Tech layoffs and economic uncertainty have heavily impacted the livelihoods of product managers across the globe. We thought it would be timely to look back to when Rachel Hamlin explored how best practices in product often turn into pitfalls in our culture of burnout for this Sunday Rewind.
The factors of burnout
Rachel explains that in a study published in Forbes, it was revealed that seven out of 10 tech employees are considering quitting over the next year; 30% of those are because of burnout.
Christina Maslach, the pre-eminent researcher on burnout and professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, has identified six factors in total that cause burnout. An unmanageable workload is only one of these factors.
The remaining five are:
- Lack of autonomy: Employees are not equipped to make decisions, access the resources they need or dictate their focus.
- Insufficient reward: Employees don’t receive adequate extrinsic or intrinsic recognition in exchange for their work.
- Lack of fairness: Success in the organization is driven more by relationships and favoritism than by performance; employees are not on even footing.
- Breakdown of community: Teams have difficulty communicating or connecting with one another.
- Values conflict: Employees’ personal values are at odds with those of the organization.
As product managers, what can we do about this? Campaign to cut scope. Improve processes. Recognize our teammates and ask for feedback. In the worst case, leave and head to another organization with a slower pace or better leadership.
Rachel adds that if we can increase our capacity to thrive even in challenging environments, we not only create more resilient wellbeing for ourselves; we will have more capacity to effect change for our colleagues and employees as well. This is where our essential product management skills come into play.
Checking in with yourself
Rachel encourages us to rate ourselves honestly on these four habits to check in with ourselves on how we are doing:
0 = I never do this.
1 = I sometimes do this.
2 = I frequently do this.
- I default to “yes” when the answer is not an obvious “no”
- We strive to make healthy and grounded estimates for delivery, but expect ourselves to deliver in superhuman timing.
- We know that failure is necessary in order to iterate, but internalize the responsibility we hold for our team.
- We know that creativity emerges from divergent thinking, but rarely embrace conflict as an opportunity to create understanding and connection.
“Go ahead and tally your score. If it’s above a 0, you’re in good company, and importantly: you’re not a bad product manager. You’re human.” she says.
Growing your personal tolerance to burnout
Setting boundaries, asserting our true opinions, and creating solutions from conflict—all the hallmarks of strong product management—represent some degree of emotional risk. If we’re to avoid these pitfalls, enact best practices, and protect ourselves from burnout, we must learn to regulate our stress response and build our tolerance for emotional risk, Rachel says.
There are many great resources on regulating stress, from breathwork to power posing, but Rachel explains that she like to teach her clients a tool known as tapping, because it can be targeted at specific stressors.
As you practice this, you build a buffer between yourself and your environment. You build the resilience and resourcefulness you need to make healthy changes for your team and your career.