Each of us has a certain margin of safety and strength for each area of life. Work is an integral part of development and an extremely important life resource that requires high involvement. Safety margins are not infinite, and it is essential to maintain balance on all energy levels: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. The problem of remote tech employee burnout is not just another buzzword but an epidemic, so combating burnout in remote tech teams should be a priority for companies.
What is burnout?
Around 69% of remote workers experience burnout. Furthermore, one in four tech workers wants to leave their workplace in the short term, according to Yerbo's The State of Burnout in Tech report.
Burnout is most simply described as a state of extreme emotional fatigue, accompanied by cynicism and the feeling of low accomplishment. Most often, it occurs due to excessive fatigue and stress at work.
According to a Deloitte survey of more than 1,000 American workers, 77% experienced burnout at their current job. Additionally, Gallup states that about 23% of employees experience burnout almost constantly and approximately 44% of employees experience it periodically.
What is more important, the most highly competitive and in-demand tech professions are even more prone to burnout. Blockchain, data science, machine learning, AI, solidity, and web3 jobs appear to be not only the most high-paying but the most stressful as well.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
To recognize burnout, you need to know its symptoms. In the case of remote teams, this may be a challenging task. Employees in a state of burnout are not self-confident, reluctant to take on new tasks, do not generate ideas, and save energy as much as possible.
The symptoms of burnout syndrome develop over a long period. Consider the most common symptoms:
- Chronic fatigue. A state of constant sleep deprivation. It is especially pronounced in the morning as a person does not feel rested when just waking up;
- Decrease in working capacity. Tasks that used to be done quickly and easily take more time and extra effort. It becomes more difficult to switch between different tasks. Unplanned tasks cause a lot of stress;
- Frequent physical ailments. Characterized by constant headaches, colds, body aches, and chronic diseases. The human body is very smart. When the level of tension in the body goes off the scale, the condition serves as a signal that it is time to stop;
- Loss of enthusiasm at work. Lack of interest in tasks and professional issues that used to really fascinate and give a feeling of deep satisfaction;
- An increase in the number of errors. From minor oversights to serious flaws, a person suffering from burnout syndrome is more prone to making errors;
- Reducing the circle of social contacts. Reducing contacts with the existing environment and avoiding new, even very useful, networking opportunities;
- Loss of meaning in what a person does. Often disappointment in the profession itself and the desire to completely change direction.
Employees suffering from one of the symptoms are not necessarily in a burnout situation. On the other hand, if several of these signs appear simultaneously, especially the top three (fatigue, feeling distant from one’s work, loss of meaning and enthusiasm), it may be time to take action.
What causes tech employee burnout?
The rise of telecommuting is creating new causes for burnout in tech teams. There are numerous internal and external factors that can lead to this condition for remote tech specialists.
Some external factors are:
- Busy schedule, regular extra workload;
- Dissatisfaction with wages;
- Hard deadlines that prevent you from immersing yourself in the task;
- Type of tasks such as monotonous activities;
- Conflicts with colleagues, pressure from management, unhealthy atmosphere;
- Difficulties of remote work: people sit in front of a computer all day and communicate with colleagues mainly through online platforms. Working from home blurs the boundaries between work and personal time.
Internal factors include:
- Hyper-responsibility: must do it perfectly or just in time;
- Setting that work should always come first. It is more important than health and rest;
- Beliefs such as “I have to: work hard, be successful, prove myself";
- Fear of letting down, losing a prestigious place, the pressure of authority;
- There is no intrinsic motivation to perform work tasks: there is no agreement with the mission and principles of the company, and employees have no understanding of the value of their work for the organization.
Burnout can happen to anyone, but some people are more susceptible to it, including members of the tech teams, as they often multitask and have high responsibilities.
Actionable tips for combating burnout in remote tech teams
There is nothing wrong with burnout itself. This is a signal that says that something needs to be changed in the workplace. What exactly to change depends on the cause of the burnout. However, there are a couple of practices that work well in any case and will help to avoid remote team burnout.
1. Accept that burnout is a real problem
The first step to problem-solving is a clear understanding that burnout is real. Employees of technical teams are highly at risk of burnout risk. Managers need to take a more proactive stance in trying to mitigate burnout. For example, instead of jumping straight to the agenda in general meetings and talking about things that need to be done, managers should create space for connection first.
Read more: How to avoid work-from-home burnout: A room of one’s own
2. Choose activities according to employees' personality type
According to psychological research, there are employees who are more prone to burnout according to their personality type. To help employees recover from burnout, HR specialists can use a personality type assessment. This makes a huge difference in the recovery process, as stress relief activities might look slightly different for every personality type.
3. More communication
Employees who work remotely communicate less with each other and may feel lonely. Research shows that 48% of remote workers say they lack emotional support. This task should be solved by the team leader — communicate more with employees, notice their achievements and publicly praise them. However, it is better to give feedback to employees without the participation of the rest of the team, especially when it comes to their performance.
Read more: 5 Tips for organizational leaders on how to communicate effectively about change
4. Well-being programs
To prevent layoffs or loss of staff productivity, companies should introduce well-being programs — a set of measures to increase the level of well-being and prevent employee burnout. The composition of the well-being program depends on the company's budget and is not chosen randomly but based on the results of testing and employee surveys.
5. Flexible schedules
According to research, 53% of home-workers now work more hours than they do in the office.A more flexible work schedule will give employees the time and space to attend to their personal needs, whether it's doctor visits or child care. At home, it's hard to stick to a standard 9-hour office day with an hour-long lunch break.
6. Group check-in calls
Additional ways to support the team is to organize activities outside of work. Most often, as such activities, you can arrange live joint morning exercises, create a group on Skype or Zoom where employees can talk about non-work-related topics without judgment, share a meme or post a cat photo. Another option is joint events in various formats, such as quizzes and field trips.
7. Encourage time off
If the employees were overloaded with tasks and the manager noticed signs of emotional burnout, the employees should arrange a good rest. Send them on an unplanned vacation or take extra days off after the successful completion of an important project. Then you can review the workload and find a way to reduce the number of tasks for the tech team.
8. Turn off the camera
In the era of remote work, a significant part of communication takes place in Zoom or other online communication platforms. This is convenient but energy-consuming. Microsoft research has shown that when we talk over video, brain wave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher than when we just write an email. When employees feel tired during meetings, they should be allowed to turn off their cameras.
9. Take short and long breaks
Employees should not only work but also rest. If there is so much work that there is no time for rest, the brain does not have time to switch off, accumulating fatigue and ceasing to enjoy the result of the activity. Employees are much more productive when they take breaks. Even a short pause will help the brain switch between tasks and recharge.
10. Show your gratitude
Small achievements are still achievements. If employees' contributions brought even the slightest benefit to the company, let them know. It is not necessary to award bonuses for every little thing, as there are a number of other ways to show appreciation. For instance, it is useful to praise in a general chat or in front of the whole office during a call.
Combating burnout in remote tech teams
Burnout is associated with chronic stress at work. The employee loses motivation and feels exhausted, and productivity gradually decreases. The problem is quite common for remote tech workers, so it requires attention from executives or HR managers.
It is important to monitor the psychological state of the staff regularly and create comfortable working conditions for each tech team member. Coping with employee burnout is always difficult. But the leader's task is to identify the signs of the syndrome at an early stage and mitigate them before they become a more serious problem.