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Combatting Developer Burnout Over the Holidays and Beyond
By Bryan Becker, Product Manager at WhiteHat Security

As the holiday season is squarely upon us, it's more important now than maybe any other time of the year to bring attention to a problem that developers are struggling with everywhere: mental health and burnout in the workplace. As millions travel home to see their families over the holidays, many developers are left working long, hard hours and missing out on the much-needed downtime.

In corporate America, 66 percent of people believe that they aren't succeeding at having a proper work-life balance, and nearly 50 percent of people forfeit their vacation time yearly due to a fear of falling behind on their work - when they do take vacation time, 61 percent still work on their time off.

Developer burnout and job fatigue are both realities, and they are growing, troubling problems that our industry faces on a daily basis. When compounded with the current skills shortage and the constantly growing threat landscape, burnout is amplified.

Signs and Causes of Burnout

The most common cause of burnout for software developers is a prolonged state of intense stress, accompanied by a perceived feeling of lack of control. Burnout grows slowly and builds up a little at a time. I've seen it manifest when developers feel stuck working very hard and for long periods on projects that require large amounts of personal sacrifice, seem impossible to complete and offer no relief in sight.

Burnout generally comes about through long-term chronic stress, and it's important to learn to detect and regularly check for the signs:

  • Feeling constantly irritable or impatient with clients, teachers or co-workers
  • Difficulty with getting started on your work (or starting at all to begin with)
  • Achievements and making goals don't bring any satisfaction
  • Changing sleeping or eating habits
  • Escapist behaviour through drugs, food, alcohol or entertainment (TV, gaming, etc.)

As businesses scramble to avoid data breaches, the uncertainty is having a measurable effect on the mental health of the developers of the businesses responsible for preventing these issues. Developer burnout is very real, and it can have disastrous implications to businesses.

According to a recent survey, more than half (52 percent) of developers have experienced burnout as a result of the intense pressures to deliver the applications on time-and securely.

Burnout is a phenomenon today's professionals are becoming well-acquainted with, and even more so for those in the high-pressure industry of cybersecurity. Other warning signs of burnout include a gradual or sudden decline in performance, increased intensity during disagreements, more sick days, general exhaustion and reduced concentration during work.

How Burnout Could Lead to a Compromise

With the problematic shortage of workers in security, organizations are consistently operating understaffed, and team members do not have time to train for advanced skills like security analytics. This forces team members to pick up the slack, adding to job fatigue and stress.

In the cybersecurity industry, hyper-awareness, vigilance and attention to detail are all top of mind every minute of the day. On the job, these characteristics aid in overcoming cyberattacks and protecting businesses. However, when professionals are feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, organizations are at risk of attack.

Many organizations plan for the worst-case scenario, and the threat of an attack weighs heavily on teams. Team members therefore need to be alert and prepared for the worst-case scenario and work every day to avoid it, which is why burnout can have disastrous implications.

How to Overcome Burnout

Stressed-out workers need to be validated and understood. Teams need to discuss how they're feeling, develop strategies for worst-case scenarios and receive empathy from team members and organizational leaders.

In addition, professionals need time to unplug, and their teams should require a certain amount of time off each year to allow individuals to disconnect and unplug from the stress. The feeling of responsibility can weigh heavily on practitioners, so a requirement of unplugging should be implemented for teams.

With burnout on the rise, developers, teams and organizations must prioritize their mental health and take steps to ensure they are well-equipped to handle the daily risk of cyberattacks. Professionals must be alert and vigilant, so implementing helpful technologies and turning to education/certifications and self-care techniques can better enable the entire profession to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Burnout in our field will likely never completely go away, but it's currently causing our industry to lose out on too many hardworking professionals. Thankfully, by becoming more cognizant of the mental health struggles the industry faces, and with a little more attention to detail, we'll fight back against burnout. The safety of our digital lives are at stake, and we all need to do our part in raising awareness of these issues.

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Published Monday, December 23, 2019 7:02 AM by David Marshall
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