Productivity Tips to Avoid Burnout in App Development
IT jobs are booming at the moment. Career prospects for developers, quality assurance specialists and testers are at an all-time high and are set to continue to grow into 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many young people are flocking to IT in search of an interesting, exciting job. However, like any job you do day in and day out, monotony and frustration can set in. Motivation loss and burnout can also cripple a team — and cost you lower productivity and employee churn. Workplace stress and burnout cost the global economy more than $1 trillion in lost productivity per year. The U.S. accounts for nearly half of that figure.
Well-managed projects should inspire a team to do good work and gain experience that spills over into future projects. Poorly managed projects only reinforce burnout and result in lower quality code and toxic work culture.
Here are some tips that I implement in development teams at Applandeo that may help you keep employees interested and focused on what they’re doing and prevent them from burning out in a development project.
Set Ambitious and Interesting Projects
It’s no secret that people are generally more excited and happier when they do things they love. In a perfect world, all the projects we take on would be career-defining. However, we live in the real world. One crucial thing to keep developers, QA specialists, and testers motivated is to give them ambitious and interesting assignments. But what keeps IT professionals motivated? Well, some important factors are:
- Long and comprehensive projects (front-end and back-end)
- Projects that follow modern business trends
- Clear and documented scope
- Up-to-date technology
- Assignments that employ popular development tools
- Autonomy when it comes to expressing ideas and improvements
This is basically what developers dream about as they start a new project. However, few projects check off all these boxes. Obviously, some projects are less interesting than others. As a PM, there are a few strategies to keep developers from burning out.
One is to be clear with the team from the beginning that, yes, a project might get tedious. I often align with my team and remind them to do their best work because there will likely be more interesting work in the future. Work begets work and good references are a valuable currency in the IT sphere.
Another strategy — especially for projects that go on for more than six months is to switch out developers. This is really a last-ditch effort to prevent developer burnout, but it’s an effective way to put developers back on projects that keep them engaged. I go into more detail on that in the next section.
Interesting, challenging projects are of course great ways to keep developers from burning out. But a clear, bigger-picture mindset around less interesting work is vital in a team. Keeping priorities aligned and building in pressure valves is an effective way to prevent burnout and ultimately retain employees.
Allow Devs to Switch Projects (Occasionally)
As I mentioned in the last section, giving developers a way to switch a project they don’t find fulfilling is one tactic to keep motivation up. It often happens that a project that developers were initially excited about — something they’ve always wanted to do, even — still burns them out once the newness wears off.
That said, this should be used sparingly and only as a last resort. After all, done wrong, project switching can disrupt ongoing projects and could potentially leave skill gaps in teams. But to keep developers at the organization is better than having to hire new ones.
Before you switch out developers, see if there are smaller changes that you can make to the project. One recent example involved a single developer who was the only one working on a client project. He didn’t feel like the client was listening to his insight and had to wait too long for feedback.
I could tell he was starting to get discouraged, so I spoke to the client and suggested ways to improve communication with the developer. This immediately changed how the developer perceived the project and prevented a project switch and burnout.
Transparency is key here. Not only with developers but also with clients. Of course, any developer switching gets aligned and approved ultimately with clients. Developers do still have a commitment to finish what they start. But we’re not monsters.
In my regular talks with my team, I often see that someone is not enjoying the work. Rather than forcing that person to do it or else, I’ll move him or her to a different project. Project switching can help developers reset and restore a positive outlook on a new challenge.
Interacting with a new team also plays a crucial role here because it’s an additional source of motivation. Joining a new team can encourage a developer to add value to a new project. It can be a way to counteract burnout and add some fresh insight into a project.
Part of the project management challenge is to recognize the warning signs of burnout in team members and act accordingly. Otherwise, frustrated developers could start looking for a new job and leave the company without trying to fix the situation. It’s much less expensive to keep employees on than to recruit, so making an effort to retain employees is essential.
Create a Clear Career Path
Anytime boredom creeps into a developer’s mind, they need to know that there is something more they can achieve in their organization and that there are clear instructions on what to do to climb higher and higher to get promoted.
To enable that, you need to outline clear rules for different career paths developers may follow depending on their choice. It is very important to ensure different areas in which they can develop themselves to show there are many different possibilities of getting promoted and not only fixed one with no other alternative.
What’s also worth mentioning is the fact that employers, together with the HR department, should closely watch their employees’ personal development progress and help them direct their careers in the best possible direction. If you show you care about your employees’ development and provide them with different options, they can excel professionally, they won’t lose their motivation and involvement.
Fund Training Programs
Working with interesting and ambitious projects is one thing, but each good developer wants to upskill with the newest technologies and expand their programming skill. As an attractive employer, you need to have that in mind too and offer training programs or tech stack workshops where devs can increase their technical knowledge and keep up with modern technology trends.
Training budgets and allowances encourage employees to improve constantly. These sessions can also give developers new insight or a fresh perspective on aspects of their jobs they may find tedious. Training programs increase overall satisfaction and are win-win situations for both employer and employee.
Also, in-house knowledge share meetings or short sessions are very much appreciated because during such meetings developers can share with other employees or team members the interesting cases from the projects and give an example to the others on how some issues can be solved or done. This, in turn, gives the feeling of being needed in the team and boosts team integration.
Talk to Your Team Regularly
Day-to-day work, even on very interesting projects that go really well, can also very often become a routine which sometimes may cause employees to start feeling anonymous and forgotten. So to know what are the overall impressions of the projects and how the developers feel about them, hold regular pulse checks with employees.
During these talks, don’t talk about the technical stuff in detail but concentrate on the teammate and how he or she feels about the project and what are her or his high-level impressions and feelings. We should talk freely and keep the discussion straightforward.
Each seemingly minor remark from developers can make a huge difference to their routines and can make their days more enjoyable and efficient.
Also, let your more ambitious developers be heard on a wider organization forum when they want to introduce some ideas that can improve work in the whole organization because it shows them that the talks are not only empty talks, but what was discussed can be put into life which gives them the feeling of importance to the organization.
Hold Cultural Events
Too much focus only on the work for too long and pressure connected to deadlines and clients’ expectations may easily contribute to frustration and motivation loss.
Everyday work is something we are all used to, but man does not live by the work alone.
We all like to meet up with friends and socialize, and therefore it is so important to make sure Your organization also cares about the integration of its employees. Holding cultural events and other occasions to hang out together after work with your teammates is an excellent opportunity to integrate, socialize and meet in a less formal way.
Cultural events give your employees not only the occasion to spend the time just having fun and not thinking about work but also build stronger bonds between employees and give the feeling of belonging.
In a normal year, this meant a lot of organized outings such as summer retreats and Christmas parties, as well as spontaneous gatherings at a pub. However, since the pandemic, these cultural events have gotten more challenging to organize.
Early on, we set up virtual events and channels to try to recreate some social events. Of course, it’s not the same. But it can still create a sense of camaraderie with a team. This year, though, we’re definitely organizing in-person events to bring people back together and share ideas and motivation.
Burnout is a difficult thing to pinpoint, and it can sneak up on an organization without warning. Left for too long, it can cripple productivity and can lead to a revolving door of employees. With some key strategies, though, you can try to prevent developers from getting too burnt out before they start updating their CVs.
Running a transparent, skills-focused organization can keep employees happy, productive, and loyal. So in your next app development project, you can be sure the developers on the team are engaged and doing their best work. But if you’re struggling with burnout yourself, check our article on this matter to know how to fight it.