How Successful Companies Avoid Burning Out Their Cybersecurity Staff

How Successful Companies Avoid Burning Out Their Cybersecurity Staff

There’s a growing vulnerability weakening your cybersecurity department. It has nothing to do with vendors, and it doesn’t involve patches or penetration testing. Yet, neglecting this hidden problem has the power to cause your entire cyber strategy to fail.

The problem of cybersecurity staff burnout is a growing problem that you need to detect and address as soon as possible.

What Does Burnout Look Like in Cybersecurity?

Think of burnout as an illness that presents symptoms. As an IT leader, it’s your job to stay alert for these problems in each team member. If you have a large IT security organization, it’ll be more difficult, but it’s still well worth the effort. We suggest reviewing this burnout list weekly to refresh your memory.

  • Decline in proactive suggestions: When your staff goes into burnout, you’ll notice fewer proactive suggestions on how to improve security. It’s easiest to track this factor in meetings.
  • Reduced participation in cybersecurity training: Most cyber professionals love to learn and explore the cutting edge of security. Unfortunately, this critical professional trait starts to fade when staff begins to decline growth opportunities.
  • Absences: This is a general burnout indicator. When you start to see a spike in sick days and other time away from the office, you might have burnout on your hands.
  • Complaints from internal stakeholders: Nobody likes to hear complaints about their employees, and that includes cybersecurity managers. When you see an increase in complaints about missed deadlines or other unprofessional behavior, you might have a burnout issue on your hands.
  • Workload complaints: In your 1-on-1 meetings with staff, listen carefully for comments about workload. Sure, everyone claims to be busy, so you need to listen for specific details (e.g., “I’ve worked the last three weekends”). Workplace studies have found that productivity (not to mention happiness!) drops after you work 40-50 hours per week. If staff members routinely work more than that, burnout and collapse are just a matter of time.
  • No major wins in the past three months: Without a sense of progress at work, it’s tough to stay motivated. This symptom tends to appear the most when you have long-term projects where wins are far in the future. It can also happen if your IT security department is running smoothly without many challenges for an extended period.
  • Low energy: When cybersecurity professionals become burned out, you’ll repeatedly see signs of low energy. This problem may manifest as physical fatigue or a sense of “not caring” about the work. This is a dangerous problem in cybersecurity because the profession requires you to stay on top of new developments every week.

When cybersecurity staff burnout happens, every other aspect of your program will suffer. Patch management starts to slip. New product launches don’t get the in-depth review they need. Vendor relationships aren’t carefully scrutinized. It’s a tough spot to land in.

Cybersecurity Burnout Prevention Plan

Use this five-step program to prevent burnout problems from affecting your organization.

1. Start with the burnout prevention basics

A few basic habits play a critical role in causing burnout. This includes diet, exercise, and sleep habits. If you suspect this is a factor, encourage greater work-life balance. For example, encourage tired staff to head home early on Fridays. Check with your company’s human resources department for information on employee wellness programs as well.

2. Eliminate the mundane from cybersecurity

Nothing is more frustrating than working below your capacity. When you force high-caliber cyber professionals to do identity management grunt work week after week, burnout is more likely. To implement this suggestion, you’ll need to eliminate the mundane.

To cut mundane tasks, you need to use two techniques. Start with elimination by identifying at least one recurring meeting or process that can be stopped. Second, use a software solution to save time. Instead of asking your staff to set up new users constantly, use Group Requester to simplify the process.

If you told your staff that you had a way to cut 1-3 hours of access governance administration per week, how would they react? They’d be happy not to worry about those boring tasks ever again.

3. Launch a new project

Think back to your first six months at your current job. Every week, you were learning something new; meeting new people, using new software, and so on. It made work interesting. However, the novelty feeling eventually wears out. When each week feels just like the week before, your staff is going to feel burnout and boredom at the same time.

The solution is to launch a new cybersecurity project. For example, you may have a standing IT goal to improve the employee experience. Normally, cybersecurity doesn’t have the best reputation for making work easy. Correct that by implementing a single sign-on solution. It’s an excellent way to save time and make daily life easier for your end users.

4. Set the example in burnout prevention

Like it or not, your staff looks to management to set an example. If you’re feeling and acting burned out as a manager, your staff will get the message that burnout is acceptable. Consider three ways to model burnout prevention habits.

  • Carve out time for new challenges: Seek out something new to learn at work, or start a personal hobby.
  • Use your paid time off: Avoid letting your vacation days expire. Take time off during the year and empower your staff to act while you’re away.
  • Share the struggle: If you’re going through a particularly difficult time at work or at home, sharing that struggle with your staff may also help.

5. Escalate internally for more resources

You may have implemented the other four strategies and still found that burnout is a serious problem. Don’t give up; instead, you need to speak up for more resources such as the ability to hire more staff or leverage a consultant. Explain what you see regarding burnout symptoms. Once your executive sees that workload issues and stressed employees are chronic problems, you’ll be able to get the resources you need.

Written by Nelson Cicchitto