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Burnout on Your Development Team? Here’s What to Do

Burnout is much too high in the software development world. But managers can take steps to combat it — and keep their staff.

10 min read

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A 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report reveals that the average turnover rate for software developers is 57.3%, higher than that in many other sectors. Some of this turnover is due to involuntary termination, such as layoffs and firings, but a large portion is due to voluntary resignations.

Burnout often plays a major role in turnover. A developer may start out at a job being passionate about the business and the work involved, but the job could become more stressful than it’s worth over time. 

When team members feel burnt out, there are numerous consequences for managers. Resignations are, of course, one of them. Others include loss of productivity and absenteeism. So, if you’re seeing burnout on your team, it’s important to take steps to correct it.

What Is Burnout?

The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” saying it is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.”

Caused by stress, too much work, and general exhaustion, burnout has different symptoms for different people. Some common symptoms include:

  • A lack of motivation
    • Physical ailments
    • Exhaustion
    • Feeling isolated
    • Insomnia
    • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems

How to Address Burnout on Your Team

1. Have an Open-Door Policy

Nip burnout in the bud by learning about the issue before it even becomes an issue. Encourage your software developers to approach you with any concerns that they feel are affecting their work and ability to do their jobs effectively. Let them know that they are welcome to come to you with concerns.

Your employees could be anxious about approaching you, so you might also consider instituting routine check-ins, during which the software developers can voice their concerns, big or small.

2. Emphasize Collaboration

Isolation is a major contributor to burnout. Many software developers work solo, sitting in front of screens for most or all of the workday. This is bound to be draining, as well as detrimental to your health.

That’s why you as a manager should be emphasizing collaboration and mutual support. Not only does this lead to less isolation, but it also contributes to a better product and a more positive work culture overall.

3. Switch Things Up

A software developer may be passionate about their job, but work can inevitably become monotonous at one point or another. Look for ways to keep the work fresh and exciting for developers. For example, perhaps there are new markets to tap into or software ideas to try out. Or, you could introduce new tools and languages into your company’s stacks

This will also help keep your employees up to date on trends and goings-on in the field of software development, which is constantly making new advances, as well as encourage them to build and improve their skills.

4. Make an Effort to Understand Your Developers’ Work

A lot of miscommunication and stress can occur when a non-technical manager is leading technical professionals. If you’re a manager with no software or technology background yourself, it doesn’t mean you can’t work well with your employees, but it does mean you’ll need to make more of an effort to understand their work and support them.

Have open discussions about what is involved in handling their workloads, including how much effort and time projects and tasks take. Ask them what they need from you in terms of resources and support, too. This will also help them feel more valued.

5. Carefully Observe Project Turnaround and Engagement

Keep a close eye on how projects are going, analyzing KPIs and other metrics. Remain involved, offering oversight and coaching so any problems that occur don’t come as a surprise. The hope is that you can crack down on them before they escalate.

If you do see lags or hiccups in the process, don’t immediately assume it’s due to developer incompetence. Instead, consider what else might be going on. It could be because of employee stress or other issues.

6. Offer Career Opportunities Beyond Rote Work

Your goal is to keep your team members engaged in their work and with the wider company. When software developers sit in front of their screens all day, they can easily become disengaged, bored, and stressed. 

You can help prevent the burnout that comes from performing the same tasks repeatedly by offering additional career opportunities — seminars, speakers, workshops, and so on — to demonstrate that you care about your employees and their careers. This will help them better engage with their work and be less likely to succumb to burnout.

7. Provide Career Pathing

Burnout can occur when employees feel stuck and don’t see a path forward. To ensure the software developers on your team see opportunities beyond their current roles, offer career pathing, keeping them apprised of the career path they can work toward. For example, inform them as to when and how they can expect to be promoted to senior developer or into a managerial role, provided they have the skills and work ethic.

8. Consider Outsourcing Certain Tasks

Overwork is one of the main causes of burnout. If your team simply has too much work on their plates, consider looking outside the organization. A software outsourcing team can help pick up the slack. 

Perhaps it will only be for a short period, while your in-house employees have a particularly heavy load, or it will be a longer-term solution. Either way, outsourced professionals can give your team a boost and prevent your software developers from succumbing to burnout by taking some of the burden away.

Burnout is an all-too-common phenomenon in the software development world, and it can severely impact your company. As a manager, you can help ensure that your employees are engaged and content in their jobs.

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