Burnout amongst developers: an industry disease?
Jeremy Kratz has addressed the taboo subject of burnout as a developer. He describes what many developers appear to experience, with the hope more discussion around the issue can help us collectively acknowledge its causes.
In a recent blog post, developer Jeremy Kratz that his first burnout experience occurred in a large project, carried out by a small team. From their initial motivation and euphoria, deadlines were to stretch out over several months and meeting criteria in time was looking practically impossible.
To counter this, overtime crept into his everyday life and new bugs were always discovered in the code. At this point, Kratz asked himself what good the feeling of euphoria was, if the project was doomed to fail anyway?
To talk about these feelings seemed unthinkable at the time: for Kratz, it would have sounded like an admission to being bad at his job. “I just needed to work a little harder to make up for all my shortcomings.”
In an environment that is often dominated by introverted personalities, the feeling of being alone with this problem is particularly strong. With the aim to break the taboo and allow other programmers to address excessive demands and excessive stress at work, Kratz has dedicated a number of blog entries to the entire theme of burnout.
The more we talk about the problem, the easier it becomes for others to speak up, and to ultimately take steps to address the causes of burnout in their workplaces.
An isolated case?
Kratz is not alone in his thinking. In a Reddit thread about the topic, many expressed their exasperation with the whole affair, with a focus on poor management overshadowing hard work noted as a repeated theme:
On Hacker News developers exchanged similar ideas on the subject, with user wobbleblob clear about what extent this pressure on performance can have. He addressed the silence around burnout which illuminates the heart of the problem, thanks to a public confession being seen as having negative consequences:
I don’t mean to be a jerk or anything, but a burnout is something you better not blog about or write about on facebook or speak about in any way that can be traced back to your real name, if you ever want to find another job again.
Potential employers will google the names of applicants before an interview, and if the first thing that comes up is your name and photo on a story about your first job burnout, you’re going to have a very difficult interview, if they don’t cancel it altogether.
On the web, there are numerous articles where tips are given on how to counteract burnout. The Huffington Post put together 7 tips on how to avoid it, and general ways that vulnerable workers can counteract stress. The article doesn’t address the fact however that many workers don’t even talk about burnout, as Kratz highlighted in his post, but small changes in everyday life can somewhat alleviate the stresses and demands of the workplace.
The Psychology Department of the University of Berkley, California has researched job burnout and found it to be defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and sense of inefficacy. While the research focuses attention on the interpersonal dynamics between the worker and others in the workplace, and has yielded new insights into the sources of stress, effective interventions have yet to be developed and evaluated.
But some companies have responded to the growing dissatisfaction of their employees via their own methods: New Republic has done a feature on the rise of “Chief Happiness Officers”, describing them as being “professionally responsible for your happiness”. However, other than covering the normal HR duties, these CHOs are in charge of adjusting workplace policy and culture in order to create the conditions for happiness, which can lead down a more intrusive path, according to author Josh Kovensky.
Although burnout is not officially recognised as an illness, it seems to be a common problem not only in IT, but with workers in general. With his blog post, Kratz has addressed an important problem in the daily work of many people. Whether your workplace has a Happiness Officer or not, employers need to recognise this issue and react accordingly.