Burnout in the tech sector: Why is it happening and what are the solutions?

As more organizations focus on digitally transforming their businesses, and the need for technology and its services grow, tech workers are facing burnout and seeing a strain on their mental health.

A study by mental well-being tool provider Yerbo found that two in five IT workers are at high risk of burnout, due to longer work hours and a more demanding workload. Additionally, another survey of more than 1,800 Salesforce professionals found that more permanent tech workers have experienced burnout in their role during COVID-19 compared to before the pandemic.

What is causing burnout?

“The tech burnout in general, I think, has kind of gone in phases. It was like, two years ago when we started with the pandemic, everybody kind of went home. And so technology had to adjust,” said Christine Gadsby, vice president of product security at Blackberry. 

Gadsby said a lot of this burnout and strain on mental health has to do with the lack of work/life balance. People now have the power to work anywhere.

“There’s no boundary, there really isn’t. It just becomes all work,” she said. 

In addition, according to the Great Workplace Study conducted by Léger for Hamster, 31 per cent of workers find it more difficult to feel motivated about their work from home

The study also revealed that Canadian workers’ satisfaction is down 3 per cent and their commitment to work has dropped 6 per cent since last year. 

According to Vaibhav Sinha, the chief technology officer of BlocPal, a Vancouver based fintech company, said the tech sector has never seen mental health issues as prevalent as right now.

“In IT, where remote work is now the norm, there’s less separation on when their [tech workers] work-life ends and their personal life begins,” Sinha said. “This is leaving people feeling like their workdays have become endless. We’ve seen this cause a trend in employees working longer hours and increasing the output in companies’ deliverables. Coupled with the trajectory of the Canadian tech industry and a volatile economic market, employees are developing severe burnout and fatigue from their 9 to 5s.”

Sinha said that burnout is affecting the tech industry especially because company staffing plans are causing a lot of pressure on the tech teams. 

“Tech is a discipline that is so interconnected with different business areas. If there’s not proper staffing across all teams, it can cause a lack of clarity and focus, resulting in burnout,” he noted.

Burnout for security professionals

Within the tech industry, cybersecurity professionals are specifically feeling burnout at extraordinary rates, with data breaches and cyber attacks soaring and businesses not being equipped to handle them. Coupled with lean security teams across industries, and about 600,000 vacant cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., increased turnover caused by burnout can become a major security risk.

Gadsby said that due to an increase in cyber attacks, the workload has heightened, making it harder for cyber professionals. 

“Not only are there more attacks surfacing for security people to look at, but you have more regulation telling us we need to watch the attack surface which, in reality, we do a lot of watching, but I think cybersecurity and specifically the reason why so much burnout is happening, is because there’s a lot of noise and so many things for security people to be looking at,” Gadsby said. 

While the workload is high at the moment for cyber security professionals – and tech workers in general – Gadsby said she doesn’t think this will affect the amount of interest in the field from recent graduates and people looking to get into the industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced many cyber attacks, due to organizations pushing work online, but Gadsby said that these stories have also raised interest in the field.

“The pandemic has brought about a lot of really interesting security stories where I feel like we’re influencing a younger generation. They’re sitting home and they’re reading about things like SolarWinds… So I think we are attracting [people], and more senior workers in the field are paving the way and painting the picture that they can work from anywhere and that they really are trying for work/life balance or they’re dealing with the burnout,” she said. “I think that attracts a whole group of the younger generation to say, ‘that is a really cool field and I can work from anywhere and I can do this job and really enjoy it’.”

Solving the problem

When it comes to solutions to burnout and mental health issues in the tech space, Gadsby said “using technology to manage technology” will help alleviate the heavy workload many workers are facing. 

She noted that focusing on leveraging automation is an important step. 

For example, an article by Wrk, a Canadian hybrid automation platform company, noted that automation saves time on certain tasks, so could introduce simplicity and free up some time in the workplace. 

Gadsby said that the heavy workloads that aren’t always humanly possible to complete in a timely manner could be alleviated with technology.  

“We spend so much time developing automated solutions, and then we’re scared for whatever reason to implement them. We have to lean on that technology because it’s not humanly possible,” she said. 

Gadsby also said it’s vital for leaders to encourage discussion about mental health and support in workplaces

Sinha echoed this, noting that asking how people are doing and focusing on taking action to ensure all employees feel valued and supported is integral. 

“People want to feel like they are heard and respected, that they have opportunities for growth, are having an impact on the company and the world, and are being compensated well for their efforts. Employers demand so much of their employees these days, and rightly so. Employees should demand just as much in return,” Sinha said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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