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Project Management

How can IT specialists avoid burnout?

Levels of burnout have been through the roof over the past few years, and the situation only seems to get worse. 

Although IT specialists are often perceived as the lucky ones, those who get to cash lucrative paychecks and work from the comfort of their homes with all expenses covered, they are not immune to burnout. According to a recent questionnaire, 25 out of 30 tech companies confirmed the burnout rate among their employees is 50% or more.  

Burnout is a serious issue that, if left unattended, can lead to complex mental and physical health issues. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge it, spot early signs, and do your best to avoid it. 

Signs of IT burnout to watch out for

There are many warning signs of burnout that we experience before the actual burnout. Sadly, they are easily overlooked, especially in hectic situations such as writing code for a solution on a tough schedule. 

Below is a list of the key signs to watch out for that will help every IT specialist notice they’re on the wrong track before it’s too late.

#1 Feeling overworked and overwhelmed 

It’s true that almost everyone feels overworked these days at some point, but it doesn’t make it less serious. Anyone who has been feeling overworked for a continuous period of time is at risk of burnout.

#2 Disengagement

When IT specialists are emotionally and physically drained, they become disengaged, leading to poor productivity and outcome. The more disengaged the person is, the worse their work performance becomes, leading to them feeling worse about themselves and the situation overall.

#3 Chronic mood swings 

If you find yourself on a constant emotional rollercoaster, and there are no obvious reasons for such mood swings, it is likely that you are on your way to burnout. 

#4 Feeling tired and sleepy all the time 

If you wake up already tired with little energy to go about your day, that can easily be a sign of burnout. Please take it seriously and take precautions. You might need to talk to your therapist.

#5 Being sick more often than usual

If you find yourself using up all your sick days when previously you rarely called in sick, it could be a sign. Our body feels everything that we’re going through emotionally, and it’s bound to get sick at some point. 

#6 Dramatic changes in your body

Everyone has a unique bodily reaction to burnout. Things such as big changes in weight or skin condition can indicate that something isn’t right.  

#7 Not caring about goals

Not everyone is extremely goal-oriented but all of us have aspirations of some kind. There is a difference between a usual period of demotivation and losing all interest in something you were just recently passionate about. 

#8 Negativity

Burnout and pre-burnout stages usually uncover the things most people would not be proud of, such as aggression, short reactions, and toxic sarcasm. Watch yourself and those around you – if your new default reaction is negative, it is most likely a sign of burnout. 

How to deal with burnout signs 

Spotting the signs of potential burnout is already a huge step in the right direction. 

At Emphasoft, we work with many clients on IT projects of various difficulty and intensity, so we pay a lot of attention to our team members’ mental health. Below is a list of recommendations that we find most useful, not only for the IT department but for all staff: 

  • If you are always overworked and play an endless catch-up game, talk to your manager or supervisor. See how your workload can be rearranged. Sometimes IT specialists end up doing the work of 2-3 people and it goes unnoticed. 
  • Learn to say No. The best thing you can do if you feel like you’re at a breaking point is to learn to say No when someone asks you to take on an extra task or cover for them. 
  • Consider taking a break from work. It’s not always possible to take a longer vacation to recharge, but even a small getaway can do wonders if you completely switch off from work. 
  • Create more calmness for yourself. Swap happy hour drinks for an early dinner in a quiet restaurant. Go for a walk in the park instead of watching an action movie on the weekend. Those who experience a lot of stress and anxiety should make a conscious effort to balance their life to remain sane. 
  • Take care of your physical health. Go on walks, work out, meditate, and eat nutritious meals. All those recommendations are not ground-breaking, but they make a huge difference for someone in a tough situation. 
  • Cut down on processed food and sugary drinks. Even if you are eating proper food most of the time, it’s easy to overdo it with snacks and sodas that are often lying around the office space of IT companies or can be delivered to your doorstep any time of the day. Consuming highly processed food and drinks is not only a long-term health hazard but also contributes to feeling stressed and having anxiety. 
  • Prepare a list of things you enjoy doing and aim to do at least one of them every day. Burnouts can be managed and prevented by staying happy and satisfied with our lives. And what better way to do it than busying ourselves with something that brings us joy? 
  • Nurture personal relationships. When our personal lives get stale, we tend to switch our focus to work instead. And when something doesn’t work out professionally, we become twice as upset because we bet everything on our jobs. Having balanced and healthy relationships with your family, loved ones, and friends will make you overall happier and resistant to many of the hiccups at work that would otherwise knock you out.

If you try our tips but it doesn’t help, consider switching roles within the IT department. Everyone’s situation is different, but sometimes the best solution to avoiding burnout is to do something new. And sometimes we are perfectly happy doing what we do, but the environment is not right. It’s important to see the difference and know when to step away. 

Tips to address team burnout for IT leaders 

Managers can play a key role in burnout aversion and prevention. If you are in a leadership position and see the warning signs that we’ve listed below with some of your employees, here is what you can do:

Show empathy

Being on the verge of a burndown is no fun, so it’s best to leave tough-love managerial practices for another time. And even though it might be hard to show compassion to a grumpy and disengaged employee, it is the best strategy you can choose to break through to them. 

Show gratitude and celebrate your team 

Everyone wants to feel appreciated. When there’s no recognition no matter how hard you work, it is almost inevitable that a person will be demotivated. Make it a habit to highlight wins, big or small, within the team. Also, if someone comes up with a good idea, for example on optimising hardware use, it is worth spreading the word about it too. You can even start sharing regular success updates with non-IT departments. A lot of the IT specialists’ work goes unnoticed and is unclear to those outside of the technical world. Change that and you will see more compassion from the rest of the company, and encourage team members. 

Listen closely to complaints about processes

Burnout can happen for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes those reasons are as simple as a cumbersome work process that has too many steps, isn’t straightforward, and wastes everyone’s time. Often we ignore those issues because it’s hard to remember when things were different, so we just keep everything as is. Addressing workflow problems in a timely fashion will reduce the instances of employee burnout. As you work on possible solutions, involve the team and ask for their ideas. 

Make time for creativity

The constant race to the finish line will make anyone tired. The IT sector is extremely fast-paced, which can overwhelm even the most talented specialists with a stressful sense of being perpetually behind. Not only is this physically tiring but also emotionally draining. The never-ending breakneck pace sucks the joy out of work. What can bring this joy back is creativity. Try to leave out a few hours in everyone’s week dedicated to working on new ideas, solutions, and anything else. And make sure those hours are respected. 

Encourage healthy boundaries and time off

Contrary to popular belief, regular breaks and time-offs are good for productivity and the quality of the outcome. They’re also great for burnout prevention. Make sure your staff doesn’t work through the night, takes lunch breaks, and remembers to stand up and move every once in a while. One of Scrum’s key ceremonies, Daily Stand Up, is a perfect opportunity to ensure there is some movement happening throughout the day. Host those meetings while actually standing up, and if someone works remotely, ask everyone to turn on their cameras and stand up too. 

Final thoughts 

You can go through burnout without even realising it. Too often IT specialists neglect the warning signs and sacrifice their well-being to fit into the projects’ timeframes. With the help of this article, we hope that you will be able to spot early signs of burnout that you or your colleagues are experiencing, and will be able to turn it around. 

If you need to execute an IT project but worry about putting too much pressure on your existing team, you can outsource it to professional technology companies, such as Emphasoft. At Emphasoft, we have the widest range of IT specialists that cover all niches, and we can start working on your solution within 3 days.

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