One burning match stands up on a wooden surface while several burnt broken matches lie beside it, symbolising tech worker burnout.
Image: © rbadowski/Stock.adobe.com

Tech worker burnout is reaching alarming levels

18 Feb 2022

A combination of skills gaps, increased pressure during the pandemic and the intensity of workloads is increasing burnout for tech workers.

Burnout has always been a problem for workers and this has only been exasperated during the pandemic.

survey last year highlighted the level of overtime that workers in Ireland had been putting in since the start of the pandemic, with many remote workers finding it harder to disconnect.

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But burnout isn’t exclusive to those working longer hours. Resilience coach Siobhán Murray said burnout isn’t always related to overworking and can be exhaustion brought on by emotionally demanding situations.

“Your workload might actually be fine, if we’re using it in a work capacity, but it’s the emotions. Maybe you’re working with toxic co-workers or a toxic boss. It’s not the workload,” she said.

Intercom surveyed more than 1,200 customer support leaders from Ireland, the UK and the US as part of its 2022 customer support trends report. It found 64pc of support leaders surveyed said their team have felt “burned out” in the past 12 months.

The report pointed to a number of issues that could be attributing to this burnout among customer support teams, including spikes in inbound queries from customers, reduced staff due to the ‘great resignation’ and a lack of modern technology to provide empathetic support for customers.

Another survey of more than 1,800 Salesforce professionals found that respondents have been working outside their contracted hours more since the pandemic. It also found that more permanent tech workers have experienced burnout in their role during Covid-19 compared to before the pandemic.

Burnout for IT security

Security teams in particular have been affected by burnout during the pandemic. Not only has Covid-19 exacerbated the level of security threats, but the ongoing skills shortage in cybersecurity is putting an exceeding amount of pressure on under-resourced teams.

A report from VMware in August 2021 showed this trend continuing throughout the pandemic, with more than half of security professionals surveyed saying they had experienced extreme stress or burnout during the previous 12 months and 65pc admitting they had considered leaving their job because of it.

“Security professionals have not only been tasked with protecting the ‘anywhere workforce’ – while working remotely themselves – but they’ve had to do so in the face of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks like ones seen on Colonial Pipeline and JBS,” said Rick McElroy, principal cybersecurity strategist at VMware.

“Not to mention, the industry has also faced a severely understaffed cyber workforce.”

The cybersecurity workforce has nearly 600,000 open roles in the US alone, and according to the 2021 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, Ireland needs 10,000 cybersecurity workers to plug its skills gap.

This ongoing skills shortage is leaving organisations more vulnerable to potentially damaging cyberattacks amid a security staffing shortage.

“Having been a CISO myself, I can relate to security leaders and teams who feel they need to push their personal limits at work, often at the expense of their mental, physical and emotional health,” said McElroy.

Addressing tech worker burnout

No matter what area tech workers are in, it’s clear that burnout is rising at an alarming rate due to the pandemic. And with the great resignation trend rumbling on, the employees who are left behind will continue to face pressure in their roles.

So, what can be done to alleviate this burnout? Several companies have already given employees extra time off to alleviate pandemic-related stress. Others are taking the dramatic shift in the way we work as an opportunity to consider a shorter working week to give employees greater flexibility and work-life balance.

Outside of the pandemic pressure, many professions in tech are known for large workloads and crunch times that can lead to burnout.

At the beginning of the year, cryptocurrency company Coinbase addressed the intensity of its workload for employees by rolling out four recharge weeks.

“We work incredibly hard at Coinbase – for most of us, Coinbase is the most intense place we’ve ever worked. That intensity is only magnified by the current moment in crypto, and it often results in long days and long weeks,” said LJ Brock, chief people officer at Coinbase.

“Four weeks of coordinated recharge time might sound like a lot of time off for a company in hypergrowth but given the intensity of our work throughout the year, we think this is the best way to ensure our pace is sustainable for the long term.”

VMware’s McElroy said leaders need to arm their teams with the tools and resources they need to do their job while maintaining a healthy mindset.

“This can be done through things like encouraging paid time off or mental health days and allowing team members to spend time away from their screens, which is vital for preventing burnout,” he said.

“Additionally, adopting non-standard working activities such as walking meetings and mindfulness training are two great examples of practices that help employees focus on their mental and physical health while at work.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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