Tech workers face a 'burnout crisis' unless employers act now

A study of more than 36,200 tech workers finds that two in five employees want to quit due to excessive stress, exhaustion and a broken work-life balance.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor

Burnout has become a major problem for the tech industry.

Image: Getty/Cecilie_Arcurs

The technology industry faces a 'burnout crisis' as chronic workplace stress and exhaustion hammers IT workers.

A study of more than 36,200 IT professionals across 33 counties by mental wellbeing platform Yerbo found that two in five workers are at high risk of burnout, prompted by longer hours, more demanding workloads and conflicts in work-life balance.

Likewise, 42% of IT workers who are facing high levels of burnout are considering quitting their company in the next six months, Yerbo found, while 62% of IT professionals report being "physically and emotionally drained".

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The researchers said the findings "point towards a burnout crisis in the tech sector, with poor outcomes for workers and employees", including loss of motivation and engagement with work, high staff turnover, absenteeism and damage to the company's reputation – not to mention making organizations more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Overall, one in four tech workers wants to leave their workplace in the short term, Yerbo's The State of Burnout in Tech report found. "The pressure of working against the clock to feed the global tech frenzy often force employees to work late hours, leaving little time for personal life and creating work-life conflicts," said the researchers.

These time pressures also force workers to resort to "short-term fixes to get the job done" – or 'antipatterns' – that ultimately lead to bigger problems and additional work later down the line.

"When this happens day after day, allowing no space to recover mentally or physically, the ghosts of burnout – exhaustion, self-inefficacy, cynicism and depersonalization – start closing in," the report said.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon that comes as a result of "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed". Even so, WHO does not recognize burnout as a medical condition, even though it can cause – or be caused by – mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Women face a greater burnout risk than men. Yerbo found that 46% of women had a high burnout risk, compared to 38.2% of men. More women than men (69% vs 56%) also reported feeling "run-down and drained of physical and emotional energy" at the end of a workday. The researchers speculated that this could be because more women "face the burden of childcare and housework, which accumulates with their work-related tasks."

Discrimination might also play a role, with the report noting that female IT workers face more pressure to perform, and must work harder to succeed, in a male-dominated industry.

In total, 56% of tech workers surveyed said they were unable to relax once the workday is over, while 62% feel physically and emotionally drained.

More than half (51%) of tech workers feel as though they are achieving less than they should, while a third of the tech workforce feels inefficient at their job – pointing to high levels of self-inefficacy amongst IT professionals, including IT leaders.

Cynicism – another symptom of burnout – was found to be the factor most likely to cause tech workers to quit their jobs. More than two in five (43%) of respondents said they felt less engaged in their work, while 27% don't see the value or purpose in what they do. "Their lack of purpose opens the way to an overwhelming sense of detachment, possibly triggering emotional self-defence mechanisms and depersonalization," the report authors wrote.

Even once an employee quits, companies continue to suffer the negative consequences of burnout, the researchers said: burnout can compromise talent acquisition if negative employee feedback damages the company's reputation.

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Perhaps, unsurprisingly, looking out for the wellbeing of employees is the best tool employers have for avoiding burnout and the staff resignations that come with it.

This includes setting clear job expectations and promoting work-life boundaries, motivational resources like mentoring and opportunities for advancement. "Research on the Job Demands-Resources model shows workers are more immune to strain and more motivated – even in a highly demanding job – when they strike a balance between motivational resources and job demands," the report said.

"Unfortunately for managers, avoiding burnout is not a one time job or something they can fix with a team retreat, or paid vacation time."

Yerbo has created a self-assessment tool for users who want to understand their own burnout risk, which you can access here

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