Don’t Be a Work Zombie: 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout and Disengagement in IT

Complacency is one of the silent killers in the IT industry. It takes formerly intelligent, ambitious techies and turns them into slow-moving shells of their former selves, the zombies of the workplace. They haunt the halls of tech companies across the world and their numbers are growing.  One small achievement or simply remaining in a position, putting in minimal effort and not getting fired are drivers of complacency, but so is disengagement. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Worried you’re becoming complacent or disengaged, at your job? Turn the cycle around now before you get converted to the dark side.

Don’t let your guard down. Maybe you’re an expert in a highly demanded technology and don’t see any reason to learn new skills. Only the shortsighted let their guard down in the information technology industry, where change is rapid and disruptive behaviors are common. The best way to be comfortable with your burgeoning IT career is to constantly immerse yourself in new technologies. If you stop learning simply because you’ve completed your degree or have a few years of experience under your belt, the complacency effect will creep up on you and, when you’re ready to look for a new opportunity—because you think it’s time to move on or you were let go—many doors will be closed because you refused to expand your tech knowledge when you had the chance. This will leave you stuck in the same role with no hope for escape, the perfect recipe for complacency.

Define your personal brand, rather than following the horde. When you are unaware of your personal strengths, passions and values, it’s impossible to predict what kind of workplace you’ll thrive in. Coming up with your personal brand—an amalgamation of your vision, values and self-assessment—will offer you the clarity you need to avoid opportunities that will lead to complacency. If you’re following your vision, the inherent drive and passion will help keep you engaged even during slower seasons at work. Need help identifying your personal brand? Write down a description of where you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years and so on. Then, create a list of your strengths in the workplace. Finally, identify your workplace values. The combination of these lists should provide a consistent brand that will guide you to opportunities that inspire a steady, productive pace at work that is less vulnerable to disengagement.

Don’t underestimate the power of your fellow techies. While it’s not always possible to meet everyone you work with, make it a priority to bond with a few of your coworkers in every position. These relationships could launch potential successful collaborations, recommendations or simply give you the sense of camaraderie you need to remain engaged and focused on your techie passions. Similarly, the coworkers you don’t get a chance to become friends with should still be treated with the utmost level of dignity and respect. From the janitor to the CEO, you never know how one impression will affect your future opportunities, so make it a positive one. On the flip side, if you find yourself mingling with a group of negative, disengaged coworkers, run for your life! Like zombies they will eat your brains—starting with the pieces that help you maintain a passionate, engaged attitude at work—and soon you’ll be infected with complacency. It’s easier than you can imagine to be subtly affected if you’re surrounded by unmotivated, negative people. While you should still treat everyone with dignity and respect, try to spend the majority of your time at work with more passionate people. Like negativity, passion is infectious and will help you stave off complacency for years to come.

Don’t let success get to your head. Some people will work diligently to impress their peers, their boss or their clients. Once you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty you’re sure to be the object of praise and admiration around the office. It’s easy to let this success go to your head and, when it does, complacency often rears its ugly head. To avoid this pitfall, you’ll need to divorce praise for a job well done from your driving motivation to do the job. Instead, focus on pushing your own limits. If you’re competing with your best self, your work will be driven to new heights and unexpected places each and every time. If you focus on proving your ever-increasing value at work to yourself first and foremost, others will eventually take notice and realize your amplified worth. This will not only end the cycle of complacency but also elevate your IT career.

When you’ve achieved one goal, set another. Goal setting is a key indicator in future success, but it’s easy to get complacent after you’ve completed a long awaited goal. The best strategy to avoid this is to diversify your work goals. Having a list of the three most important things you need to accomplish that day has been proven to promote productivity. Implement monthly and yearly goals to include plans for elevating your technical experience, diversifying your skillset and producing higher quality work. The blend of long-term and short-term goals will deliver a periodic sense of success and give you something to reach for in the future. While this approach may seem like it leaves no time for celebration, that isn’t necessarily true. The endorphins you get from small achievements are often enough, but if you finish a yearlong project by the preset deadline, go out with your team and celebrate! Your other goals can wait a day or so while you revel in success. Paying tribute to these achievements temporarily is not the same thing as letting them define you. As long as you move on to bigger and better things soon, the celebratory moments don’t need to be eliminated. Congratulations! You did it! Now, what’s next?

Communicate upwards. If you need help setting goals, ask your manager for a few minutes of their time to discuss the big picture. Once you know where the company is heading, you’ll be more equipped to set goals that will create value and directly contribute to your successful career. Sometimes all it takes is a little insider knowledge and a clear vision of the company’s direction to motivate you. If you know your organization’s trajectory, even if it’s not one you’re inspired by, it will be easier to identify where you fit into the future of the company and whether or not it’s time to move on.

Don’t let a challenge steer you away. If you limit yourself to performing the same tasks over and over again, you’re bound to become complacent. Although taking on new responsibility at work can be intimidating, it’s an essential aspect of a flourishing IT career. If an unfamiliar task is offered up, don’t shy away! Treat each challenge like an ant treats an obstacle, navigate your way through it or around it however you can manage. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Ask more experienced peers for advice on how to handle the situation. Do some research and see if there are any recommendations online. Sit and meditate or go for a walk to allow your brain to clear itself of distractions, this may be the clarity you need to get the job done! Once you’ve done it you’ll be an even more capable and valuable employee than you were before.

Do all you can do. In the American tradition of all-you-can-eat buffets, it’s hard to be complacent when you focus on doing all you can do. The best way to jump-start your motivation is to kick your work drive in to high gear! Make lists of areas you can improve on and what you want to accomplish, and then execute. Maybe this involves seeking out a collaborative project or staying late to add additional functionality to a project you were less-than proud of. Add these tasks that really drive your interests into your everyday to-do list and ask around to see if your boss or coworkers need your help performing another task. Shedding your complacent attitude may be as simple as becoming more involved in a project you care about, or becoming more involved in the company as a whole, contributing all you can to whatever is important right now. Spreading your engagement to areas you never thought to contribute to may help you discover hidden passions or open future gateways that will greatly improve your IT career. If you take the chance to try a little bit of everything, you’ll be surprised how much of it you love! But, as with buffets, it’s important not to gorge. If you take on too much at once you may become overwhelmed and shut your engagement off entirely. Instead, add a few tasks on at a time until your plate is comfortably full. This will optimize your engagement without scaring you away from a less complacent life.

Pursue your interests inside and outside of tech. If you have a passion for the work you’re doing, it will be ten times easier to dedicate yourself to the constant improvement needed in this industry. Pursuing your passions at work will prevent burnout, but so will pursuing your passions outside of the office. If you’re looking to avoid complacency in the workplace, try to find tasks that align with your interests. You’ll often have to contribute to some projects you’re less than excited about or have duties you’d rather ignore, but if you have enough interesting projects to balance out these negatives, you should remain engaged at work. When one position doesn’t offer you to pursue the area of IT that you’re passionate about, keep your eyes open for job opportunities that will. Similarly, in your free time, you can pursue your unfulfilled interests—both technical and creative—by starting your own side project. This thorough stimulation will make you a more engaged, creative and innovative person in all areas of your life and will scare away any complacent behaviors.

Keep hope alive. Maybe your career has taken an unexpected turn and you’re wondering how you got where you are. Maybe you’re in the tech field of your dreams but something doesn’t feel right and you can’t see a way out. It’s easy to lose sight of hope for a brighter future when your current position seems so wrong. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and looking for distractions at every turn, start looking for ways to change your current situation. If there’s no room for promotion within your current role, start looking at open positions and think about making that transition. Remember, your career will only remain stagnant and unfulfilling if you aren’t willing to put in the effort to find the kind of job you’d really be happy with. Work hard and hope for the best, you may just find the IT role of your dreams!

Fight off infection with these comprehensive steps and you’ll be cured of complacency and disengagement in no time! When you’re doing everything in your power to curb these behaviors and something still feels off, your current company may be the root of the cause. Remember, leaders and owners are just as susceptible to these infectious trends as you are. When they’re content to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done or begin to slack, it will become increasingly challenging not to fall in with them.

Instead of joining the disengaged masses, start looking for a viable exit. When you’re ready to ditch those zombies and move on to bigger and better things, make sure you don’t let your negative experiences drag down future interviews. You’ll find a more engaging workplace that fits with your personal brand as long as you focus on the positives. Good luck avoiding the hordes of complacent and disengaged workers! In the end, you’ll be glad you did.