Developers are burned out. Here’s what they’re doing to tackle it

Owen Hughes
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor

Owen HughesOwen HughesSenior Editor

Owen is a senior editor at ZDNet. Based in London, UK, Owen covers software development, IT workforce trends and the evolution of tech and work.

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on May 10, 2022| Topic: Developer
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Image: Getty

Fewer than four in 10 software developers have taken a mental health day to deal with the stresses of work, despite tech professionals showing a high risk of burnout.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Stack Overflow looked into the wellbeing habits of software developers to determine what steps they took to decrease stress and prioritize their wellness.

It found that over 60% of developers have never taken a day off for their mental health – suggesting employers could be doing more to emphasise the importance of prioritizing personal health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Tech workers are particularly susceptible to workplace stress. According to a recent study by Yarbo, two in five tech professions are at high risk of burnout, largely as a result of long hours and large workloads that leave little time for mental and physical recovery.

SEE: Burnout, broken hiring and employees in a rut: No wonder workers are looking to quit

Stack Overflow’s survey found that tech workers find it difficult to break from the habits that are associated with desk-bound work.

Half of the 800 respondents surveyed by Stack Overflow said they go for a walk or perform some other kind of physical activity when they need a break. Even so, less than 35% consider exercise a part of their daily routine.

For many developers, taking breaks doesn’t necessarily mean breaks from their screen. More than a third (37%) of respondents said they spent their breaks from work browsing social media, while 36% watch videos and 27% play a game. As such, when developers need to step away from coding, they aren’t necessarily stepping away from a device.

The survey isn’t intended to shame developers for how they spend their break time, but it does serve as an insight into how encouraging healthy habits can contribute to better work-life balance and – hopefully – reduce burnout. Developers are eager to better their health and wellbeing, too: 83% surveyed by Stack Overflow said they were interested in improving their mental wellness, and 88% reported an interest in improving their physical wellness.

SEE: Cybersecurity burnout is real. And it’s going to be a problem for all of us

When quizzed on what they did to improve their own wellness, developers cited drinking more water (57%), eating a healthy diet (56%), prioritizing exercise (47%), making time for socializing with friends and family (43%), and reducing hours at work (25%).

Encouragingly, developers reported receiving support from their employers when it came to prioritizing health and wellbeing: 62% of respondents said their workplace advocated physical and mental wellness at work.

But the researchers pointed out that tech workers who felt pressured to over-deliver would struggle to take time for themselves. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Stack Overflow said.

“For example, are developers not reducing hours at work because they feel like they can’t? Is wellness something employers can encourage more or is it more dependent on individual motivation? Are there factors that we overlooked entirely?”

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