Is COVID-19 Spiking Burnout Rates Among Technologists?

Back in March, while the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing technologists to figure out an ideal remote-work setup, managers everywhere worried that the rapidly blurring lines between work and home life would burn out their teams. In addition, many technologists had to scramble to prepare their companies for a radically changed world—cybersecurity experts faced a sudden tide of COVID-themed attacks, for instance, while sysadmins had to deal with employees working from their personal laptops (often with poor internet connectivity).  

It was a situation primed for widespread burnout, and managers were right to worry. According to Dice’s ongoing Sentiment Survey, a fairly significant percentage of technologists have felt that their workload increased as a result of the pandemic—around 12 percent said it had doubled. Moreover, the numbers of those reporting an expanded workload hasn’t declined significantly over the past quarter: If a technologist began the COVID-19 lockdown working significant overtime, chances are good that they’re continuing to do so right now. 

There are other signs that technologists are really pushing themselves. New data from Blind, which anonymously surveys tech-industry employees, shows that 36 percent of technologists feel obligated to reply to work emails, no matter what the time of day. Another 25 percent make a point of contacting their boss often, or staying on their laptop, so they appear to be working hard as much as possible. 

That’s translating into some crispy brains. Right now, 73 percent of technologists told Blind that they’re feeling burned out, up from 61 percent in February, before the pandemic began to impact a majority of U.S. workers. Even more worrisome, some 20.5 percent told Blind that they had an unmanageable workload, and 19 percent feared for their job security. 

“The burnout conversation has never been linear; the health implications include anxiety, insomnia, depression, substance abuse, and coronary heart disease,” Blind wrote in a note accompanying the data. “Mental health is becoming a more significant national concern as more Americans are forced to remain isolated away from loved ones and support systems.”

Blind’s note goes on to pose some hard questions: “What can c-level leaders do to address a personal issue systematically, in a time where they cannot even have in-person interaction with them? What do leaders who are considering taking their companies remote permanently need to know?”

For technologists and managers alike, some simple steps may begin to limit the potential for burnout. It begins with the establishment of boundaries and a set schedule, which only works if everyone’s onboard. Having definitive “stop” and “start” times allows people to switch away from work mode; nothing will fry a technologist faster than an unending stream of emails, messages, and even phone calls at all hours.

Broader strategic planning is also an overlooked aspect of work-life balance. During the early stages of the pandemic, when people weren’t quite sure what was happening from week to week, it was impossible for many managers to plan with any certainty. Now that things have settled into more of a rhythm, companies can plan their next quarter or two a little better; as a result, managers and executives can clearly define goals for teams, which can help technologists better plan their workflows (and hopefully avoid any unexpected spikes in workloads).

Burnout is very real. But even in extraordinary times, technologists and managers can (and should) take steps to mitigate it as much as possible.