What Tech Leaders Need to Know About Preventing Burnout: The Complete GuideFebruary 21st, 2023
With more IT workers than ever reportedly feeling drained, overworked, and generally unmotivated, there’s never been a more important time for CTOs and company leaders to face this significant conflict head on and tackle this phenomenon through actionable steps—not only for the sake of keeping steady profits flowing, but for improving company culture and employee retention as well.
In fact, according to a study by the mental well-being platform Yerbo, nearly 45% of IT workers experiencing burnout are looking to quit their jobs in pursuit of better work-life balance, with 62% reporting feeling “drained,” less motivated, and less eager to contribute. This can lead to everything from high staff turnover, a nosedive in company culture and reputation, and increased vulnerability for company security, to boot. Clearly, this problem is not to be taken lightly.
Therefore, in this article, we will discuss the definition of burnout, why it happens and what it looks like, ways to prevent employee burnout in the tech industry, and more!
What is the Definition of Burnout?
For those wondering, “burnout” is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that generally occurs as a result of an improper work to life (or rest) ratio. We all need time to recharge and to “fill our cup” as they say—but too often we become swept up in the daily demands of life, whether those are family obligations, chronic health issues, or some other form of stress. In the example of the workplace, however, burnout can start to occur when employees are taking on too many projects at once, or committing to high-stress projects without adequate resources, or are working long hours and too many days without time off—and it’s not unusual for a sense of burnout to become all the more likely in the case that the worker feels undervalued, underappreciated, unheard, and disrespected. In short, the sensation of burnout is one of deep fatigue, low energy, overwhelm, and dwindling motivation.
Why Tech Employee Burnout Happens
As we have already touched on, burnout can happen for all sorts of reasons, from personal health or family problems coupled with regular work obligations to recent company short staffing—however, for full-blown burnout to occur, generally a combination of stressors and different factors will be taking place. While work to life balance often gets blamed for the source of burnout, in actuality it is typically the result of a combination of symptoms.
At its root, burnout happens when we overcommit ourselves—whether emotionally, mentally, or physically—to meeting unrealistic demands without taking the time to care for ourselves in the way we need. Working through lunch to meet a deadline is a physical (and mental, and others would even argue emotional) setback. While it might not seem like a large sacrifice at the time, over the course of weeks or even months, these small choices can add up to a deep fatigue that can even make you mentally or physically unwell. Other causes of burnout include:
1. Not feeling autonomous at work
Employees who do not feel that their thoughts and perspectives are valued, weighed, or included in the conversation may feel less likely to share in group meetings. Moreover, employees who feel micromanaged to the degree that they have no freedom to creatively problem-solve or take initiative to put out proverbial files will likely feel less motivated to continue to perform at their peak ability.
2. Poor employee culture or toxic work environment
Positive interactions with bosses and coworkers can go a really long way towards boosting employee morale, group cooperation, and even productivity. Likewise, employees who feel that they are constantly at war with their neighbors and management are more likely to feel exhausted simply by stepping foot into the office.
3. Company not centered on core values
It’s important that a company has core values to rally behind. If an employee feels that their company may not have a “moral compass” guiding their ethics behind customer service, product manufacturing, employee treatment, or even quality of life for family members, they may end up having a lower employee retention rate due to increased frequency of burnout.
4. Lack of appropriate compensation relative to effort
It’s nice to get a thumbs up from the boss for a job well done - but promotions, raises, office upgrades, or treats like a nice lunch paid by the company can go a long way for building an employee’s loyalty. Likewise, if they feel they give their best to the company and don’t receive much by way of acknowledgement, career progression, or compensation, they may feel underappreciated, leading to emotional burnout and lower productivity.
5. The perception of futility of the work
Most people spend a lot of their time working; in fact, the average American spends over 2,050 hours a year working. The difference between an exhausted and unmotivated employee and an active, cooperative one can also stem from how they feel about the work at hand. If they feel trapped in monotonous tasks and don’t understand the meaning of their work (again, this could go back to core company values), they may not feel like they are living up to their best potential.
6. Working too much
Obviously, the more hours an employee works, the more rest they will need so they do not burn out. Taking on long hours at the work like coming in early, skipping meals or coffee breaks, and staying late are unsustainable methods that often lead to burnout.
7. Taking on emotionally demanding work
While the average day as an IT professional might not require applying CPR to resuscitate someone, it doesn’t mean that their day is stress free. Those unexpected problems coming up on weekends after a Friday deployment? They can definitely ruin a family lunch and, if too frequent, easily become emotionally damaging work.
What are the Symptoms of Burnout?
Perhaps most commonly, symptoms of burnout can be characterized by a deep fatigue that leaves individuals feeling listless and unmotivated. Other telltale signs of burnout include:
Increased Anxiety, Depression, or other major mental health issues;
Reduction in productivity or group participation;
Poor concentration or low output;
Reduced creativity and ability to problem-solve;
Signs of emotional distress or physical needs not being met, like sleep or illness;
Top 5 Ways Tech Management Teams Can Prevent Employee Burnout
While employee burnout generally occurs due to a combination of factors, there is no specific timeline for which each unique employee will reach a “breaking point.” With so much happening in personal life, including health and relationship problems, financial troubles, big life transitions, and more, even in the best working environment an employee can still end up burned out and in need of a refresh.
However, the management’s job is not to worry about the personal lives of their staff—but there are measures they can take within the workplace to increase the odds that their employees come to work with a sense of enjoyment, purpose, creativity, and drive.
Top 5 Ways Managers can Prevent Burnout
1. Talk to your employees and actively listen to feedback
You might be surprised at how often your employees just want to feel heard. The simple action of actively including every IT personnel in group discussions can help everyone to feel as though they’ve contributed; participating feels good! Checking in with employees who have been uncharacteristically quiet—even via email—can be a nice way to show you care and you value their perspective and input. Do your best to provide an atmosphere where all ideas—even off-the-wall, creative ones—are welcome, shared, and considered.
2. Find ways to reward the whole staff
Upgrade the break room coffee pot to an espresso machine! Take the whole crew for an obstacle course or other team building exercise! Offer bonuses at the end of a year of working together for a common goal! Cater your next meeting! There are all kinds of creative ways that an employer can build the team up—even if it’s as simple as weekly donuts or birthday cake celebrations for each coming birthday.
3. Offer opportunities to build a schedule that works for each employee
Every employee is going to have different needs and obligations—from parenting concerns to health appointments, eldercare, and more, sometimes the average 9-5 schedule doesn’t work the best for even the most high-quality employee. An employer will garner appreciation and employee loyalty when they work with each person’s unique situation—possibly even offering different work hours, weekend availability, or working from home.
4. Remind employees of taking breaks and days off
A classic burnout symptom? The need to be productive all day, everyday, without being able to take breaks or days off without feeling guilty. Therefore, reminding your employees that breaks and holidays are essential for a great performance is a useful tip to prevent burnout.
5. Provide them with the tools they need to succeed
You can’t ask an employee to make a Zoom sales call with a client if all the technology you have available is an ancient fax machine. Setting your crew up for success can help stop burnout in its tracks—and in fact, offering your employees quality, up-to-date tools, equipment, and technology can inspire more efficiency and creativity than a manager could possibly quantify.
What IT Employee Burnout Means for the Coming Workforce Landscape
For many IT companies and tech developers, the way forward is clear: offering more optimal work-life balance is the only way forward in terms of retaining high-quality employees and investing in talent for the long term. Whether this is through simple gestures like weekly potlucks or allowing employees to bring service animals to work, investing in the emotional well-being of your IT staff is only going to become more paramount as time wears on—particularly in a post-pandemic world.
Workplace burnout—especially in tech fields—can be pervasive these days if we are not actively taking steps to fight it. Hopefully, our guide will help you take measures in order to prevent it!
And if you need extra help taking care of your tech team, we’re an outsourcing company with expertise in coaching and mentoring tech professionals, let’s talk and discuss staff augmentation solutions today!