Learn what steps security leaders can take to fight burnout and improve SecOps for good.
What is work-related burnout?
The Mayo Clinic defines work-related burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” And earlier this week, burnout was classified as a “syndrome,” according to the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, of the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) handbook that guides medical providers in diagnosing diseases. Even though it was deemed “one of the most widely discussed mental health problems in modern societies,” burnout has lacked a true diagnosis until now.
According to the ICD-11 chart, burnout is the result of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and is now included in the section on problems related to employment or unemployment. According to the handbook, doctors can diagnose work-related burnout if someone has:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
The Current State of Analyst Workloads
Security analysts are expected to investigate and remediate thousands of alerts daily while keeping up with an ever-evolving threat landscape, new technology, under-staffed security operations centers (SOCs) and more. Many were attracted to this field because of the complex investigations and incident response processes associated with these challenges, but many are stuck completing menial tasks (like copy/paste) instead. The work that was once interesting is now exhausting and dull, resulting in high employee turnover industry-wide.
This is bad for organizations too. Most employers hope their employees enjoy their day-to-day, but the stakes are higher with these positions. When SOC analysts can’t keep up with alerts, when they’re exhausted from mundane tasks, and when they are left with little to no time for more in-depth investigations or proactive threat hunting, the organization is vulnerable to breaches.
Read more about the Top Challenges for SOC Analysts.
Causes of Analyst Burnout
Security analysts may experience burnout for a variety of reasons, including:
- working long hours due to a laundry list of manual tasks.
- dealing with high levels of stress caused by security alert overload.
- facing constant pressure to keep up with the latest threats and vulnerabilities.
- Lack of support or resources, or due to a lack of recognition for their work.
- Poor work-life balance, as security analysts may feel obligated to be constantly on call and may have difficulty disconnecting from work
- No access to opportunities for growth or advancement within the company.
Recognizing Analyst Burnout
Security analyst burnout is a common problem that can occur when security analysts are overworked and stressed, and are unable to maintain a healthy work-life balance. SOC analysts experiencing burnout may also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. They may also struggle with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
It is important for organizations to recognize the signs of security analyst burnout, and to take steps to prevent it from happening. This may involve providing security analysts with regular breaks, support and training, and opportunities for career advancement and growth. It may also involve implementing policies and procedures that promote a healthy work-life balance, and that encourage employees to take care of their physical and mental health.
So, what does analyst burnout look like? Here are some signs:
Warning Sign #1: Exhaustion
When employees are stressed about their roles or day-to-day activities, it can become impossible to unwind and relax at the end of the day. This leads to low-quality sleep. Not only can this make someone sleepy and maybe a little grumpy, some of the more dire side effects of sleep deprivation include hallucinating, trouble recalling memories and even physical fatigue and pain.
Physical and mental exhaustion can also lead to a weakened immune system and depression, which makes the individual more susceptible to the cold, flu and other infections.
Warning Sign #2: Cynicism
A cynical attitude does not just affect the mood of the individual, it could suggest their passion and enthusiasm for the role has been spent. When a cynical attitude develops, analysts’ trust in their colleagues may erode, and their productivity can suffer greatly.
Warning Sign #3: Mistakes
What’s more, a cynical attitude can lead to lesser attention to detail, which can lead to mistakes. Mistakes in cybersecurity mean vulnerabilities to the organization and customer data.
As humans, we all make mistakes from time to time, but security analysts who are burned out often repeat mistakes over and over again, as their exhaustion is affecting their capability for quick recall.
How to Help Security Analysts
Automate Manual Tasks.
Security analysts struggle with daily alert fatigue, leading to burnout and legitimate security vulnerabilities. Automation helps by performing the menial tasks and empowering their teams to get back to the meaningful work they’re trained to do.
Security automation is designed to orchestrate and automate and organization’s existing people, processes and technology. This means analysts are able to automate the menial day-to-day tasks (like copy/paste) and freed-up to complete more in-depth, complex investigations and proactive threat hunting—which can lead to higher performance, job satisfaction and security for the organization.
Improve Training and Certification for Tools.
One way to help security analysts overcome burnout is to improve training and certification for security tools. When you have a better understanding of how your tools work, it can help reduce the time it takes for you to find threats. Plus, you’ll be able to do more with less effort.
For security leaders, this means establishing dedicated resources and time for analysts to train and get certifications. Not only can this reduce burnout, but it also improves the confidence and performance of your team members.
Provide Growth Opportunities.
Security analysts who have no room for advancement will become frustrated by their lack of opportunity — which could lead them down the path toward burnout. One way to help security analysts overcome burnout is to provide growth opportunities. As an example, if a Tier 1 analyst is interested in becoming a Tier 2 SOC analyst or threat hunter, but doesn’t have the skills required for the position, consider giving them training or coaching so they can obtain those skills and take on an incident response or threat hunting role within your organization.
Helping your security team feel appreciated by providing recognition for a job well done will boost morale and reduce stress levels among your employees, who may be feeling underappreciated or overworked as it is.
Encourage Work-life balance.
Another way to help security analysts avoid burnout is by providing them with time off where they don’t have to think about work-related issues. This could include taking vacations or turning off email notifications when not working so that they aren’t constantly thinking about work while away from the office.
Analyst burnout is something that every security leader needs to be aware of. Be sure to keep an eye out for signs of it, and to take steps to prevent it. It can have a major negative effect on the team as a whole—and if one person is burnt out, everyone else will likely be affected as well. Ideally, we should try to prevent burnout in multiple ways: encourage work-life balance, provide growth opportunities, improve training, and invest in low-code security automation.
Gartner: Create a SOC Target Operating Model to Drive Success
‘Security and risk management leaders often struggle to convey the business value of their security operations centers to nonsecurity leaders, resulting in reduced investment, poor collaboration and eroding support…’ — Access this Gartner SOC Operating Model report – courtesy of Swimlane.