Even before 2020, burnout was an issue among tech workforces.
Data released in 2018 by Blind, an anonymous social app for tech employees, found that nearly 60% of users at influential tech companies reported suffering from job burnout. In 2019, burnout was officially characterized by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” A report from virtual coaching platform BetterUp cited three main symptoms: lack of motivation, lack pleasure in a job and lack of belief in one’s ability to complete tasks.
Then came a global pandemic, which forced a melding of work and home life that had families balancing jobs, school and household work all on the same internet connection. A Blind report released in October 2020 found that nearly 70% of workers reported feeling more burnt out than they did pre-pandemic.In 2021, there came further factors that could contribute to workplace stress, like COVID-19 variants, weighing hybrid vs. virtual schooling and whether a job will stay remote or go back to the office.
Yet it remains true that employers can influence events on their teams. As the Harvard Business Review noted in 2018, “burnout is about your workplace, not your people.”
So we asked three Baltimore organizational leaders what they’re doing to combat burnout, both for themselves and for their teams. Organizational leaders including Wayne Stewart, CEO of web design & development firm Stewart Design Agency, Samantha Musgrave, executive director of community internet provider Project Waves, and Emmanuel Iroanya, CEO of digital and management firm Theta, all offered insight on how employers can do more to help aid their employees in addressing burnout.
How employers can help
Stewart broke it down into a five part list of his best practices for preventing employee burnout:
- Understanding that your employees are real people not to be mistreated.
- Providing real resources for employees to do their jobs effectively, such as effective project management skills.
- Having flexible core work hours.
- Fully remote work options and the infrastructure to make those employees feel supported.
- Not allowing clients to abuse employees, even at the cost of losing that client.
For Iroanya, it meant being aware that work-life balance doesn’t necessarily require a rigid system of 40-hour workweek minimums.
“We are supposed to average 40 hours a week, not necessarily dedicate eight hours a day. Some days there aren’t eight hours to give in a day,” said Iroanya. “Real life still happens.”
It’s important to be compassionate, he said, and be mindful of the productivity that’s expected against what an employee has to sacrifice to get a company to its goals.
Musgrave called to the importance of desinging organizational systems and benefits around combatting burnout, like paid time off (PTO).
“I love the things that I read about the unlimited PTO model. People are just not stressed about being able to attend a doctor’s appointment or take their kid to soccer practice without having to tap into very limited time off resources,” said Musgrave. “When I think about burnout and how to prevent it, A. it’s really hard to do but B. it’s truly in alleviating some of the burden that your employees live with related to everyday life.”
Burnout prevention strategies
In order to cope with work stress, a big theme among the leaders was the importance of recognizing when you’re in trouble and taking that step back.
“For me, it’s checking myself and saying, I have to protect my brain. I have to protect my ability to show up wholly and fully,” said Musgrave. “A lot of it is reminding myself that the work is going to be there tomorrow, I need to take care of my needs and get the rest that I need.”
Iroanya followed a similar philosophy of letting go and not letting the work consume him.
“Whenever I feel burnt out on something, I immediately tap out,” said Iroanya. “And that’s something I’ve learned to make habitual even more since the start of the pandemic. I’m quick to just tap out for a second. Nothing good comes out of anyone when they are running on [empty]. But also, I’ve learned to take as many preventative measures as possible. I try to dial in to meetings from my phone more often so I can walk around, get different input and senses flowing to keep me going. I have been trying to block off days for everyone to just be no meeting days throughout the company and on the projects we support.”
On a personal note, remember that one of the best ways to prevent mental burnout can be to burn some physical calories.
“I keep myself from burning out by working out about three times a week, said Stewart. “I also take time to go trail bike riding on my favorite trails around the Baltimore DC area. Also playing with my kids outdoors has become a great stress reliever as well.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.