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Chris Grams for Tidelift

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Maintainer burnout is real. Almost 60% of maintainers have quit or considered quitting maintaining one of their projects

In late 2022, Tidelift fielded its second survey of open source maintainers. Hundreds of maintainers responded with thoughts about getting paid for their work, the security and maintenance practices they have in place for their projects, and where they need help most, along with a host of other interesting insights. In this post, we share the eighth of eleven key findings. If you don’t want to wait for the rest of the results, you can download the full survey report right now.

Against a backdrop of increasing demands on open source maintainers from industry and government, we wanted to use this year’s survey to see how they are hanging in there. So we asked them a few questions that we’d asked previously to see if the answers were better—or worse.

First, we asked maintainers if they have quit or considered quitting maintaining a project.

A majority of maintainers have at least considered quitting one of their projects

Fifty-eight percent of maintainers have either quit (22%) or considered quitting (36%) their maintenance work on a project, which is almost identical to what we found in our previous survey. A minority of maintainers (43%), have not quit or considered quitting maintaining their projects.

For those who indicated that they had quit or considered quitting their maintenance work, we once again asked them to share the reasons why. The results, as you can see in the chart below, stayed very consistent.

Other priorities, losing interest, and burnout are the top reasons maintainers consider quitting

The top reason why maintainers considered quitting was that other things in their life and work took priority (mentioned by 54% of respondents). Over half (51%) of maintainers also indicated that they lost interest in the work, while just under half (44%) said they were experiencing burnout.

The next most common reason for quitting or considering quitting included not getting paid enough to make it worthwhile, which rose from 32% to 38% of maintainers citing it in this year’s survey versus our previous results.

The percentage of maintainers claiming it took too much of their time dropped from 44% in our previous survey to 36% this year. But most of the other responses, including “I didn’t enjoy the maintenance work,” “Project accomplished all of its goals that were of concern to me,” and “I was overwhelmed by demands from users” all stayed relatively unchanged.

Organizations that rely on open source would be well served to look at these responses as valuable data points to help them understand how to ensure maintainers keep working on their projects into the future. For example, if other things in life and work are making maintainers switch priorities, or if they are losing interest, what could we do to keep them engaged? Pay them to continue the work? Help find other contributors willing to take over or share the burden? Find ways to make the work easier, less time consuming, or less stressful so they don’t burn out?

Good news! There are also plenty of ways we can help open source maintainers be more successful in their work, as our next headline reveals.

We hope you found some useful and actionable information in this blog post. If you’d like to get notified as future posts come out, give us a follow. Or if you don’t want to wait, download the full survey results today and watch our webinar where resident data nerd, Chris Grams, unveils the top findings from the survey.

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