Developer Burnout: Symptoms + How to Prevent It

If you’re a developer worried you’re approaching burnout, it’s best to know the symptoms and how to prevent it before it’s too late.

Burnout can happen to anyone, working in any industry, at any time. As companies move towards a remote-first environment, it’s becoming more common for those in the software engineering industry to experience burnout.

Because of this, it’s crucial that engineers across all industries, no matter if they work remotely or in a corporate office, know the warning signs of developer burnout and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

What is developer burnout? 

Developer burnout is when a programmer or software engineer suffers from feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance, demotivation, and cynicism with their job, and therefore experiences reduced professional efficacy. 

Developers may experience burnout after long weeks of coding or programming for days on end, which can be hard on the brain. Additionally, they may also experience meeting burnout as they feel like it’s up to them to attach their skills to numerous projects within an organization. This pressure will only wear a developer’s skills out and make a them feel like they’re spread too thin.

Avoid developer burnout

Have meaningful conversations about developer burnout in your one-on-ones by using a collaborative meeting agenda that both attendees can contribute to. Try a tool like Fellow today!

Developer burnout symptoms 

If you’re unsure if you’ve ever experienced developer burnout or think you may be on the verge of it, keep an eye out for these symptoms and warning signs.

1Disengaged at work 

As a software developer, one of the symptoms you should watch out for is feeling disengaged at work. Most developers have a passion for doing their job, learning new things, and helping out where they can on new projects or initiatives. Losing this interest in the role or responsibilities and lacking drive will show in how they interact with their team or write code.

Another sign of disengagement is no longer feeling happy or fulfilled when hearing positive feedback from your team or manager. Additionally, you no longer care about constructive criticism or feedback either. 

2Decrease in quality of work

An additional warning sign of being burned out is the quality of your work decreasing. Not only are you making more and more mistakes, but they’re also the type of mistakes you typically catch when going over your work. On top of these mistakes, maybe the speed at which you can write code is also slowing down. This may happen because you’re feeling disengaged and unmotivated by the responsibilities on your plate.

As a manager, if you’ve noticed signs of burnout with your employees, like a decrease in their quality of work or even a change in their attitude, consider scheduling a one-on-one meeting to check in on how they’re doing. Ask about their mental health and see if you can gauge how they’re feeling from an emotional standpoint. Don’t forget to use one of these one-on-one templates so nothing falls through the cracks. 

3Increase in procrastination

While everyone procrastinates from time to time, you’ll likely notice an increase in procrastination as you approach burnout. It gets harder to actually sit down at your desk (whether in the office or remotely) and start doing the work. Instead, maybe you grab an extra cup of coffee, make small talk with your team, or decide to take your dog for an extra-long walk on your lunch break. In short, you feel like you’d rather be doing anything other than programming.

Once these acts of procrastination become a trend, it’s likely you’re approaching burnout.

4Feelings of fatigue

Another telltale sign of burnout is the overall feeling of fatigue. This may look like changing sleeping habits, having difficulty sleeping during the night, or taking more naps in the middle of the day. When burnout is at its height, feelings of insomnia kick in and you may find it virtually impossible to fall asleep. 

Lack of proper sleep can prevent the brain from functioning properly. And when your brain experiences long hours of coding or programming without sleep, burnout becomes more likely. In short, working overtime without getting enough sleep or taking time off to relax or recharge your mental battery will typically lead to burnout. 

5Difficulties hitting deadlines 

Deadlines are a standard part of being a developer, and if you never had any issues hitting deadlines before but are now struggling to get your work done in time, this is likely a sign you’re approaching burnout.

Whether deadlines are being missed because you’re feeling disengaged, your quality of work isn’t great, you’re exhausted, or you keep procrastinating, it’s possible that burnout is right around the corner, too.

7 ways to prevent developer burnout 

If these warning signs and symptoms sound familiar or are feelings you’re experiencing in your career, then it’s time to implement these seven ways to prevent developer burnout–before it’s too late.

1Find what makes you passionate about engineering 

You didn’t become an engineer by accident; you sought out this career because you feel (or felt) passionate about the work. Whatever made you passionate about becoming an engineer and excelling in your role, try to work your way back to it. 

Whether it was your love for fixing or solving problems, the comradery you feel with your team, or the flexibility your job provides, remember what drew you to becoming a developer in the first place.

2Request time off

Another way to prevent developer burnout is by requesting time off. Whether you book the vacation you’ve always wanted to take or just take some time to rest at home, time away from work can benefit your mental health and help you return to work feeling refreshed.

Remember that you don’t have to go big with your time off and take it all at once. Consider taking a couple of days off every few months, since even a short break will give you time to recuperate and keep you more productive and engaged at work in the long run.

3Avoid unrealistic goals 

When the goals being set for your role (whether by your manager or yourself) seem impossible, you’ll likely start making personal sacrifices. Maybe this looks like lacking sleep, skipping meals, or working gruelingly long hours; regardless, when there’s no relief from these sacrifices in sight, developer burnout is likely right around the corner. 

Always set realistic expectations and focus on how you can improve your project management skills. Additionally, communicate with your supervisor to better set goals so you don’t become overwhelmed and overworked. 

Once you have defined realistic goals, you can track them with Fellow to stay on top of them.

4Find a healthy schedule

For some developers, working long hours slowly becomes a regular routine. However, finding a healthy schedule is in your best interest so you don’t become burnt out.

When planning your work day, factor in time where you stand up and walk away from your computer screen. Whether that means taking a walk outside, actually taking your lunch break, or doing an afternoon workout, a healthy schedule is key. Then, at the end of your work day, turn off your work equipment, notifications, and emails. It’s easy to give in to the temptation of checking your email or responding to a message quickly, but stepping away for good at the end of the day will help you reduce stress.

While yes, some jobs require a late night here and there, it should never be the norm or become something you expect from yourself. Having a healthy work-life balance is a must!

5Prioritize your well-being

To avoid the feeling of burnout, put yourself first and prioritize your well-being. Prioritizing your well-being may look different for everyone, but it likely involves eating healthy, making time for physical activity, enjoying hobbies, and spending time with pets and loved ones.

Making time for tasks that give you joy or bring you happiness is necessary to put your well-being first. When you give yourself time for things you enjoy doing, you’ll feel mentally refreshed and ready to take on whatever the work day may bring.

6Change up your tasks

Sometimes, the tasks or action items on your to-do list may feel repetitive. Switch it up if you think you’ve been doing the same thing for too long! This can force you to learn something new or reignite your passion for being a developer. Maybe you need to switch to a different operating system or explore different software. Whatever it takes to avoid feeling like you’re going through the same motions day in and day out.

7Offer flexible deadlines

Instead of setting deadlines for yourself that are rigid and cannot be missed, make them flexible! Doing so gives you some time and wiggle room to give yourself a break if you feel like burnout is fast approaching. If you feel as if you’re constantly struggling to meet deadlines, remember to reach out to a team member or your manager. Doing so will ensure you don’t fall into a bad habit of feeling overwhelmed and working long hours.

Give yourself a break!

As a developer, knowing the warning signs of burnout in your field can better set you up to avoid it at all costs. There’s nothing glamorous about overextending yourself, mentally or physically, for your career. When you remember to put yourself first, take time away from your computer screen, and find smarter ways to manage projects, you’ll be better set up to steer clear of the pitfalls that come with feeling burned out.

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About the author

Mara Calvello

Mara Calvello, with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature/Letters from Elmhurst University, is a seasoned Content Marketing Manager. Working at G2, Mara is an expert in software reviews and the tech space. Her expertise in content creation is complemented by her passion for literature.

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