What Is Developer Burnout?

Developer/programmer burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by extreme work-related stress. It is characterized by symptoms such as losing motivation and interest in work, mental and physical fatigue, and a cynical or critical attitude towards work and people. Burnout has become more common and exacerbated since the Coronavirus pandemic started, due to the fact that most people are working remotely.

The road to burnout has a destination that we never want to reach. In order for a person to not reach that point, it’s important to understand the signs that can point towards burnout risk, so the person can turn things around before it’s too late.

Burnout has been around for literally decades, fast forward to May 2019 where the World Health Organization (WHO) formally recognized occupational burnout as a syndrome–yet not as an actual medical condition.

While burnout is a part and parcel of almost every trade, the tech industry is quite unique because of its fast-moving environment with high expectations on all corners, and the focus on the technical side of work, sometimes leaving the human side way forgotten.

Overwork isn’t the only cause of burnout. Ping pong tables and snack rooms aren’t going to fix the problem, but managers who really care about their teams and health-proactive developers could help prevent it. Burnout isn’t simply a synonym for stress, it’s the result of deep, long-term stress that hasn’t been dealt with, either by the sufferer or their employer.

Many of today’s tech workers live by Mark Zuckerberg’s now-famous motto: “Move fast and break things”.  The question that arises is: how do we achieve this without breaking people on the way?

Burnout manifests itself in different ways for different people. But one thing is for sure: burnout doesn’t happen overnight, but it creeps up on you. To prevent burnout effectively, you need to notice the symptoms early on and address them as soon as possible.