people can be very sensitive to uncertainties and require structure and order to avoid stress. Since this is individual it is very hard to know when you are hurting yourself from stress, or even what type of stress that is harmful. There are symptoms however that you can look out for to help you identify these types of issues These symptoms are borrowed from WebMD. Emotional symptoms of stress include: Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed Avoiding others Physical symptoms of stress include: Low energy Headaches Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea Aches, pains, and tense muscles Chest pain and rapid heartbeat Insomnia Frequent colds and infections Loss of sexual desire and/or ability Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing Clenched jaw and grinding teeth Cognitive symptoms of stress include: Constant worrying Racing thoughts Forgetfulness and disorganization Inability to focus Poor judgment Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side For me the most common symptom is low energy. I call this "the hole" as it feels like you are trapped in a dark hole mentally. I get this quite often and that is because of my duality in personality where I am both extrovert and introvert. That means that I spend a lot of energy being extrovert at work, but then I need time for reflection for my introvert side to balance that out. Not having enough time for reflection at work is one of the most damaging things you can have. This is why the word NO is so important as well as the ability to dedicate time for reflection. Many organizations adapt a policy called No Meetings Day, which basically locks time from being used for meetings. This is so time can be spent on work and focused reflection. I have a theory that the reason why so many poor decisions are made in organizations is because everyone is constantly running. With no time to reflect decisions are made in the fight or flight mode. The problem with that is that when you are in that mode you suppress your prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is often referred to the "modern brain" since this is where our ability to plan and take long term decision. This area is also responsible for empathy, which is why some managers appear to be assholes. How to avoid getting burned out Balance you energy The first thing I suggest you do right now is to make a list of things that give you energy and what drain you of energy. This is your balance list. This list will help you understand how you are doing mentally and you should update this often in the beginning. For me for example it cost energy to go to parties and I gain energy from writing or watching movies. For you it can be that it give you energy to go to parties and it cost energy to write reports. It all depend on your personality and there are no right or wrong answers. Do you have time to do your work? The second thing you should do is to look at your work. Do you have enough time to do your job? If the answer is no, then you will burn yourself out sooner or later. This is why many people in stressful jobs jump between employers as the time constraint trigger the fight or flight response. You either get into conflict with your employer or you leave if the stress get to much. So if you are in a situation when time is not enough, then you should talk to your employer to reduce the workload. If that is not possible, then find new employment if possible. Do not forsake reflection due to social demands Thirdly, and this is mostly for my introvert peers out there, make sure you do not forsake reflection in order to be socially accepted. I know many introverts who feel obligated to go to parties or be social when they should spend time reflecting. This is especially problematic when you are young or when you invest heavily into social media. Do not be afraid to shut down, even if you feel that people think you are weird. You are not weird and everyone that actually matter will not only understand, they will support you in that decision. Reflect and listen This is important, because it is when you stop to reflect that you can see the signs of you being in danger of burning yourself out. For me I write things like this and as I write I reflect on my own state of mind. For you it can be a walk in nature, mindfulness or just having a cup of tea on the terrace. Also listen to what others are saying. If people ask if you are ok, then stop and reflect instead of instantly respond that you are ok. I actually had members of my team ask me this a coupe of years ago and it led to me taking a few days off as I was getting burned out What do I do if I burn myself out? Ask for help! This one is the most difficult one for many. Asking for help is for some strange reason considered to be a weakness, but it is in fact a strength. The ability to ask for help prevent many, many issues in life and I think it is also a prerequisite for personal growth. So do not be afraid to ask for help if you start to feel some of the symptoms above. Go talk to a doctor and also consider talking to a therapist as the injury you have sustained is a mental one. Only the symptoms are physical. Accept that you are injured Being burned out is not something you can "get over" or "snap out of". It is not you being lazy or weak. It is a mental injury as well as a physical one as your long term exposure of stress hormones have damaged your central nervous system. You need to treat this as a physical injury and by this I mean that you need to give it time to heal. Just as you would not keep running on a fractured leg you should not continue working in the same stressful way with a stress related injury. Let it take the time it need for you to heal. Talk to someone who understand This is extremely difficult to do, not just for you, but also for the people around you. Many who get burned out are people that naturally work very hard. To these people it is difficult to handle the situation as it conflict with their self image. As people around you do not understand and tell you to "get over it", that affect your self image even more. For this reason you should find someone to talk to who has been in the same situation as you have. Understanding that you are not alone and that this is not something you can just get over will help with those feelings. Fill up on positives and cut away all demands Nothings feels as heavy as having things that you must do. It can become paralyzing to the point of giving you panic attacks just to meet someone for coffee. So try to cut away on all things that you feel must be done and focus on things that fill you with energy. If you feel like meeting someone or doing something social, make sure that you give yourself a way out if needed. When I meet with people who have suffered a stress related injury I always tell them that if they need to cancel they just send a text. No explanations or excuses are needed. I also advice them to tell others that they are meeting that if they can not make it they will send a text and that they don't need a text back. Most people will understand that and it reduce a lot of the stress. Drugs is not the answer! When stress related injuries happen your instinct is to avoid the pain it brings. Most turn inwards naturally and avoid people to protect themselves. For some this is either not enough, or they can not handle the social demands. So they turn to drugs to take the edge of the pain and to hide from the world in a sense. An increase of substance abuse, regardless if it is alcohol or drugs is not actually helping however. In fact since your mind is already experiencing depression and low self esteem combined with a reduced capacity of your rational thinking adding drugs and alcohol will only increase the risk of self damage such as suicide. Know that you will be ok Depression often comes with stress related injuries. Self doubt and the sense of being worthless is common. These things can lead to thoughts of suicide as you see no way out of your situation. This is why it is important to get help early because no matter how bad your situation is and how deep into the darkest corners you find yourself I promise you that you will be ok. Just like all injuries they will heal in time and just like all pain it can become unbearable if you carry it alone. So ask for help and know that the pain you go through is temporary and will eventually fade. You will be ok. Take care of yourself out there Getting burned out is becoming more common these days as we sacrifice empathy on the altar of efficiency. So take care of yourself and balance those energy levels. Talk about it often with friends and family and reflect on your current state of mind regularly. No one will ever thank you for working yourself into the wall. Surprisingly enough most people will appreciate you for saying no if you have to much to do. Saying no takes courage and it has nothing to do with weakness. You are an amazing person and you deserve a wonderful life. So take care of yourself and make sure you never hit that wall.