This post is one of a series in preparation for the Burnout core conversation at Drupalcon London. The first post discussed what burnout is; the second is about what individuals can do about burnout, and the final one will discuss what the Drupal community can do to prevent and deal with burnout. Also, please see Arianek's excellent post about burnout.
One of the striking things about the Drupal community is that so many of us have such loose or nonexistent boundaries between work and home, Drupal and work, hobbies and work. And, being techies, we're always connected. The result is that Drupal can dominate every aspect of our lives. Not so good.
Let's revisit the six causes of burnout from The Truth about Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It1. The author of that book, Christina Maslach, a leading researcher in the field, makes the bold claim that burnout is in many ways a result of organizational choices, not just individual ones.
- We feel overloaded. Many, many of us are helpless suckers for love and approval, and the Drupal community has an infinite number of tasks that need to be done that we can do. There's an opportunity for approval and an existing need at every bend. It's infinite. We're not.
- We lack control over what we do. Many aspects of Drupal (need I name core work?) involve an enormous lack of control over the final result, many times due to our community-collaboration culture. One can participate in an issue for years before it finally lands. A huge discussion (sometimes ending in deadlock) may be required before something can get done that an individual could just take on and do.
- We are not rewarded for our work. While the Drupal community is quite good at acknowledging efforts, there are certainly many who do not feel adequately acknowledged (or compensated) for their superhuman efforts.
- We experience a breakdown in community. Although we value the vibrance of our social community, it's not all roses. Many, many newcomers feel that it's hard to break in, and others feel slighted or off-put by the difficulty of actually getting involved. Note also the breakdowns we saw during the final days leading to Drupal 7's release. Some key contributors were making hopeless, sad statements demonstrating a kind of breakdown at a critical time.
- We aren't treated fairly. Many of us have nearly given up after being lambasted by some more senior community member (who was probably burned out). Many of us have seen contributions languish despite the best efforts. The rather chaotic and often unwritten rules in the community can seem impossible to figure out. How do I get somebody to answer the issue I filed? How do I communicate with a project maintainer? What happens if they don't answer? How do I get somebody to acknowledge me on IRC? (Suggestion: We can make our hierarchy, organization, and rules more explicit.)
- We have to deal with conflicting values. In the Drupal community, the tension between work responsibilities, economic realities, community contribution desires and commitments, and quality is always at play. This is quite a lot more complicated than ordinary work tensions.
In addition, there are many examples of explicit choices we've made that cause community burnout. They're mostly procedures that could never be accomplished even with an army of paid help:
- Module contributors automatically become module maintainers. Their contribution innately adds to their future responsibilities.
- There is no explicit "way out" of community responsibilities even though the DCOC says "step down gracefully"
- We have created some tasks and processes which are innate tarpits. For example, our documentation team is hopelessly overworked, with no known path to sustainability, and the Full Project Application process has never been sustainable. (There are more than 200 full project applications in "needs review", the oldest untouched for 8 weeks. There are 15 applications in RTBC, one for 7 weeks.)
I'm sure you have other examples of choices we make in our procedures that overload community members - please add them in the comments.
The Truth about Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It, by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997 ↩