Software engineer burnout is on the rise as many companies continue with partially-remote or fully-remote workplaces—even as the COVID-19 pandemic starts to wane.
While there are many benefits to remote work, it also presents greater opportunities for employee burnout.
Burnout is a significant issue that both employees and employers need to be aware of.
Workers should know the causes and symptoms of software developer burnout so they can identify when they need help.
Employers must proactively create an environment that prevents programmer burnout and supports employees when they need it most.
What Is Burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome or “occupational phenomenon” that comes from workplace stress.
It’s not technically a medical condition, but rather a collection of symptoms that lead to negative feelings about work.
Symptoms of Employee Burnout
Burnout can take many different forms and impacts people in different ways.
Its main characteristics include:
- Feelings of exhaustion and fatigue
- Periods of low motivation and productivity
- Negative or cynical emotions about the work
For remote software engineers, these feelings often revolve around coding and programming work.
Burnout can have a significant impact on an employees’ ability to get work done.
You might see some of the following signs from an employee suffering from burnout:
- An increased mental distance from the job
- Loss of focus
- A decrease in typical work performance
- Trouble meeting deadlines
- Difficulty getting started in the morning or on new tasks
And the effects don’t stop in the workplace.
Employee burnout can also cause:
- Anger, irritability, or outbursts
- Emotional exhaustion
- Trouble sleeping
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
- Little motivation to participate in activities and hobbies outside of work
- Lessened personal accomplishments or pride
Back in 2015, Deloitte reported that 77% of employees had experienced burnout in their current job. 91% of respondents said that stress and frustration “highly impacted” the quality of their work. And a whopping 83% also saw a negative impact on their personal lives.
According to the same survey, 70% of professionals didn’t think their companies did enough to prevent employee burnout.
Skip ahead to May 2020: a Monster survey reports that more than 50% of employees working from home were experiencing burnout symptoms. Just two months later, that number jumped to 69%.
Another study completed during the pandemic, this one by FlexJobs, found that workers are 3x more likely to report mental health problems now compared to before the pandemic.
In addition, 56% ask for more flexibility during the working day, while 46% believe that mental health days and more time off would be the best way to prevent employee burnout.
While the software engineer burnout rate isn’t known, the Software Developer Burnout Survey, conducted in 2020, reveals common software engineer burnout symptoms.
80% of respondents identified “a lack of necessary energy to get your work or other coding projects done” as a symptom they’ve experienced.
43% reported feeling critical towards the whole idea of writing code. The same percentage indicated they feel a compulsion to overwork due to a feeling that they’re falling behind.
Other programmer burnout symptoms reported in the survey included a disinterest in computers, lack of interest in new projects and learning, and not following developer best practices (for example, taking shortcuts like not properly testing code).
Interestingly, 58% of respondents said that web developer burnout is not inevitable in the software industry, meaning it can be prevented.
For causes, they point to external factors, like management and workplace culture, as well as internal factors, such as a lack of support and beliefs around not being good enough.
Why Does Working from Home Cause Burnout?
Remote workers can be particularly susceptible to burnout. Many of the reasons behind this involve people and processes:
Unclear expectations. Remote workers don’t have as many opportunities to ask questions or pick up on the context of a situation. Uncertainty about tasks or performance can leave employees feeling stressed and anxious.
Blur between work and home. At-home employees can’t step away from the office when things get overwhelming. Many remote workers feel the need to be “always on” and accessible, which leads to long hours.
Not enough communication. Employees need both formal and informal communication to feel comfortable and happy in their job.
If they don’t have regular 1:1 meetings with their managers or make time for chatting with coworkers, they may feel isolated or lack a connection to the company.
Decision fatigue. In many ways, remote employees have to act as their own boss. They’re responsible for motivating themselves and often have to make a lot of decisions on their own. This can cause them to feel overwhelmed or apathetic, especially if they’re not yet confident in their role.
Micromanaging. Sometimes, remote workers must deal with the opposite of decision fatigue: micromanaging. Employers, especially those new to remote work, may try to exert too much control over a remote employee’s schedule and tasks.
Monotonous projects. Developer fatigue occurs when software engineers become tired of programming. Coding is hard work and the brain can only handle it for so many hours at a time.
If managers aren’t careful to assign a variety of interesting work to their remote employees, they might create an environment that causes burnout.
Other Causes of Burnout
Burnout can affect any employee. Some factors, like those listed below, can cause burnout in both in-person and remote workers.
Pressure of deadlines. If a work environment is too fast-paced and stressful, no employee will be able to work for long without suffering burnout.
Disorganized, chaotic workplaces. Do employees get confused about which task they should be working on? Do they know where to turn for questions? Burnout is incredibly common in a work environment that leaves employees feeling insecure.
Misaligned values. If an employee doesn’t resonate with their work or the company they work for, they’re unlikely to find their job meaningful enough to prevent burnout.
Not taking vacations. Everybody needs a break. Employees that feel pressure to be in the office every day will burn out if they don’t take the rest they need.
Non-technical managers. A burned out software engineer is often caused by a manager who doesn’t understand the full technical implications of the job. If expectations are unrealistic, an employee will turn in low quality work, miss deadlines, or work longer hours—all of which lead to stress and burnout.
Company or industry culture. Some organizations promote and celebrate long working hours and always putting in 110%. The software industry is no exception, which can have a negative impact on individuals.
How to Deal with Burnout when Working from Home
Are you dealing with developer burnout or programming exhaustion?
Try these strategies that can prevent burnout or help you cope:
Set boundaries, both physical and mental. Establish a distinct work space and actually use it. Have dedicated working hours and follow them, except in the most extreme situations. Don’t be afraid to say no to an extra project or explain to your boss why a project might take a little bit longer than originally anticipated.
Shut it down. At the end of your work day, turn off all of your work equipment, your notifications, and your emails. Don’t give in to the temptation to quickly check on something or send a message: this will help you step away from work and reduce your stress.
Focus. Limit your personal tasks during work hours as much as possible so you end each work day feeling accomplished.
Prioritize self-care. When you’re off the clock, make time for healthy eating, physical activity, and rest. Push yourself to stay involved in hobbies and build socialization into your calendar if you have to.
Take breaks. Don’t get wrapped up in a task and sit staring at your screen for hours on end. Make sure to get up and move regularly, and use the vacation or personal time given to you to give your mind a proper rest.
Ask for help. Struggling to meet a deadline or feeling overwhelmed at home? Do something about it. Reach out to a coworker or manager, whether it’s for help shifting your priorities, tackling a difficult question, or just for a simple word of encouragement.
Be realistic. You know that you won’t be able to code as well if you don’t take care of yourself. Remember that productivity and creativity require rest, and be kind to yourself about the work you’re getting done.
Change your coding environment. If you feel as though you’ve been doing the same job for too long, change something up! Switch to a different OS, use a new text editor, or make some other change to force you to learn something new and reignite some passion.
How to Deal with Burnout as a Remote Leader
Are you seeing signs of developer burnout in your team? It’s essential to step in and see how you can support them.
Burnout prevention can be as simple as:
Allowing flexibility. Every remote employee is dealing with a different situation. Give them flexibility in their work hours, schedules, and task management as long as the work is getting done.
Making time for communication. Remember that remote employees can easily feel lonely or out-of-the-loop. Check in with them regularly to see how they’re doing, especially if you’ve noticed a change in their work performance. Show empathy and use creative methods to encourage casual, informal conversation between employees.
Ask for feedback. There’s no harm in asking your employees if they’re feeling burnt out. Begin a productive discussion and find out what you could do differently to support them and prevent burnout in the future.
Creating better systems. Prevent burnout from occurring by creating an organized, efficient organization. Explore tools and processes that will allow you to better manage tasks, deadlines, and communication to make your remote employees’ lives easier.
Encouraging time off. Make it clear that you expect all employees to take and enjoy their vacation time. Encourage them to take breaks throughout the day and don’t expect instant responses from them at all times. If you see that a particular employee is really struggling, give them a day or two to rest.
Building it into your culture. The most productive remote organizations are those that have a truly remote culture. Educate your team on the symptoms, causes, and methods of dealing with burnout.
Other activities that promote mental health, such as educational sessions or group meditation, are also great ways to reduce burnout.
Stop Burnout in Your Business
Avoiding or coming back from web developer burnout is tough, especially for remote workers who are ambitious and just want to prove themselves capable.
That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognize developer burnout symptoms and identify when software engineering becomes too stressful.
By setting the right workplace culture, encouraging communication, and emphasizing all the strategies remote workers can use to prevent burnout, remote leaders can create a better working environment and lead their teams to success.
Revelo understands remote work’s impact on mental health and ensures developers have the resources they need to thrive in any remote team. In addition to health insurance, we handle benefits, payroll, and taxes. Build faster while we handle HR – hire a remote developer through Revelo.