Anyone who works in technology is aware of the reality and extent of tech worker burnout. It’s practically an open secret — according to one survey of 1,000 U.S. tech employees who recently changed jobs, for example, 40 percent said burnout was among their top motivators for leaving. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising, given the widespread acknowledgment that burnout fuels tech employee turnover.
What are the biggest signs of burnout within the tech workforce today? Not all of them are obvious.
- High turnover: Higher-than-average turnover rates are a common indicator of burnout.
- Escalating absenteeism: Diminishing enthusiasm for work is a hallmark of burnout, and it can easily induce employees to not show up for work.
- Flagging productivity: Burned-out employees have difficulty concentrating on their work, and they’re less productive as a result.
- Diminishing morale: Cynicism about work is a classic sign of burnout, leading to lower morale across the board.
- Increasing conflicts with colleagues (or even clients): Burned-out workers frequently vent their frustrations on colleagues, clients — and anyone else they happen to cross paths with during the workday.
Knowing these warning signs of burnout can help employers put out the fire before it’s too late. But what are the underlying causes? Let’s look at them in greater detail, then turn to what employers and employees alike can do to prevent burnout in the tech workforce.
root causes of burnout in the tech workforce
Burnout among tech workers isn’t an entirely new phenomenon — it was here before the pandemic, too. For example, in one large-scale survey of tech workers in 2018, nearly 60 percent of respondents said that they were suffering from workplace burnout.
If you ask anyone who has worked in tech for a while, they’re probably familiar with causes of burnout like the following:
- too much work to do and too little time to do it in, leading to physical or mental exhaustion
- lack of communication or direction on projects
- toxic bosses or coworkers
- absence of boundaries to ensure work-life balance
- few clear career pathways or opportunities for development
- too little recognition, feedback or praise
- outdated technology tools
- cumbersome or inflexible processes
Of course, the exact causes of burnout vary from one employee to the next, and not everyone will respond in the same way to the same exact workplace scenarios or circumstances. Adding to the difficulty, too, is the fact that burnout tends to smolder for a while — it usually takes some time before the warning signs become unmistakable.
But this is also the time window, unfortunately, when employers and employees alike should start to act. It’s the only way to mitigate burnout without suffering its consequences. Here’s how to do it.
how to avoid burnout
Most of the burden for tackling burnout falls to employers, and for good reason. After all, they have the power to control the stressors — tools, tech, processes, and more — that are causing burnout in the first place. But employees can do their part as well.
avoiding burnout: next steps for employers
- When assigning tasks, provide as much information about the expected deliverables and deadlines as possible. Set reasonable deadlines and encourage people to ask questions.
- Hold regularly scheduled meetings to review the status of projects, and be sure to offer constructive guidance and direction. Don’t be shy about praising people who do outstanding work, and letting everyone know you value their contributions.
- From a process standpoint, continually gather feedback from employees about what’s working and what isn’t — and be sure to act on this feedback, as well. Otherwise, you risk escalating cynicism and decreasing morale.
- Offer flexible work options. This not only helps bolster morale but can make your organization more attractive to potential hires.
- Evangelize the importance of downtime and work/life balance. Your employees need time to unplug and recharge.
- Offer mental health benefits. After all, the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that when organizations don’t do so, they experience lower productivity along with higher rates of turnover.
Create clearer promotion pathways, and ensure all employees are aware of the learning and development opportunities that are available to them. Research shows that upskilling and reskilling can help curb churn rates in the STEM workforce.
avoiding burnout: next steps for employees
- Make physical activity — walks, gardening, yoga, meditation, you name it — part of your daily routine. Studies show that doing so increases overall energy levels and helps keep burnout at bay.
- Speak up! Tell your manager how you’re feeling. They can help identify the underlying causes and work with you to brainstorm potential solutions.
- If your current employer doesn’t offer training that you’re interested in, take courses on your own to acquire the desired skills.
- Try to listen carefully and be as empathetic as possible when interacting with coworkers. In other words, role model the kind of empathy that you’d like to receive.
As we have seen, burnout is subjectively painful — but it’s also objectively costly, to the tune of $1 trillion in lost productivity for businesses annually. And there are worrying signs that those costs, emotional and otherwise, are only increasing these days.
But the reality is that burnout remains absolutely preventable, even for tech workplaces that continue to operate in fully remote or hybrid environments. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it all starts with the next steps outlined in this article.
In the interim, if you’re looking to hire hard-to-find tech talent, get in touch with Randstad to learn how we can deliver value. Alternatively, if you’re eager to land your next great tech job and restore your sense of work/life balance, you can get started today.