I’m about match #8 right now. How about you?

Burnout and Boundaries

Kristen Anderson
6 min readNov 12, 2020


This is an internal Slack message that I shared with the Catch team on November 12, 2020. We’ve had a successful health insurance launch at the start of Open Enrollment and the business is flourishing, but as people, we’re struggling.


You’re probably feeling burned out right now. The first thing I want you to know is: that’s ok. Neither Andrew, or I, or your team members think any less of you for feeling that way. In fact, it should be some solace that we’re very likely all feeling it. I will speak for myself and say: I am feeling burned out.

The clinical definition according to the WHO is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

🔲 Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

🔲 Increased mental distance from one’s job

🔲 Reduced professional efficacy”

For me, it’s ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

Interestingly, this team is incredibly high performing right now. I’m very impressed with what we have accomplished in the last 4 weeks, and I have confidence that we’re going in the right direction.

But maybe you’re finding that even though you’re working hard, and you know that this time in incredibly important to our success as a company, it’s hard to do your best. Or at the very least, hard to feel your best.

Part of the reason is that burnout is a slow thing. On any given day, as impressive professionals, you’re able to push through. Get the job done. Find fulfillment in doing work for our users or another team that makes this company better. It’s why you’re here: because you’re awesome.

But day after day, week after week, burnout can slowly fill you up until it becomes hard to feel motivated to do much of anything, despite logically believing you should. I won’t spend too much time delineating why we’re being consumed by burnout, because a few of the big ones are obvious and not fully in our control: health insurance enrollment, bank API issues, remote work, zoom fatigue, asynchronous communication, fundraise, slow hiring. Outside work, we’ve also got increased stress and anxiety: pandemic, election, coup (?), shelter in place restrictions, social loneliness, economic stress, etc etc etc.

Yup we get it. There are a lot of reasons to feel less than our best professional selves, even though we KNOW now is when we all need to be on our A game. Like I said first thing: I want to acknowledge these feelings and tell you that they are ok.

As CEO, I have the immense privilege (and responsibility) of having my biggest priority be your success as a team. You feeling able to do your best work is my job. And I haven’t done a good job of making sure you all felt that way lately. I truly apologize for that, and I want to share my gratitude that despite that you’ve all had a good attitude and worked unbelievably hard towards our success.

But Andrew and I have borrowed time to get us to our Open Enrollment launch, and we’re worried that we won’t make it through unless we make a few small changes now, and a few bigger changes at the end of the year. I don’t know yet what all of those changes will be. I’ll be working with our team leads to come up with some creative ideas that are team-specific.

In the short term though, the most meaningful change I think we can make is to have an open conversation about boundaries.

On boundaries

During the pandemic, it’s been really hard to get away from work. You’re working in your living room or your bedroom, you’ve got far less going on after work than you did a year ago, and there is a lot of work to do! There is! There always is.

But I’m concerned that in an effort to be good colleagues and successful startup team members, you’re sacrificing a really critical element of your own self-care. Boundaries.

When we’re in the office and there’s not a pandemic, a few times a week you’ve got plans to go to the gym or meet friends for a drink or go out to dinner with your partner. You have a set and defined time that you will turn off your computer and walk away. You have spatial boundaries in the office vs. your couch. You have vacations that are worth looking forward to.

But without any of those things, you’ll find that you may just always sort of be slowly working. (Especially engineering, it’s not even slowly: you’ve been pulling late nights since CMS gave us approval.) There’s always a slack or intercom message to respond to or Heap or a PR that you could take a look at while you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I’m definitely talking about myself on this, too.

We’ve got no boundaries right now. And it hurts. It feels like there’s no escape. What would I be doing if not working anyway? The problem is, you start to chip away at your own effectiveness by doing this. When you’re overworked and burned out, you’re more likely to make mistakes and you’re less likely to be able to solve hard problems creatively. These are facts.

So, I’m asking all of you to work hard to set some boundaries. All of us are different, and I don’t want to be too prescriptive about what that means. Here are some examples:

  • Every evening at 6:30pm, I will turn off my computer and put my notifications on snooze
  • I won’t check notifications in the morning until 9am
  • When I am not on call, I will not check messages on the weekend
  • Every Tuesday and Friday at 2pm I will go for a 2-mile walk and will not look at my phone for an hour
  • I won’t work past 8pm more than 2 nights a week
  • On Thursdays, I won’t start work until noon so that I can do more deep flow work later in the evening
  • …create your own!

There are definitely going to be exceptions when you may need to be flexible, but I want you to feel like you have some control and that you have permission to say no. If a ping comes through on slack at 9:30pm on a Wednesday and you need space, please feel encouraged and welcomed to explain that you will get to it in the morning.

I know this sounds like it’s going to be uncomfortable, and it probably will be. But the truth is, in normal times, those boundaries would be set and you’d feel no guilt saying “oh, I’m out at dinner with my friends, I’ll pop on this first thing tomorrow.”

I also know it’s Open Enrollment and we’re all super eager to hit our targets. But I simply can’t afford the cost of you burning out and wanting to leave because you weren’t able to have any boundaries during Q4.

The commitment I am making to you is to work with you, to respect those boundaries, and to help you be the most effective you can be. I know this isn’t something anyone will take advantage of because I see how hard you are all working already.

Your task, then, is to come up with 3 boundary statements. I don’t care what they are, but you should have 3. Maybe it’s “I won’t work past midnight” or “This Sunday I won’t check my phone.” Because this is a startup, you may be asked to break a boundary from time to time. Maybe someone is on call but we have a MAJOR issue that needs more hands. But I want the norm to be that we don’t expect to break boundaries. I want the norm to be that we don’t expect everyone to be available all the time. I want the norm to be that you are allowed to say no.

By the way — if you’re NOT feeling burned out: by all means keep charging! Don’t let me tell you not to do work if you’re feeling energized. But if you’re not, please don’t let me make you feel like you simply have to be around or respond #becauseCOVID.

A final note for the short-term stuff: Andrew and I will have a quick chat with the engagement and engineering teams about what on-call means to make sure we’re all clear. I think that’s a team discussion that can help us have shared boundaries and expectations.

For the longer term stuff: keep an eye out. If you’ve got ideas, share them with me. I don’t want this to be a one and done conversation. I want to give you autonomy and control over your own schedule and work life, and I also want to make sure you don’t accidentally paint yourself into a burned out little corner.

Thanks for the time spent reading this. I think you’re all amazing humans. I am so proud to get to learn from you every single day.




Kristen Anderson

Founder and CEO @ Catch. Tech can save financial services and business can be a force for good. World traveler. Red wine connoisseur. @CatchBenefits