Burnout – how to deal with it?

The circumstances of last months showed forced many companies and managers to change their management system – without any preparation. From day to day, the companies had to switch to remote work, and managers find themselves in new management and communication culture that contributes to burnout. The below article will present you with how to recognize, prevent and deal with burnout.

Before analyzing what are the symptoms and impact of burnout, it is worth explaining what it means. Burnout is a destructive challenge for mental health, especially among knowledge workers. It is mostly related to the workplace that causes chronic stress when is not managed successfully.

Burnout among employees has always been a concern. However, now it is increasingly widespread among IT employees. It is because of their long hours of work on serious projects. They feel trapped when working very hard. Be aware of the fact that if it will not be monitored, sooner or later, may kill your and your team productivity, destroy happiness and make the team’s success withdrawn.

What are the main reasons for burnout?

Let’s take a closer look at the main reasons for burnout in the work environment. It is mostly the organization-related causes than depend on the employee himself. The main factors for burnout are overwork, wrong management, lack of appreciation, no teamwork, conflicts – negative thinking, injustice, absence of trust, or isolation.

Overwork results from the lack of balance between quantity and quality expectations. An employee working long hours and weekends is more likely to burn out than somebody maintaining a work-life balance. Even sitting 8 hours every day in front of the computer may result in burnout. Moreover, programming requires solving complex issues, so it is highly intensive mental work. Programmers being passionate at the beginning, when isolated and stuck with monotonous work, are easily susceptible to burnout. 

Working 20 hours but with the wrong organization and unsuccessful management, the environment may lead to chronic stress. 

Wrong management style and lack of control over projects lead to burnout as well. These are short deadlines, wrong timelines established for the projects, and no relevant and efficient plan that causes a workload of work that is difficult to hang on to both physically and mentally for employees. Organization at the workplace is also crucial. Managers demanding long hours of work or lots of overtime without relevant pauses because of important projects to be done on time may contribute to the employee’s burnout. Some of the employees need different management styles, working independently, with a mentor, or having a coworker. It is important to ensure they feel comfortable with the managers and the team.

Teamwork is important to maintain a healthy environment within the team. Communication and face-to-face contact plays a major role in developers or any other IT employees. They are mostly isolated due to the focus needed in their positions. So a deficit of communication or no support and no relationship in the workplace has an impact on the developer’s well-being.

Lack of appreciation is another key reason for developers. When an employee does not feel valuable, it creates a step to burnout. It is highly connected with their role. Once they can propose some changes or usage of new technology, they will feel more needed and have a real impact on their work effects. Also, no feedback is meaningful to prevent burnout. When the developer does not know if their work was well-done or needs improvement, they do not have a reason to work and are less eager to fulfill their tasks.

What are the symptoms of employee burnout?

It is much easier to recognize employee burnout in the workplace than remotely. If you have your team close, try to take a look at those features that may be the signs of burnout.

One of the most common symptoms is tiredness and exhaustion. The developer is unable to fully engage in the project and collaborate with other employees. They are emotionally drained and are inactive in any new projects and feel no excitement.

This also leads to often absences at work and susceptibility to cold, flu, and other illnesses. Frequent headaches, loss of appetite, and in general lack of energy show that the developer may be on the road to burnout. When you notice an employee working remotely who always had a camera on and suddenly does not want to show up, it may be a warning signal.

The software developer showing cynicism and expressing negative thoughts and emotions indicates some traits of burnout. Moreover, they perceive their role as increasingly stressful and frustrating. It is crucial to analyze their communication with others. They are mainly focused on negative thinking and present it to other coworkers or maybe isolate themselves from others. Here is another feature of burnout.

Working in detachment and alienation is another symptom that we should note. They do not feel like being a part of the company’s mission or of a team. They do not integrate with other employees and feel distant.

Burnout can be recognized through reduced performance and productivity. The developers that love coding and programming are no longer as effective as they were. They struggle to complete the task on time and provide it with high quality. The delivery speed noticeably decreases and the project outcomes are much poorer. In the long term, burnout may also suppress innovation and creativity. They will be no longer eager to learn new technologies and reluctant to any new ideas. Furthermore, burnout causes no satisfaction from achievement.

On the one hand, when developers take on too much responsibility, and on the other hand, they withdraw from responsibilities, in both situations, it results from burnout.

How to cope with recognized burnout?

What if we notice an employee is burnt out? There are some things that you, as manager, may do. Let’s take a look.

In order to alleviate burnout, you could start with improving team communication. Proper communication channel to share ideas about work difficulties is a key to improving team experience. That will help to ensure a better experience within the team and make employees feel important.

Another idea is to organize team bonding activities that will motivate interaction and participation in some team-building activities. It is even possible when working remotely.

It is crucial to help developers to maintain work-life balance by ensuring suitable working hours, and holidays in proper quantity and distance. You may also encourage developers to do more exercises and other healthy habits such as eating.

But the first step is to offer the employee some days or weeks off. Doing nothing for some time when burnout is recognized is crucial for recovering. The time to recover varies in different cases. Some employees will need some days, some weeks, or even some months.

After the break, note that the work should start step by step for longer hours. It is better to start with only part-time to avoid overwork. Developers should focus on a maximum of 3 tasks to perform better their work after their coming back.

Another idea for programmers to cope with burnout is to try a different language, and use new technology, database, or tools. Changing a coding environment may help in recovery. The developer may change the room or work outside their laptop using Mac or Linux instead of Windows. This will get their passion for development back.

Ideas for prevention.

When you search for any ideas to prevent burnout among your employees the major thing is to ensure work-life balance and take care of a team experience and collaboration.

Avoiding burnout requires teams to reduce stress, conflicts, and workload with high priority. 

The goal should be to create a culture of learning and ensure psychological safety and justice. The best is to dedicate 20% of your employee’s time to learning new technologies and embrace the principle of continuous improvement.

The balance between work and holidays is key.

Furthermore, the developer should have a supportive environment and know their work is meaningful. Feeling to be a part of the decision-making process will help them. Regular one-to-one meetings, fast feedback, and reduced fear will create a positive team experience. It is important to note that the employee can be praised in a team, but when it comes to some constructive criticism, it should be done during one-to-one meetings.

Psychological safety is a priority, and it means letting them experiment and learn from their mistakes. Tech team leader’s work is not only a technical job, but also it is a work with people, it is though, crucial to have in a team a soft skilled employee eg. woman or offer training with managing a dispersed team. Reasonably is to consider your team through the prism of personality as each person may need an individual approach eg. taking into consideration Asperger’s syndrome or Autism spectrum disorder.

  • Try to avoid or cut negative thoughts and complaints among employees.
  • Prioritize feedback
  • Select the right management style for each employee
  • Be transparent to build trust
  • Improve communication

I hope this article helped you better understand what burnout is and how to recognize and deal with it. Those tips presented about prevention do concern any employee, and not only the developers. Because all need to feel more valuable at work to better perform.

The consequences of employee burnout may have huge consequences such as depression, anxiety, illnesses lack of productivity, and devoid of motivation, so better to improve the work environment than to deal with burnout afterward.

1. What are the reasons software developers burnout?

There are many reasons why developers get burned out.  Find below a list of some of them.

  • overwork
  • wrong organization and management style
  • no teamwork
  • isolation
  • injustice
  • complex projects with a short timeframe 
  • lack of appreciation

2. What does it mean a software developer burnout?

It is a syndrome caused by chronic workplace stress and the wrong management style.

Here are some characteristics of burnout:

  • lack of energy
  • tiredness
  • productivity decrease
  • negative thinking
  • isolation

You feel tired when starting the job, you are not eager to integrate, and suddenly you are less productive and struggling to perform easy tasks. To be precise, if you notice some of the characteristics above, it may be a sign of software developer burnout.

3. What are the symptoms of developer burnout?

The signs that may be evidence of burnout are:

  • susceptibility to illnesses
  • lack of sleep
  • depression
  • extreme tiredness
  • lack of motivation
  • negative attitude

4. Prevention ideas for burnout.

  • ensure work-life balance
  • no overload with work
  • building activities within the team
  • good communication
  • encourage to exercise and healthy habits
  • strengthen passion

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