Cracking Under the Strain: Dealing with Developer Stress

October 28, 2021

Mental and physical exhaustion is not a burden one can bear alone. Companies must work with their employees for prevention and real lasting solutions.

Stress is inevitable with any type of work. And in the tech industry, where change is fast and abrupt, software teams are no strangers to frequent burnout. Analytics company Haystack found that this is true for 83% of engineers in the UK, most of whom added that it’s gotten worse over the pandemic.

Some of the reasons cited in the survey were increased workload, uncertainty-based fears, isolation from loved ones and co-workers, and lack of company support. Their productivity has taken a hit, too. However, long gone are the days when overtime hours and burnout were considered marks of industriousness. In today’s climate, employees are rejecting stress as normal, with 78% saying they’re considering or have considered leaving their jobs due to it.

Finding good software developers is hard enough; keeping them becomes a daunting process if companies ignore or remain oblivious to their struggles. Stress is not a guessing game. It may be different for everyone, but there are a few signs to watch out for (source: Healthline) with some easier to spot than others:

These are behavioral changes
that may be easier to spot:

Decreased energy
Frequent headaches
Loss or change of appetite
Sleeping problems

While the following may
require closer inspection:

Easily overwhelmed
Racing thoughts & inability to focus
Anxiety and excessive worrying
Sudden memory problems


NOTE: Any of these symptoms can also be signs of an underlying health condition. It’s always best to get the opinion and diagnosis of a professional.

There are steps both employees and their employers can take to prevent and combat the long-term impacts of stress. If you are a software developer overwhelmed with the pressures of work, here are some actionable points to consider:

Step back and take five. Problems seem bigger when we don’t take our eyes off them. Resting the mind allows for a moment in clarity, which can allow us to see solutions better. Make it a regular thing: schedule short breaks throughout the day, even on busy days. Do activities unrelated to work, like 15-minute walks, cat videos, or savoring a fresh cup of coffee.

Make lifestyle changes. Stress has a lot to do with how we live, too. For people with poor sleeping habits, every day can be exhausting—no overtime required. Exercise also gives the body a burst of energy, and eating right boosts the mind.

Voice out your concerns to your superiors. Even the most empathetic manager can at times be oblivious to the internal struggles of their team members. Opening up to a trusted leader may lead to changes that can prevent similar stressful scenarios.

Evaluate your response to situations. Sometimes, the stress comes not from the work itself but from how we respond to what’s going on around us. For example, being able to distinguish which projects are truly urgent from the sea of similarly tagged requests will save a developer from the distress of meeting unreasonable demands.

Seek professional help. Having greater control over emotions and circumstances does not mean you’ll never need support. When you’re reaching your tipping point, there’s no shame in turning to therapy and counseling.

If you’re a manager or team leader looking for ways to support a tense software team member, look into these potential next steps:

Review processes and workloads. Ask questions and investigate the source. Are deadlines too close to each other? Do the workloads match the size of the team? Are outdated tools slowing down production and causing anxiety over inefficiency? You’ll be surprised at how making small adjustments help change the temperament of employees.

Encourage mindfulness across the organization. There are times when tensions form over clashing personalities or employees not knowing how to work with each other. Misunderstandings may be commonplace among any human being, but left unchecked they could fester into deep-seated dislike that could pull down the morale of other employees. Any work culture can benefit from advocacies of kindness, active listening, and compassion among its members.

Have Standard Operating Procedures in place for high-pressure scenarios. Patrick Shyu, in a video from his Youtube channel TechLead, recounts his experience at Google, where there are handbooks and stated processes for emergency situations. Knowing what to do, because you’ve planned for it through foresight, eases the pressures of coming up with solutions on the spot.

Set up a support system for employees. HR managers and development team leaders must be trained to deal with employee stress and anxiety. Create safe spaces to address real issues together. Consider expanding healthcare plans to include mental health services.

Engage employees beyond work. Giving team members more opportunities to bond and get to know each other makes them better supporters of each other. Foreseeing a period of non-consequential slowdown? Host virtual parties or launch mini-games to entertain them. Banish the idea that every free time needs to be filled with a serious task.

Overcoming stress is a shared endeavor for software companies and developers.
Knowing what causes it and what can be done is a good first step to reducing overall occurrence and empowering a more productive team.

Beyond finding talent, Get Devs stays engaged by managing developers’ welfare and happiness. Schedule a consultation.