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I've worked at my current place of employment for three years now and have progressed from mid level to 'lead' developer. It's primarily a PHP/Laravel based position.

The reason I say 'Lead' developer is because I feel the position far overstretches what would traditionally be included in the role. To briefly summarise what I do;

  • I lead and oversee over ten projects varying in size between small internal tools to large scalable business critical applications.
  • I lead two teams, a total of 7 developers, one team is remote in another country.
  • I'm solely responsible for architecture of all new projects, features, database maintenance and release deployments.
  • I'm also responsible for maintenance of the AWS infrastructure.
  • I'm the initial point of contact for all new developments, bug triage and day to day queries.
  • Responsible for recruitment of new developers.

I took this position nearly a year ago as realistically, I was the only one in the company with enough experience to take the role after the previous developer left.

When I first started at the company just before covid, it was a very different environment to what it is now, much more appealing. For context, the company and I are based in the UK and I earn just under £48,000 p.a. while this was a significant increase from my previous salary, I think average wages have increased significantly during the last few years and my salary has not followed this trend even with the new role. I'm also aware I'm being paid much less than the previous lead developer, circa 20,000 less. Again, for context, I have 12 years experience in software development, primarily PHP. From looking at job adverts, I feel I could earn roughly what I do now in a senior developer position.

Additionally, the benefits package is not good. The holiday entitlement is the bare minimum required by law with no requests for additional holidays entertained. Flexible working is not officially recognised. I have regularly worked unpaid overtime, sometimes 80 hours a week for extended periods and when informed of this, my line manager has stated that he never asked me to do this. I have since stopped doing this and this has meant that things are slipping and increasing my level of anxiety.

A year on and I'm feeling burnt out, my mental health has declined and I'm significantly less happy than I was beforehand which has had a significant impact on my personal life. My performance has been decreasing which has added to the anxiety I have started experiencing late this year.

I have tried to express several times that things need changing, the codebase and infrastructure of our leading project needs significant updates which I do not have time to do and keeps getting pushed back despite reiterating this. I have tried to explain that there would usually be other members of a team to take some of this work such as DevOps and product owners, I have been told that there wouldn't be enough work for them to do full time so they will not be hiring them, instead I can hire more developers in the remote team in another country.

When I have expressed that the stress is causing detrimental expects to my health, I have been told to 'just don't stress it man'. Which was entirely unhelpful.

I have also expressed that there is difficulty in utilising the remote team effectively as there is a clear communication and language barrier. The previous developer was native to the country so spoke to them in their native language. This now causes issues in understanding for me and them.

This has got me to the point where I know I must go as I don't believe things will improve. I've thought about it a lot over the festive period. However I can not shake the guilt over leaving and I am also experiencing thoughts of whether I am good enough because of my self perceived decline in performance since later November. Most of the guilt stems from the fact that the only logical person in the company who can replace me is a member of the UK team who is still on probation as he's a recent new hire.

I actually had a breakdown around October caused by over working, stress and some additional family issues. I had to continue working as taking time off wasn't an option.

My question is; does my situation as I've described it sound correct? Is my workload too high and unmaintainable or should I just suck it up and carry on?

If I am thinking correctly, why am I feeling guilty for wanting to move on?

Also, how do I combat the feelings of not being good enough which have come about this year?

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    This one responds to the title, not the post, so I am putting it as a comment for now: If there is nobody to replace you, that is not your fault, that is a failure of the business management. They CHOSE to fly without redundancy, it's not your responsibility.
    – lidar
    Dec 29, 2022 at 19:37
  • 1
    Have you talked to your boss about this ? Can he have someone else to take over half of your workload from now on ? Can he give you a few days or a week to recover from this episode ? Dec 29, 2022 at 23:47
  • 5
    I have also expressed that there is difficulty in utilising the remote team effectively as there is a clear communication and language barrier I thought a high proficiency of English was a requirement for being a good developer? (my native language is Norwegian, even so, the codebase is in English, and we speak a lot of English in the office with fellow Norwegians. Linus Torvalds is Finnish, yet he wrote the Linux Kernel in English, etc~)
    – hanshenrik
    Dec 30, 2022 at 9:14
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? How can I move past being burnt out when working long hours?
    – Anketam
    Dec 30, 2022 at 22:32
  • @hanshenrik Yes, but not every company recognizes this.
    – Mast
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:02

13 Answers 13

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To yourself, you must always be the top priority. I'll let you in on a secret: Your company doesn't care one bit about you. If you want to leave, leave. Or better, go to your GP, get a sick note, don't work for a few weeks, and use the time to look for other jobs.

And with £48,000 leading two teams with seven developers, you are massively underpaid. You should get a lot more than that as a single developer, without all the responsibilities.

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    @fectin The work has made him sick. He is surely entitled to sick leave, and then to leave the job? Dec 29, 2022 at 20:13
  • 24
    @fectin Being burnt out is an actual medical condition in some countries I think.
    – Clockwork
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:22
  • 48
    @fectin Funny... I upvoted for that line. It's literally affecting his health and he's getting treated like shit.
    – WernerCD
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:52
  • 18
    “Your company doesn't care one bit about you.” This gets repeated here all the time but I think many managers and CEOs actually care about their employees and can often be quite lenient even when it makes no sense from a business perspective. Especially in smaller companies. A company is not just some mindless beast after all.
    – Michael
    Dec 30, 2022 at 8:08
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    @Ruadhan2300, Michael, OP has told their manager about their (mental) health issues, to which the response was "just don't stress it man". So at least in this case, I think gnasher is correct, the company and manager don't care. Dec 30, 2022 at 11:47
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My question is; does my situation as I've described it sound correct?

Your job description sounds like it should be two or even three different positions with two or three people filling them.

Is my workload too high and unmaintainable or should I just suck it up and carry on?

Even if it were not too high objectively, there is no point in ruining your health over it. The only reason to "suck it up" is if otherwise your family would freeze or starve. That seems unlikely from your post.

If I am thinking correctly, why am I feeling guilty for wanting to move on?

Stockholm Syndrom? If you can get a better job, then go get it. You owe them nothing. You are not a charity case that owes them gratitude, they made money off of you, they make money exploiting you, you owe them exactly what is in your contract and nothing more.

Also, how do I combat the feelings of not being good enough which have come about this year?

Look at it objectively. You are not good enough. To do three peoples jobs at once. And that is normal. Do you know anybody who would be? Do you really think the next hire could do a better job than you, that somehow the workload would be less, all the problems would vanish in a puff of happy, perfumed pink smoke? They won't. And maybe the company will see that when they have to hire externally and find that your former position is ill defined and nobody in their right mind applies.

You do not owe them anything, you owe yourself a position that you can be happy with. Go get one.

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    "you owe yourself a position that you can be happy with" is the key sentence - well put!
    – iLuvLogix
    Dec 30, 2022 at 7:37
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my mental health has declined

I actually had a breakdown around October caused by over working, stress and some additional family issues.

First, seek professional mental health help.

Then find a new job and put this one behind you.

If I am thinking correctly, why am I feeling guilty for wanting to move on?

Also, how do I combat the feelings of not being good enough which have come about this year?

Your doctors can help with this.

24

there's no one to replace me

Let's be clear. That is not your problem.

It's the company's problem, and if they've been lazing about in finding someone to help you, which you've asked them to, you don't owe them anything more than that. Everyone in a company is/should be replacable; even as a lead developer, it's not your responsibility to make that happen. Don't take that responsibility especially if it's causing you mental health issues.

Just leave as soon as you've found a new job which works better for you; it's none of your business if the project failed because the company failed to make you replacable. Actually, they have already calculated their risks and they found that not having a replacement for you is good enough risk, compared to making sure you're sufficiently compensated and happy, or hiring your successor. That is their choice, so it's their responsibility if they've calculated wrong and they cannot find someone to replace you in time once you've given your two weeks notice (or whatever you have in your employment contract).

I have had been in employment where I'm in very similar situation, I've given almost a year's notice that I was about to leave (to be fair, the prolonged departure was entirely due to external factors on my side, nothing to do with the company). In the end, the company still didn't find it a hurry to find and/or train my replacements, and nobody in that company held it against me when I finally did leave with still no replacement.

A company can and will drag their ass for as long as possible if you let them, but it's not your responsibility to wait until they find your replacement. Your only responsibility is just the notice period written out in the contract, not a single day or care more.

18

I actually had a breakdown around October caused by over working, stress and some additional family issues. I had to continue working as taking time off wasn't an option.

This is the single most important point. Your own health, both mental and physical, should be your top priority. If you're not able to focus on self-care when needed then you'll reach the point where you simply can't keep working - and what happens then? A company that pushes you to work when it's openly detrimental to you may not be breaking the law where you are (in which case, the law sucks) but it's being grossly negligent.

Most of the guilt stems from the fact that the only logical person in the company who can replace me is a member of the UK team who is still on probation as he's a recent new hire.

Yes, it's probably going to suck for the new hire, but at least in probation he has the chance to bail out of a bad situation gracefully and with minimal impact on his career - probations are supposed to be for both sides to work out whether they got what they expected. But failing to plan for anything happening to you, especially when you started giving off warning signs about stress, is entirely on the company. They don't deserve your concern.

15

I have been where you are.

I spent nine months spiralling into anxiety.
My mistakes would lead to stress which led to more mistakes..
Eventually, I realised that my hands were shaking from anxiety on the weekends.
This meant I couldn't paint or draw, which were my main method of relaxing from the work-week.
A week after discovering that, I check the support-forums for our project and there's a bug with something I did during that day, a bunch of middle-aged housewives across the country screaming that everything is broken.
It's 11 at night, and I put on my jacket and head out to the bus-stop to go back to the office and fix it..

That was when I realised I had to stop.

I went home, I had a heart-to-heart with my (very concerned) roommate about it, and then I wrote my Notice letter, printed it out and instantly felt so much better.
I left it on my boss's desk the next morning and that was that.

I finished a month later after spending a few weeks writing handover documents to make sure there was enough information for the other members of the team to take on my duties.

I spent two months decompressing before putting my CV out for another job, and I was snapped up by a small mobile-apps startup for far more pay than I'd been on before, and a much lighter workload to boot.

Four months after that, I found out that the first company had outright shut down shortly after I left.
The investors had pulled funding due to the company struggling without me. Everyone in the company had gone and found better jobs elsewhere.

Don't sweat leaving people in the lurch, they'll either work it out, or find somewhere better themselves.
That's not your problem, and not your fault.

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  • I really resonate with the divers' decompression metaphor.
    – Kamil.S
    Dec 31, 2022 at 9:28
11

Loyalty to a company is nearly always a one way street. If the numbers no longer made sense to the company, rest assured, they would dismiss you. This does not make companies evil, but work has to be viewed from an exchange mindset. You give your time, they give you money. That is the extent of the contract.

You seem to be sacrificing your mental health for the sake of the company:

A year on and I'm feeling burnt out, my mental health has declined and I'm significantly less happy than I was beforehand which has had a significant impact on my personal life. My performance has been decreasing which has added to the anxiety I have started experiencing late this year.

This is a pretty big red flag from the outside. Feeling your own responsibilities increase whilst output is decreasing is a nearly guaranteed way to reach a mental health crisis. As others have stated, see a professional regarding your breakdown.

Job hunting will be significantly more difficult without a realistic view of what you can deliver. Focus on your strengths and make sure your ability to do great work is the focus of all of your employment conversations.

Good luck

6

To sum up: your bosses are fine with you working only 40 hours a week, they don't mind the slippage on some projects, they're fine with the risk of only hiring people to the remote team, and in general are happy with your work? And one of your newer hires is good enough to do some of your job? The only problem is that you think you should be doing more? I kind of agree with "just don't stress it man". Stop thinking that. Do 8 hours, go home and forget about it until next morning.

The thing is, I get it. When you have the power and the responsibility you want to pour all of your efforts into doing it right. There are many jobs where you can do that. But there are plenty of others that are bottomless holes, like the one you have. With those it's about juggling. Do the best with the time you have, chop out stuff with low marginal gains, and accept that you can't do any better.

The remote team is tough to communicate with? Don't waste too much time on it -- hopefully they know what to do. And if a misunderstanding wastes a week of work -- these things happen. Stop thinking of slipping as falling behind with things piling up that only you can do. By now you know slippage is inevitable. Many parts of your job which you thought were weekly are more like monthly, or whenever you have time. Hiring only for the remote team is scary and you're lucky if only 1/2 of them work out. OK. When 1/2 don't work out, it's not bad, it's normal.

A fun trick -- you're making about 900 pounds a week. You'll probably have earned that by Wednesday or Thursday morning, at which point you've won. You've earned your salary for that week. Everything you do after that is gravy.

5

Leaving your company would be doing them a favour. It is best, most constructive, thing you can do for them.

Think of it from your employer's point of view. The situation you are in will, at some point, break you. Your employer will suddenly be dumped into a situation with no ability to cover the multiple roles you've been doing, all your projects will be at risk all at once. If you get a new job your notice period can be spent getting them used to the idea you aren't going to be around, they can organise replacements, replan the projects etc.

Their strategy is unsustainable and they have their heads in the sand. You leaving will give them a healthy dose of realism, they won't be able to ignore the problems they've created by treating you this way. Often, an organisation needs a tough lesson to realise they are in a mess and need to fix it. As things are you are trying to keep things together with all the odds stacked against you.

If you continue you will be broken and unavailable to them (and in a much worse place, mentally, than you are now). If you leave you will give them a chance to sort themselves out and start to recover from their stupid mismanagement.

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  • 1
    I like this answer in addition to the others because it speaks to the OP's sense of responsibility (even if that responsibility is being taken too far for their own health).
    – brhans
    Dec 30, 2022 at 14:37
  • It wouldn't be doing the company a favor. If he stays, he'll give them income for a few months more. (The company doesn't deserve any favors, obviously.)
    – toolforger
    Dec 31, 2022 at 14:05
2

If you approached company management tomorrow and asked for a 20,000 pound raise, two weeks of personal time, and more resources, what would the outcome be?

I fell into a similar position, where I had assumed multiple roles, and despite multiple warnings from me when we first started losing engineers, they refused to even look into developing an effective hiring pipeline. Wasn't a huge deal when the first person left. After the second person left, we had no competent frontend developers. In addition to backend dev, I was also doing all of our DevOps work, hardware integrations, and starting to poke around our embedded hardware stack. Whatever had been requested by our most recent prospect was the #1 priority, when we probably could have had 10x the product if we stopped saying yes to every request just to sell a pilot project that goes nowhere.

I stayed, because surely I was going to get an insane raise when I hit one year, right? Not even a thank you on my one year anniversary. Our staffing concerns were addressed by bringing in an overseas team without gtiving us any advanced warning or a chance to weigh in on the matter. It didn't help at all having developers I couldn't onboard because of time differences who were ready to build a frontend for APIs I literally had no clue when I would have time to write.

I found a more senior role that gave me a 50% pay raise and put me on track to become a team leader. I was simply not appreciated at all while at the previous job, but I now work somewhere where my opinion is respected and management has my back. I was about two weeks from a mental breakdown when I got the new offer. Burnout is a very dangerous thing, and your management definitely could improve a lot if they are not noticing it nor appreciating your hard work. Any challenges created by you leaving were there long before you finally decided to leave, they get to learn some things the hard way.

Best of luck finding happiness and fulfillment. Please see a mental health professional if you think you might need it, therapy has been a miracle for me.

1

This is a problem with complexity at every turn. No answers are immediately obvious, because we are all complex people, with complex motivations and interests, who dwell in a network with visible and hidden benefits that is shaped by the choices we make.

My answer matches others but is a bit more nuanced -- be loyal to yourself. This provides no specific direction, and by itself doesn't point to a path. The first thing is to examine yourself and see what it is that you truly want.

Over a 50-year career, I have worked with companies in which a was passionate about the mission, was personally invested in success, and did many things to help drive that success. Other times, I felt great loyalty to one or more of the executives, and wanted to keep things going so that they could recover their losses. Sometimes, I was just a cog in the wheel, but the specific work I was doing was interesting or the job offered some other flexibility that I needed at that time. And, sometimes I felt abused, squished, overworked, underappreciated, even bullied, but I was working with others I cared about and stayed and fought for them as well.

In most cases, I am happy with my decisions to stay when I stayed, even though it looked to those on the outside like the situation was negative and I was not being sufficiently "loyal to myself". Whenever I left a company, it was with my face lifted, and confident that I was doing what I must do.

There can be several reasons why your salary, benefits, and workload seem out of whack, but fixing it probably starts with some action you would need to take. You don't necessarily need to storm into someone's office and demand change (although maybe you do), but without a doubt, you need to express your concerns. It is very easy for any level of management to be unaware (perhaps willfully blind) to a problem. It isn't just that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, a smoothly spinning silent wheel isn't even noticed.

I don't know if you are male or female. I am male, and if I gave this suggestion to a female engineer it could seem the usual sexist &^(&, but I had success with raising an issue, waiting a couple of weeks, restating the issue and asking about progress, repeat. It is possible that female engineers would not have success with this because it plays into passivity stereotypes.

If there is an intermediate manager who seems to be a blocking factor, go higher. If you can't get higher, that is a message that you aren't important to them, which may help inform your next moves. If you can bypass the block, you may be not only helping those who follow you, but you may also be helping the company. That intermediate manager may be hurting the company, and their manager may not know.

How much is it worth it to you to invent your energy in trying to fix the problems in the company that put you in your current situation, and how much do you just want your situation to get better?

So, it is simple to state, but very difficult to do. Know what you want. Understand your preferred outcome. Steer a course to that outcome.

0

More Work -> More Stress

There is a thing about work, you work more than your capacity you get stress, you work less than your capacity you get happiness.

Your Body Has A Hard Limit of Stress Tolerance

The amount of stress you can take is a hard limit. It never change. Thats why there is a concept of steepness of curves.

When you were a primary school child there were topics that were difficult for you. They are now super easy for you. But the stress you were able to take then is same you are able to take now.

Point is, you cannot do anything about it. You cannot increase your tolerance of stress. It don't come with experience. What come with experience is you get less stress with same work. As you now wouldn't take same level of stress for same complexity stuff you studied in primary school.

So, when your body is telling you that you are under stress, and is telling you for a long time (months, years) (its not a one week-end heavy workload thing) then all you can do is reduce workload. Thats the only solution.

Solution: Work Less Hours

If you are too worried about company being too dependent on you to stop going to work for a few days at the very least stop working this much. Give yourself some breathing room by working say at 75 percent of your capacity.

When one is under stress he is unable to think straight. Also, minor problems become a huge deal. A fan making a sound can irritate people to the level of shouting, throwing things and even physically harming others.

Its like a country's population protesting when enough is enough.

Real Solution

Once you have seen with your own eyes that sky don't fall if you work less (but is still available at workplace) you will be convinced that you taking off days from a work a week and may God have mercy on us a few weeks wouldn't do as much damage as you think it will, and all that damage is recoverable.

Why Real Solution Straight Away Is Not Taken

I have tried the approach other answerers say, which is good advice but don't work on people that are already stress, that they should stop going to work. Nobody follow that advice when sufficiently stressed. They just don't think straight.

So, do go to work, just work less, see what happen. If you are sure others can handle what you handle or that not handling the stuff altogether by anybody don't make the city go underwater, you may be convinced to stop going to work altogether for a few days.

0

I highly recommend the book Designing Your Work Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans.

Written by two Stanford professors who teach design thinking, the book teaches how to create the job your want—without necessarily leaving the job they already have.

Our philosophy is that YOU are the designer of your life and your job, and with design thinking, you can make it much better. You can change how your boss reacts to you, change your experience of work altogether, and maybe even have an impact on your company’s culture. We believe that we can all learn to design a way to thrive at work and create a workplace that’s better for everyone. And the good news is, it’s not going to be that hard.

Dysfunctional Belief: I am a cog in the machine.

Reframe: I am a lever that can impact the machine.

It sounds like you have a lot of responsibilities and challenges in your current role, and that these have had a negative impact on your mental health and well-being. It is completely understandable that you would consider leaving your job in these circumstances.

It is important to remember that it is your right to prioritize your own health and well-being, and that you have the right to leave a job that is not fulfilling or supportive of your needs. It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty when they leave a job, especially if they feel that they are leaving coworkers or the company in a difficult situation. However, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for fixing all of the problems in your current job, and that you are not obligated to stay in a role that is causing you undue stress and anxiety.

If you do decide to leave your current job, it may be helpful to communicate your decision to your employer in a professional and respectful manner. You can explain that you have enjoyed your time at the company, but that you have come to the decision to move on in order to prioritize your own well-being. You may also want to consider seeking support from a mental health professional or a career coach to help you navigate this transition.

Ultimately, the decision to leave your job is a personal one, and it is up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best for you. It is completely normal to feel anxious or uncertain about making such a big change, but it is important to remember that you have the power to make choices that are in your own best interests.

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