Skip to main content
Software Engineering

Developer burnout: how to prevent it and encourage work-life balance

The tech world moves fast. And, as a developer, a lot of pressure is put on you and your team to make it move even faster. When you’re under pressure to move the needle, mental health, basic needs, and sometimes even your happiness can take a back seat. Whether or not it’s realized in the moment, this can have huge consequences on innovation and creativity, not to mention general well-being.

In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s important to prevent burnout, what some signs and causes are, and how developers can prevent and reduce burnout.

Why is it important to prevent burnout?

Let’s turn to research. According to Zenhub’s developer happiness survey, about 24% of developers (of all experience levels) say work-life balance is the #1 reason for staying at their current employer.  Those who don’t experience adequate work-life balance, they’re more likely to quit unexpectedly: 21% of developers say that they would look for another job if work-life balance became an issue.

This leads to increased anxiety and endless stress. But that’s just one reason for burnout. Other common causes of burnout are:

  • Lack of resources and support
  • Inability to get enough focus time to complete tasks (due to too many meetings, ad hoc tasks, and distractions)
  • Poor project organization, unrealistic deadlines or too much work assigned, and/or poor time management
  • Unrealistic working expectations caused by company culture

Burnout has many more causes, as well as consequences – from poor work performance to mental health problems.  But the most important thing is that burnout is completely avoidable, and work-life balance, when achieved, can lead to happy, productive developers.

6 tips for developers to avoid burnout and increase work-life balance

It’s easy for burnout to creep up on dev unexpectedly – but don’t fret! Burnout is both avoidable and preventable. In this article, we’ll give you 6 ways to avoid it and increase your work-life balance.

1.  Recognize the signs of burnout

The first step to addressing and preventing burnout is to notice the signs and changes in your performance and mood. Here are a few common signs you may find:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of creativity
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to prioritize tasks

Now that you know the signs of burnout, put a “burn-out plan” in place. This can involve asking management for some vacation time, working with your manager to re-prioritize tasks, and finding new resourcing.

2.  Work smarter, not harder

Sometimes, getting an extra hand at work is not always possible. Luckily, new solutions are being made to assist developers every day, so you can work smarter and not harder. For example, if not being able to pump out enough code is your worry, try giving an AI-driven tool like GitHub copilot a try and see how much more you can get done. Feel like you’re wasting too much time on collaboration tools? Why not try an agile automation tool like Zenhub’s automated workflows that automatically send hand-offs to your team?

Many productivity tools for developers can take some of the load off at work – from automated bug testing to code-searching tools.  Bite-sized learning resources like Studocu can also be a more efficient way to get a quick refresher on coding concepts instead of shuffling through old notes.

3. Keep management in the loop

Sometimes managers begin to load their developers with too much work, not because they are trying to burn them out, but because they don’t have enough insight into their capacity. Keeping management informed on all the projects you’re working on (especially if you have multiple managers or leads assigning tasks) is critical for communicating when priorities need to be moved around or more resourcing needs to be considered.

When it comes to these communications, data is important. This means keeping issues up to date on statuses and blockers and tracking what a “normal” amount of story points per week looks like for your team. If you’re noticing a spike in expected story points per sprint, it might be time to bring awareness to management.

If you’re not sure what an average workload looks like for your team, try connecting your GitHub account to our free productivity grader for some instant stats on your team’s GitHub projects.

4.  Make time for non-coding and non-computer activities outside of work

From computer games to social media to cool open source projects to that app idea you’ve been meaning to work on, it’s easy to spend your free time on a computer outside work. 23% of developers we surveyed say they spend their free time coding! While we love that the passion is there, it’s also important to take breaks from the computer or, at the least, from coding when off the clock.

Need proof? According to the same survey, more developers that were “extremely satisfied” with their jobs stated that they spent ample time doing non-coding tasks in their downtime, like sports or watching television than any other group of devs.

5.  Take breaks and max out your vacation time

It might seem obvious, but we have to throw it in here – take your vacation! Seriously, you’re not doing your employer any favors by being the person who never takes a vacation. After all, they will have to pay it out to you eventually.

When it comes to vacation time, many people make the mistake of feeling like they need to save up their vacation time for a worthy “reason.” These reasons are often the opposite of relaxing – like waiting until the in-laws come to visit to take time off. Is that really a vacation? Get comfortable using your vacation time to take the occasional “me” day to do what you’re supposed to do on vacay – relax.

6.  Stabilize your work schedule by all means

Developers who do not set boundaries between personal life and work often do not have a fixed schedule. As a result, there is less time carved out for breaks and focused work, they are more vulnerable to Adhoc disruptions and eventual burnout.

We recommend implementing a more regular schedule by grouping meetings together where possible to make space for more focus time. Use your calendar to block off that focus time and regularly scheduled breaks to prevent colleagues from booking last-minute meetings during prime focus times. If you’re already doing this and they still book meetings during set focus times, we recommend turning off calendar viewing (you can do this in Google calendars). Additionally, you can also use time tracking platforms to help manage your focus time if you are interested in trying time-blocking techniques like the Pomodoro technique, which many devs favor.


The most important of all of the above is the ability to listen to yourself. Burnout happens to the best of us. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the wrong role or company – sometimes, you just need to take time for breaks, find new ways to work, or help others understand your capacity.    Still, if you’re finding yourself in a culture where people don’t respect one another’s work-life balance, it may be time to find somewhere that respects and values your health.

Share this article

Work smarter, not harder. With Zenhub AI

Simplified agile processes. Faster task management. All powered by AI.

Get Early Access

Hone your skills with a bi-weekly email course. Subscribe to Zenhub’s newsletter.

Return to top