Stress Relief: 11 Ways to Prevent Burnout and Improve Work-Life Balance

CIOs share practices they employ on and off their jobs to make their workloads more bearable, reduce stress, improve their work-life balance and prevent IT career burnout.

Fri, August 20, 2010

CIO — In 2006, Chris Loope was working as a consultant implementing a new ERP system for a client. The 18-month project required Loope to clock 80-hour work weeks and to travel frequently between his home in Dallas and his client's office in Atlanta.

To relieve his work-related stress and blow off steam, Loope says he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, drank and partied hard. By the end of the ERP implementation, he was a poster child for burnout.

Loope knew he had to change his work habits and his lifestyle, especially since he and his wife, Renee, were trying to have a baby. So he started running.

"I had to run a lot to quit smoking," says Loope. "You trade one addiction for another."

Loope made another dramatic life change: He and his wife moved to Atlanta, and he took a new job, as CIO of EmployBridge, the specialty staffing firm that had been his client when he was working on the ERP implementation.

Today, at 38 years old, Loope is a picture of health and contentment. He wakes at 5:10 every morning and goes for a run. Depending on his work schedule, he runs anywhere from 3 miles to 10 miles at a stretch. He says the runs keep his stress-level in check, give him time to mentally prepare for his work day, and help him focus on finding innovative technical solutions to whatever business problem EmployBridge may be facing. (For example, on his runs he designed a job application tracking system that has helped his company weather the recession.)

"There is a lot of stress [in IT]," Loope says, "and if you don't find a constructive way to deal with it, you're going to burn out."

Exercise is just one of several ways CIOs and IT professionals alleviate stress, prevent burnout and maintain work-life balance. The four IT leaders interviewed for this story say their stress level is manageable, and they work hard to keep it that way. In addition to exercising regularly, they have clear priorities in life that prevent work from consuming them. They've also set clear boundaries inside their homes delineating when they will and will not do work. Staying organized on the job and delegating responsibilities to their IT staff are other ways they manage stress, prevent burnout and maintain work-life balance.

Make no mistake: These CIOs are not slackers. They're committed, diligent employees, but they're not slaves to their jobs. Nor are they constantly tethered to their laptops and smartphones. They aren't afraid to unplug, especially on vacation.

They've simply figured out how to balance work and family, and they're reaping the many benefits of doing so: They live more fulfilling lives and enjoy better health, improved relationships with family and co-workers, and better performance on the job.

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