Let’s talk about burnout

Avatar of Reed Odeneal Reed Odeneal, Engineering Manager, Service Experience Tribe

In August 2017, I quit.

After four years at SageSure, I backed up from a job that I loved because I fell victim to burnout and left the very company where my career in software began.

SageSure gave me what I felt was my first big break into the software world. It was the kind of job that I had been reaching for since I graduated college: remote work, a handsome salary, incredibly talented coworkers, and doing exciting work. It was a dream come true. The first few years were fast-paced and exciting and I genuinely loved the work that I was getting to do. A year after coming on board I had assumed the role of Operations Lead with a small team of talented engineers overseeing our Cloud infrastructure, CI/CD systems, and being responsible for monitoring our production stack. As a company, we were accelerating at an amazing pace and smashing records for new business nearly every month. As a result, the frequency of changes and deployments flowing into production was ever-increasing. On one hand, I was watching my career take flight all while learning new tech and automating everything else. On the other hand, the number of backlog tickets, production incidents, outages, and postmortems that I was participating in was ever-increasing. At times I felt the crunch and hunkered down to get through tight deadlines, incidents, and an endless number of meetings. But still, I loved my job.

At this point, the quiet erosion of my career euphoria, my dream job, was hardly noticeable. There were times when I directly felt the stress of work but I always assumed that you sometimes felt exhausted from work and that was it. I figured if things got really bad I could take a few days off to reset. Another year went by and the story reads the same: more organizational success, more frequent delivery to production, and more fallout from outages, technical debt, and new features. Then, I finally hit a wall. The thing is I didn’t hate my job at this point, I still loved it, but I knew that it was going to crush me if I didn’t leave it behind. I felt powerless and ill-equipped to handle the way that I responded to stress. I was out of gas and had no more energy left in me to give to my job, so I resigned and slipped away with a bag of emotion dragging behind me.

How did this happen? Why didn’t I see this coming? These were the questions that swirled in my head when I finally had a chance to reflect on the most shocking turn of my young career.

What exactly is burnout?

Stress manifests in everyone differently and can make identifying and treating job-related stress and burnout a real challenge. Herbert Freudenberger, a German-born American psychologist and psychotherapist, first coined the term “burn out” in 1974 describing it as “a consequence of excessive stress leading to chronic fatigue and lack of enthusiasm”. His work defined a 12-stage model for the development of burnout symptoms:

Many of these are clear sensations that may be easy to spot yet others you may never realize until you’re in the middle of it. In my case burnout first began building early on in my career at SageSure but not in ways that I ever expected or even noticed.

What I learned

SageSure, round two

After I burned out I spent the following year and a half freelancing and working on personal projects which gave me the opportunity to reflect on what happened and why it happened. I stayed in touch with SageSure and my friends there and was lucky enough to get the chance to join the organization for a second time with a new perspective on my job and priorities. Better understanding burnout and how job stress affects me has made a significant improvement on my quality of life and the quality of my work.


If there’s any takeaway you get from this post it should be this: talk about burnout. It’s the most important first step anyone and any organization can do. I’m a testament to the reality of work stress and burnout and wanted to share what I know about it, what I went through, and to hopefully get us started on thinking about these things more often.