You never quite know when it will strike. After weeks of working tirelessly to troubleshoot bugs or build a new website feature, it just hits. You have no desire to go to work, little motivation to jump on your computer—you feel tired and lost.
Unfortunately, this is a scenario that programmers are all too familiar with: burnout. While this phenomenon can occur in any trade or industry, isolation and long workdays make it more prevalent among coders. The good news is there’s a way to push past it. Armed with these strategies, you can overcome burnout and reclaim your motivation and passion for work.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration, according to Merriam-Webster. When you experience burnout, you feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained, which can lead to a loss of interest in, and motivation to do, your work.
Developers face burnout for a number of reasons:
- Sitting in front of a computer, with minimal human interaction, can be isolating, even with co-workers sitting nearby.
- Programming requires a high level of cognitive function at all times—making it easier to burn out faster than an average worker.
- The work you’re doing may not be rewarding. This is especially true if you’re working on everyday programming needs, rather than implementing code for awesome new features or pages.
Luckily, you don’t have to accept burnout as a normal part of the job. There are many ways to reduce the likelihood of it striking again.
Share About Your Burnout
The feeling of isolation is common among programmers and opening up to others can help you realize you’re not alone. “Many developers identify as introverts, and are less than enthusiastic about talking with their colleagues about their emotional state,” according to the DoneDone blog. “Because of this, developers rarely speak up when experiencing burnout, or may ignore their symptoms altogether. And if no one is talking about the problem, it’s easy to assume that it only exists for you.”
Connecting with others in a similar situation will help you feel less isolated and give you a chance to find actionable solutions to feel better, faster.
Leadership tip: Make it easier for your employees to share about burnout by starting a weekly meeting for that alone. Find a 30-minute timeslot and make attendance optional. Simply providing the space to talk about this may be just what your employees need.
Find a New Challenge
Another reason burnout is so prevalent among coders is because you do the same type of work day in and day out. This is both monotonous and boring.
“In a lot of cases, programming burnout stems from boredom. If you’ve been slaving away as a company software developer for over a decade, you might feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job with no more opportunity for growth. Maybe the code you maintain is trivial and requires absolutely no mental stimulation,” according to Make Use Of.
When this happens, it’s time to change things up. Ask to take on a new project at work or finally start that side project you’ve been putting off.
Leadership tip: Give all programmers a chance to take on new work at least once a month—even if it’s a small project. Employees may be hesitant to ask for something new, fearing that you’ll think they’re not serious about the work they’re currently doing.
Find Autonomy in Your Role
In addition to feeling bored with your individual role and tasks, you may also feel that your work is being micro-managed—a surefire way to burnout fast. What you may need is more independence. A study on workplace burnout found that “as employees gain more control and autonomy in their positions, job satisfaction rises in tandem. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between job satisfaction and levels of control and autonomy at work.”
If you feel uncomfortable asking a supervisor for more autonomy, seek out a mentor who works in a similar but more advanced role. Ask him or her what they did achieve greater autonomy in their work. They may be able to provide actionable tips that are specific to your industry.
Leadership tip: If you don’t already, use project management software that allows you to be involved from a distance. This allows you to ensure work is getting done within the current sprint or timeline, without being overbearing with your programmers.
Find Time for Your Non-Coding Hobbies
You love programming; it’s why you do it. As such, perhaps one of your hobbies is working on an app that you’re developing outside of the office. While this adds value to your work, and is important, make time for non-coding time in your life as well.
“Participating in pastimes you enjoy, like cooking and writing, gives your mind a break from anxiety and tension because you’re focusing on a completely unrelated activity,” sayas Melanie Winderlich, with CarePages. She continues, “The added bonus of taking a mental breather is a reinvigorated perspective about the event or task that was causing stress in the first place.”
Leadership tip: Host departmental outings during work hours, rather than in the evening. This allows employees to take a much-needed coding break when they need it most—during the workday.
Get Enough Rest
Stress and lack of sleep creates a vicious cycle. Stress causes fatigue and low energy at work, but this same stress causes you to toss and turn. When this pattern is repeated over time, it leads to exhaustion and health problems, ultimately affecting your work performance.
To get more rest, cut back on the caffeine and ditch the energy drinks. You may rely on them as you become lethargic from sitting at the computer for such a long time. Swap those out for a walk around the block or a cup of green tea.
Power-down your electronics before you get into to bed, as well. The blue light from LED devices, like smartphones, computers and tablets, increases cortisol release in the brain, which can make you feel more alert when you should be winding down to go to sleep.
If you’re used to working on your computer late at night, consider how you can alter your schedule. Is there a way to get the same work done without wreaking havoc on a good night of shut-eye?
Leadership tip: If possible, allow coders to work with a flexible schedule, coming in later and leaving later than other departments. This may provide more time for sleep.
Even the happiest workers experience burnout, and there’s no shame in needing to talk about it or step away every once in a while. Make time to get enough rest and enjoy hobbies away from the computer—you’ll return feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next project, regardless of whether it’s tedious or awesome.