Burnout can affect people no matter what their job role, but software developers are particularly vulnerable. Too often, businesses chase profits by chronically relying on heavy workloads delivered by employees in short turnaround times. Developers often undertake intense work and find themselves pushed to meet deadlines under great pressure over and over again. But without proper care, burnout is almost inevitable. After all, developers are humans first before they are developers.
Programming is a cognitively stressful job that requires individuals to constantly solve complex problems. Working for hours on end day after day with no break is tough for anyone, and this pattern over a period of weeks is all too familiar for developers.
But slowly, the face of the workplace is changing. We are seeing a post-pandemic focus on employee well-being, and the current job market conditions mean that professionals have choices and the right to demand better care or even explore self-employment or non-traditional job paths (thanks, Great Resignation!). In this context, businesses are also thinking differently about how they work with talent to use workers more efficiently. There is an opportunity here to lower the burnout risk facing developers for the benefit of employees and employers.
Organizations Can’t Afford Burnout
Developers are key to most digital transformation projects, so organizations can ill afford for their developer teams to suffer from burnout. This can significantly delay the rollout of new products, features or apps and slow down DevOps initiatives, which can’t progress without the tech teams responsible working consistently and productively.
This risk to developers is particularly high in the wake of the pandemic, with technical staff under additional pressure to play catch-up and deliver projects that might have stalled. During this period, there has been little consideration for employee well-being; a 2021 study found that 83% of software developers were experiencing burnout. It’s not just about writing code—technology teams also struggle with inefficient engineering processes, backlog and technical debt and are more likely to encounter friction when trying to deliver work quickly, leading to a greater risk of burnout.
Low quality in-house software is also a point of frustration for development teams, with 83% of engineers reporting being concerned about software reliability in their organisation. Prioritizing the right tools for these teams is one way that businesses can help ensure projects run more smoothly. It’s a simple fix, but one that is frequently overlooked, though empowering technical teams is increasingly top-of-mind for businesses.
Developers Aren’t Easy to Replace
Great developers come with years of experience, learning their trade through practical problem-solving. They’ve never been easy to replace, but the state of the current global job market means it is more difficult than ever. This is inherently linked to developer well-being; some are changing jobs and moving to other companies in search of better working conditions while others are creating their own. For example, many are switching to freelance roles to gain independence and control of their own workloads.
However, freelancing can be lonely and admin heavy. Despite the improved flexibility, the lack of support can also lead to burnout. Talent clouds offer a potential solution to this through closed communities offering structured work for freelancers and regular interaction with peers. They have seen a surge in membership and have driven wider uptake of self-employment. In fact, 11.2% of developers were freelancing in 2021, up from 9.5% in 2020, as they sought to balance the freedom of freelancing and some of the perks of permanent work.
And that’s crucial. For a role that’s considered ‘always on’, the flexibility of freelancing to decide when or where developers work could be crucial to delivering quality, secure code. Without wasting hours a day commuting—that could otherwise be spent working or, crucially, decompressing from their intense workload—it’s been the option of choice for overworked developers all over the world. IT is the foundation on which modern businesses are built—giving the architects of these businesses some of this flexibility is a small price to pay to ensure their well-being. And, as a result, the timely delivery of products, projects, features and apps that accelerate digital transformation initiatives.
It’s a Two-Way Street
We’ve already seen how the increased workplace flexibility afforded to freelancers translates into better productivity and lowers the risk of burnout. Equally, 31% of developers worry about unclear goals and processes, so there is also something to be said for improving project management of digital initiatives to ease the burden on technical staff. In fact, 58% of devs feel that burnout is not inevitable, and that better working practices and management are key tools to its prevention.
For businesses wanting to deliver projects quickly, harnessing on-demand workers from the increasing pool of freelancers means they can engage specialists depending on the type of work or coding language being used, but also that they are fresh to tackle each new challenge—a key concern among developers who have experienced burnout. Doing so via a private talent cloud also ensures that the burden of managing and vetting freelancers is taken away from the organisation and nixing potential concerns about bringing in external talent.
Well-being is in the public eye more than ever. On one hand, developers should not have to face the high risk of burnout; on the other, businesses can’t afford to lose the talent fuelling their digital future.
Both parties can help solve the issue. Developers are taking professional well-being into their own hands by exploring freelance careers that give them flexibility. On their end, businesses need to consider creative ways to access talent. In part, this is about ensuring internal technical teams have the right support in place so they do not become overworked. It’s not easy to find this support in the current job market, but with developers flocking to freelancing, there is an opportunity to rapidly engage highly skilled workers on an on-demand basis at pinch points. After all, a well-managed workload significantly reduces the risk of burnout.
We have the resources and available skills to eradicate burnout among developers—we just need to arrange them in the right way.