What Is Burnout? TheoreticallyDo you know that the verb "to burn out" was used by William Shakespeare in the 1600s? That being said, the term "burnout" is relatively new — Herbert Freudenberger introduced it in 1974. He defined it as "the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results." in his book "Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement." Fast forward to 2019, the World Health Organization defined burnout syndrome as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." According to both definitions, employees suffering from burnout seem exhausted, are prone to increase mental distance, and experience demotivation about their occupation. Hence, the reduced professional efficacy. The stress that often leads to burnout comes mainly from the job; however, the overall lifestyle and personal traits such as perfectionism and pessimism can matter too.
Top Reasons Why Programmers Reach a State of BurnoutDespite the exciting projects and high salary rates, people who work in IT face the risk of burnout more frequently than in many other careers. There are many reasons behind this, and we'll take a moment and observe the major of them.
DeadlinesQuite often, the deadlines set for executing a specific project are too short, resulting in high pressure and stress. And when developers do their best to meet those deadlines, they suffer from psychological stress, leading to making more mistakes and experiencing the feeling of dissatisfaction. And the attempt to beat time while performing the best eventually leads to emotional exhaustion.
RoutineRoutine is another reason why most programmers end up feeling frustrated. Most programmers spend their whole working day in front of the computer screen. And this naturally leads to physical discomfort and a worse mental health state.
Working long hoursSuppose your lifecycle looks like "work, work, work, sleep," and you keep working even on evenings and weekends. In that case, you'll feel exhausted and begin delivering less output than you used to have earlier. Consequently, you may feel bad about it and get lost in the code.
No ProgressIf you're feeling like you're not going forward and your job/learning is no longer motivating you, the burnout won't make you wait too long. When there are no challenges, you're not learning and not progressing, you're stuck.
COVID-19A study by Haystack Analytics found that 81% of developers reported experiencing burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The study also found that the main reasons for burnout included high workload, inefficient processes, little communication with team, and unclear goals and targets.
Family problemsBurnout is also increasingly affecting parents, especially those with young children. Before the pandemic, IT specialists reported the highest burnout rate from parenting. 2 in 3 workers in 2018 reported feeling burnt out due to difficulties managing work and family.
Some Internal and External Factors also include:
- Idealistic expectations of yourself; perfectionism.
- A strong need for recognition.
- A desire to please other people, suppressing their own needs.
- Refusal to delegate the work.
- Overestimating yourself, overcommitting to work.
- Viewing work as the only activity that makes your life interesting.
- Problems with leadership or management team.
- Poor communication.
- Lack of positive feedback.
- A toxic atmosphere at work.
- Lack of autonomy and influence over work decisions.
- Lack of personal growth opportunities.
Signs of Burnout"A deep burnout comes like a thief in the night." A standard burnout is very hard to spot since it doesn't have warning signs. Yet, some signs of developer burnout can help you eliminate or minimize its negative impact if you detect them at the early stage.
Lack of energyAs simple as it is, the lack of energy is one of the main signs that you're overworked or experiencing burnout. However, catching energy loss is difficult if you're working in a software company in-house, as it's hidden in frequent coffee breaks with colleagues. Lack of energy often goes hand-in-hand with feeling sleepy and lost in thought, even if you're working on an exciting project.
Working in isolationAnother sign of burnout is the desire to work alone. No matter how stressful software development is, it's essential to maintain a good relationship with your team. If you notice that you're getting impatient with co-workers and even criticize them, these negative emotions can also be a symptom of burnout.
Decreased productivityIf you stop performing tasks as efficiently as earlier, it may also be a sign of burnout. Do you enjoy what you're doing? Do you take long breaths and gaze at the ceiling too frequently? If yes, that's a big red flag.
Achievements give no satisfactionIf you're no longer enthusiastic about programming and don't set career/learning goals anymore, you're likely experiencing burnout.
Physical disordersQuite often, burnout is accompanied by physical symptoms like:
- Physical exhaustion.
- Muscle pain.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Stomach disorders.
- Increased illness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Frequent headaches.
- Shortness of breath.
- Loss of concentration.
- Negative emotions.
- Excessive sensitivity to external influences.
How to Combat BurnoutSo, if that sounds like you, what can you do? There are various ways to approach burnout, and here are the most effective of them:
Don't be too hard on yourself. Don't set the bar too high; acknowledge your capabilities and work speed. Also, try not to compare yourself to others — when we think about others, we lose focus and value our progress. Small things matter, so stop judging yourself and celebrate even your small "wins." As psychologist Adam Grant says, "the strongest buffer against burnout seems to be a sense of daily progress."
Pay attention to your body when you feel not ok. The symptoms we described above are here to tell you that something goes wrong, and it shouldn't be ignored. Pay attention to your physical and mental state. Eat, sleep, and exercise well – that's what your brain and body need to improve your overall productivity.
Talk. Though most IT people prefer keeping their suffering to themselves, talking to your friends, family, colleagues, and even physiotherapist is a proven way to deal with emotional burnout. As a bonus, by improving communication with other software specialists, you'll be able to cope with coding problems on your way more accessible. If you don't have friends in the IT world, you can enter numerous communities where developers willingly share their experiences and give valuable hints.
Take time for hobbies. You're a programmer. You're a geek. It's easy to deprive yourself of the fun things in life. We got it. Still, try to maintain a healthy life/work balance. According to numerous surveys, those developers who engaged in a creative hobby performed between 15-30% better at work. Be proactive about that and get involved in an activity you like, preferably the one that doesn't involve computers. It could be a sport, gaming, photography, music, cooking, interior design... whatever you like. Find something that you're interested in — and do that regularly. The main point is an equilibrium — a time to work, time to sleep, and time to enjoy your life with friends, family, and hobbies.
Determine your boundaries. Be realistic about what you can and cannot achieve. Carefully consider the energy and time you can dedicate to learning or projects. Can your boss work for a whole day? Great. But if you can't, that's ok.