CAD Manager--Battling Burnout

28 Feb, 2006 By: Robert Green

Tips to rekindle your will to work.

One Of The Key conclusions I reached from my CAD Manager's 2005 Survey was that a significant number of CAD managers are frustrated, harried and burned out with their jobs. In fact, 26% of all respondents reported that their number-one frustration was not having enough time to do their job well. Is it any wonder that so many of us feel stressed out?

Anyone who's ever done a stressful job for an extended period of time has probably experienced job burnout to some degree. Therefore it seems worthwhile to dedicate one issue to the topic and provide some useful tips for diagnosing and fixing the causes of burnout.

Defining Burnout

Webster defines burnout as "the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration." I think Webster hits the nail on the head. If you really read the definition, you'll come to understand what burnout is, but more importantly what it isn't. I'd like to point out the following as a start to our discussion of burnout:

  • 1. What it isn't: Burnout isn't just having too much to do, managing too many pieces of software or having to train several new employees while job pressures mount.
  • 2. What it is: Burnout is feeling that no matter what you do or how hard you try, you are powerless to make any progress. When you feel that you simply can't make a difference any more, when you dread coming to work, when you become indifferent to dealing with workplace problems, you are experiencing burnout and entering a CAD management death spiral.

Diagnosis: The Vacation Test

Before you convince yourself that you're burned out with your CAD management job, I recommend that you take what I call the vacation test. Answer the following questions with yes, maybe or no and keep track of your responses so we can draw some conclusions later.

  • 1. Question 1: Do you clear your desk of tasks and prepare for your vacation with vigor?
  • 2. Question 2: After a day or two on vacation, can you relax and forget about office problems?
  • 3. Question 3: After a vacation, do you return ready to get back to work?
  • 4. Question 4: After returning to work, do you feel refreshed and productive?

Now let's grade the results based on how you answered:

  • 1. All yes answers: You are not burned out. You may be busy, but a break refreshes you and allows you to return to work with renewed vigor.
  • 2. Some yes, some maybe answers: You are not burned out, but a few things may be bothering you enough to cause ongoing stress.
  • 3. Mostly maybe and some no answers: You show clear signs of approaching or experiencing burnout. Chances are you don't enjoy your work any more and find it unpleasant to function in your current job, even after taking a vacation break.
  • 4. Mostly no answers: You are burned out. You probably have been for some time and everyone around you probably knows it. If you find yourself in this position, you need to take drastic action immediately or get into another line of work.

Admittedly, the vacation test isn't a scientifically prepared psychological evaluation tool, but I've found it useful over the years. And even if you don't entirely agree with my conclusions, I think you'll find the exercise thought provoking.

Find Your Stresses

Let's tackle CAD management burnout first by being honest about what job factors are stressing you out. Then we'll see what we can do about it.

If your vacation test results indicate burnout, you need to take these actions now! If you didn't rank as burned out, there is less urgency to take these actions, but you'll still find it beneficial to do so.

To tackle this project, you need some quiet time outside the office, a pad and pencil and the willingness to be proactive about the problems that face you. Here's what to do:

  • 1. Do a fast brainstorming session and jot down anything about your job that really stresses you out. Keep thinking and jotting things down rapid-fire until you feel like you've got all the stress triggers captured. Don't worry about spelling and don't analyze the list, just write it all down.
  • 2. Go back through your list and order your stresses from the most to least stressful.
  • 3. Try to list the key reasons why each item is a problem for you.
  • 4. Try to list a possible solution for each stress you experience.

So if the number-one stress you placed on your list is enforcing CAD standards, for example, you might decide that the reason you're stressed is that you don't have the authority to enforce standards and your possible solution might be that you need management to tell all rule breakers that they must comply with the standards. Note: This is the most common stress, cause and resolution case I see with CAD managers!

Once you've compiled your prioritized list, you'll know what's bothering you, why it's bothering you and what you think you can do about it. Most importantly, you'll be taking the first step toward resolving the causes of your burnout.

You May Not Be Alone

It's common for CAD managers' stress lists to correlate with user and management frustrations. Put another way, the things that burn us out frequently bother others as well. If you can take the lead on discussing these burnout-inducing stresses with your management team, you may expose a wide range of problems that other users want to see fixed as well. This is great news because you'll not only solve problems that bother you, but also get results that your users appreciate as well, thus creating a win-win scenario for you.

So why not take your stress list and discuss it with a few trusted power users as a "sanity check" and see if your stresses are validated by others. If your stresses are shared by others, you'll know you're not alone. On the other hand, if nobody else sees the same stresses you do, take some time to rethink why you're stressed out based on the feedback you get from others. I think you'll find that getting some input from people you trust will help you understand what's burning you out.

Reality Check

I've come to realize that CAD management will always involve certain job functions that can be stressful. Try as you might to remove all the stress points of the job, certain things will always be part of the job description. I'll summarize them here:

  • 1. Dealing with CAD standards
  • 2. Providing primary CAD support
  • 3. Providing training support
  • 4. Dealing with project and company management

If your list of frustrations mirrors the tasks above and you just can't stand the thought of continuing to deal with these issues, it's time to admit that you're in the wrong job. If you discover that the managerial aspect of CAD management isn't for you, it's better to acknowledge it now and get back into design, engineering or architecture. There's nothing wrong with making a career misstep, but there is a great deal wrong with not facing up to the error and getting a negative job review.

Now Take Action

Armed with your list of stresses, causes, probable solutions and user feedback, you should now try to meet with the people who can help you—your management—and have an open talk about how frustrating these problem items are for you. The tone you should have in these discussions that of a team player who is trying to do good things for the company but is thwarted due to correctable causes. By making the discussion about how the company can benefit by clearing up these stress-inducing problems, you show that your focus isn't entirely on you. And by bringing some suggested solutions to the table, you demonstrate that you've thought the problems through.

In most cases of genuine burnout, I've observed that the people around you and your management know that something is wrong. They've likely noticed changes in your behavior and attitude, but haven't been able to identify what's bothering you. Being open and honest about what's causing your burnout gets the attention from the management team members who can help you. And believe me when I say that your management team would much rather help you fix problems than let your performance slide. The CAD manager is a valuable member of the team, and it's in everyone's interest for you to be on top of your game.

Summing Up

Now take the results of your conversations with management and make some changes immediately while you're motivated and before burnout can set in again. Remember that the real cause of burnout is feeling powerless to change things, so take your mandate for change and implement it with gusto. You should see the results—lowered stress and burnout levels—very quickly. You may even experience a renaissance of satisfaction with your job. In fact, you'll wonder why you didn't take action sooner!

CAD management burnout is a complex topic with many different sets of symptoms and solutions. My hope is that this article has given you some tools to assess your state of burnout and take control of fixing the problem by talking with your staff and management.

Let me know how it goes and e-mail me with any other tips you feel are worth sharing. Until next time.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!