What is burnout? Is it just a trend, a buzzword, or the reality for many software engineers? Find out some excellent ways to prevent it and move on.
Burnout is the result of many different elements. It doesn't have to do with just software engineers but any professional who puts so much energy into an activity that eventually it eats him up.
Burn-out is defined in ICD-11 as follows:
Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
Before we continue with solutions, it would be better to know the cause of the problem. Why do software engineers burn out?
Here are a few of the reasons:
- They feel they are not good at their work.
- They are working in a team where their skills are not valued.
- The company is underpaying them or paying them to work in other fields (like sales and marketing) instead of coding.
It is also quite common to feel like they are not learning enough, or on the other hand, there are too many things to learn and not enough time. On a higher level, sometimes, they cannot manage the client relationships or explain their work, which causes stress and anxiety. There are more details to each of these points, and an engineer can fall into one or more categories. If you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself, a friend, or a colleague, make sure to keep reading.
You must give your brain and body a break when you're using them for extended periods. And it would be best if you rested your mind after you've done something important or meaningful for a very long time. For example, you've been working all day, but you also spent two hours surfing Reddit and two hours on Netflix. Take a break and focus your attention on a completely different task, preferably something that doesn't require a screen (like cooking or gardening). If you're working on a product, of course, you’re trying to be productive, but also take conscious breaks and do nothing. Get up, walk, take a few big breaths, drink some water, check your window’s view, and return. If you can take longer breaks from work, have a 30-minute work-out, take a 15-minute power, go on a walk in the nearest park, do some stretching, refresh yourself! Staying busy and productive all the time is the reason many people get burnt out.
Not all of your coding issues can be solved in a few hours. As soon as your code is not working, something must have broken, right?! Should you be panicking? Should you work extra hours to fix that bug? Do you think your team members are blaming you behind your back? Or is your manager checking every step of yours? If you think about the situation with a clear mind, probably the answer to all of these questions is “no”. You don’t have to over-work, no one will blame you, and no one is spying on you! Everyone makes mistakes, and every coding task -in one way or another- can be solved. It is essential to approach your problem with the right frame of mind. Maybe your code is out of alignment, perhaps you have a minor bug that can be solved by adding a new line of code, or you simply forgot to call that function, and your code doesn’t seem to run (yes, been there, done that!). In any case, before you add another line of code to your project, take a deep breath and ask yourself how much time it would take to fix the issue and how important you think it is. You should not have a general philosophy when coding, but just a few guiding principles that you follow no matter what.
How many times have you heard “prioritize your work-life balance”?! But do you actually do it? It is essential to realize that a lot of developers are trying to be who they aren't. Why? Because they're trying to please their bosses, they are trying to see how well they fit into the corporate environment or want to make their mark at the company. Instead of doing what they're passionate about, they do what they think will fit better into their dream job. Stop! Take a step back. The bugs, the stories, and the PRs will be there the next day too. Now, remember why you started and what you did before this job, what made you happy? Spend time with your kids and partner, call your parents, go for drinks with your friends, clean up the house. And I’m sure you can think of many ways to spend your time in a way that doesn’t require coding or being in a meeting!
It takes true courage and real humility to say no. - Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
If you feel you just can't say no anymore, you probably have burned out, or you will get there, or you are taking too much on. A lot of people, especially women, can’t say "no". From my personal experience, I used to say "yes" to everything. I was working, studying for my masters, freelancing, volunteering, creating content; I was saying "yes" to every opportunity. But was it really an opportunity?! Was I working because I wanted to or because someone else wanted something from me?! I didn’t have time to see my family or hang out with my friends. Eventually, I started saying "no". I got more relaxed, and I could concentrate easier on the critical tasks. My tip is to keep what offers you more value and push away everything else. It takes time, and it needs practice to learn how to refuse. You may feel awkward saying “no” to your boss/colleague, but is it really your responsibility to do that? Will you gain something? Will your mental health improve by doing that X thing?
There is a time and place for everything. Being a software engineer can be your biggest passion, but this doesn’t mean you need to spend all of your time working in the field, coding, or building. Learn to enjoy another hobby or two, be it anything creative, relaxing, or maybe working out. You do not need to spend all of your time with side projects and building a perfect GitHub portfolio. There are plenty of ideas and things you could do besides staring at a monitor! What better way to boost your mood and get you out of a rut than taking a few days off and going on a short trip with your loved ones or friends. You can go on a short hiking trip, a road trip, or even a long weekend in a city you've never been to before. You could start gardening or yoga. You could take cooking or painting classes. What did you like as a kid? What is something that you are good at or want to improve at? Well, start doing it!
Although no one can assure you that an 8-hour sleep will solve all of your problems, everyone can agree that sleeping is beneficial for your mood and, eventually, your work. Also, don’t try to significantly change your schedule to sleep more; go for small changes that are easier to maintain. For example, instead of spending 30 minutes on social media before bedtime, read a book for 15 minutes. Instead of thinking every morning about what you’ll wear at the office (if you have returned to the office...) make that decision at night where you are more relaxed and watching Netflix. Oh, and one more thing, you don’t have to watch all the trending series on Netflix just because your friend does so.
Some people have it easier than others when it comes to workload and pressure. It's easy to feel down, bitter and frustrated with your job. It's also easy to beat yourself up, call yourself names and start to question everything about yourself. Breathe. Think. Concentrate on what you actually love. Learn how to take breaks, say no, how to prioritize yourself, your needs and how to balance your personal and professional life. Your mental health should be the first priority.
👋Hello, I'm Eleftheria, Community Manager at Hashnode, developer, public speaker, and chocolate lover.
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