Is your team facing burnout? Quick fixes as an engineering manager

Is your team facing burnout? Quick fixes as an engineering manager

Engineering managers: are you concerned that your team might be headed towards burnout? Discover key indicators and effective prevention strategies to safeguard your team's well-being.

According to research from Future Forum, over 40% of workers report experiencing burnout at their jobs.  As a manager, navigating this challenge can feel like a nightmare, given its detrimental effects on productivity and team morale. Left unaddressed, burnout can cascade into broader organizational issues, impacting finances and resources.

High-performing individuals often fail to recognize that they are inching towards burnout, underscoring the crucial role of engineering leaders in intervention. As burnout erodes motivation and interest, its repercussions extend beyond the workplace, potentially leading to severe mental health issues like depression. This article explores the nuances of burnout, and its effects, and provides engineering leaders with concrete actions to take for management and prevention.

What is burn out?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that significantly impacts employees' personal and professional lives. It leads to a loss of interest in work, emotional detachment, and decreased productivity, posing risks to individuals and organizations.

In 2019, the WHO recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon. Burnout can stem from personal tragedies, heavy workloads, and monotonous tasks. It's crucial to recognize these contributing factors and address them proactively to prevent burnout and foster a healthy work environment.

Symptoms of burnout in developers

In an engineering organization, burnout can have a profound impact on individuals, making it necessary for employees to safeguard their well-being for a long, successful, and sustainable career. Below, we will explore key symptoms managers should observe within their teams to detect early signs of burnout.

Dip in productivity

Burnout usually results in a lack of focus among individuals, which can impact their productivity. If an employee continuously struggles with completing regular work activities and their productivity has taken a dip in comparison to their previous levels, it might be a good time for managers to check in with this individual to provide them the support required.

Disinterest in work

If an individual continuously seems disinterested or detached from his or her work, doesn’t actively participate in meetings, or is not receptive to communication or feedback from team members when, in reality, the employee was a passionate individual previously, this might indicate burnout.

Reduced communication with team members

While introverted employees aren't inherently experiencing burnout, a gradual withdrawal from conversations, whether work-related or not, coupled with a growing cynicism, may signal a move toward burnout. Constant stress and exhaustion can deplete an individual's energy and mental capacity for social interaction, leading to decreased engagement with team members and heightened irritability—a common symptom of burnout.

Absenteeism

Employees experiencing burnout may be more prone to absenteeism. Burnout can manifest in physical illness, with frequent occurrences of headaches, exhaustion, and insomnia serving as potential indicators of its various forms.

Professional Inefficacy

An individual who once achieved extraordinary results but is now prone to frequent little mistakes, shows decreased involvement in tasks, overlooks scenarios, and becomes less efficient may be showing signs of heading toward burnout.

Engineering leaders need to remain mindful of their team members and look for any such signs within their teams to indicate burnout among individuals. This proactive approach not only fosters a supportive work environment but also helps in maintaining team well-being and productivity.

Causes of developer burnout

Before delving into solutions, it's important to grasp the underlying causes that can trigger burnout among individuals. Understanding these factors is crucial for engineering leaders as it enables them to enhance workplace culture by identifying and eliminating toxic elements, and replacing them with principles of openness and understanding.

Personal reasons

It's important to clarify that not all instances of employee burnout stem solely from their work environment or workload. Individuals who have encountered personal tragedies or are facing challenges in their personal lives may also experience a lack of focus and disinterest in their work, affecting their productivity and engagement.

Workload

Stressful work conditions and tight deadlines can often cause extreme stress and restlessness among individuals, leading to disinterest and apprehension about their work. This phenomenon is particularly observed in Type A personalities who relentlessly pursue perfection and fear that tight deadlines may impede their ability to achieve it.


Hidden workload

At times, it might seem to managers like an individual is struggling or growing frustrated each day without any critical workloads or pressure, however, behind the scenes, there might be something else going on. Some teams heavily rely on a single individual for decision-making and support, keeping them occupied with tasks like assisting colleagues, participating in design discussions, debugging, and conducting code reviews.

While collaboration and support among team members are essential for growth, excessive dependency on one individual can become detrimental. When other team members fail to step up and take on more responsibilities or make autonomous decisions, the burden on the relied-upon individual increases significantly. This imbalance can lead to frustration and burnout as they need help to focus on their tasks and career growth amidst the constant demand for their input and assistance.

Monotonous work

While we've addressed how heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and stressful conditions contribute to burnout, it's important to acknowledge the flipside. If an employee is constantly engaged in monotonous tasks or has been working on the same project for an extended period, they may become bored or dissatisfied. Without opportunities for growth or learning, repetitive work can lead to disinterest and satisfaction.

It's crucial for managers to provide employees with challenging and stimulating tasks to prevent such feelings of stagnation and disengagement.

Lack of clarity

It is not just excessive workload that can cause burnout; it can also be the need for more clarity regarding the work. Without a clear set of goals and paths, most of their time goes into figuring out what to do and how to do it, which can seem frustrating. If the organization has gone through restructures, this can lead to a further compounding of the issue where individuals don’t have a clear idea of whom to reach out to for guidance.

Having vague goals about work can demotivate individuals, and it can be extremely confusing and unproductive to work in such an environment. This can, with other factors, gradually lead to burnout.

Lack of reward and recognition

If an employee has put in hours and hours of dedicated focus to ship a deliverable on time with completeness and no one seems to care about it, it might seem disheartening. While we may hesitate to admit our desire for recognition, validation for our work holds significance for us as social beings. Feeling unacknowledged despite exceptional efforts or being passed over for promotion despite going above and beyond can not only be demotivating but also evoke negative emotions toward one's work.

Code not getting shipped

This situation may appear insignificant, but it's common in the development process. Features change, priorities shift, or projects get scrapped for various reasons, leaving developers who poured their efforts into them feeling a sense of purposelessness. This raises doubts about the value of their work and can diminish motivation.

Moreover, not receiving customer feedback deprives developers of valuable learning opportunities and stunts their professional growth. Repeated experiences like these can lead to disinterest in their roles and a loss of purpose among developers.

Mitigate the chances of burnout

Now, as managers, you might be wondering how to shield your teams from the looming threat of burnout. Dr. Christina Maslach, renowned for her extensive research on workplace burnout, offers an insightful analogy: "Burnout is like the canary in the coal mine." This analogy underscores the importance of addressing underlying factors rather than solely relying on individual resilience. In essence, it highlights the need for proactive strategies to mitigate workplace stressors and cultivate a supportive environment conducive to overall well-being. Here are a few ways to steer clear of employee burnout.

Open communication

Effective communication is crucial in preventing workplace burnout. It allows managers to gain insight into team members' perspectives, concerns, and challenges, facilitating collaborative solutions. Regular, timely sync-ups or one-on-one meetings are essential for fostering open communication. Managers should actively involve themselves with employees instead of perceiving these interactions as mundane tasks, fostering trust and establishing an atmosphere conducive to open communication.

A supportive managerial approach empowers individuals to perform at their best by addressing their needs and concerns. Encouraging open dialogue without pressure cultivates a sense of trust, enabling employees to share their thoughts and find solutions collaboratively.

Encourage breaks

Encouraging breaks is crucial for employee well-being and productivity. Regular breaks throughout the day provide mental and physical rejuvenation, allowing individuals to step away from their computers and recharge.

Additionally, employees need to utilize their vacation days for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time off from work, even just a few days each year helps reduce stress and break the cycle of constant work-related thinking. Managers should ensure work is planned around employees' absences and encourage them to schedule their time off for better planning.

Rewards and recognition

Acknowledging the efforts of employees who demonstrate exceptional dedication, innovative thinking, and support for their team members can significantly boost morale and job satisfaction.

Reward and recognition can come in various forms, such as salary increases, promotions, or awards. Managers should cultivate a culture of appreciation where team members publicly recognize each other's contributions fostering a sense of mutual respect and support. This not only motivates individuals but also strengthens teamwork and collaboration, ultimately enriching the organization.

Workload

Balancing workload is crucial in preventing burnout. It's not just about the quantity of work but also the variety and level of challenge it offers. Everyone should have opportunities to engage in interesting tasks to stay motivated, while the grunt work should be evenly distributed among team members to prevent frustration.

When an employee is overloaded, managers play a vital role in prioritizing and organizing work, but it's essential to avoid micromanagement. Instead, they should provide guidance on priorities and focus areas, allowing employees autonomy in how they approach tasks. This sense of autonomy fosters ownership and empowers individuals to operate according to their strengths and preferences.


Promote awareness

It’s very important to educate employees about burnout. Organizing interactive sessions, seminars, and training sessions provides valuable resources for recognizing and addressing burnout. These sessions provide insights and strategies to help individuals identify and tackle the problem with open communication and setting boundaries, fostering a healthier work environment.

Flexibility

It's crucial to offer individuals the flexibility they need to address their unique concerns. Whether it's working from home due to illness or taking a sabbatical for mental health reasons, these requests should be considered by engineering leaders with an open mind to support employees in a manner that suits them best.

Professional development

If employees feel they are not advancing in their careers, they may sense a lack of purpose and direction, potentially leading to stagnation. Therefore, managers need to offer professional development opportunities, such as involvement in new projects or teams or support for exploring different domains to enhance skills and broaden experience. Providing avenues for growth and career advancement helps keep employees engaged and motivated, reducing the likelihood of burnout.

Conclusion

In conclusion, leaders play a pivotal role in recognizing burnout signs and providing necessary support, ensuring a thriving workplace conducive to long-term growth and achievement. Avoiding burnout is essential for organizational health and success. Organizations can cultivate a supportive and resilient culture by proactively observing, communicating, and implementing preventive measures.