In a 2016 interview, for instance, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer hinted at the problem, mentioning she had to work as much as 130 hours a week when she was employed at Google.
“When reporters write about Google, they write about it as if [hard work] was inevitable. The actual experience was more like, ‘Could you work 130 hours in a week?’ The answer is ‘yes’ if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom,” she said.
This level of engagement represents a blatant abuse of passion and drive. If someone loves their job, they’ll obviously want to put in extra hours. But expecting that of workers is toxic. And if you’re among those who make such demands, then you are not a good leader. You are putting your bottom line above the health and well-being of your employees. Rather than acknowledging that your deadlines are unreasonable or your team isn’t large enough, you’re attempting to force your staff to do more with less. In short, you are exploiting your employees, and that needs to stop.
Otherwise, the entire tech industry is on a collision course with disaster. Hundred-plus hour workweeks are unsustainable. The human body simply wasn’t built to deal with that kind of stress.
Left unchecked, burnout can do more than make someone feel exhausted or drained. According to mental health website Very Well Mind, it can manifest as a range of health issues. These include, but are not limited to:
- Personal issues at home as a result of emotional distress
- Sleep problems (and all the associated health concerns)
What Can We Do About Burnout?
Unfortunately, tech industry burnout is a difficult and complex issue to address. It requires not just a complete cultural shift across many organizations, but for developers and other professionals to take a step back and re-examine their own perspectives. Because like it or not, even those of us who aren’t in leadership positions have done our part to perpetuate this unhealthy workhorse culture.
There are several things that need to be done for this to change:
Change the conversation around passion: Particularly in game development, there’s an incredibly toxic mindset around the idea of passion in the workplace. The idea is that if you aren’t willing to sacrifice your personal life and well-being for your company, you don’t care about your job. As an industry, we need to recognize that this entire perspective is bogus. And we need to all do our parts to make cultures that promote this kind of thought process unacceptable.
No more crunch: If any deadline requires every developer in the office to work hundred-hour-plus workweeks, that to me says that your project manager has not done their job. Deadlines need to be realistic and take into account the resources a business actually has available. And if there’s a particularly pressing deadline that needs to be met, businesses need to bring in outside talent to meet it rather than forcing crunch on their staff.
Better communication: Each employee should know exactly what their role is, why it’s important, and what responsibilities it involves. More importantly, managers and team leaders should actively communicate with and support their staff, listening to questions and concerns, and offering advice where relevant. Better project management and collaboration software is a good place to start, but I’d also advise training managers to better engage with staff.
Fair treatment: We’ve all experienced workplace favoritism before. It’s not a fun thing to deal with, and it makes everyone in the workplace less productive and more prone to burnout. Everyone needs to do their part to recognize whether or not they’re playing favorites, and to step away from that tendency.
Mindfulness and work-life balance: We all need to train ourselves to practice a better work-life balance. That means no more all-nighters, more exercise, more sleep, and healthier eating. It also means learning to recognize the signs that we’re overwhelmed, and knowing when to take a step back from our jobs.
Unreasonable demands. Long hours. High stress. These are all things that contribute to burnout… and they run rampant in the tech industry.
We should not have a higher rate of burnout than medical professionals. The fact that we do should be a huge red flag and an indicator that something needs to change. Our current course cannot be sustained long-term.
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton.