5 Insider Tips for Preventing Burnout in Cybersecurity

The risk of burnout among cybersecurity professionals is very real. This blog post will give you some practical ideas to help you combat stress and prevent burnout.

Introduction

For many new to the cybersecurity world, they enter the workforce with something to prove: an eagerness to be useful and learn. Due to the complex and fast-paced nature of the field, this enthusiasm often turns into overexertion, which can eventually lead to a point of overload or regretting the overall career choice.

Let’s take a look at the high turnover rate in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is often looked at as having a high turnover rate, with the numbers rising annually. A recent study, completed by Nominet Cyber, discovered that the average CISO lasts an average 18-24 months in their current position, with 88% working more than the average 40 hour work week, averaging at approximately 55 hours per week. Additionally, 17% of the surveyed CISOs were handling the overworking and stress with alcohol or medications.

When ~68% of top cybersecurity leadership changes less than every three years, this often lays the foundations for instability that will cause many new to the field to work hard to establish themselves and often burn themselves out before they are able to accomplish what they set out to do.

A report from the Ponemon institute, which focuses on the current effectiveness of a SOC as well as the effectiveness of the analysts, stated that 65% of the employees surveyed heavily considered quitting their job due to burnout. A combination of high turnover at both ends brings a very unhappy environment along with decreased efficiency due to frequent leadership and team dynamic changes.

Tips to prevent the thing many of us are afraid of in this industry: burnout

My favorite quote has always been “My heart is in the work,” as eloquently stated by Andrew Carnegie in 1900 and adopted by Carnegie Mellon University as their official motto. For those of us who have a heart that is firmly in their work, impending burnout is one of the scariest concepts. To us, it means losing something that has become a part of us–of our personalities. We often overlook the importance of taking a step back to ensure we are able to continue doing what we are doing.

Having seen friends and former coworkers (not at Hurricane Labs)–and even experiencing this myself while in a helpdesk position–I have come up with a few tips that help combat the excessive stress and prevent burnout.

1.) Communicate

For the average analyst, communication with leadership–whether it’s your team leader or your manager–is critical in preventing burnout.

No one should be suffering alone, and those in management-level positions do care about your wellbeing. However, their plates are full too, and sometimes they may not notice you’re overworking yourself, just as you may not notice how overworked they are. This is a two way street, and opening up that line of communication will often lead to a better working relationship.

At Hurricane Labs, we all support each other, in whatever ways our teammates need. Some of the things we do to support each other include:

  • Help with meeting overload: If someone is juggling multiple meetings, a teammate will often step in, take the appropriate actions, and relay all information back to the original person.
  • Render assistance when a teammate struggles with a complex problem: When one of our analysts is diving into an investigation and can’t find all components, it’s not uncommon for other team members to take on portions of the investigation to reduce the workload on the individual.
  • Ensure the team works as a unit: Similar to the investigations above, when our team is facing a lack of communication and collaboration, we each take a step back and work through customer needs together, addressing needs on an individual basis.

Everyone works to be flexible and support each other whenever anyone needs a hand. It isn’t uncommon for a team member to notice someone who may have forgotten to take a break, and kindly remind them of the importance of breaks and make sure they have a break from screen time.

2.) Find your work-life balance

To many people, myself included, the work-life balance is heavily predicated on their current life situation.

The current pandemic has led to Hurricane Labs functioning completely remote for the past three months. Some of us are at our computers more than before, and so we believe that because we are at our computers more, we need to be more available. We end up staying online far longer than we would if we were at the office or not working amidst a global pandemic. People are spending ten to eleven hours at their computer versus the average eight to nine, increasing their time spent at work anywhere from five percent to far more.

A work-life balance is crucial during this pandemic to prevent people from losing their marbles, so to speak, as well as remembering to take time for themselves. Without the majority of the outside world right now, people have a very limited number of activities to keep themselves sane, which leads to the next important points:

3.) Get a hobby or find a relaxing activity to combat stress

Working without breaks, or working with too much stress, will decrease productivity and often end up with more stress. A relaxing activity could be as simple as taking a walk outdoors or stepping away from the desk for 10-15 minutes to stretch and listen to music.

Hobbies are also a great way to relieve stress, but it’s important to find something you love to do–not something you need necessarily to excel at–as this will take the joy out of your hobby, and may leave you with more stress.

4.) Spend time away from the screen

Spending time away from the screens, both in and out of work, will help your body recover. People who chose to use a blue light filter or dim their screen have an easier time flowing between screen time and away time. The harsh blue light of a computer or phone screen has been linked to insomnia and a lack of restful sleep. A lack of restful sleep will decrease productivity and begin the cycle of working longer hours to make up for the loss in productivity–which will lead to a lack of sleep combined with the stress of always playing catch up, leading to burnout.

5.) SLEEP

Last, but certainly not least, sleep. The importance of sleep is not lost on anyone who has taken a test after an all-nighter. The test takes longer to complete, your mind wanders during the test, and the formulas and facts you spent cramming into your brain overnight suddenly disappear.

Some of us may not require that 8 hours of sleep the doctor quotes to us on a yearly basis, but that does not mean it is healthy to function on four hours of Sunday-Thursday nights only to crash Friday evening and spend the weekend catching up on sleep.

Since a lack of sleep often leads to a loss of productivity, this will often begin the cycle mentioned above, and of course, lead to burnout.

Conclusion

Burnout happens over months or years, slowly eroding what was once high levels of passion and replacing it with feeling overworked and stressed, creating the potential for mental or physical collapse. This is a common phenomenon among workers in cybersecurity, but through awareness, workload management, the promotion of positive workplace culture–plus the other tips mentioned in this blog post–hopefully it will be something you can begin overcoming or avoid entirely.



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