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Five Ways To Stop Developer Burnout Before It Undermines Culture And Progress

Five Ways To Stop Developer Burnout Before It Undermines Culture And Progress

Co-founder and CEO of Nylas.

After years of unprecedented growth, the tech sector is seeing hiring freezes or slowdowns as interest rates, supply chain issues, venture funding and more begin to level. Companies of all sizes and industries are taking a closer look at what it means to be operationally efficient and how to strategically maximize their tools, systems and people.

This places many employees—and developers in particular—under exceptional pressure to perform efficiently as demand to support digital initiatives outstrips supply. For developers, there’s a continuous need to maintain and extend skills to new technologies, onboard and support colleagues and manage increasing workloads. In some cases, diamonds form under pressure. For others, burnout is a serious issue that can result in challenges to one’s mental and physical health.

Many developers are leaving their employers to gain more control over their workloads. The findings of a recent DigitalOcean study show that “42% of those who haven’t left their jobs yet are considering or may consider leaving their current jobs this year.” Retaining technical workers and ensuring productivity are key success factors for businesses that use software as an operational advantage—in other words, everyone.

Addressing Developer Burnout Early

At Nylas, we’re taking a proactive approach to preventing developer burnout. Not only is technology our business, but our core purpose is to help make developers’ lives better. This principle is what guides not just our technical teams but the entire company to prioritize and emphasize developer experience.

A poor developer experience creates a ripple effect throughout the entire business. If developers are burnt out, they can be less productive and innovative. As a result, the product quality suffers, making it more challenging for marketing, sales and customer success teams to retain customers and build a positive brand. Even worse, developer burnout can impact current and potential employees’ views of the company, its values and its culture.

Concerned businesses should take note of the early warning signs of developer burnout and put in place responses to support developers. These signs include sloppy code, increased time to ship code and high workloads combined with intense deadlines.

Some companies are proactively trying to address developer burnout by giving, for example, a week off to recover but are missing simple opportunities to make more impact. Instead, a broader look at the overall developer experience is often more effective in combating burnout and creating better outcomes for the company.

Developer Experience: The Best Line Of Attack Against Developer Burnout

What is DevEx? In a previous article on DevEx, I explained that creating a great developer experience means creating a frictionless developer experience. When workers are distributed or remote, the quality of work is a significant factor in developing a positive company culture. As a result of positive cultures, companies are able to retain and attract high-value employees while also preventing burnout.

It’s about making a developer’s life easier. So, look to ensure that developers are building and coding efficiently and give them the time and headspace for deep thinking, iterating and exploring creative and innovative solutions.

We view software as a differentiator and advantage. Companies that share this view need to develop a growth culture, not a fix-it culture. Leaders need to build cognitive traits such as listening and continuous learning and bring them into the workplace supported with tools and techniques that enable devs to show up, feel empowered and work smart. Some ways to do this that we found works include:

  1. Shifting To Focus On Output: An output-focused culture means that developers can be more autonomous and create flexibility in their schedules to ensure they aren’t burning the candle at both ends.
  2. Making It Okay To Fail. Things will break, and that’s okay. No one—especially developers—should be expected to be perfect. A culture that makes it safe to fail supports creativity and reduces stress.
  3. Fostering Connectedness And Microcultures: Pre-pandemic, community and team leaders could engage face-to-face and support developers through in-person events and direct communication. Today, leaders need to consider what they can do in real life versus online and how they can support relationships online, such as encouraging devs to foster connections in forums, social media platforms and other online communities.
  4. Empowering And Educating Developers: For example, one thing we do with our technical teams is share and promote information on the benefits of testing throughout the development life cycle and make it easy to surface and understand error states and messages.
  5. Providing Technologies And Tools: Ensuring developers are armed with modern tools and work with disruptive technology makes pressure more bearable. Tools that abstract complexity, reduce toil and bake in best practices can make development accessible to a wider cohort of engineers, reducing the workload—and pressure—of senior engineers.

Rewards Of Investing In DevEx

Companies increasingly use software development as a critical success factor for growth and a strategic tool for agility. Leaders who don’t address the cost of burnout will likely see the impacts of decreasing operational efficiency and product quality. In addition, a reputation for burnout will make it more difficult to attract talent.

Adding DevEx to employee experience initiatives can be a key differentiator in tight talent markets because good DevEx is part of a virtuous cycle. It improves individual developers’ mental health, which fuels more productive workers. As such, more productive workers have room for innovation and can help the company build resilience, growth and efficiency.

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