Breaking the stigma of burnout: A CEO's honest account of his experience


This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Breaking the stigma of burnout: A CEO's honest account of his experience.

By Gav Winter, CEO of RapidSpike.
There has been significant research into the mental health effects of cyber-based roles. In October 2022, nine in 10 cybersecurity professionals said they felt stressed in their job. They named three key reasons:

  • Inability to stop every threat
  • Having to be constantly on call
  • Feeling overwhelmed by staff shortages.

When we think about this in an ecommerce context, the stakes are even higher. Online vendors in the UK currently deal with 4,800 formjacking attacks per month. Compounded with website performance issues leading to revenue loss, there’s a huge amount of pressure on IT to keep things running.

How pressure in the cyber space leads to burnout

One person who has experienced this first-hand is Gav Winter, CEO of website monitoring service RapidSpike. Before his time with the company, he recalls experiencing burnout twice during intense periods of work stress.

“I was scared all the time,” says Winter, who admits to masking his anxiety with longer working hours. But these changes did nothing to allay his fears, and instead, made them worse.

Winter recounts the day everything changed when an email sent his body into shutdown. “I’d had a run-in with a colleague, and then read an email that pushed me over the edge. It felt like this tunnel had appeared – a tunnel of light as if I was going through hyperspace. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor and had been out cold for about a minute.”

He was taken to hospital where doctors tested his heart on an ECG. Though he was in good health, physicians said that his body had been “resetting” after burnout, with symptoms manifesting physically. Some 18 years later, Winter had a similar episode – this time collapsing and causing damage to his eye and cheekbone in the process. Doctors reached the same conclusion.

Why burnout doesn’t have to be the only option for CEOs

Thankfully, the days of physical burnout symptoms are behind him, and Winter has learnt a lot of important lessons. Firstly, he is working in a new role now, for a company that helps to prevent the above mentioned cyber problems rather than react to them.

RapidSpike is a website monitoring tool that checks for attacks such as formjacking and server issues, leading to less mental health toll on everyday users. But while better tech has made Winter’s working life easier, he’s also made some crucial changes.

“I learnt to be more open with my family and talk about things if the pressure is getting me down. In cyber roles, we want so badly for our families to think we’ve got everything under control. But we need to be open about things and be prepared to take drastic action if our values are being challenged.”

Today, Winter is challenging his energy into extra-curricular pursuits, such as coaching a young girls’ football team. He notes that seeing their progress gives him a sense of pride and helps him to stay positive through the day to day. 

Top tips for maintaining mental health in a demanding role

As one of the most demanding and fluid job roles out there, IT is incredibly stressful – even more so with a backdrop of ecommerce sales targets to hit. Winter shares his tips on staying on top of the stress and avoiding burnout:

  • Stop telling yourself you can’t do it. There are so many facets to this industry that you can bring over any number of transferable skills.
  • Let everybody have their say in decision-making. It’s wrong to think that only leaders should make decisions – it puts too much pressure on them and makes others feel undervalued.
  • Give it 110%. This isn’t an invitation to burn yourself out, but to take pride in what you do. If you don’t take pride in it, is there somewhere else your skills can be better utilised?
  • Talk about your experiences. Don’t feel that you’re letting your colleagues, friends or family down by struggling. When you talk to others, you lighten the burden and benefit from their perspectives.

As the national conversation continues to steer towards mental health, we can all benefit from these first-hand experiences. By harnessing new tech, a positive attitude and the support of others, we can all avoid burnout. 
RapidSpike is a website performance monitoring platform that helps retailers keep on top of their customer experience. CEO Gav Winter is passionate about maintaining workplace mental health.

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