What is Software Engineers’ burnout?
Project deadlines, code burst, ad-hoc requirements, bugs and errors,… these are regular occurrences in a software engineer’s life. Which engineer has not had tech debt concerns or pressing deadline and workload pressures sometimes? But when the pressure is relentless, pushing developers into constant stress, exhaustion, and inefficacy, we call this state as burnout in software engineers. Burnout is the feeling of being constantly exhausted and demotivated at work. The WHO defines burnout as - “A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
Burnout is a serious concern for dev team managers and leaders because the affliction affects not only individual developers’ performance and well-being but also cascades into hurting the productivity of the team and the organization. The impact of burnout is obvious in the software development sector, as elucidated by this Team Blind survey that found 60% of software workers reporting symptome of burnout in the workplace.
However, developers, dev team managers and leaders can manage the stress that causes burnout and achieve sustainable productivity by acknowledging the symptoms of burnout, addressing process pitfalls that cause burnout, and developing pre-emptive strategies to counteract the problem.
Burnout in tech: Is it real?
Burnout has existed ever since the invention of work, though it was unknown until it was first coined by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions, such as doctors and nurses. The term slowly began making rounds in every industry that the World Health Organization has included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon.
Burnout has always existed in fluctuating patterns, but this could be the first time the numbers have hit a staggering high. In a survey conducted by Deloitte, 77% of the 1000 respondents claim that they have/are experiencing burnout in their current job. 91% of respondents state that burnout impacts the quality of their work and a hefty 83% admit that it goes beyond the office and into their personal lives.
Again, the software industry being one of the largest, feels the repercussions of burnout firsthand. According to a report by Evans Data Corporation, there are about 23.4 million software engineers in the US alone, and another study shows about 83% of developers report suffering from burnout. Drawing a correlation between the two statistics gives us an astounding number of developers who could potentially be experiencing burnout.
The consequences of burnout
Burnout in software engineering not only makes the engineers lose interest in work but provokes them to be cynical about the management and organization. Burnouts create uninterested and unhappy employees who work without any commitment or connection to the organization's culture.
The effects are more adverse on the employees who experience physical and mental exhaustion leading to depression and anxiety. According to the Burnout contagion principle hypothesized by the British Psychological Society, burnout can cause a ripple effect among employees and take a toll on the employee experience index. Burnout contagion occurs slowly, spreading from one dissatisfied employee to another across teams, departments, or at an even larger scale.
What are the reasons for Software Engineer burnout?
Software development teams have always worked under tremendous pressure and scrutiny. This high pressure environment, combined with new developments such as the global shift to remote and hybrid work and the resulting mis-adoption of remote work practices, compounded the causes of burnout.
While it is easy to assume excessive workloads as the primary reason for software engineers’ burnout, it is not the only culprit on the list. Various other factors cause burnout in engineers. Below is a list of the factors that cause burnout in engineers, in no particular order:
Dev teams work against serious deadlines, often aiming to push feature releases within ambitious time frames. In such scenarios, when the scope of a project continues to vary due to either changing client requirements or incomplete PRDs or even misunderstood requirements, it leads to back and forth reviews, rework, and a loss in productivity. A repetitive race to complete the project in the context of this pressure can stress engineering teams and lead to burnout.
💡 Hatica tip: Hosting regular stand-up meetings can help team members provide a realistic and achievable time line of their deliverables while also discussing blockers and challenges that can be fixed by the team to ensure deadlines are met.