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What Software Developers Need to Know About Burnout

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According to a Gallup study that surveyed 7,500 employees, 23% of participants agreed that they feel burnout more often than not. The survey also found that an additional 44% felt burnout at least some of the time. Burnout is defined as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Burnout occurs because of long-term and seemingly unfixable stress. Employee stress can be toxic; those who experience burnout are three times more likely to begin searching for another position. 

Unfortunately, software developers are at an increased risk of burnout. The software development cycle can seem never ending and managing stakeholder expectations doesn’t make it any easier. Another reason burnout is so prevalent among the development community is because the industry has no boundaries and under-resourcing while simultaneously trying to reach unrealistic deadlines is an unfortunate commonality. With that in mind, here’s how you can avoid burnout as a software developer: 

Identify Stressors

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The software industry is one that demands a consistent awareness of new technology; developers must know how to use a C++ package repository to build their code, how to leverage devops for more streamlined projects, how to integrate github into other SaaS platforms, and so much more. There are few occupations that demand so much as those of programmers and coders. 

There are several symptoms that are clear indicators of burnout, including physical and mental symptoms. Knowing how to identify it early on can prevent it from having a serious impact on your personal and professional life. One of the early signs is losing the enjoyment that you get from your work. Chronic headaches, feeling drained, reduced performance and creativity, and consistent exhaustion are all tell-tale signs. Whenever you experience a change in mental, emotional, or physical behaviors, you have to step back and ask yourself where these changes derive from and how you can mitigate those negative feelings. 

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Communicate Your Burnout

Communication and transparency is key. Once you’ve identified that you’re on the way to burnout or already have burnout, it’s time to communicate what you’re going through to your management team. It’s never an easy thing to do, and a degree of uncomfortability is expected. To help you through it, consider talking to a colleague first. That colleague may be in the same position as you. Alternatively, talk to a friend. Having a support system as you go into a potentially uncomfortable discussion can help put you in the right frame of mind. 

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Keep in mind that you don’t have to be the person that comes up with a solution to the problem. While there might be some more obvious solutions in your case, the real mission is to communicate that you want to prioritize your mental health and well-being and that you can perform and produce better with a good work-life balance. 

Be prepared to get specific and provide them with context. For example, what’s mentally draining you right now? How are piling projects preventing you from balancing your work-life balance? What resources or tools do you need to do your job more effectively? When you understand the type of challenges you’re trying to solve, you can benefit from a more effective conversation. 

Balance Extracurricular Coding Projects

As a developer, chances are you want to participate in extracurricular projects. Perhaps you want to contribute to open source projects or develop an app of your own while you support your financial security with a salaried position. While extracurriculars can certainly improve your resume and skills, it can also lead to burnout. Mike Perham, an, independent open source software developer, summed up the burnout associated with open source development as such: 

  1. start project with much enthusiasm
  2. build something valuable, give away for free
  3. get overwhelmed with support requests and issues
  4. burn out and walk away

But this doesn’t have to be you. For starters, don’t forget about extracurriculars that deviate from your workplace to-do list; the last thing you want is to feel as though your personal life is simply an extension of your work life. Secondly, don’t allow you extracurriculars to prevent you from following the rules you’ve set forth for yourself to help you avoid burnout, like getting a good night’s rest. 

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Milcah Lukhanyu
Milcah Lukhanyu
I cover tech news across Africa. Drop me an email at [email protected]

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