Burnout is a very real phenomenon that impacts overworked professionals and causes mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion and even depression. Research shows that burnout leads to decreased productivity and lack of engagement, and burnout can actually spread among a team. A single burned out employee can start a domino effect of stress and exhaustion. If you see signs of burnout among your engineering team, it is critical to step in sooner rather than later to avoid serious problems.
Know the Signs of Burnout
Before you can diagnose or help employees who are burned out, you have to recognize the signs. If you recognize one or more of the following, your team could be in the red zone:
- Conflict: If your team is suddenly in a constant state of conflict, it is likely the result of short tempers due to excessive stress.
- Apathy: If a high-performing employee suddenly stops caring about the quality of their output, they could be feeling burned out.
- Absenteeism: An uptick in sick days, unscheduled absences, late arrivals and early exits are a sign that trouble is brewing.
- Mood changes: If formerly happy engineers are suddenly miserable, it could be due to stress. The more significant the change in mood or personality, the more serious the problem.
- Decreased productivity: Burned out employees are not capable of producing high volumes of high-quality output.
Burned out employees can be quite miserable to be around, and while one burned out employee is bad enough, their negativity can quickly spread among an entire time. Even those who don’t feel burned out can be dragged down by someone who is. Over time, you will end up losing talented people to burnout or the negative byproducts of burnout.
The number one cause of burnout is overwork, but overwork is often part of the package for engineers – especially engineers on a deadline. However, even when a team is under the gun, it is important to allow people to disengage from work and recharge their batteries.
First, consider flexible scheduling. Employees don’t necessarily need to be allowed to come and go as they please, but adult professionals can be trusted with some flexibility. For example, rather than a mandatory 8:00 a.m. start time, allow employees to begin their day anywhere from 7 a.m. to 9 or 10 a.m., as long as they put in a full day. Occasional telecommuting where employees can forego their stressful commute and work from home can also improve work-life balance.
During periods of high demand when everyone is working longer hours and feeling the pinch, consider utilizing skilled engineering contractors to help pick up the extra work. Using engineers on a short-term basis can help keep projects on track without increasing the workload of your existing team.
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