At RSA: New data reinforces intimate stories of career stress and burnout

by Jack Daniel
February 24, 2012

In the last year, I’ve been part of a panel of security experts that has gathered at various security events to share what we’ve learned about stress and burnout in the IT security industry, and to help people identify when they, or somebody they know, are at risk. We’ve conducted surveys to find out more about these risks and their causes, but the heart of these sessions are the compelling anecdotes from the security professionals who share personal stories of depression or anger, as well as their scars, both emotional and physical.

Our presentations and discussions have been a developing project, each session building off of what we learn at every event before it. I’ll be moderating a panel again on this topic at RSA, and we will be revealing original research on career burnout and the causes of stress for security professionals.

We do not have enough data to make statistically defensible conclusions, but we will be making new observations and starting new conversations about how stress impacts IT security professionals, and why it happens. We’ll talk about how our personalities, larger economic issues, and substance abuse all play a role in career burnout.

In the end, the takeaways and action items of our session will depend on who participates, but we want people to be able to recognize legitimate signs of burnout.

Warning signals for professionals on a crash course

Our data focuses on three indicators of burnout. The first two – level of exhaustion and level of cynicism – are important, but are also typical stress indicators for any industry. The third indicator – self efficacy – hits the security industry harder than most.

Why? Because we security professionals, perhaps more so than folks in other industries, are proud of what we do, we tend to be good at what we do, and we’ve had to prove ourselves every step of the way. When our jobs leave us feeling unfulfilled, or don’t give us the recognition we feel we deserve, we’re more likely to be higher on the burnout scale.

Many security folks are at greater risk today because businesses are actually struggling to find and hire enough skilled employees for their security jobs. We’re slugging it out and often working multiple jobs. Demands on these people are higher, and opportunities for employee recognition are lower – all of which presents a greater opening for stress.

If you think you’re on the burnout scale, you have to stop and take an honest assessment of yourself. Find a way to increase your personal satisfaction – we’ve heard from people who take on mentoring roles, and are able to prove to themselves again that they know their stuff, and that their knowledge is valuable. 

We’ll share other steps and tips for recognizing and stopping career burnout, but more importantly, we want to let people know that they’re not alone – many of their peers are battling the same problem.