Burnout – How to spot the warning signs and fix it

There are many high-pressured professions and cybersecurity is undoubtedly one of them. This may be due, in part, to the sheer volume of vulnerabilities cybersecurity teams need to tackle each day (as many as 17,447 vulnerabilities were identified in 2020), the consequences if the business is attacked (the global average cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million) and the typically poor methods of performance management

 

Unfortunately, data has shown that the pressure is becoming too high, with 65% of IT and security professionals admitting they have considered quitting their job due to burnout. Given the world is already facing a cybersecurity skills gap of 3 million workers, companies cannot afford to let their teams fall victim to burnout. This article will talk to you about spotting the warning signs and what to do to help your team get back on track. 

 

What is burnout, and why should I care?

The term “burnout” was first used by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s to describe the impact of severe stress, which is exhaustion and the inability to cope. It can lead to poor performance or human error (90% of security breaches in the UK in 2019 were due to human error), absenteeism and eventually, resignations. Subtitle: What are the warning signs of burnout?

 

Burnout isn’t an instant thing – the symptoms can take weeks or months to appear, so having a keen eye on the following is essential:

 

  • Sick day usage. According to Gallup, employees approaching burnout are 63% more likely to call in sick than those who are not.
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased performance
  • A dip in confidence
  • Expression of negativity towards the role, colleagues or the company
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Signs of anxiety such as irritability or fatigue
  • Working long hours and unable to switch off. i.e. the last one to leave the office most days or emailing at midnight
  • Forgetfulness

 

Of course, if some of your team work remotely, then these signs are even harder to spot. In this case, we recommend looking out for:

 

  • Changes in the way an employee communicates, i.e. making fewer contributions on team video calls
  • Tardiness
  • Missed deadlines
  • Long lags in email responses
  • Being “active” on Slack late at night or at weekends which might suggest they’re not taking breaks from work
  • Anxious body language or signs of distress on video calls

 

How to tackle burnout

Now that you’ve spotted early warning signs that members of your team could do with some extra help and support, what exactly do you do?

 

1. Identify the crux of the problem 

It’s all very well jumping ahead and giving everyone training, but what if the exhaustion is caused by the volume of work rather than its difficulty? 

 

Speaking with your team regularly to identify the most significant challenges they’re facing will mean that when the signs arise that things are getting too much, you won’t waste time taking the best course of action.

 

The problems identified could include:

 

  • Frustrations with the size of the team or its tools
  • Overwhelming workload aka alert fatigue (most enterprises see more than 10,000 security alerts per day)
  • Company expectations, i.e. other teams consider their IT problems more important than a security breach
  • Fear of making a mistake

 

2. Assess workload

If your team have told you they have too much work to do, it’s crucial you assess if this is indeed the case. If the amount expected of them is too high, then go to 3. below.  However, if the workload is reasonable, then skip to 4. 

 

Either way, make sure they know you have listened to their concerns and are taking action to help them.

 

3. Recruit

This may seem easier said than done with the global skills shortage we mentioned earlier, but with a clear job spec and some financial investment in the recruitment process; you should find the new talent your team desperately needs.  Also, if you find yourself in the fortunate position of having an oversupply of strong candidates, keep in contact with those who aren’t successful, as you never know when you might need them.

 

4. Provide extra support in the form of training or coaching

If you have a talented team, but they lack the specific skills you need, invest in their training and development. They’ll feel rewarded, and you’ll have done your bit to beat the skills gap. 

 

5. Lead by example

If you don’t want your team working evenings and weekends too often, don’t give them evidence that you are. Make them see the importance of time away from the computer to recharge your batteries.

 

6. Provide mental health support

While counselling could be of great use to struggling team members, one-to-one sessions may seem daunting, so be ready to offer alternatives such as meditation apps or online programmes. 

 

7. Automate where possible

One of the most time-consuming elements of a cybersecurity professional’s role is sorting through the vulnerabilities to identify which to tackle next. This manual triage is costly for several reasons, and a cheap and effective solution is to automate the process. With RankedRight, you only need to set prioritisation rules once. Then we’ll take over the triage for every future vulnerability scan, leaving you to remediate more issues in the order that’s best for your business: less admin, more action, greater results.

 

8. Remain vigilant

Staff wellbeing requires constant attention. Keep an eye on your team and give them the support they need, and you’ll have a strong and happy workforce.