Developers are exhausted. Here's what needs to change

A survey finds that more than 80% of developers report being burned out - and not just because of the pandemic.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Developer working on computer at night

Developers continue to feel the pressure of greatly increased workloads.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Big workloads continue to have a huge impact on resource-strapped software teams, with a new survey by Haystack finding that more than eight in 10 developers suffer from burnout at work.

Technology has played a key role in the fight against COVID-19, with IT teams helping businesses to adapt to remote-working and digital-first operations.

But this rapid adoption of technology has had a massive impact on those tasked with implementing it, with various reports highlighting the mental strain developers have faced over the past year as a result.

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In a survey of nearly 260 UK developers by software company Haystack, 83% of respondents reported feelings of burnout, 81% of which cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the cause. Of these, 32% said this was true to a 'great' extent, and 30% to a 'moderate' extent.

Having more work to do was identified as the primary cause of pandemic-related burnout, with 40% of those surveyed citing increased workloads as the culprit. However, the survey found that this wasn't a problem confined to COVID-19: nearly half (47%) of software engineers said high workloads were their primary cause of burnout regardless of the pandemic.

Lackluster software also continues to prove a point of frustration for development teams. Eighty-three percent of software engineers reported being concerned about software reliability at their workplace, with 20% being concerned 'to a great extent'.

Meanwhile, more than half (55%) of developers said inefficient processes meant they were frequently delayed in delivering work. Overall, this is the third most-cited cause of burnout amongst those surveyed – reported by 31% of developers – coming just behind 'personal life' at 36%.

Junade Ali, a computer scientist who led Haystack's research exercise, said the results indicated that developer burnout was "far worse than imagined."

Ali told ZDNet: "During this heightened period of greater demand for developers to ship more work, there has been little consideration of employee wellbeing. Technology teams which struggle with inefficient engineering processes and management issues are more likely to see friction when trying to deliver work increasingly fast, leading to greater burnout."

A number of reports and surveys have indicated that employees, and most critically, tech workers, plan to make career changes in the next 6-12 months that could leave businesses with a shortage of IT skills at a time they need them the most.

A recent report from CWJobs, for example, found that less than a third of technology professionals plan to stay with their employer for another year.

Technology workers are increasingly being attracted to jobs that offer flexible working arrangements and place an emphasis on employee wellbeing; employers who do so may, therefore, find themselves with a better chance of attracting and retaining skilled workers.

Haystack's survey indicated that employers were at least getting a better handle on responding to workplace stressors: 53% of respondents agreed that management was able to quickly detect burnout in the workplace to a great or moderate extent.

SEE: The Great Resignation of 2021: Are 30% of workers really going to quit? (TechRepublic)

Ali said this started with removing blockers that prevented software teams from doing their jobs efficiently and investing in tools that improved developer productivity.

"To deliver more work without burning out, it's critical to ensure a smooth development process," he said.

"The key benefit of digital transformation plans is the ability to deliver business value to customers even faster, but having the tools and processes to do so are vital to preventing developer burnout and improving employee wellbeing." 

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