This is a topic that hits close to home. I have witnessed individuals and entire programming teams burnout. The drive to deadlines, profit and/or promotion can have unintended personal costs. Combinations of overbearing ownership, drive, pride and a fear of failing cause many in the IT industry to mentally collapse. Companies lose an estimated $200 - $300 billion dollars a year in lost productivity due to stress and burnout. Furthermore, individuals with higher levels of stress are absent an additional 1.8 days a year compared to their less-stressed counterparts.
More recent software development methodologies such as Agile and Lean drive to increase efficiency. Scrum is an Agile method which builds on the philosophy of short iterative development with deliverables as fast as every week. Kanban follows the Lean principles of flow management and visually limiting your work in process to streamline development efforts. Without the proper mindset these methodologies can induce an "Agile Death March".
In the industry of health management, there is a standardized test called the "Maslach Burnout Inventory." It evaluates three dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Although, if you have been driven to the point of taking this test, the results shouldn't be surprising. Stress is a part of life. Accepting what you can and cannot influence is not easy. The following sections provide easy tips for managers and employees to avoid the personal and professional costs of employee burnout. Managers
- People are generally resistant to change begat by external forces. Habits are hard to break. It is important to work within current constraints before influencing change.
- Get to know your employees; find a way to connect with each team member. Find ways to interact with them on a consistent basis. This helps to identify the visual cues of stress and frustration faster.
- Take employees individually, and occasionally as a group, out to lunch. Make sure it is away from the daily work environment.
- Create group activities that remove teams from their daily routine.
- Encourage your team to build in flex time for completing tasks. This should be managed to ensure that teams do not abuse the idea.
- Build "quiet time" or "business hours" into your team's schedule to minimize outside interferences.
- Keep track of your team's overtime. This can be a very informal process. This provides a great metric to balance a team's true output level.
- If your group is Agile or Lean, implement an "innovation iteration" where employees within the group define the work they will complete.
- Inform your manager of the situation. As a team you can put together an action plan.
- Do something you enjoy everyday that is not IT related. Heavy involvement is not required but consistency is key.
- Force yourself to leave your desk for lunch and take your full allotted time.
- Clear your mind by writing down everything you are currently thinking about. This allows your subconscious to move on to other tasks.
- Take time during your day to go for a quick run. Exercise can bring clarity to a problem or can help clear the mind.
- Plan a fun weekend/vacation which includes no email, work phone calls or texts. Don't forget to bring your friends if possible.
- Get involved in a sport or local community activities. This will also have the added benefit of building new relationships, which is shown to increase personal satisfaction.
- Listen to music. Music affects us in unique ways and has been shown to increase brain activity in non-analytical areas.
- Participate in meditation or yoga. These have been shown to change your metabolism, blood pressure and brain activity.
Stress is a bonding force within teams that builds improper relationships and can set a course with destructive results. You can empower yourself to decrease stress in your life. Burnout doesn't happen overnight. It builds up over time. Small steps can have the same effect as large leaps. What do you do to reduce stress and avoid burnout?