Preventing Burnout in the Tech Industry

Job burnout is more than just a buzzword; it’s a growing problem, particularly in the tech industry. According to a recent study, nearly 60% of tech workers reported experiencing burnout in 2018 alone.

The tech industry is growing and changing rapidly. On one hand, this unprecedented growth means that that tech workers have much higher than average opportunity for growth and upward mobility. On the other hand, this means that many roles lack clear definition and employers often expect tech workers to put in longer hours and solve more complicated problems than the average employee.

As technology continues to grow exponentially, more and more software development jobs are becoming available. As this opportunity grows, so does competition. As new software developers enter the workforce, they feel immense pressure to write better code, work longer hours, and produce better results. This is often the road to success, allowing new programmers to gain experience, collect accolades, and create impressive resumes.

What is Burnout?

While at first this kind of fast-paced, high deliverable environment can be exciting, after weeks or months, burnout can set in. It’s normal to experience work-related anxiety, but job burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion resulting from constant, prolonged exposure to excessive stress. For professionals in the tech industry, long hours, tight deadlines and poor management can quickly lead to burnout.

Job burnout can happen to anyone, and research suggests one in five highly motivated, engaged employees are at risk for burnout. Common symptoms of burnout can mimic anxiety, depression, or even indifference, affecting not only your career but your relationships and mental well-being outside of work.

Symptoms of Burnout

  • Physical and mental exhaustion—you’re used to putting in long hours and crushing tight deadlines, but lately you haven’t had the energy to do much of anything.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and loss of motivation—you used to jump out of bed in the morning, ready to tackle the day’s challenges, but now it’s a challenge to get out of bed.
  • Decreased job performance—you feel like you can’t possibly write another line of code, regardless of tight deadlines and mounting pressure from management.
  • Increased negativity and cynicism—where high pressure deadlines used to be an exciting (and maybe anxiety-inducing) challenge, now you’re frustrated, irritable and critical of management.

Why are Tech Workers Burning Out?

By 2027, we are expected to add more than five million information technology jobs globally. Tech has become synonymous with opportunity, and as technology advances exponentially, software developers are at the forefront of innovation—but they also carry the burden of long hours, poor work-life balance and unreasonable deadlines.

  • According to a 2016 study, six primary factors contribute to employee burnout:
  • Unmanageable or monotonous workload
  • Lack of control
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Lack of community
  • Unequal treatment
  • Conflicting values

As a developer, you’ve likely experienced unreasonably tight deadlines for projects, lack of appreciation for longer than average hours, and fierce competition from your peers (even if they’re your teammates).

Overcoming Burnout

Unfortunately, burnout does not generally go away without intervention, so it’s vital to address the problem as soon as you feel yourself experiencing symptoms of burnout. Identifying the root cause of your stress is usually the best place to start.

Make a list. Are you struggling with an unreasonable workload? Do you feel like your hard work goes unnoticed? Make a list of daily stressors and consider ways to reduce (or eliminate) unnecessary stress.

Talk it out. Once you’ve identified key stressors and identified areas for improvement, consider sitting down with your manager or HR department to discuss possible resolutions.

Take time for yourself. When experiencing burnout, work can feel unbearable. Taking frequent breaks throughout the work day and exercising 2 – 3 times per week can help to minimize the effects of work-related stress.

Unplug. Whether that means uninstalling email programs such as Gmail and Outlook from your phone or taking time off of work, prioritizing your mental health and work-life balance is critical.

Ask for help. Talking to a loved one, friend or professional can help you to evaluate your challenges and career goals.

5 Tips to Prevent Burnout

Burnout happens so gradually that many people don’t notice it until they’re in crisis. Software developers are at an increased risk for experiencing burnout, as are any highly engaged employees.

1. Set boundaries. It’s easy to say “yes” to every project that lands on your desk, but setting boundaries is key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. You can only write so much code in a day, so practice setting your priorities and saying “no” to unnecessary stress, negativity, and overtime.

2. Search for meaning. When faced with long hours and consistent work stress, it’s easy to lose sight of why you do your job in the first place. Take time to reflect on your intentions and values, and make time for your passions, at work and in your community and personal life.

3. Practice self-care. When you’re experiencing stress at work, it’s easy to neglect your basic needs. Make it a goal to get at least six hours of sleep every night, exercise regularly, and take time for yourself, including taking time off of work when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed.

4. Be the change. Office politics can be exhausting, and inefficient processes can be even more so. If you’re frustrated with the way projects are managed or meetings are structured, take the initiative to suggest improvements to others who can help you achieve positive changes.

5. Find a community. Whether you find connections with your coworkers, your family, your partner or your friends, connecting with loved ones can mitigate work-related stress and offer support for dealing with work-related stress.

If you’re experiencing burnout, you might be tempted to quit your job, or even leave the tech industry altogether. But understanding the risk factors and practices for overcoming burnout will empower you to continue to grow within your career.

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