How to Tackle Developer Burnout by@alexharris
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How to Tackle Developer Burnout

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Burnout affects 83% of developers. We discuss this in-depth and conclude with four actions you can take to address developer burnout in the workplace: 1: Check to see if your company has an EAP program, if not, ask why 2: Stimulate a burnout dialogue with your teammates 3: Log in to Adadot to see your well-being data and make a plan for improvement4: Reflect on whether you have enough autonomy at work. If not, flag this.

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@alexharris

Alex Harris

Founder at Adadot.com. The world’s first fitness tracker for work,...

About @alexharris
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What is burnout?

It happens to an overwhelming majority of us. We get excited by our work, go deep for a prolonged period, and try to stretch ourselves. But, at a certain point that spark and passion go. The job we used to love becomes a slog. We feel exhausted, despondent, and increasingly cynical.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) lists 9 common signs of burnout:

  1. Feeling overwhelmed
  2. Having racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  3. Being irritable
  4. Feeling constantly worried, anxious, or scared
  5. Feeling a lack of self-confidence
  6. Having trouble sleeping or feeling tired all the time
  7. Avoiding things or people you are having problems with
  8. Eating more or less than usual
  9. Drinking or smoking more than usual

They also list ‘a difficult or troubled work environment’ as a key cause of burnout.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Is developer burnout a problem?

In short, yes. Not only is it prevalent, but the impact on people’s health and their work is significant. A study by Graziotin et al. found that burnt-out developers are more likely to make mistakes, miss deadlines, and write bug-ridden code.

Health has been seen as a fundamental workplace need in management science for a long time, but it’s important we acknowledge that mental health and physical health are both contributors to overall health and well-being, and as such are necessary requirements for any workplace.

The mental health of our colleagues should be a top priority regardless, but the fact it is also intrinsically linked to us delivering great work gives us even greater reason to ensure it’s protected.

How common is developer burnout?

Shockingly, a 2021 survey found that 83% of developers are currently suffering from burnout. That means that in an average scrum squad that has 5 developers, at least 4 of them will be suffering from burnout. This demonstrates not only a massive operational problem but a detrimental health issue to an overwhelming majority of our colleagues who clearly need more support and an improved working environment.

Part of the problem here might be the perceived societal stigma around talking about mental health issues. However, a positive sign here was that roughly a third of respondents to a 2021 Stack Overflow report responded to a question about mental health, more than twice the percentage that gave feedback in 2020.

The confidence around talking about mental health and burnout is clearly growing, and it’s high time we had these discussions.

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How to create an environment that fosters positive mental health

So, we know burnout is an issue, but how do we deal with it? We have collated four antidotes that if all applied, are likely to help improve the burnout situation in your workplace.

  1. Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Having an EAP such as Health Assured is an invaluable part of any employee reward package, and increasingly organizations are providing these services as standard. EAP services are varied but tend to offer a helpline to call to get in touch with therapists when having a challenging day, whilst also offering more regular therapy sessions.

They can also offer mental health first aid training, health checks, and mental health coaching services too. So, if you’re able to bring this into your organization, do so! If you’re not in that position, make sure you check to see what your company provides, many people have access to these services but are simply not aware!

  1. Create a burnout dialogue

Creating a working environment that talks openly about burnout is critical to dealing with it. People often feel a stigma attached to discussing any feelings of burnout, but when we look at the data, we know that it’s likely many of our developer colleagues are also experiencing burnout.

Organizations should set up check-ins in retrospectives to discuss burnout, and in the spirit of ‘be the change’, if you can lead by example and talk openly with colleagues when feeling that you’re liable to burnout, it will only help you and them alike. We can only deal with things that we acknowledge, after all!

  1. Adadot

We know burnout is an issue, but how can we spot it in advance rather than only relying on people flagging when they are already struggling? One of Adadot’s core features is well-being tracking, using a host of AI and integrations to surface how you’re doing as an individual and to aggregate team well-being in an anonymized way for team managers. It does this through two groupings that are made up of numerous metrics:

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Work-life balance

The work-life balance pillar is made up of three metrics:

  • Out-of-hours comms

    Time spent communicating outside of working hours. This helps to show how effectively you’re setting boundaries between work and home outside of working hours

  • Out-of-hours work

    Time spent working outside of official working hours. This helps to show how effectively you’re setting boundaries between work and home

  • Long hours

    Time spent working per day. This helps to show if you’re working hours that may negatively impact your well-being.

Working Patterns

The working patterns pillar is made up of three metrics:

  • Focus time

    Time available to you for deep and focused work. This helps to show if you’re afforded enough time for productive deep work

  • Fragmentation

    A number of concurrent projects, programming languages, and communication channels. This helps to detect if you’re having to context switch too much, which can affect your wellbeing

  • Responsiveness

    Average response time. This helps to show if you’re being responsive but also allowing a healthy amount of time for focused work

Using Adadot to get this insight helps you and your team get ahead of the curve and adjust behaviors for the better, before burnout hits.

  1. Autonomy and the 20% rule

One of the causes of burnout is a lack of autonomy in the workplace, where developers feel they are simply on a coding conveyor belt, churning out whatever they are asked to rather than understanding the bigger picture and having the agency to do what they think will add the most value.

Google actually builds this autonomy formally into their working week, allocating 20% of an employee’s time to be used on anything they find interesting. This actually led to the creation of both Gmail and Adsense. Without giving their employees this time they would have been far more liable to burnout, and far less likely to have the space to breathe and create these industry-changing products.

Make a change today

The case for reflecting on and addressing personal and team burnout is compelling. We’ve walked through four potential ways to tackle this industry-wide epidemic, so, four actions you can take today are:

1: Check to see if your company has an EAP program, if not, ask why

2: Stimulate a burnout dialogue with your teammates

3: Login to Adadot to see your well-being data and make a plan for improvement4: Reflect on whether you have enough autonomy at work. If not, flag this.

That’s four quick steps towards a better, healthier, and more productive tomorrow. Over to you.


Also published here.

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