There's a reason the Great Recession is in full swing. Many people are burned out by heightened workloads, ever-shifting conditions and expectations, and increased levels of uncertainty. Johnny, a senior developer and member of the G2i collective, knows this all too well.
Throughout his career, Johnny has worked for a wide range of different companies. Currently, he’s the technical lead at a global company in the food and beverage industry, where he's part of leading a $15 billion dollar annually recurring project.
Along the way, Johnny has become well versed in the signs of—and recovery from—burnout.
Burnout Can Happen in Recurrent Cycles
Johnny's experience is reflective of a recent Twitter poll that revealed over half of developers have experienced burnout within the last year, with nearly 33% saying they'd felt that way within the last month.
For Johnny, burnout actually happens every few months—admittedly because of his preferred working style. "I'm the type of person to work in sprints," he explains. "And it's not a hundred-meter dash that I'm starting; I'm sprinting a marathon."
He knows he's burned out when his body physically cannot work any longer or sustain working at his usual capacity. "For some people, a lack of recognition or reward can lead to burnout," he points out. "But for me, it's physical signs I'm doing too much. When I work, I work a lot, but life has a way of telling you when to stop."
Most notably, when Johnny's burned out, things that once felt easy suddenly are not. The epiphany comes when he finds himself participating in the same code reviews, emails, and meetings and yet somehow, everything starts to feel harder. Soon after, he struggles to find a sense of purpose or motivation.
This can lead to a vicious cycle: Because he's burned out, things take him longer than usual, further compounding his burnout.
Are You Frustrated With Work or Overworked?
As a team lead—and one that likes to work in marathon-like sprints, no less—long workdays are a major contributing factor to Johnny's burnout. (Meetings, while unavoidable, can be especially draining for introverts, which many developers are.) When he's overworked, the solution is pretty straightforward: Take some time off.
However, if you're burned out because you're frustrated with work and not overworked, that's a different scenario. Johnny explains that ideally, in a case like that, "there'd be a way where the workplace could help resolve those issues." Otherwise, you'll work and become burned out, take some time away, and then come back and become burned out even faster because you're facing the same issues and becoming more frustrated.
"It doesn't solve the root problem," Johnny emphasizes. If you find yourself in this scenario, it's worth evaluating how you can fix the underlying cause of your frustration because time off likely won't solve it.
The Importance of Taking Time Away From Work
Johnny recalls working as a contractor at G2i and taking a couple of months of light work after one intense project. The time off was rejuvenating and eye-opening. "I was the most productive I've ever been after that," he recalls.
Johnny has since realized that a few days to a week off here and there is essential. He needs to let himself sit and recover from periods of hard work. He uses the first few days to just do nothing at all; then, he revisits things on his to-do list that have been put on hold or explores new activities he's been meaning to try.
Johnny explains, "I used to have issues taking time off. I thought it was a waste of time before—now, I fully believe in it. People may need guidance to learn that it's okay to take time off. I had a boss tell me they thought time off had been helpful for me, and then I saw the results. I don't ask now. I just tell them. If you feel guilty about taking time off, that's probably a sign it's something you need to do."
Johnny’s experience illustrates the importance of managers demonstrating compassion and understanding when it comes to employees and their needs. Remember that energy is a finite resource. People need time off—as do you! Model for your employees what a healthy work-life balance can look like; this benefits everyone on the team, as well as the company.
Advice for Developers on How to Ward Off Burnout
Johnny offers the following advice for software developers across the industry:
- Learn what pace works for you, and stick to it. Even though he works in sprints, Johnny believes if you can pace things out and take time off more regularly, you may create a more sustainable lifestyle for yourself. Once you identify what schedule will allow you to maintain your wellness, protect it as you take on new projects and tasks.
- Communicate your boundaries. If you are going to be off and will not be checking emails or work messages during a certain time, communicate that with your team and your boss. "Out of necessity, I absolutely do not want to touch messages and emails," he says. "I literally just turn off the notifications."
- Try new hobbies. You don't have to be good at everything you try (and you likely won't be!), but experimenting with variety is good for you and can lead to new inspiration. Johnny plays around with photography and videography, and he's been enjoying driving and sprucing up his new Tesla.
- Get physical. When he found his back hurting every day, Johnny started working out in the morning and found this also boosted his mood and productivity. Because so much of a developer's workload is done sitting and behind a screen, making time for physical movement is crucial.
We've been focusing pretty exclusively on work, but remember that burnout can affect all areas of your life. Johnny has seen the effects of burnout in his personal life, as his stress levels affect his interpersonal relationships and make him feel he doesn't have enough time to spend with others.
"They're all intertwined, right?" he asks. "It goes both ways. When you're burned out, you're frustrated by everything. Everything feels like it has to be rushed or squeezed in." Taking intentional time off to reset and let himself breathe is essential so he can feel good about all areas of his life, not just work.
Looking for more stories like Johnny's? G2i offers a platform and community for specialist developers, and we are committed to bolstering developer health. If you're looking for a space where you can openly ask questions, be yourself, and find opportunities and mentorship, learn more here.