As human beings, we can only handle so much. At times issues accumulate in our workplaces that lead to burnout. It could be prolonged working hours, lack of resources or support, and loneliness, among other causes.
These burnouts go beyond physical or emotional exhaustion and can be detrimental. For this reason, it is always important to look out for signs that indicate you are on the brink of burnout so that you can take a step back and reassess everything.
This episode covers the burnout you may encounter as a PM, their causes, and how to deal with them. In addition, we also share some of our burnout experiences, what may have caused them and how we avoided or overcame them.
Tune in to learn this and more!
[1:05] Burnouts in startups
[1:43] Burnout in large companies
[4:14] Causes of burnouts
[9:50] The community
[10:57] Parv's burnout
[14:10] Mismatch of organizational values and personal values
[16:48] Alex's burnout and how he went about it
[21:10] Taking a step back and reassessing
[22:54] The cost of burnout
[25:00] How Parv handled his burnout
[26:00] When it's worth risking burnout to achieve some objective
[27:49] Burnouts from the pandemic
[29:59] Keeping an eye on potential signs of burnout
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This time on Trending products, we're gonna go into pm burnout, and what it's like to work as a pm and then also maybe work long hours at some point, especially during new releases, and particularly stressful times. Thanks, Alex,
one of the most under talked topic here in the product management role. I think it is burnout, burnout is getting more and more real. We're hearing more cases about that. It's something that is happening around us, and we're just not paying attention. And I feel like even within product management, that space is just so ripe for something like burnout to happen. What do you think?
Yeah, I mean, I've definitely burned out a couple times, especially I think, startups, there's definitely more of an issue around this, at least in my experience, I think at startups, there's just like an infinite amount of work. And sometimes that work comes really late. Or sometimes it's a monumental amount of effort for a very small team. So you're just working all night on all nighters, trying to get everything out as quickly as possible. It's one of those things that it's just unfortunate, it's not like you can really blame anybody that work needs to get done, you got to pound through it, and you get it done.
Do you feel it also happens at large organizations, though, because I can't even imagine the stress that comes with being a pm at a large company, given the scale and the impact that you can have, and the constant pressure of you know, making sure that you're delivering, right, because you're not only competing with other PMS, but then you're competing with so many more folks outside the org, within the bigger organization, the company. And it's just like that competition, along with the stress of making sure that you're doing something that's impactful, I feel like that also can lead to some of the stresses as a PM, even in a large organization.
I think it depends on the organization. I think there's some organizations that definitely have more of an issue than others. I think, at least in my experience, I've worked at organizations that are both relatively easy, not relatively easy, but they're very good about making sure that people are working too much. They're bringing on new people to help cover if there's too much work, or there's too much of a ramp up. I've also worked at places that don't really care if there's too much work for a person, they just want the work to get done, they just expect that person to cover it. So I think it just depends on the organization in our culture, large organizations, there's also a lot of internal pressure to try to get promoted and try to kind of climb that next rung of the corporate ladder. So a lot of that internal pressure is what's I think pushing people to work really long hours, and ultimately burnout, or is I think startups is a little bit more external pressure, it depends on I think the organization to a large degree,
the pm role itself is just so ambiguous in terms of what needs to get done. All of that starts taking a toll on one on the day to day as well, while you're working as a product manager, as you've talked about this before, you're not necessarily the one who is actually executing on something, you're mostly a conduit to so many different teams. So many expectations lie upon you a lot of different context switching that's happening, a lot of different topics that need to be addressed. And like it can get a lot, sometimes for a PM. And it's not surprising that you feel stressed as a product manager, product management
in general, because there's a lot on your shoulders. So if anything goes wrong, you're the person who's responsible for riding the ship. So you're the one who hears about some issue with like a P zero kind of issue that comes down and then you're the one who has to kind of rally the troops to try to figure out what the problem is, and then solve that problem. And these don't always happen in a nine to five. Sometimes they happen just before you're about to go to bed, and you got to try to call everybody, wake them up and try to get them to fix this issue.
Let's take a step back from product management, but look at burnout, within burnout itself from all the research that we've read. And we were talking about this earlier as well. There are a couple of things that really specifically can cause burnout within an individual. When we look at those areas, it just seems it can translate unfortunately, really well into a product managers world. For example, one of the main reasons for burnout is a perceived lack of control feelings of not having autonomy, access to resources, sometimes that is something so huge within a product management scope, right?
Outside the projects, you don't feel like you have control of the project or the project is just
Outside the projects, you don't feel like you have control of the project or the project is just beyond salvaging, then you just kind of get this hopeless feeling that overcomes you. So no matter how much you work, you just can't really do too much. I think also there's this idea that burnout is because you're overworking a lot of it is because there's just something that happened, like you've lost like your engineering team, or there was like a budget issues if it's at a startup. And then you have to lay off a bunch of the core people and then now as a PM, or you're trying to like complete this project when you just lost your legs. There's a lot of things like that were not necessarily tied to long hours, but it's tied to just this hopeless feeling of trying to climb a mountain with no legs. Yeah. And
sometimes at the end, it's just you don't have control over the teams that are executing on certain pieces of the project. Yes, you're there who's kind of connecting the dots and bringing the people together but design is out there designing engineering is out there coding UX is happening, legal compliantly all those teams are executing on the vision. They're the ones who are actually doing the work as a PM you're trying your best to help guide have those conversations unblocked them. But you don't necessarily have control or have an input into the exact day to day working. And that can also sometimes lead to that lack of predictability or lack of control in management of workflows or resources. And I think those kinds of feelings start to add up sometimes as the scope increases as the team increases, and all of that can just sort of start building up and eventually lead to burnout.
05:26in the mission, you can work:
The other reason that we experienced burnout in the workplace is rewards either extrinsic or instant six. But if that reward doesn't necessarily match up to the amount of effort that we put in, it feels like the investment or the work that we're trying to do isn't being rewarded appropriately. As a product manager, I think one of the biggest things that we have to learn is delayed gratification, there is no immediate access or reward to the type of work that you're doing. And it sometimes can feel like a thankless job when you're there just everyday going in creating tickets, connecting people having meetings, but not coming out of it with anything concrete. And I think that lack of concrete rewards at the end can sometimes make you feel as if your effort hasn't been watered.
Personally, I kind of know at this point when I you're in burnout, or when I burn out and a lot of it is when you have these endless meetings and you don't have anything that you feel like you've accomplished I think for me, like creating things is super important. And if I'm not able to create something, whether at work or on the side that I get, like super depressed and start burning out, even if at work, you have all these meetings, you're not actually accomplishing anything like making sure you know when you're gonna burn out and then being able to try to fix that and create something on the side if that's what will will stave off burnout is super important. Because as a DM so many meetings, and it feels like such slow progress for so long, especially like in the requirements gathering phase, when you're just talking to endless stakeholders, months go by without any real progress, except for some new requirements being added to a Brd or Brd
Yeah, and it's so hard to even understand what is a reward that you can get as a PM, right? I've had moments where I've just meetings, after meetings, God requirements together, the product got launched, but no one ever thought about tracking for it, or it wasn't something that was so high on priority that people were looking into the numbers, it just got launched, it was something that you needed to do, it just didn't feel rewarding enough at the end for all the effort that you put in to get everyone together and actually get that launch and ship. And sometimes you take a look at those kind of situations. And you're like, What am I doing here is this really worth all the effort and stress that I'm going through, those kinds of moments sometimes just end up making you much more stressed and anxious than you actually are?
Yeah, whenever you have like an idea, or you start working on a new project, there's always this kind of high every day. And every week that goes by without any progress, it just kind of drains you. By the time it gets hard on the project. If it's two months after I was really excited about it, I probably don't even care about the project. At that point, I normally just want to go to the next project. But this project is only halfway through. So now you're essentially dragging yourself on a project you don't really care about anymore, all the way across the finish line. It doesn't feel like anything doesn't feel rewarding.
The other one, when I'm thinking about burnout, a big one is community who you work around with, or who you're working with who you have around you, the team and the relationships that you build at work. When I think about product management, it can be such an isolating role. I mean, we've talked about this earlier as well. And being a product manager you're not necessarily embedded within an org which has multiple more people. You aren't an engineer with pair programming with your other engineers you aren't in a design team which has other designers you can like bounce ideas and brainstorm design reviews off as a PM sometimes you are kind of left alone on till you need it, or until you need it to specify a requirement or clarify a question that can feel lonely. And I think that is another big cause of why slowly as you spend more time in that state, it can add up and eventually lead to burnout.
There's lots of different causes, at least, in my experience, we've touched on, I think, long hours, loneliness, there's all sorts of different factors. there been times in your career where you felt like you were burning out, you're able to kind of pull out of it.
And one of my first jobs here, I think, for me was a bunch of different things that went from constantly creating, I was at school, and I was part of hackathons, etc. And used to do a lot of different types of creative work there in terms of like actually building and deploying, and that kind of stuff. And the first time I jumped into my job, it was very exciting at first, but then slowly, it was hard for me to understand, like, what was different for me with past times, and I think, for me, not being able to actually build something and constantly look at creation happening or, you know, being part of something that's actually getting built and actually going out there every day. Like, it felt a little weird to me, slowly and steadily, it started to catch up. And I was starting to look for those rewards, or that instant gratification as a PM, but it wasn't coming. For me, it took me a long time to realize the difference between being a pm at an organization versus being a member of a team at the hackathon at school, that difference in the gratification and how easily you can actually see something that you've done and see feedback. For me that took time to get an understanding of I did honestly almost reach that brink of like burnout, where I was like, You know what, this is just not worth it all the effort I'm doing, nothing's happening. But I think once I identified that, you know, I took some corrective measures, took some steps back, try to understand from a different perspective. And I think that really helped pull me out of that burnout.
Yeah, I totally agree. I think when you're in college, or when you're in your own startup, there's a lot of times where you're just building things with the team, you're ideating, you're brainstorming together, which is such a like a fun and engaging experience. And you go to like the real world as a PM. And essentially, you're just like this person who writes some specs, gathers requirements, and then the engineering team or the UX team does all the fun brainstorming stuff. And you're kind of left out of that discussion. A lot of times, you're just
presented to with the ideas, and then totally agree, I think that's a huge part of it. I think it's startups, you are able to always, especially the size, you're able to join those discussions a lot of times and all those times it's a whole company discussion, depending on the size of the company. It's like how do we make the app design? How should we make the hardware look how should make the website, these things become like massive brainstorming sessions, which are really, really fun, because you have all these different ideas, especially just like a 678 hour long discussion with the whole team, because everyone decided to drop whatever they're doing that day and just join in on discussion because you can, but these larger organizations, everything siloed engineers are in different buildings UX is in different buildings use don't have that fun kind of creative problem solving happening anymore, at least with access to the PM, I mean, pm can always request it. But I think there's always kind of that there's always like a little bit of a barrier. Because you're not really part of that team. You're asking to be a part of it. But you're kind of like on alone, almost, you're kind of watching what they're doing and not really part of too much of the process. So I think there's always kind of a little bit of a distance that you have, as a pm in these larger organizations. It's definitely tough, I think, to kind of overcome especially because I think a lot of PMS are problem solving is their favorite part. And being able to do that collaboratively is so much more fun than just like sitting, going on walks and trying to like crunch these problems on your own. Let's forget
pm for a while one of the biggest things that can cause burnout is when organizational values do not match up with or do not intersect with your personal values, that becomes even more strong. When you think about product management. As a PM, one of the biggest things about our job is to identify the problems that we need to solve, to identify what is the thing that the
organization of the company or the product should be doing in the future, a couple of years after that, and you know, so on. So a lot of the times, it's about you trying to put yourself within that organization and solving for it. If there is a lack of mismatch between some of those internal personnel values that you have, and the organizational ones, BM is just ripe for burnout. This isn't something that's always necessarily with respect to product management, I mean, in any role, if there's that huge mismatch or a gap in those values, then it's going to be something that's going to stress you out. But because as a PM, you're constantly in that mode of analyzing, thinking problem solving, especially against an organizational context, that mismatch can be even stronger sometimes. And so if possible. I feel like it's always important to take a step back and realize if the problems that you're asked to work on, align with some of the problems that you as an individual also want to take upon. And I think that sometimes can solve for a lot of the other issues that stem out from a stress For the work environment,
yeah, I think that's well said and totally on point. Because oftentimes as PM, you're not really siloed, you're open to the business, essentially, you as a pm or business representative on a project. So you have to know what the business is driving towards what the business goals are, what the OKRs are for that larger organization. And if that doesn't line up with what you believe in, and what your identity kind of is, like, if the goal is essentially to increase shareholder profits at all costs, and that comes at the cost of user experience, and you have like some dark patterns that are being introduced in order to try to squeeze more money out of people, as a PM, you're the person who knows that and is tasked with actually enforcing these values that
might not be in line with your own, they're essentially building something that you feel as bad and you feel as bad for the world, especially engineering, they have essentially this set of requirements that they're told to execute on. But they don't necessarily have like the higher level insight of what the organization is driving towards, and what that maybe four or five year plan is and what that looks like for customers, and the values of that company.
Taking a step back again, you mentioned that you've experienced or almost experienced burnout as well. Were there any things that you did that tried to you know, protect yourself against burnout? Or when you were feeling burnout? How do you do like made changes that you sort of came out of that and rediscovered like your mojo,
16:19so everything was around like:
feeling that way. So that's what I did. Like at my later company, the company was like the values were no longer aligned with what I saw the company going towards, I thought the company should go one way, the founders thought that should go another way. Doesn't matter how hard I worked the way that we were trying to go, like consumer versus b2b. b2b was where all the money was happening. I'd be really good at b2b. But I want to go to b2b, but like I couldn't bring the people. So now there's this disconnect. And again, like you're saying with the values, the values are disconnected, you feel like you're running on a treadmill not going anywhere. You're having the same self doubts, why am I doing this? What's the point? So that was like, like, third time, fourth time in my career. After you burn out a few times, you realize what you've learned, you realize that it's just not worth it. Normally, at least as a PM, you can quit, kind of reassess what you want to do and then go from there. But the more times you do it, the more times you realize what the repercussions are. Sometimes you can go headlong into it, knowing you're probably gonna burn out but it might be worth it for whatever your goal is. But I think being aware of burnout and being aware of how to avoid it if you want to avoid it or just accepting the consequences if you put yourself in that position. I think it just as you get a little bit more mature in your career and it happens more times because I don't think it's avoidable in all situations. Then you get a little bit more used to But what you can do with it.
One of the main points that you mentioned here is a being aware of and stuff, but trying to be aware of when there might be an onset of burnout. Or when you might be at the risk of burning out and then trying to take a step back and reassessing. I think that's really important as one of the ways to, you know, try to combat burnout is at moments in your life and your career. If things are getting a little stressful, and even if they're not just taking a step back and making sure that you know, you're aligned correctly with the work with the vision, and just reassessing where you're at. Sometimes just that one outsider's perspective or look into the situation can be really insightful. So I think one of those big ways that you can try and sort of get out of the funk and get your mojo back is jank to like, reassess,
sometimes, some things are worth burning out for burnout is like a symptom of like a larger problem, we did a Kickstarter with one of the companies. So I was running this Kickstarter, I was doing the marketing. I was also like the PM, like, a has a lot of work. The Kickstarter was 60 days, but you don't see that before the Kickstarter, you have three months of prep work, doing the videos, making the campaign, getting the products ready, doing all the press tours, all this stuff. So I think in that case, like I burned out, like the day that we launched, I've been awake for like 40 hours. So I was already burned out for the day, we launched as a 60 day campaign, 60 days brutal, after 30 days, I couldn't go on, I basically just like tapped out of running it, I gave it to like my direct report. But in that case, like I knew was happening, and I think it was worth it. I think that campaign did really well, we raised over a million dollars, between all the different round funding, I knew what was happening. But the cost of victory was worth it, in my opinion. So I think just knowing that you're gonna burn out, but also being able to figure out if it's worth it or not for you. And if it's not worth it, you can quit. That's the luxury of working for somebody, you can go find another job. But sometimes it's worth it. And sometimes it makes like something that you're incredibly proud of it just that the process of getting there was incredibly tough.
And also, again, you know, this can be something that's very personal to an individual in terms of how they want to use that environment, some of that pressure and high stakes work situation. And it's different for everyone. So just want to call that out as well.
Like the cost of burnout is essentially maybe weeks or months of not being able to do anything, you can't concentrate. You can't sleep well. Oh, yeah, I think for me it normally, I think, like three or four months is like my average turnaround time to get out of it. It's a brutal kind of recovery. And it's not always a quick one is like I'm saying three to four months, but sometimes it takes longer. It's a very personal decision on what your priorities are. At that point in my life. My priority was work. I was actually I'd say that's probably still my priority. But I think it just depends on what you're prioritizing life, and maybe the work and the stress and everything is not worth it.
Yeah. I mean, when I think about burnout on my side, and just trying to sort of help myself get my footing back. I think, for me, one of the biggest issues that lead to overwork and stress taking over my career was that same mentality from before, which was like always setting ambitious goals, trying to have those lofty visions and ideas and thinking about, that's the thing I want to get burned. And that's where we have to go to and like pushing and trying to get that vision understood and solve for. And I think one of the big things that I realized was that sometimes as an organization, it is important to set a bit more realistic goals. And when I say realistic, not that ambitious goals are bad. I mean, they are great in terms of binding of vision and bringing folks together and creating a story. But sometimes it's about understanding what are the phases or the steps that you can take to get to that vision. And I think for me, early on in my career, I was more on the big moonshot idea. And then just trying to drive towards that without realizing like organizational structure in terms of teams, and work velocity, all of that might not be conducive to that goal at that time. And then when that's the goal that I want to get to, and we're not able to get there, it feels like there's no progress being made. And I think that again, you know, it feels like there's no reward for the work you're doing. It's just nothing is moving. You're just doing stuff again and again, but it's not taking a positive step towards that direction. And I think that can really impact you. And it did for me, that was a big one for me. And so the one thing that I sort of took out from that is okay, that's the vision that's where you want to get to but how do we set semi ambitious, slash more realistic goals or quick wins or phases that show the progress to myself as a PM as well, and lines up the strategy for that future vision, get those quick wins and get those small features out, help increase your confidence with those and then those small town goals are actually ended up leading to that bigger vision. So I think that was for me, a big one is just sort of understanding What the goal should be and trying to go from have that ambitious goal in mind, but then also set up a plan for like, more achievable targets. And for me that felt so much better to be able to see progress being made and actually getting results, that it always gives me the push to get to the next step, while also being aware of the fact that with each win, there's a moment to celebrate and take a step back and relax and focus on the downside of that time as well.
Yeah, what's your view? Has there ever been a time when it's worth risking burnout, to achieve some objectives?
I think there has been a time where that's been the case for me, but being completely honest, and might have not even realized that I was at the brink of burnout, or I was burning out. In hindsight, when I looked back, I actually did burnout during grad school towards the last few semesters now that I look at all the signs, but at that time, I didn't realize it, I still kept pushing myself, because part of me was enjoying it. And, and wanting to do all of that. So I guess I did, risk or not even risk, but not I actually did burn out but I still kept pushing. But then I saw it stolen myself after. And it took me a while to get out of that zone, where I was burned out and just the energy and everything had significantly reduced. But I mean, at that time, I was still pushing because the work that I was doing was really, really rewarding. But when I do it again, maybe a bit more realistically,
I think that's the thing like about burnout is that you can keep pushing, but I feel like you can three acts the effort, but you get even less in return. Because it's just there's so many effects on your body that just like make it impossible to be as effective as you would be if you just slept well and worn so stressed and all this kind of stuff. So yeah,
I guess to your point, maybe if I knew I was at the risk of burnout, would my decisions have been different? Maybe? I guess at that point, I never even realized like that's what was happening to me. So yeah, I'll keep an eye out for situations where I'm almost at the risk of burnout. And for me if it's the festival want to give pushing or not. So far, I doubt that's going to be the case. But I've given out and I'll keep you updated. Alex,
how do you think the pandemic is affected? I know, like everybody's had a lot of angst and stress and anxiety because of the pandemic. I think there's been a lot of talk about burnout because of the pandemic. I mean, have you faced anything like that during this past couple of years,
that's actually a great point that you bring up and there has been an encroachment, I feel like in personal space, with the fact that we aren't going into office. And again, I say this with the
fact that I am really grateful that I have a job that I can do from home and, and I've been able to work from my home and the comfort of my own desk in my living room. And, and so I'm grateful for that. But when it comes to burnout, especially in the technology industry, in the tech space, in the you know, the desk job that we're at, I think the one thing that the pandemic has led to is encroachment into personal time as well. Meetings, start earlier meetings go on later, if there's any time free in the middle, there's a meeting there. And I think initially, it was fine. You know, you were just like, we're productive. You're getting more work done, even though we're from home. But then I think that that kind of became the norm. Slowly, everyone's realizing like it's not an it shouldn't be say, I mean, there was a time in between where I was just like, I woke up into a meeting. And then right after the last meeting, I was like, Okay, I'm done. I want to sleep, and nothing else during the day. And pretty sure that that was like, if I wasn't already burning out, I was almost at the brink of burning out.
Yeah, yeah, I think that's also the thing for PMS is that, like, we have just meetings constantly. And so I agree, especially during, like peak seasons, especially if you have like counterparts in Asia, you're waking up into a meeting and go into bed into a meeting. Like it's pretty brutal having to have that kind of schedule. So I think also like there's no more boundaries between work and personal life. So I think for me, I basically sitting at a computer for 14 hours a day. Once I'm done with my work projects, then I just flip the switch and then now I'm working on my personal so I think there's no commute, there's nothing to break up the monotony. Like don't leave the house, you don't do anything besides sit at your desk and work all day.
And you know, like, I know we're wrapping this up. But I just want to say like with PM, burnout is something that is potentially always on the horizon. So as always be aware of how your mental state is like, are you on the brink of burnout or not? And just things that might be signs of burnout. Being aware of that and reassessing is really important. And we've all been there. We've all gone through it, Alex and I have had moments of burnout as well. And it's okay to just again, take a step back and sometimes admit to yourself that, yeah, things are getting a bit overwhelming. Identify the way and reach out to others. Talk to your colleagues to a manager and let them know. You can follow some of the things that we did that we sort of tried to get out of the burnout zone for us but Again it's okay if you do get burned out or you are on the brink of burnout we all go through it you're not alone take a step back realize why and what the symptoms might be and then to not be afraid to like reach out and ask for help