Web development is one of the most employable careers today.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts job growth rates around 27% in the next decade, which is much higher than average.
The good news is that whether you’re freelancing or working for an agency, you stand a good chance of being employed in a fast-paced and growing field for a long time.
The bad news is that because of its popularity and necessity, web development is an extremely high-demand field. Late hours, overtime, and project extensions are the norm.
What this means is that if you’re not taking the time to take care of yourself, it’s very, very easy to burn out, lose passion, and quit all together.
Why Burnout Happens to Developers
Burnout is one of the most common mental health conditions that can lead to impaired work efficiency, and younger workers with fewer experiences are noted to be at higher risk for burnout.
Unfortunately, web developers tend to fall to the bottom of the workflow barrel – you’re the last people to get information for a project after it’s gone through numerous cycle of approval from management, copy editors, and a PR team.
You’re also the last stop in the process before it’s time to launch, which means you have the most work to do in the shortest amount of time.
To add insult to injury, since no one else knows how to make updates and changes to the website, tedious maintenance tasks fall to you, too.
But those aren’t the only reasons burnout happens.
First, there are the physical demands. You may not think that sitting at your computer all day counts as a high-stress job, but it does.
Developers and programmers tend to stay glued to their screens for longer periods of time, often slouching to compensate for the height difference between your natural eye line and the monitor. This poor posture can lead to joint pain as well as back and neck injuries.
Sitting for prolonged periods can also increase blood pressure and lead to various heart conditions. Basically, it’s not just the tasks you do that can stress you out, it’s the way you do them that can amplify the problem.
Second, development is one of those career fields that require an abnormal amount of cognitive and intensive thinking. You’re constantly doing deductions and calculations in your head that can quickly tire you out.
The signs of mental burnout can include things like:
- Chronic fatigue
- Impaired concentration
- Problems paying attention
- Increased illness
- Loss of appetite
Given enough time, those symptoms can wreak havoc on your work life. In a Hacker News article’s comments section, one developer described it like this:
“Burnout is caused when you repeatedly make large amounts of sacrifice and or effort into high-risk problems that fail. It’s the result of a negative prediction error in the nucleus accumbens. You effectively condition your brain to associate work with failure.”
Finally, burnout can happen because your company doesn’t support your career goals. Or maybe you’re freelancing and your personality just isn’t designed to handle the stress of it.
In an agency or corporate setting, burnout can happen because the workflow itself is dysfunctional or the company is underemployed, leaving you with a heavier workload than you can handle.
You may also feel exploited or that you’re not being properly rewarded for your efforts, or that you have little control in the day-to-day duties and operations of the company. Or perhaps the company’s values aren’t in line with your own personal values.
In a freelance setting, you may find the lack of community frustrating, having no one to turn too when you’re overloaded. You may also struggle with managing your own deadlines in addition to other necessary tasks like marketing.
All of these frustrations, if not properly managed, can lead to burnout.
How to Avoid Burnout
Too much stress can often result in the loss of employment, either due to chronic illness, or simply being unable to perform the required task in a timely manner. That’s why it’s essential to create a healthy work-life balance.
Take Time to Assess Your Needs
It’s important to pinpoint the source of your burnout as early as possible and to make adjustments as needed.
Do you need a better workstation to accommodate for sitting all day? Best practices for self care if you’re stuck at a desk include setting your monitor at eye level (even if you’re using a laptop) while your keyboard (remote keyboard for laptops) remains at arms level.
Does overthinking tire you out? Take some time to get up and walk around, watch a funny YouTube video, or find a quick distraction during work hours to help you relax.
You may even need to reassess your diet and sleep needs while you’re not at work. Late nights up watching TV or finishing other projects can make your regular 9-to-5 all the more exhausting.
Take Time to Assess Your Career Goals
It may be that you are burned out because the work you are doing is soul-sucking (and that’s okay). Maybe you’re working in a company that doesn’t value personal space, or they have a dysfunctional workflow, or they don’t give you enough respect.
It’s okay to look for employment elsewhere.
Maybe you like your company but you’ve accidentally bit off more than you can chew. It’s more than okay to admit this. Talk to your boss or co-workers about lightening the load in some way. Chances are if you’re burned out, someone else is too. Don’t be afraid to find support in others.
Or if you simply aren’t sure you’re cut out for development, take time to do some soul-searching and decide what you really value and whether or not your current job is moving you toward your ultimate dream career.
Take a Vacation
Finally, take a vacation. Or two.
U.S. workers in particular are overworked and under-vacationing in record numbers. 42% of workers take no vacation time away from their jobs, and a staggering 61% of those who do vacation still work during their time off.
But genuine, uninterrupted time off can actually reverse the symptoms of burnout, relieve stress and fatigue, and improve cognitive functions.
It’s not that vacations are just a nice bonus, they’re a necessity to your survival as a web developer.
Burnout happens more often than you think, and if you’re someone who recognizes some of the symptoms in your own life, chances are you’re already on the path.
The good news is that you can fight burnout by being vigilant about your needs. Take time to assess what you can and can’t handle, and take note of your work environment – the people, the workload, the morale – to see if there are adjustments you can make.
Be sure to take time off when you can get it (or make time for it) and don’t be afraid to adjust your home life to help improve your ability to handle stress when you’re slogging through the busy season.