First, a new remote senior leader took over. He doesn't visit the team or understand them well. He puts pressure on the managers to deliver projects that make his bosses happy by looking sexy, even if they cause more operational issues for the customers. Operational issues = oncall hell, so more devs burn out and quit.
The experiment is going great.
Phase two began recently. Of the three remaining managers, one quit and one was fired for not brown nosing to the remote senior leader enough. (Push back on bullshit projects? That can't be allowed). The single remaining manager is the ultimate brown noser who happily causes his devs on call hell in order to make senior leadership happy.
The devs are all looking elsewhere for work. The general mood is in a freefall. People are taking long vacations away in cities that also have lots of tech jobs.
It's all a fantastic experiment in how to implode a software organization. I really hope to meet the control group some day- they won't believe how lucky they are.
In the case of crashing a program, maybe it's because of a misused raw pointer or a type error in an untyped language. As soon as you frame it that way, you immediately see possible paths forward to improve the situation.
In the case of burnout at companies, I've found it has more to do with the mindset of the top leaders (who other managers down the chain tend to emulate). The mindset is that the company is "a machine", which makes the rest of us "cogs" (or pick your favorite machine part).
The leaders may be perfectly nice and considerate people in general (or not), but regardless, the company-as-machine mindset leads them to set aside their humanity in the interests of the company. All of sudden everyone on the team needs to be replaceable, have predictably high output, etc. Those might be fine concerns for a business, but they end up blinding managers to the flesh and blood human beings in front of them and they start to see employees as the means to the greater business ends of output, productivity, growth, etc.
I believe this is an issue of human development that affects most companies eventually. Only companies with really developed leaders who, when faced with serious pressure, are able to see people as the unique and complex beings that they are and not make people feel like they somehow don't matter at a fundamental level.
FWIW, I largely agree about the "cogs" idea. One particularly frustrating thing is seeing repeated failures and management fails to consult with workers about how it happened. Seeing the repeated problems the workers volunteer their insights to management about the underlying problems and possible solutions. But that info is either discarded (after "careful consideration") or warped to fit an existing but incorrect management narrative. The very idea that people doing the work could contribute anything meaningful beyond estimates doesn't seem to be palatable.
See my comment below for actual mental models you can use to prevent burnout in your organisation.
I personally find JD-R more useful, because it prescribes a model of 'jobs demands outstripping job resources', which then implies that you as manager can seek ways to increase job resources to help your employees cope. This at least suggests a direction for trial and error.
Adopting the attitude of 'all people are unique and complex beings that matter' may be nice, but it doesn't prescribe action. Therefore, it isn't as useful as 'think of burnout as JD-R or COR and perform experiments according to those models, pausing each quarter to see if burnout-related turnover has decreased'.
But leaders are practically impossible to reliably hire at rates the business owner can realistically afford, and if the whole zeitgeist of business starts paying more for effective leadership, then that just makes the problem a hundred times worse.
Leadership isn't teachable, but management is. Learning management will teach you the rudimentary skills of coordinating people to accomplish a goal, but it won't by itself make you a leader.
Firms can hire more managers, that solves the problem, I call a team with more than one competent manager, 'well-managed'. But good managers, like good leaders, wind up getting overworked across projects and so they just miss things. A leader doesn't miss anything, they're laser focused on the overall business goals of the project.
Few orgs want to teach it because it costs money and the ROI is poor if the subject jumps ship. The military doesn't have this problem to the same degree for obvious reasons, but for companies that require common skill sets, it's a tough decision.
When human beings are in a difficult situation they all too often try to comfort themselves by seeking praise/affirmation, stability/safety, connection/relationship, etc. And in those moments we see everyone around us as a means to the end of getting one of those things that we feel is missing for us. Our ego _is_ our personality. We’re fused with it and most of the time aren’t even aware that we have these impulses.
Great leaders are the ones who develop an awareness of their inner world and are able to set it aside when they need to act.
Can you teach this? Sort of. There are people who do. You can call what people like me do as a kind of teaching. But it requires someone more than just instruction and practice. The person doing the “learning” has to be willing to let go of parts of themselves that had been with them for most of their life.
I’ve found mere desire to be a better leader is not enough. People’s psychology is riddled with land mines and powerful defense that won’t let them abandon a deeply held belief just because someone taught them that it was somehow counterproductive.
The people that make the leap are usually feeling “stuck” or having some kind of recurring breakdown that they just can’t bear anymore and don’t know what else to do.
Which would be great and all, but there's less money in those sorts of things so the market can't support as many of them.
The drudgery of the work not meeting your expectations ( cool hacker vs office code monkey ), the open-ended nature of the work ( you will be doing this for the next few decades ), the awareness of time ( or how much of it you are wasting away at work ) and the pittance you get relative to what the company gets.
Goodness. I can't believe it's already labor day weekend. Where does the time go.
When I'm happy: We solicit projects from stakeholders on other teams without development resources. They negotiate among each other to decide task prioritization (our manager facilitates). We'll consult on the scope of requests. Usually stakeholders overestimate the work involved and we can make them happy right from the start by promising delivery in a fraction of the time they expected (while still leaving plenty of time for the inevitable unexpected.
Projects are usually things that have been a pain for a long time, so people are happy when they're fixed but they're not usually urgent. Is it mundane? Sure, usually. Although we do have the latitude to spice things up if we can fit something cool in within the allotted time.
When I'm unhappy: Executives have knee-jerked into another hairbrained scheme that they'll drop in six months (if we're lucky, without another round of layoffs). Nevertheless, it's all hands on deck so we're yanked off everything else to support the "new vision".
I do also think sometimes about the value of programmers vs. what they're paid, but I also know that if I think I can do better I'm always free to try. I personally prefer the security of a steady job and freedom from business operation headaches. Maybe one day that'll change, but we'll see.
How useful is a survey like this? The survey does not define burnout to employees, leaving them to guess at the definition. Can employees reliably self-diagnose burnout and differentiate it from similar conditions - i.e. actual depression? Can they also reliably indicate the cause for the burnout, especially if the symptoms can overlap with the cause? Let's say you have burnout because of work overload, but you normally don't mind doing tons of work, just hate your boss. When the feelings of exhaustion/anger come up, will you point them at the work load or at your boss?
Perhaps you could relabel it as a survey on workplace discontent, but even then, I don't think it's really well made. The problem with statistical data like this is that we can see the primary source and temper our enthusiasm for the accuracy of the survey, down the broken telephone line, it will be taken as gospel(see the wage gap/sexual harassment statistics as examples).
> The survey does not define burnout to employees, leaving them to guess at the definition.
Think about how a more rigorous alternative might work.
1. We come up with some more precise definition of "burnout." Perhaps we define it as "an average of X 'frustration' events in the workplace over Y days, combined with a steadily declining sense of 'enthusiasm'"
2. OK, great, but now we need precise definitions of 'frustration' and 'enthusiasm.' Is 'frustration' the momentary frustration we feel when the compiler complains about something? Is it a barely-restrained feeling of wanting to smash one's keyboard over somebody's face? For how many seconds should that feeling be experienced to qualify? Likewise with 'enthusiasm.' Same problem we had in step 1.
3. Alternatively, we could monitor people's cortisol levels, blood pressure levels, and have them spend their workdays in an fMRI machine or something. Although even that would have limitations; that seems more likely to measure acute symptoms than something chronic like "burnout."
> Can employees reliably self-diagnose burnout and differentiate it from similar conditions - i.e. actual depression?
As you say, surely x% of respondents will confuse depression with burnout.
However, the value of x% will surely be nearly the same at all companies.
No car company would allow a CEO who doesn’t understand how cars work, let alone one who has no respect for those who design cars.
But most tech companies are lead by tech illiterate MBA types who disdain engineers, and so engineers are managed by people who don’t understand engineering.
I’ll give you a particular example but this is not the exception, this was the norm in %85 of the dozen tech companies I’ve worked at:
At Amazon my boss was a guy trained to be a prison guard, who was selling pot on campus on the side, who got his job managing engineers because of a political connection. He had difficulty operating Microsoft Office. He was borderline computer illiterate.
After a re-organization my bosses’ boss was replaced with a woman whose previous career was literally managing state DMV offices. Hey it’s management, right?
Notably both of these people resented the fact that we were getting paid close to as much as they were (yet they with no skills, not even good management skills were still getting paid more!)
At that point between me and Bezos there were no engineers in management and nobody who respected engineering (and that included Bezos, this was early enough I worked a lot of tickets with Bezos involved, saw him literally stop us from fixing a problem in October only to go ballistic the day before thanksgiving when the problem surfaced again.)
Meanwhile Amazon has this propaganda campaign about how they “raise the bar” in hiring- and it’s true I’ve seen brilliant engineers not hired because of the objections of the “bar raiser”— only that person was the woman whose qualifications was a history keeping he nose clean working for the state!
When Bezos went ballistic the day before Thanksgiving, did you still fix the bug in time? If not, did it really negatively affect the bottom line? Did whatever you instead had to work on in October help the bottom line more than the Thanksgiving bug?
This is the kind of line of thinking often pursued by poor managers.
"Could you, the devs, have fixed this bug under severe time pressure just before a critical sales period instead of when you first identified it?" -> if yes, no problem. Spiritus sancti, management is absolved of their sins.
I call it incompetence because prioritizing a new feature over a bug fix is almost always wrong. And Bezos surrounds himself with yes men so if he under estimated the bugs impact because a yesman was saving face that’s still on Bezos.
Amazon is way over valued relative to its actual business... that shows that effective PR is good for the stock price (and amazon as a company is pretty much a pathological liar when it comes to PR. Like claiming AWS was what Amazon.com ran in at launch.)
No, waiting two months and working in less critical stuff was not the right choice on Bezos fault.
Bezos is a bozo.
Which makes me think that their competition must really suck... or like the fact they were able to use political pull to to tie Apples hands on ebooks it may all be government powered rent seeking.
I wonder how much of a deal they are getting from USPS and how much government IT has been outsourced to AWS.
But ask anyone- Amazon is well known to be incompetently managed.
But see, here in lies the problem. Its his own fault for stopping his engineers from working on the issue ahead of time. He had no reason to yell at anyone and it makes him look totally unprofessional. That is not someone I would want to work for, and I would never treat my employees that way.
For me personally, there was never another reason to leave a company. I never experienced a toxic environment or had colleagues i couldn't stand. It was always the leadership
Moving due to B is only needed in small companies, large ones generally have room for people to grow.
> Moving due to B is only needed in small companies, large ones generally have room for people to grow.
I have personally found, as have, I'm sure, many other people with an affinity for startups, that large companies can be quite limiting to growth, especially for certain careers/specialties.
I've found that while smaller startups are great if you want to learn to do 'everything', larger companies tend to be better if you want to focus on growing within one specific niche.
Startups, VC-funded in particular, tend to have the characteristic of very rapid growth, which can provide even specific/niche opportunities otherwise unavailable (on anywhere near the same time scale) at a large company.
Meanwhile, the competition is not stupid and is not crazy and is not waiting for us to get our act together. Suddenly we have a year to do the thing that the worker-bee level Cassandras were saying was the right thing to do in the first place. Maybe 14 months to bring up hardware, port or write three major hunks of software, get third parties ramped up on development, write tools and do the million things you need to do to ship. Oh, and the team writing the OS we're mandated to use has been ordered not to talk to us and has gone dark, removing our access to their releases and documentation.
So there's a meeting of all the software folks, and management tells us "Okay guys, the next year is going to be hell. You'll be allowed to take vacation, probably, we'll tell you when." I'd seen this coming and was sitting in the back of the room with an offer letter in my pocket, trying not to be angry because a bunch of people I like working with a lot are getting shafted. I should be elated at the offer (which is quite good), but instead I just feel sad.
Six months later one of my friends working on the project sends me a picture of his front lawn. He has been unable to find the time or energy to mow it and it is 18 inches high. Eventually they ship (late, of course), to lackluster reviews. My friend has since moved on; most of the people I know there have. They don't like talking about that year-long deathmarch, followed by a year of patching the living crap out of things in the field and struggling for market share. Meanwhile, the competition's product does very, very well.
Last I checked, the latest crop of execs there were gunning for the same crazy. Maybe technology has moved on sufficiently and the specific crazy is possible now, but I have numbers indicating things are pretty much the same. I don't know which side to cheer for. Where do they get these lunatics?
As an engineer that has started businesses this is BS.
It’s really easy to learn business skills, sales and marketing are not difficult, finance is laughably easy.
But so long as the companies are being formed to sell equity to VCs you will see them led by frat boys who the VC frat boys recognize... and they will abuse engineers.
My solution- stop working for anyone who isn’t technically competent or at least recognizes engineering needs enough to get out of the way and support being efficient.
However, I do think there's some validity to the complaint, hidden in nuance, and dismissing it outright with even the implication that everyone has equal(ish) value, serves to foster hidden resentment.
The allegation seems to be that any accomplished programmer could become accomplished in sales, merely with effort, because the skill/difficulty required by the latter is much less than the former, while the reverse isn't true.
Even if that allegation holds, a question that remains generally undiscussed is, would that programmer-turned-salesperson still be a competent programmer at the end of such a process? Perhaps more importantly, would such a person be a more valuable as salesperson than as a programmer? The question of if such a salesperson is more valuable than a salesperson-from-the-getgo seems to be implicitly answered "yes" in these discussions, but that kind of diversity of experience bringing additional value tends to be uncontroversial.
Years at big companies taught me contempt for marketing and sales. But there's nothing like finding good marketing and good sales when you're six months to financial destruction . . .
I don’t mean to say there was no value to his skills— but I am saying that it was not hard for me to understand enough about sales to hire a good sales person.
They would of course be a better sales person than me.
The problem is people think your CEO should be a sales person and that’s s mistake.
Sales is a process that’s easy to replicate.
Creating a novel software application isn’t.
Ate hnicwl CEO can hire a great chief sales guy. A non-technical CEO can’t hire a CTO and often ends up undermining the product.
I would have no problem being hands off with the sales department.
I have yet to meet a Non technical CEO who doesn’t think he knows how to design products.
But it turns out there are good ideas we can try that may be found in the academic literature.
Context: I was writing up my process for preventing burnout recently (https://commoncog.com/blog/nuanced-take-on-preventing-burnou...), and I took some time to look into the academic literature for burnout, to see if it highlighted anything I'd missed.
I'll give a quick summary:
1. The standard test for burnout today is something called the Maslach Burnout Inventory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslach_Burnout_Inventory, and it measures burnout along three metrics: exhaustion, inefficacy, and cynicism.
a) Exhaustion: described as wearing out, loss of energy, depletion, debilitation, and fatigue.
b) Inefficacy: described as reduced productivity or capability.
c) Cynicism: negative or inappropriate attitudes towards clients, irritability, loss of idealism, and withdrawal.
2. The MBI is a descriptive model, which helps you identify burnout, but we need a developmental model as well (e.g. what are the various stages of burnout?). The early models of burnout described the pathway as three stages: 1. job stressors (an imbalance between work demands and individual resources), then 2. individual strain (an emotional response of exhaustion and anxiety), and then 3). defensive coping (changes in attitudes and behavior, such as greater cynicism).
Or, to put this simply: first your job demands too much of you, then you feel anxious and emotionally exhausted, then you cope by becoming cynical about work, and then you quit.
3. Maslach found that development of cynicism is the biggest predictor of burnout-related turnover. If you're cynical about your job, you're pretty likely to think about quitting or to actually quit soon. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19426369)
4. If you look at the literature today, however, you'll find that most burnout research has converged on two development models: the Job Demands‐Resources (JD‐R) model (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_demands-resources_model) and the Conservation of Resources (COR) model (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_resources_theo...). I'll leave you to read the respective Wikipedia articles, but the takeaway from both of them is that burnout results from when the resources provided by the job are outstripped by the demands of the job.
As a CEO or manager, your best bet to reducing burnout is to increase the list of job resources described in JD-R, that is:
> physical, psychological, social, or organisational aspects of the job that are either or: functional in achieving work goals; reduce job demands and the associated physiological and psychological cost; stimulate personal growth, learning, and development. Examples are, career opportunities, supervisor coaching, role-clarity, and autonomy.
As an employee, your best bet to reducing burnout is to increase personal resources (which are different from job-provided resources in the JD-R model). But the problem here is that the research doesn't yet know if there are effective techniques in increasing personal resources. Why? Well ...
5. There are only two decades or so worth of research into burnout, and the research was primarily centered around the care-giving professions. Consequently, early models of burnout were thought to stem from social exhaustion (e.g. nurses and doctors dealing with death, or grief); in a 2016 retrospective review article (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911781/), Maslach herself write that this is an active field of research, and they don't yet know if you can train someone to be more resistant to burnout.
There are some interesting research directions, though. I found this paragraph in an undergrad paper from Australia (where apparently half of the nurses there leave the profession prematurely, mostly due to burnout):
> Rather, failure to recover consistently from such work stresses (in non-work time) is a crucial determinant of chronic (maladaptive) fatigue and burnout evolution (Winwood et al. 2007). When such recovery is effected consistently, physiological toughness (Dienstbier 1989,1991) and enhanced stress resistance is developed, with improved performance at work, better sleep and reduced maladaptive health outcomes (Dienstbier 1991).While some individuals may achieve this spontaneously, far more may beneﬁt from speciﬁc training to do so effectively and consistently.
The Winwood paper may be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17693784 but it's unclear if they've found a set of techniques that work for most people in most professions. I'm still reading up.
PS: I have a technique that I use myself, but it's unclear that it would work for everyone. I wrote it up here: https://commoncog.com/blog/nuanced-take-on-preventing-burnou.... It's certainly protected me from burnout in startupland over the years. But, as I've mentioned, I'm interested in the research because the goal there is to find a set of general techniques that would work for most people. My technique has a sample size of one.
I guess this is the crux really. Is burnout merely an arbitrary expression of exhaustion and overwork, which carries thoughts and resentments that may seem 'real' but are really just manifestations of stress? Or are the resentments in any way real? If they're real, I personally feel they need to be tackled in a way beyond mere coping.
With no resolution to the mismatch, it leads to self-repression of the resentment, then to cynicism, and indeed it saps away emotional energy to manage this.
So, it's important to be aware of how the job vs personal goals match. Making the job expectation known to the superiors may as well help keeping the balance.
Btw, brown-nosing is a form of negotiation, sure it's not the only way.
Otherwise the burn-out will be more self-inflicted. Also, there're cases that may have no practical ways to balance (culture fit). In this case setting to oneself a limited time-frame to attempt finding the balance (improving the job goals). Then declare 'mission accomplished' and move on (taking the side of personal goals).
Low and time-wasteful work-load (9-5) may as much lead to burn-out as the sweatshop slavery kind. But both environments have those that would flourish there.
If you’ve got resentments you’ll need to work through them. Get help. Debrief your role in the causes. Regrets probably exist at first but you’ll find moving on with new is healthiest approach after you’ve worked out the details of the old.
Work on frustration tolerance. Little things should stay little. Laughter may help. Or not.
Reconnect with purpose. Find a purpose. Make it clear. Make it detailed. Plan. Execute.
You will need to change. What that means is up to you.
Check in with exercise, diet, social circles. Don’t disconnect from any of these. Fix any deficiencies.
After all that maybe you can forgive, forget and move on.
Interesting to see the per-company breakdown. I wonder about the sample size. Blind seems like a promising avenue for getting sentiment analysis inside of companies, but there is a pretty serious sampling bias, as many who sign up for Blind might already be feeling disillusioned.
By contrast there are other places where management goes around at quitting time and throws everyone out.
If you tell them they are going to increase the time it takes or lower quality, you’re “not cooperative” or “not a team player”....or they tell you they will take the quality hit... but when there are any problems in the delivered product it’s the teams fault, of course.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Uber get great scores on the measure.
"Google’s “Project Artistotle” investigates why some teams work better than others. Its analysis shows that the combination of individuals making up the group is unimportant. Instead, a team’s “group norms” – its “traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules” – are essential to how well the group performs. Teams are successful if their group norms lead to equal speaking time for all individuals within the group and an awareness of others’ emotional states. These factors produce a situation in which members of the group feel comfortable, or “safe,” and therefore more willing to contribute. Google’s data show that what Harvard business professor Amy Edmondson called “psychological safety” within the group leads to an increase in the group’s collective IQ and therefore its effectiveness and productivity."
Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.
2. Structure and clarity.
High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.
The work has personal significance to each member.
The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.
Yes, that's four, not five. The last one stood out from the rest:
5. Psychological Safety.
We've all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I get it. It's unnerving to feel like you're in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope.
But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That's psychological safety.
I know, not the quantitative data that you were hoping for. However, Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.
Engineering the perfect team is more subjective than we would like, but focusing on these five components increases the likelihood that you will build a dream team. Through its research, Google made the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle proud by proving, "The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts."
Teams are successful if their group norms lead to equal speaking time for all individuals within the group and an awareness of others’ emotional states.
I think this is tricky if a problem and observably true. The teams I've been involved with mesh easier when each are able to commune easily and this normally means equal chances speaking time. Whenever I've seen an imbalance I can safely say it is because the person had obvious narcissistic personality traits which were always destructive long term.
> But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That's psychological safety.
Also, there's a fine line between having members with "well-defined roles" and silo-ed divisions where people literally don't talk other teams unless there's a "hand-off" (yep, people still use that word). On the other hand, to have a really good team, you need folks that will actually listen to outsiders who might not be formally or organizationally qualified. You need people that will jump in and do stuff even when it's "not their job".
I am all in favor of the intent of these rules, but applying them takes a level of nuance that the vast majority of organizations simply can't pull off. That's OK.
"91% Employees Experience Burnout" implies that 91% of employees suffer from burnout, whereas - firstly - there is no data in the article to indicate that this is the case.
Secondly, the question that comes closest to the 91% answer is "What is the main source of employee burnout at your current workplace?", to which 9.7% of people answered that "Burnout isn't a problem at my company." This leaves 90.3% (and a rounding error!) who think that burnout is a problem at their company and think they know why that is. This does not mean they themselves are suffering or have suffered from burnout.
I'm not trying to minimise the problem of burnout, but I would strongly suggest if we're going to have a serious discussion about it we should get our facts and our data straight and not base that discussion off a poorly written and researched employee engagement puff-piece.
It is also contradicted by the primary source's previous survey: http://blog.teamblind.com/index.php/2018/05/29/close-to-60-p...
Apart from it the original source is also speaking the same facts that the sole reason for burn out is poor leadership and unclear direction.
What's worse than working for a bad boss/company?
Working for a bad boss/company and carrying 50k in debt.
Therefore, if everyone is burning out, no one is really burning out or, we somehow extended the definition of burnout to something that can be applied to even the most minute set of complaints.
Being burnt out doesn't need a frame of reference other than the internal one of the "burnee". So it can be valid under any conditions.
Energy levels are like a rubber band. You can stretch it.
But when you are burned out you are at the end of the stretch and even destroying the band so it won't jump back immediately.
"If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent" is about bad management. The inability to prioritize.
Our industry is full of over time and late hours. Full of pressure because of time constraints. And all that focused on only on small part of our body.
No wonder that so many get hurt.