Burnout in the Tech Industry and What to Do About It

by Sandra Petrova

8 min read · Oct 4, 2019

Burnout in software engineering is not just another buzzword. It's an epidemic that's detrimental to an employee's productivity and well-being. Here's what employers can do to de-stress their workforce.

When you first hired Peter, he was an exceptional employee and developer. He was trustworthy and dependable, an effective communicator, and had great ideas and plans. But lately, you've noticed that he has become irritable with his coworkers. He always seems to lack the energy to get the software project done and often takes a day off. 

Could he be experiencing an employee burnout? If yes, what caused it, and is there anything you can do as his manager? Being able to understand burnout, its symptoms, and how to prevent it is crucial for maintaining a positive environment and retaining your best talent.

With a little bit of help and effort from your end, Peter will return to being an exceptional employee. 

What is burnout?

All employees feel some stress at work from time to time. However, there's a difference between feeling tired after a sprint and lacking the energy to be consistently productive.

The latter is a common symptom of employee burnout. The phenomenon is a person's reaction to prolonged exposure to chronic stress that results in emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional ability. 

It's the extinction of motivation or incentive. In other words, it's when an employee disconnects from a company's goals and fails to produce the desired results. 

Employee burnout is so serious that the World Health Organization (WHO) included it in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The WHO recognized it as an official occupational phenomenon that requires medical care. 

Today the average American employee works 47 hours a week. That's almost one day longer than the normal 40-hour workweek. To make things even worse, 18% of full-time workers work 60+ hours a week.

Another survey by Glassdoor discovered that 2 in 3 employees (66%) work while they're on vacation. What's more, the average U.S. employee has taken only 54% of his/her eligible vacation time/paid time off in the past 12 months. 

And when Buffer asked remote employees about what's their biggest struggle with working remotely, 22% said they have difficulties unplugging after work. 

One can surely argue that our fast-paced and digitally distracted lifestyles have intensified the issue of employee burnout. Surrounded by technology, employees are unable to get away from their laptops and smartphones that always seem to be buzzing. 

working remotely struggle

Signs of burnout?

If you're suspecting that your employees are struggling with burnout, here are the signs to look out for:

  • High turnover: an increase in your turnover rate is a possible signal of burnout. It might suggest that your employees are tired and looking for more rewarding opportunities elsewhere.
  • Reduced performance: burnout employees would have difficulty concentrating, lacking creativity, and failing to meet requirements. You will notice an increase in bugs, glitches, bad code, and extended deadlines. 
  • Increased absenteeism: burnout often portrays itself in unhappy employees who tend to take many sick days. Even though they're not feeling ill, they take "sick" days just to get away from overwhelming projects. 
  • Poor internal relationships: if you notice your employees get into negative conflicts with their coworkers, this might be another sign of burnout. 
  • Low morale: overworked employees often have more negative, impatient, and cynical behavior. The negative work environment is contagious and can quickly affect everyone on the team. 

What causes employee burnout in the tech industry?

That is the same question the anonymous workplace review service Blind asked 10,000 tech workers at 30 of the biggest tech companies. They tried to discover the main factors leading to burnout in their organization.

This is what the survey revealed:

  • 22.9% of tech workers say that poor leadership and unclear direction is the #1 factor for burnout. 
  • 19.4% of tech workers say that work overload contributes to burnout.
  • 17.5% of tech workers believe that a toxic workplace is a cause for burnout. 
  • 15.4% of tech workers listed poor control and career growth as a reason for burnout. 

Out of the 30 companies, 25 have an employee burnout rate of 50% or more. Only five companies have a burnout rate of less than 50%. Around 60% of the employees at Lyft report feeling burned out, 59.5% of the Amazon employees, 58% of the AirBnb employees, and 57% of the employees at Apple. 

As some of the best companies in the world have a high rate of burnout, the tech industry might have a serious problem. 

source of employee burnout

How do you reduce employee burnout in software development?

In a 2017 Kronos survey, 95% of HR leaders said that burnout was sabotaging workforce retention. Meaning, job stress is directly related to higher rates of job-changing among employees. 

What's more, burnout often leads to disengaged employees, who cost employers 34% of their annual salary.

No founder, CEO, CFO, or recruiter wants to lose their best talent to burnout and spend thousands of $$$ on disengagement. That's why your company must take the needed steps to prevent burnout.

Once you figure out what's causing burnout at your company, take the following steps: 

how to reduce employee burnout in tech

1. Role clarity

Only 60% of employees know what's expected of them at work. This can create confusion, low-quality work, and missed deadlines. Your employees can get tired and overwhelmed by simply trying to understand what they're supposed to accomplish. Make sure you always provide details for the task that needs to be completed and give your team a chance to ask questions.

2. Communication and support

Ongoing communication and support from a manager are critical. Employees who feel supported by their managers are 70% less likely to experience burnout regularly. Hold regular meetings, weekly check-ins, and collaborate via apps such as Slack and Asana. If you're leading a remote team, use a team management tool like Google Hangout to hold virtual meetings with the team.

3. Reasonable deadlines

The same study by Gallup found that when employees have a sufficient period of time to do their work, they're 70% less likely to experience burnout. Make sure your software developers are always given an adequate amount of time to finish their tasks. 

4. Positive work environment

One way of making employees feel like valued members of the company is by creating a positive work environment. You should:

  • Promote collaboration.
  • Reward employees for their work.
  • Be transparent.
  • Support diversity.
  • Offer opportunities for learning and development

5. Work flexibility

Did you know that 82% of Millennials said they would remain more loyal to their employers if they had more flexibility at work? Or that they are willing to give up a percentage of their salary for flexible office hours? Many tech companies have begun offering flexible work options to their employees in the form of remote work, part-time work, or telecommuting. Flexibility comes with many benefits for employees, including:

  • More time off of work.
  • Plan their own schedules.
  • Work from home when needed.
  • Travel and work at the same time.
  • Spend more time with the family.
  • Have work/life balance. 

 6. Work benefits

According to StackOverflow, 18% of developers said that compensation and benefits were one of the most important things they consider about any job opportunity. The best benefits you can offer to your overworked employees include:

  • Good health insurance.
  • Healthy food on-site.
  • Gym membership or fitness classes reimbursement.
  • Nap rooms.
  • Stress management workshops.
  • Entertainment rooms.

7. Access to counseling 

Another way of preventing employee burnout is by offering access to counseling. It can be on-site with a professional counselor, or it can happen online via an app like Talkspace. Ongoing one-on-one therapy can help an employee with their low productivity levels, increased absenteeism, and tense relationships with coworkers.

Key Takeaways

Working in the software development industry is a dream come true for thousands of employees. From cool offices and fun coworkers to flexible working, the entire concept seems so enticing. However, there's a catch: burnout.

Although a serious problem, burnout in tech is not something that can't be overcome. By creating a positive work environment and clearly explaining responsibilities, you'll manage to have healthy and happy employees who'll produce more and deliver better results. Only those employers who will be able to prevent employee burnout will get an advantage over their competitors.