How to Prevent Developer Burnout

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Burnout can happen in any industry, but let’s face it: there are repetitive and tedious aspects of a developer’s job that can easily put us on the path if we’re not careful. Things are always changing. There are skills to keep sharp, high workloads, and inefficient processes to navigate. And there’s not always much time for stepping back and exploring interests outside of work or simply taking a mental vacation.

Moving at breakneck speed with aspirational expectations can be demotivating and reduce creativity and enthusiasm. So whether you’re a developer or a manager of developers, identify ways you can improve your environment and reduce the chance you’ll lose that connection with a job you once loved or, in the case of the latter, vital team members.

Change things up

Many developers these days work eight or more hours a day from a desk that may or may not be in an office with other people. The nature of the job requires staring at a screen for long periods of time which can lead to fatigue.

Get up and move around. Prolonged sitting is bad for your health. Grab some water. Walk around the block. Do some squats. If you’re isolated in a home office, meet a friend for lunch or take a break to call a family member now and then. Spend your evenings with others. If you manage a remote team, plan virtual or in-person social events and activities geared towards team bonding. Check in with your team via video calls and ask how they’re feeling.

You can also try new things. Take a class or go to a conference. Listen to a podcast or master a new tech stack. Whatever you do, pick it because it’s fun or interesting.

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Create a culture with an output focus

More and more studies are showing that people are equally–if not more–productive with four-day workweeks as they are with five. The number of hours worked isn’t nearly as important as the amount of work done in the hours. Promote efficiency by setting clear goals and letting your developers figure out how they will use their time to work towards them. Prioritize task completion and deliverables, and leave the process to them.

As part of this, be sure junior developers are trained appropriately, and don’t ignore technical holes in their knowledge. Ignoring this will just make more work for everyone, leading to overextension and burnout.

Work smarter, not harder: automate simple processes

Making yourself more efficient saves time and frustration. Use tech to your advantage. AI can help you get through your task list with fewer snags. GitHub Copilot and ChatGPT can help boost your productivity. Automating repetitive tasks is a no-brainer. It helps you get the satisfaction of shipping faster, a win for both the developer and the company. Plus, the less time a developer has to spend on mindless repetition, the more they have to be creative and work on more complex issues.

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Reduce stress

Identify what is causing stress and take steps to make changes. Working too much overtime? Want a more flexible schedule? Talk to your boss. They want their investment in you to last and benefit the company, so if you’re more productive working in a different way, that’s information they should know.

The same sentiment stands for if you’ve been tasked with something out of your skillset or confined to an unrealistic deadline. Maybe all you need is a lunchtime jog or a few minutes to relax with a cup of coffee outside in the morning or short breaks throughout the day. Communication is key in situations like this. Figure out what you need and make it happen. 

Sometimes, stress comes from a situation at home. Managers can help mitigate this with time off or a fund people can use for whatever helps them do their best work–childcare costs, more comfortable office furniture, a gym pass, etc. 

Eat well, sleep well, and get moving

Mental wellbeing is often tied to physical wellbeing, and developers are in a line of business that taxes both. We all know what we need to do to be healthy, but we don’t always do it. If you’re worried about burnout, taking care of yourself by getting a good night’s rest, working out, and cutting back on the sweets and alcohol can go a long way in making you feel more ready to take on the day.

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Ensure work-life balance

There will always be a time when you need to put in a few extra hours, but if that tends to be the norm, it might be time to talk to your boss. The last thing they want is to run their engineering team into the ground. You might suggest a good freelancer or, if there’s enough work, that another person be put on the payroll. Emphasize that you enjoy the job and want to be around for a long time but feel yourself losing steam when you consistently work overtime.

When you’ve set your boundaries, make time for the things you enjoy when you’re not working. Read a book. Go for a round of golf with friends or take your partner out for dinner. Finding joy in your daily life recharges you for the times you might not enjoy work as much.

Cross train

No, you don’t have to lift cars and eliminate carbs. This refers to making sure you aren’t the only one in your company who has a certain skill. It’s solid job security, but being the only person who can do X means you will be the only one who will be doing it. Day or night, weekday or weekend, if X needs to be done, your phone will ring. Instead, train another team member in a skill that’s short in supply, and learn one from them. Ensure that there is at least one other person who can cover for you when you need a break or can’t make it in.

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Build camaraderie

It may sound basic, but getting to know your team and having managers who celebrate the wins as a group and encourage breaks make a huge difference. It’s especially important for remote workers to feel supported by the people they work with. Not only will people be more comfortable asking questions and learning from each other, but it’s simply more fun. If you’re a manager, learn how to recognize the signs of burnout so you can intervene before it gets worse. 

What are the signs of burnout?

  • Decreased efficacy at work (i.e. feeling disengaged, delays or procrastination when finishing tasks, lack of desire for self-improvement or training)
  • Emotional detachment from work (i.e. cynicism, lack of focus, leaving early or arriving late, lack of follow-through)
  • Physical or mental fatigue despite reasonable amounts of rest (also difficulty unwinding, achy muscle, irregular sleep patterns, increased susceptibility to illness)

Burnout can hit anyone and can creep into a company as a whole. Whether you’re a developer or a manger, know the signs and consider making some changes to prevent things from getting worse. It’s in everyone’s best interest when employees are happy and enthusiastic about their work.

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