Technology workers, because of the long hours, the relentless push of new technologies, the constant pressure to hit milestones, and the chaotic nature of the technology labor market are highly susceptible to burnout. I have argued throughout this text that software development is a creative process, similar to making movies and other art forms. Do the best actors and directors make movie after movie without taking time off in between to recharge their creative batteries? Usually not without paying a significant price. Creativity is a high-energy work. It is next to impossible to create when you are too tired to see straight.
Burnout is reaching epidemic proportions among North American workers today. It’s not so much that something has gone wrong with us but rather that there have been fundamental changes in the workplace and the nature of our jobs. The workplace today is a cold, hostile, demanding environment, both economically and psychologically. People are emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. The daily demands of the job, the family, and everything in between erode their energy and enthusiasm. The joy of success and the thrill of achievement are more and more difficult to attain.
Making developers work on one mission critical project after another, without the distraction of other productive, but less demanding activities in between, is almost guaranteed to produce burnout in a dangerously high number of individuals. I have known developers that leave companies; even ones that they like for the most part, just to break the monotony of endless creativity on demand cycles.
Breaking this cycle does not always mean time off from work. There are numerous extremely productive economic activities that will achieve this end, including: researching emerging technologies, attending conferences to learn more about the industry and key competitors, writing the article for Wired Magazine that they have been telling you about, and getting the training they have been neglecting, etc.
If you want to build and sustain high performance teams then be attuned to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well being of every team member, not the least of which is you. Many people in our industry experience severe cases of burnout from time to time but are reluctant to discuss it. Even with the widespread acceptance of anti-depressant medications, openly discussing burnout is still viewed by many as an admission of weakness.
One way to remedy this situation is for the elders of the industry to begin openly sharing their personal experiences. Let us be clear on one point, for all the perceived glamour of software careers, they can be, and almost always are, brutally demanding. Organizations that learn to manage these issues in sincere and creative ways are likely to have employees that are their greatest asset, and are treated as such.