A career in tech is a dream for many. Cool office spaces, smart-as-heck coworkers, catered lunches, seeming nonexistent office dress codes—the industry’s packed with amazing jobs and great perks. Of all benefits, the pay is up there with some of its most attractive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $86,320 in 2018, which far exceeded the median yearly wage of $38,640 for all U.S. occupations. According to PayScale data, wages across the tech sector have grown by 17.6 percent since 2006.
However, many occupations in the industry may come with a considerable downside. Enter burnout, a term coined in 1974 by Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results." More simply put, you can characterize burnout mainly by symptoms like exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability.
So, what causes burnout? What are the consequences? And why is burnout so widespread among tech workers? We’ll get to those questions—and others—so you can avoid any of the severe repercussions that burnout can have on your health and career.
Everyone has days in which they face the stress a tight deadline or big project, or feel pressured to out-perform or outdo themselves. But when the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by and at work persists, it can spiral into burnout.
Burnout is most likely to occur for those who experience long-term stress in their jobs or those who have worked in physically or emotionally draining roles for extensive periods. Professionals also experience burnout when their efforts at work fail to produce the results they expected or hoped for, which can result in deep feelings of disillusionment.
Burnout is so consequential that in 2018, the World Health Organization officially recognized it as a medical condition through its 11th edition of the “International Classification of Diseases," a handbook for healthcare providers and healthcare insurers. The condition falls under the "problems associated with employment or unemployment" category.
That’s the question that the workplace app Blind set out to answer through a May 2018 user survey of over 11,000 anonymous industry professionals. Of those who responded, 57.16 percent reported that they currently suffer from workplace burnout. The remaining 42.84 percent said that they did not.
Having discovered that burnout is a significant problem among tech workers, the company sent out an August 2018 follow-up survey to find out its cause. Somewhat surprisingly, the responses from over 9,000 anonymous tech workers indicated that while work overload does play a significant role in burnout, it’s not the number one factor leading to the condition.
Instead, poor leadership and unclear direction was the top reason for burnout, with 22.9 percent of workers reporting it as a significant issue. Work overload came in second with 19.4 percent, followed by toxic culture, an issue reported by 17.4 percent of tech workers.
While data from Blind’s prior survey may suggest that slightly less than half of tech workers deal with burnout in an immediate or individual sense, their follow up research reports that only 9.7 participants answered that burnout is not a problem at their company. Meaning, 91.3 percent indicated that in their workplace, burnout is a problem in general.
Those who sign up for the Blind app much to provide and verify their information using a work email, which allowed Blind to compile a list of tech companies in which employees are most likely to experience burnout.
Twenty-five out of the 30 companies report an employee burnout rate of 50 percent or higher. Sixteen out of those 30 have an employee burnout rate that is higher than the survey average of 57.16 percent. Only five companies have an employee burnout rate below 50 percent.
Credit Karma has the highest percentage of burnt-out tech workers with 70.73 percent—and overall polarized reviews. Some employees reported that the company is one of the best they’ve worked for, with tight-knit teams and a higher-than-average percentage of women in leadership roles. Others linked company culture to one where discrimination, harassment, and unhealthy workplace politics create a toxic work environment, which can increase the risk of experiencing dissatisfaction and burnout.
Respondents also called out individual companies for poor leadership and unclear direction, the leading cause of burnout overall. Among the companies that ranked highest for this trait, eBay came in first with 35.04 percent of responders, followed by 26.15 percent of workers at Salesforce and 26.02 percent at Intel.
Of the top thirty companies associated with the condition, Netflix has the lowest percentage of burnt-out tech workers__, with 38.89 percent. Tech workers generally described the company as a desirable place to work with high compensation rates, balanced hours, and supportive coworkers known as factors that reduce the risk of burnout. Keep in mind, however, that these findings still give the idea that one-third of people holding down tech jobs at Netflix has hit the end of their line.
The number of burnt-out workers is alarmingly high but not unexpected, especially when looking at other studies that have focused on workplace stress. A 2017 study in the Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that 95 percent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. Of 614 leaders polled from organizations with 100 to 2,500+ employees, 46 percent said that employee burnout is responsible for between 20 to 50 percent of their annual workforce turnover.
Which makes sense, right? After all, you can’t exactly leave burnout at the office when heading home for the day. Modern technology, for one, creates a culture in which we can be online and 24/7. It’s a growing that fosters the mindset that because we can work anytime, we should.
Burnout affects more than work too. In terms of well-being and quality of life, it manifests in different ways—whether physical or mental exhaustion, hopelessness, mood swings, anxiety, or depression. Unfortunately, the industry’s high wages make attempting self-medication attainable, which can lead to sporadic substance abuse or even full-blown substance use disorder.
Sometimes, burnout even drives people to leave tech altogether. One recent study asked over 1,000 employees and 291 employers to predict changes within their industries. After the hotel, food services, and hospitality and wholesale and retail, tech came in third among the top industries in which people plan on changing careers in the next ten years. Of all responses gathered, 47 percent of tech workers expressed a desire to leave the field, reflecting the prevalence of burnout across the fast-paced, deadline-driven—and in some cases, toxic—sector.
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