Andrew
Burak
CEO at Relevant

5 Signs of Software Engineer Burnout and Ways to Reduce It

Management

Is your development team tussling with burnout? Let them eat healthier!

That’s the homely advice most project managers get when their teams begin to look run-down. Unfortunately, you cannot tell your developers “go eat healthier” to manage burnout.

Instead of considering such generic advice, one can try a few reliable strategies that will be provided in this article. You will learn to spot five early signs of software developer burnout and ways to minimize the symptoms. Doing this will help you to fight this plight and maintain the high productivity of your team.

What is professional Burnout?

According to the World Health Organization, Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Three dimensions generally characterize it:

  • feelings of energy exhaustion or depletion;
  • reduced professional productivity;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.

In simpler terms, if you start feeling exhausted, detached from your work, and suddenly feel incapable of performing your tasks with ease, you might be experiencing burnout. 

Burnout in Tech: Is it real?

Whichever the industry, burnout is an everyday reality. However, due to the high demands for productivity and workload complexities, the tech industry is most affected. 

According to research by Team Blind, 60% of tech workers reported currently feeling burned out at their workplace. 

The survey required them to answer one question with a simple yes/no: “Are you currently suffering from job burnout?”

Are You Currently Suffering from Job Burnout?
Source: teamblind.com

The poll indicates what is happening in tech today, proving that a huge percentage of tech workers are prone to software burnout.

You might be wondering if software burnout only happens to tech workers in big firms.

The truth is, whether you are working in a startup or a highly compensating company, burnout is a common challenge tech employees face.

What are the causes of software engineer burnout?

Recognizing what might trigger software engineer burnouts will help a great deal in coping with the problem better.

Here are the major causes of programmer burnout:

  1. Workload: Huge workload is one of the obvious causes of software burnout. It is not uncommon for a software engineer to have a myriad of programming tasks with strict deadlines. As such, they spend long hours at work and the chronic stress level ultimately makes them highly prone to burnout.
  2. Perfectionism: Just like high workload, personality traits play a great role in causing programmer fatigue. When a software developer is obsessed about every little detail about their work and cannot delegate or outsource minor tasks, they might suffer from burnout. Allowing programmers to work as a team frees up time for senior developers to focus on vital development tasks, minimizing fatigue. As software engineers seek perfection, they need to know where to draw the line. 
  3. Lack of role clarity: When your software team does not know what is expected of them, they can get exhausted performing tasks that do not move the needle for that project. The time they spend trying to figure out your expectations increases the hours they should spend on that task, hence increasing their susceptibility to burn out.
  4. Deficit of communication: Communication is an effective way to reduce work stress. When your team feels that there is no open channel to communicate their work difficulties, they bottle it up, and these unresolved personal challenges coupled with their mental stress can drain their energy faster than usual.
  5. Absence of support and relationship: Taking on numerous tasks and responsibilities without enough help from others can cause software engineer burnout. Often, if your developer feels isolated and lacks close supportive relationships in the workplace, they will overwork, increasing their likelihood of software burnout. You’d be surprised how those mild chitchats in between tasks can go a long way in preventing burnout.
  6. Lack of adequate sleep and free time: This is a highly underrated cause of software engineer fatigue. Lack of proper sleep prevents the brain from functioning at optimum levels. And when the brain encounters long hours of mental activity without enough sleep, burnout is expected. Also, if a software engineer consistently works overtime and does not take time off to socialize and relax, they will suffer burnout as a result.
6 Major Causes of Software
Engineer Burnout

What are the consequences?

If not properly handled, burnout has the following consequences.

  • Depression and anxiety
    Chronic stress levels in tech is one of the major reasons employees quit their jobs. Research by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace showed that 46 percent of HR leaders say employee burnout is responsible for up to half (20 to 50 percent) of their annual workforce turnover. 
    Another research revealed that workplace stress is a huge contributor to national health spending, costing $125 to $190 billion annually. What starts off as mild stress culminates into depression and anxiety, which have a profound negative impact on both physical and mental well-being. As a result, a developer experiences difficulties dealing with challenging situations.
  • Lack of productivity
    Feeling overtired is one of the key signs of a burned out developer. Such high exhaustion levels make it hard to code and deliver high-quality applications. As a result, productivity takes a nosedive. 
  • Illnesses
    Burnout can lead to severe illnesses like prolonged fatigue, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even premature death. In fact, burnout contributes to around 120,000 deaths per year.
    The COVID-Pandemic also had a huge impact on tech workers as they struggled to adjust to working remotely. Developers who do not have a home office were left working in their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. 
    They also had to deal with homeschooling, taking care of children, and other sickly family members. Since application development requires utmost concentration, software developers felt disconnected and could not concentrate on their work.

What is the difference between Stress and Burnout?

Most people use the terms “stress” and “burnout” interchangeably when referring to fatigue in the workplace. And, while these terms may have similar contextual meanings, they do not exactly have the same meaning. Stress can cause burnout, but it isn’t the same as ‘too much stress”.

For a better understanding, let’s explain further.

The concept of stress involves “too much”. For example, excess workloads, too much pressure that expects much from you both physically and mentally. But, stress alone cannot cause burnout. In fact, some people still find a way to cope with the stress and deliver tasks.

I know you may be asking, how is this different from burnout?

Burnout is generally about “not enough”. This is how they differ. Being burnt out means feeling mentally and physically drained and devoid of motivation. Your team would feel like they are drowning in so many responsibilities, and they can give out just a little energy. 

Most times, people suffering from burnout express negative energy and acute pessimism. They don’t see the hope in their situation anymore and just give up and let the passion and drive die out.

How can one spot the symptoms of programmers burning out?

The longer you thread this burnout path, the stronger the symptoms we’d describe here will become. Learning to detect them early is critical for you to take action and prevent programming burnout from happening to your software team.

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss these signs that indicate your software engineer might be experiencing burnout.

What are the signs of developer burnout? 

It is essential to recognize the signs of burnout to eliminate or minimize its negative impact.

So, what are the signs of developer burnout?

Lack of energy 

As simple as this sounds, this is one of the obvious signs that a software engineer is overworked or is experiencing burnout. Catching a loss of energy in its initial stages is difficult as it is hidden in frequent chit-chats with coworkers or extra coffee breaks. 

A software engineer who is losing energy will often stare at their screens blankly, lost in thought or even feel sleepy while working on a sensitive project, oblivious of how much such interruptions cost the company.

If you notice this trend more often among your software team, it’s an indicator that you might have an overworked software developer on site.

Working in isolation and negative emotions

An indifference towards coworkers is another potential sign of programming fatigue. No matter how stressful software engineering is, it’s only courteous to maintain a good relationship with coworkers, as it helps relieve stress levels. 

If you observe that your software developer is getting impatient with colleagues or even criticizes them too often, these negative emotions might indicate software burnout.

Loss of productivity 

Suddenly, your software engineer doesn’t deliver tasks as efficiently anymore. He constantly feels disgruntled on the keyboard. You can see he doesn’t enjoy what he does anymore and still has to work the unending long hours.

Occasionally, he takes a long breath and just gazes at the ceiling, lost in thought. 

We call this the “software developer depression.”

You can tell the passion is slipping away from the long hours he spends on simple tasks, only for them to submit codes full of bugs. That’s a big red flag, and it is essential to find a solution as soon as possible.

Physical symptoms

When you notice your software team is displaying any of these physical symptoms, it’s a sign of chronic stress levels that needs to be managed immediately. 

  • Muscle pain and physical exhaustion.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Frequent headaches/migraines.
  • Stomach disorders
  • Dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.

Achievements at work give no satisfaction

Their passion for programming is slowly dripping out. They are no longer as enthusiastic as they once were, even after a big breakthrough. They don’t sound excited discussing their career goals anymore. You can even feel their general disconnection in team meetings.

Sounds like your software guy?

You need to start thinking of ways you can manage this level of software burnout. Otherwise, you risk the project’s failure. However, it’s essential to note that some of these symptoms might be red flags for other unrelated issues.

So, as a team leader, what can you do?

How to reduce software developer burnout

As a manager, the company assigns you performance targets that you must achieve before the end of the quarter. Expectations are high, and you need your team to function at optimal levels.

Although burnout in tech is common, a burned-out software engineer is a major hindrance to the overall success of a software development project. As a manager, ensuring you have a healthy team culture and caring for your software team beyond assigning tasks is of the utmost importance.

You can also create an open communication path to keep the team in high spirits and help them achieve the overall target. The trick is to find creative ways to manage developer burnout without sacrificing your projects. 

With the help of collaboration tools for software development, you can manage your team better and improve their overall productivity.

So, in the next section, we share tips that helped our team perform better amid coding fatigue.

How to manage software engineers burnout: 5 Tips 

For this next phase, we explore measures you can take to effectively manage software burnout, and at least alleviate it.

1. Encourage and allow healthy habits

As a team lead, encourage exercise and healthy eating habits among your team members in/outside the workplace. 

Coding can keep a software developer hunched over his desk for countless hours. It is essential to recommend occasional stretches to break this unhealthy work lifestyle and mitigate software burnout. 

Also, you can encourage your team members to have a sleep routine, as adequate sleep helps improve one’s mental productivity.

2. Improve team communication

There are perks associated with managing a dedicated development team in offshore countries. However, you need to rethink your management approach because working remotely can also increase susceptibility to developer burnout.

One thing is for certain; there is no one effective rule on how to manage a remote development team with ease. However, if you want to hire remote developers, maintaining proper communication channels is a good place to start.

Improving team communication goes a long way to encourage software engineers, so they can open up about any work difficulties.

The bottom line is this: the better your software team feels, the less likely they are to burn out.

3. Organize team bonding activities that encourage interaction and participation 

Holding monthly team building activities is a great idea. When software engineers engage in activities outside of work, it minimizes the risks of software burnout. 

During these activities, bond with your team members. Help them understand that you care for them beyond assigning them programming tasks. Also, you can also track early signs of software burnout when you notice indifference or lack of excitement from a team member. 

4. Hire remote developers

An over-accumulation of impending development tasks is one of the main reasons your team might suffer programming fatigue. The situation worsens with strict deadlines. Such working conditions are highly detrimental to their mental health, and the company’s project might suffer as a result. 

In this case, a team extension is recommended.

Growing your team of dedicated software engineers is very important. A team extension means extending your software programming team to facilitate a better and more efficient development process. By choosing to hire an offshore software developer, you lessen your in-house team’s workload and reduce the risk of programmer burnout.

5. Help developers maintain work-life balance

Mika Liss, COO of NeuroLeadership Institute, said, “One of the keys to using the on/off switch when working remotely is to develop a physical action to support the shut-off valve.”

This might sound too simple a solution, but…

A healthy balance between working and enjoying your free time is recommended to prevent software burnout. 

We cannot overemphasize that.

The Warning Signs of Developer Burnout

Summing up

These are valuable tips on how to counteract burnout, so your team can work productively. And in case you need to grow your team, we can help you with that. 

Relevant is a company that is well known to provide outsourcing and outstaffing software development services with the best results. Contact us to set up a dedicated development team in Ukraine.

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Written by
Andrew Burak
CEO at Relevant
My company has helped hundreds of companies scale engineering teams and build software products from scratch. Let's connect.

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