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Let's talk about burnout


Let's take a moment and talk about something every programmer ever has and will experience. As the tags for this blog suggest, burnout is accrued by any programmer no matter what stage in their journey they are at. Whether you're just starting to learn or have been in the biz for years, ignoring workplace indicators, symptoms, and approaches to resolving burnout will incur a tax to your digital lifetime. Let's face it, sweeping this problem under the rug isn't enough fix it. So, let's talk about burnout.

What is it, and what causes it?

Burnout is a form of mental exhaustion caused by constantly feeling overwhelmed. Generally speaking, burnout is exclusive to workplace duties, in the form of prolonged mental or physical distress. Outside of the world of technology, not much is understood about the projects we build for every day use. This can lead to pretty unrealistic expectations when building websites or applications for clients. That said, this relentless exhaustion can be the result of various culprits. A 2021 study by Haystack shed some light on the reality of burnout:

  • 83% of software developers experience burnout
  • The top reasons for burnout: 47% said it was due to high workloads, 31% cited inefficient proccess, and 29% answered unclear goals/expectations.
  • And many, many more reasons:

burnout stats

The glaring thing about these reasons isn't the most common ones, it's the least common one. Only 1% of software developers didn't know what the cause of their burnout was.


Signs of burnout and ways to address it

According to WebMD, the signs of burnout can include exhaustion, alienation from workplace activities, reduced performance, and lack of enthusiasm. Ideally, these are all things we want to avoid in the field of work we love, so how can we address these problems for a healthier mental state?

  1. Setting expectations with your supervisor can be a great start if you are unclear about the goals they have set with you, or are constantly moving goal posts. Our job is hard enough, being confused about the finish line is the last thing we need.

  2. During my studies at Flatiron School, my cohort would meet at the end of the day and talk about our roadblocks. Without a shed of doubt in my mind I can confidently say the most common roadblock in my cohort was lack of sleep. Getting good sleep not only keeps us physically in tune, but mentally sharp. Being down in the dumps after a 4 hour sleep night will take a pretty big toll on your performance (especially if you're working in an office and can't take the cherished nap).

  3. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Have I mentioned exercise? This helps trumendously with a wide variety of issues programmers face day to day. Mental sharpness, posture, and motivation... to name just a few. If you can't make it to the gym, get outside for some fresh air and walk around the block. I find that this is particularly helpful if I'm stuck on a tough problem. Stepping away from the computer for a breath of fresh air for 10 minutes somehow gives me the ability to solve a problem I've been working on for hours.

  4. Work/Life balance. Don't compromise on the things that you love! Whether it's an evening hobby or cracking open some cold ones with the boys for Monday Night Football, we can't completely sacrifice the things we love to do in the name of hitting that deadline (within reason). What are some of the things you do in your spare time to take your mind off work? (It's disc golf for me)


Burnout is a very real reaction to common workplace struggles especially as a developer, don't ignore it, fight it!

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