While it certainly has been a rampant topic of conversation over the past few years, burnout is more than a buzzword – it is a serious threat to productivity and overall wellness. As a manager, you should take time to strategize and evaluate ways that prevent, recognize symptoms, and, most importantly, address the root causes of burnout. Management can incorporate the following actionable points to reduce or mitigate this issue among teams.

More than a mental toll

Technology moves much faster than most industries, which means that the people who work in the trenches— engineers, in particular – are prone to experience burnout while trying to stay ahead or keep up. A 2018 survey conducted among tech workers, including many employees of Silicon Valley's elite tech companies, revealed that over 57% of respondents suffer from job burnout, proving that tech burnout was a prevalent issue before the pandemic.

Burnout is a debilitating reaction to prolonged exposure to chronic stress. Essentially this means that when an employee disconnects from a company's goals, they fail to produce the desired results. In worst-case scenarios, burnout leads to high turnover rates

Common signs to look for include the following behaviors:

  • Avoidance of feedback
  • Constant fatigue
  • Irritability or cynicism
  • A lack of motivation
  • A sense of detachment
  • A pervading sense of depression

Career burnout can also lead to physical repercussions. Some examples include experiencing frequent headaches, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and an increased likelihood of high blood pressure.

1. Create a safe environment

Once you’ve recognized the signs, your onboarding system is the first thing to reevaluate. For consultants, onboarding will be where perceptions of the role with the company are formed. Feeling overwhelmed or disorganized can lead engineers to be discouraged or ultimately burn out. Better workflow management makes for less stressful, more productive working conditions. Make sure hardware engineers know all the details of their tasks, test information, expectations, and boundaries for the role. While speed is vital in tech for success, having engaged engineers is just as paramount. Recognize and encourage people who think outside the box to find new solutions.

2. Set attainable goals

Proper goals – in any sector of life – have to be challenging but not impossible. If people feel they’re being set up to fail – they will. This mingles with our first suggestion because while you want people to feel they can experiment with solutions in a trial-and-error process— you don’t want them to feel incompetent.

Many reasons can cause these phenomena: The deadline is too tight, you don’t have enough resources, or your team is too small. When it’s a big project that you’re working on for many months, and when the stakes are high, this can lead to tremendous pressure on your engineering teams.

Firstly, deadlines are inevitable— time crunches don’t have to be. Burnout in the tech and engineering industry often stems from the harmful idea that if someone isn’t working as hard as they possibly can, then they don’t have the passion or work ethic to do the job. If you realize that consultants are working 50-70-hour workweeks to finish a project on time, it’s time to re-evaluate your expectations. As a manager, it’s part of your role to evaluate whether the engineer or the task needs to be adjusted.

3. Encourage feedback

As we’ve touched on, two principal causes for burnout are A: unrealistic work expectations and B: micromanagement. Asking for feedback can address both. At the heart of both factors is a sense of lack of control. Managers need to show not only that they’re listening but that they’re being responsive. When people feel like their opinions are welcome, they feel essential, taking more responsibility for their performance. Ownership reduces burnout because it returns that feeling of control over their work rather than feeling like work is happening to them.

Feedback allows you to utilize your team more efficiently, especially in collaborative projects. People who can engage in areas they excel are 57% less likely to experience burnout frequently. Managers get the best out of their people when they can identify what they do best, praise them for it, and help move them into tasks and partnerships that maximize their natural talents. The enthusiasm and optimism associated with strengths-based development can reduce stress, assisting individuals in focusing on success rather than seeing their job as a burden.

The process can be as simple as sending a satisfaction survey. Take a pulse on how your employees and consultants are feeling. By asking questions like “How do you feel about your job overall?” and “Do you have everything you need to do your job well?” you can find out if employees are feeling overwhelmed and take steps to mitigate possibilities for burnout.

4. Celebrate good work

Anyone can be as excited or passionate as they like about your field, but if their work constantly gets invalidated, they will, assuredly, lose motivation. The highest performing engineers are also the most engaged, which is why celebrating wins is vital. Individual growth is therefore associated with the organization’s larger goals and reinforces their investment and pride in their contribution. Regardless of their workload and responsibilities, experiencing recognition will boost motivation to do their best for the company and colleagues.

There is no cure-all for burnout

Unfortunately, even the best and brightest are susceptible to burnout, and there’s no foolproof method for completely extinguishing the issue. All you can do is develop approaches that allow you to recognize burnout symptoms and relieve them as much as possible. Burnout in all work environments is severe, but for engineers and people whose work is centered around designing and building projects that will often touch the lives of countless people, it’s imperative to be aware of and proactive in preventing it. A resilient leader needs to remain nimble and dial into the needs of their employees for the most success.

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Post by Jamie Vassar
October 10, 2022