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DEI, Mental Health

How Employers Can Support Team's Mental Health and Prevent Burnout at Work

By Sabina Bhasin | June 10, 2021

With more than 12.1 million people working in tech in the U.S. alone, it's more important than ever to talk about mental health in the tech industry. One of the most common outcomes of work-related stress is burnout, an elusive phenomenon that has no one true cause, is not beholden to one sector, and can crop up at any time.

In the famously fast-paced, "work-hard-play-hard" world of tech, preventing burnout at work can be particularly difficult, especially in programmer burnout. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we're examining some tools coding teams can use to stay on top of bandwidth, manage deadlines, and introduce more flexibility into their work to combat software developer burnout.


What Is Burnout?


Burnout is an occupational phenomenon in which workers can experience physical or emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of accomplishment in their work due to extended periods of work-related stress. Employees can experience burnout for several reasons and even when they're in the middle of a passion project, making it very difficult to diagnose at the moment and even more challenging to prevent.

To give burnout more shape, the World Health Organization created guidelines to officially classify and help employers develop strategies to prevent burnout at work.

While it's going to take a long time before we understand exactly where this phenomenon comes from, there are sure signs of programmer burnout that can help employers and employees take steps to deescalate burnout and continue to do innovative work.  


What Are the Signs of Burnout?


While the signs of burnout are pretty universal, the way they manifest across industries could help specific employers understand the early signs of work-related stress and make changes accordingly. For instance, symptoms of software developer burnout may include:

  • Repeatedly making easy mistakes in their code

  • Experiencing headaches and eye soreness

  • Feeling isolated and unmotivated

  • Losing passion or interest in coding

  • Lack of accomplishment and ineffectiveness

  • Lack of sleep

The challenge is that many of the changes to mitigate these symptoms would inherently change how software developers have to work. For example, sitting for many hours is a significant component of software developer burnout and programmer burnout; however, coding requires long hours of sitting and working at a terminal. 

Also, the monotony of the work can contribute to burnout. Software developers work using the Agile methodology, a project management style built around the repetition of programming languages. Despite being an effective management tool, it can cause software developers burnout because they can start to feel as though they aren't moving forward in their careers, manifesting in other areas of life. 

Finally, another critical reason why programmer burnout is a typical tragic experience is the culture. From lack of sleep, exercise, and poor eating habits due to long hours working, many developers cannot always effectively train junior programmers. So, to avoid technical debt, the senior software developers or programmers have to stay late to correct errors or monitor the output of those more junior. As a result, they're essentially completing two jobs. 


How Do You Fix Burnout?


The question "how do you fix burnout?" perhaps isn't the right frame of mind to tackle burnout. Many resources put the onus on the worker to "combat" burnout, find harmony with their work schedule, make space for free time, set boundaries, etc. 

But this advice isn't realistic for many employees or even possible within specific work environments. The solution to programmer burnout, or burnout among workers in any industry, is to create work environments that are not conducive to relentless, work-related stress. But how?

There are significant, systemic changes like paid maternity leave and flexible workdays that employers can enact to alleviate some of the pangs of their employees. But there are smaller, process-related adaptations and technologies teams can use to prevent burnout at work.


Automate Internal Processes


One of the simplest ways to prevent burnout at work is to automate as many internal processes as possible. Using Workspace, many processes are easily automated, and AI and ML are also used to alleviate repetitive tasks. 

Fintan Murphy, a C2C community member, and Workspace expert shared a few ways he and his team use the productivity and collaboration tools to stave off burnout. 

For example, they leverage the time-blocking approach to their calendars. By setting specific office hours, the tools automatically mute notifications and don't interfere with non-work hours. Also, they use the predictive text options in all the Google collaboration tools like email or Google Docs. The devices will help you schedule if you're writing about an appointment or help remind you to respond to an email you've snoozed. Using these types of tools helps remove the responsibility of remembering and ensuring focus is directed on performance. 

When they need opinions, they use Google Forms, which they will continue to use in the future of work.


Create More Flexibility


Murphy shared other tactics he uses with his team to create more flexibility. For one, task management and link management. 

"How we organize that has changed, and it's about really figuring out what works for your team," he said. 

One of the best ways he works with his team to improve task management is to maintain reality checks and utilize the right tools to manage their timelines. 

"Be honest with yourself when you say you can get this task done, be honest with the day you're putting in for your task deadline, " he said. "Ask yourself, - Is this realistic? Will everyone feel bad if I failed?' Know that beforehand. -  

Google leans on partners for project management tools. Still, Google Workspace has ways for in-application communication and uses AI/ML for auto-filling deadlines and creating reminders and nudges. 


Improve Communication


If working remotely is new for teams, it can create a risk for burnout. But, Murphy offers some tips. 

"Have regular check-ins with the team, but as individuals," Murphy said. "Ask, - How are you doing?' - How are you getting on?' - Are you having internet issues?' - How's your work-life balance?' -  

He says that team meetings or individual one-on-ones are opportunities to hear how you can support your team, more than understanding a task or line item. For that, he suggests using "passive communication. -  

One example of passive communication is utilizing the Google tools to share what your team is working on through a shared calendar, thereby reducing the need to ask about a specific task.  

Also, through project management tools, there is a line of sight into workloads and projects, making it easier to understand status without needing to inquire or set a meeting about the progress. 

Also, Murphy offered the idea of borrowing "asynchronous communication" from GitLab. For a company of more than 1,000 workers, all remote, they've developed behaviors to harness disparate working styles. 

"So, for example, in a meeting, don't send the slide deck during the meeting and talk to it; send it ahead of time and ask for ideas or questions about the material within," Murphy said. "That's like getting together for a book club meeting and reading each page together. -

Finally, here are few more tips for managing burnout: 

  1. Go for a walk each morning or do something other than waking up and going straight to work.
  2. Maintain the same routine as a typical workday. 
  3. Always send an agenda for a meeting.
  4. Set office hours. 


What Do You Think? 


What ideas do you have? Are there other ways Google products can mitigate burnout? Let us know below. 


Extra Credit: 

  1. Why There's So Much Burnout in Software and What To Do About It
  2. Burnout Is About Your Workplace, Not Your People
  3. Managing Remote Teams - 8 Effective Strategies - For Genuine Success
  4. GitLab's Guide to All-Remote
  5. US tech industry had 12.1 million employees in 2019

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