Witnessing burnout amongst his peers in the cyber security industry, Peter Coroneos knew something had to change.

“They were suffering under the relentless stress of the threat landscape and I decided something had to be done,” he said.

“If our cyber defenders are burning out, that’s bad for themselves, their families, companies and society.”

In 2011, Coroneos left a high-profile role as head of the Internet Industry Association and formed Serenityworks where he developed a stress management program for executives and began offering help to his fellow members of the global Cybersecurity Advisors Network (CyAN).

Seeing powerful results and a need from the community, he formed Cybermindz.org in 2022. With the help of colleague and research psychologist Dr Andrew Reeves, the pair worked on behavioural programs together.

“We measured the burnout rates through metrics and, via our national baseline study, we found that cyber professionals were burning out faster than frontline workers,” Coroneos said.

“This is the biggest threat to organisations and the reason behind forming Cybermindz.”

To help combat stress and offer ongoing mental health support to professionals, Cybermindz has developed programs which range from two-hour explorations of the neuroscience of burnout up to 36-month staff retention and optimisation plans to help employers understand the effect working in cyber security can have on their valued employees.

Practical tips for overcoming burnout

Health and Wellness Coach at Precision Health Coaching, Dr Darren Webb said he has seen a recent increase in chronic workplace-related stress among cyber professionals.

“Most report a limit in workplace understanding and support for in these prolonged threat-based roles,” Dr Webb said.

His advice to anyone suffering from burnout is to start with some clear objectives to “create order and removes the uncertainty and lack of focus that comes with an unstructured approach to your day”.

He also offers the following tips:

1. Look after your body

Pay attention to your diet and physical activity levels to optimise your physical and mental capabilities to deal with what can be prolonged workplace stress.

“Use a smart watch to help you monitor and improve your body health metrics,” Dr Webb said.

“Try to get enough sleep. Some security experts are needed around the clock, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a full sleep every 24 hours.”

2. Have an out

Prior to the inevitable acute stressful cybersecurity or workplace event, put in place a strategy that you can implement at an instant.

“This may include going for a walk, having an opportunity to chat or debrief with a colleague or manager about an issue, or making note of your concerns so you can more effectively reflect and mitigate their harmful impacts later.”

3. Build resilience

Engage the services of a Health Coaches Australia and New Zealand Association (HCANZA) accredited health and wellness coach to help you build your own resilience advantage.

Workplaces can do more

Companies can do more for security professionals by supporting flexible work habits and offering help.

Webb reminds employers that under the Health and Safety Act and Regulations, workplaces should provide safe work and conditions.

“It is therefore the duty of the employer to ensure elimination, reduced exposure and at very least, risk mitigation of physical and mental health hazards within their workplaces.”

In providing safe work environments for professionals engaged in prolonged cybersecurity threat-related tasks, employers should seek to:

  • Establish a workplace culture of seeking help as required and encouraging employees to be aware of their colleagues’ concerns
  • Promote healthy work and lifestyle behaviours through evidence-based programs that fit with the values and capabilities of the organisation and workforce, and regularly demonstrate appreciation of employees and their contributions to the organisation.

Importantly, if employees find they are underappreciated in their current role, many will seek alternative opportunities leading to, what for some companies is, continual employee turnover, the resultant replacement costs and what often becomes, industry-wide reputational damage.