Work Overload Isn’t the Biggest Cause of Tech Worker Burnout

Burnout is a constant problem among tech pros. But what actually causes it? A new survey from Blind offers some clues.

First—and perhaps most surprisingly—work overload isn’t the number-one factor that leads to burnout (although it’s a major one). Rather, it’s “poor leadership and unclear direction.” Toxic culture was cited as another major cause, along with a perceived lack of control and career growth, and insufficient reward.

“Only 9.7 percent of participants answered that burnout is not a problem at their company, meaning 91.3 percent indicated burnout is a problem,” read the note accompanying Blind’s data. Here’s a look at the full chart:

Respondents also called out certain companies as burnout factories due to poor leadership and unclear direction. Coming in first was eBay, where burnout was blamed on leadership by 35.04 percent of respondents; Salesforce came in second, with 26.15 percent, followed by Intel (26.02 percent), Expedia (24.27 percent), and Cisco (21.01 percent). Check out this chart:

This is the second time this year that Blind has conducted an anonymous survey about tech-industry burnout. Its first survey, in May, simply asked tech pros whether they were mentally fried, without digging too much into causes; credit-monitoring company Credit Karma and game-streaming giant Twitch had the highest percentage of crispy critters, followed by Nvidia.

That first survey also found lower rates among bigger tech firms such as Apple, Microsoft, and Salesforce. However, “lower” is a relative term; at Netflix, for example, more than one-third of employees reported symptoms of burnout.

If you feel like a “fry risk,” there are some steps you can follow to balance yourself out. First, try to get on a regular schedule of sleep and exercise; indulging in relaxing rituals, whether playing video games or cooking a good meal, is also key. And always remember to insert breaks into your schedule—not only should you step away from work on occasion, but you should also make a point of not checking email on your phone. A “communication vacation” can do you a lot of good.

6 Responses to “Work Overload Isn’t the Biggest Cause of Tech Worker Burnout”

  1. Lawrence Weinzimer

    There’s not much which can be done for employees under the rubric of burnout. This condition is lack of motivation caused by repetitive tasks, symptomatic of ‘going through the motions,’ without utilizing forward thought, judgment, or the chain of knowledge which allows for further successes in the job. To avoid this cause and salient symptoms, no one can merely rest on the laurels of previous accomplishments, no matter how prolific.

  2. starpageup

    Putting it simply – 1) Rightful Appreciation and 2) Constructive Criticism – are the key for employee success.

    Looking forward to comments of people who don’t agree.

  3. Part of the root cause is that leadership, management, and supervising (and Bossing) are not the same.

    Particularly in the U.S., we continue to have a lack of leadership, and good managers, which is not the same thing as supervising or bossing people. When people cite a lack of leadership and vision in their organization, it is real, and it isn’t under their control. After decades or leadership institutes and 1-day training for such things trumpeted everywhere, why have we not identified that good managers and leaders are rare, and it takes an aptitude for it as well as experience and training?
    Where I’ve had great management that actually led and communicated, great things happened. The rest of time, efforts flounder and people get frustrated and it leads to burnout.
    Blaming the workers like a previous comment did is a cop-out. Almost all of these surveys result in the same statement over and over: it isn’t too much work that burns us out, its lack of a plan, vision, teamwork, and no voice/buy-in. There are great management books, team building training, scientific studies, etc. to help with it. Yes, employees need to try and fix it if they can. But all it takes is one bad boss and weak management that refuses to fix that issue, and off the rails we go….
    One of my best managers from early in my career gave me great advice: if you job doesn’t change and challenge you differently, cause you grow, in 5 years, then you need to leave. Otherwise, you will become root-bound like a plant and die (get burned out). Everyone/everything needs to be replanted every 5 years or less. Experience tells me he’s right.

  4. Shannon

    Companies who haven’t modernized their management are going to keep having this problem.

    The best way to think about (creative tech types) employee motivation is, they chose their profession because they like it and are interested and excited to do the work. They come to the company engaged and motivated.

    Management can either support them or de-motivate them. The smarter the employee, the easier it is to do things that kill engagement.

  5. Work overload and burnout is a symptom of “poor leadership and unclear direction”. The two go together hand-in-hand. As do many of the other problems charted here.

    Too many Tech Execs and CEOs/CIOs making bad decisions. Poorly managed and unchecked growth and acquisition, all the while assuming any growth is good. You are asking for trouble when you model your business strategy after malignant tumor growth. This on top of the “I read an article, so now we’re adopting this practice” or “The big/successful guys are doing that, so we are too now” mentality that seems so common now among owners and execs. That’s one of the worst, most simple-minded, uninspired business tactics possible. You’re guaranteeing stagnation (at best) by aspiring to be a vision-less copycat.

    There’s also less and less worker appreciation, and outright worker hostility these days. Cutting benefits and offering little to no paid time off isn’t doing anyone any favors, and is guaranteeing some level of turn-around. Cutting necessary positions, and forcing other workers to “wear many hats” leads to trouble. If there’s no room for internal growth, then employees become demoralized, and the effect of “putting all your eggs in one basket” is very damaging when a key person decides to leave for greener pastures.

    I can understand there’s challenges to running a business, particularly a larger one, but companies honestly dont have the excuses of taxes, having to pay high wages, or the year 2008 anymore. Shortsightedness harms all of us in the end, and unless modern execs across the business spectrum come to realize that, then the problems outlined in this article will not only persist, but become worse over time (as they have in the past decade).