Burnout and depression are nothing new in the workforce, yet some outlets highlight the prevalence of these issues for those in technology professions. A recent study by TeamBlind.com found that 39% of tech workers are depressed, implying this is a bigger issue in the technology field than other areas.
Common burnout factors include unfair compensation, unreasonable workload, and information overload. Assuming some tech jobs pay higher than other professions, it seems compensation is not a major issue, but is the workload and info overload really worse in tech jobs than other fields?
Caleb Backe with Maple Holistics mentions a figure that "a third of American tech employees identify as depressed." But he does not believe the industry attracts depressed workers. Rather he says, “there must be something about the tech workforce which leads to depression.” Emma Moore with Fundamental believes the culture of some technology companies with a younger workforce could contribute to burnout or depression. She notes that “younger generations [in technology companies] are allowed more leadership positions and respected more so than in other industries.” In other words, skills may quickly lead to a leadership role.
While this is great news to younger employees, Moore’s point is that “it is not always a good thing to have a young person un-mentored and leading groups of seasoned workers” from the perspective of older employees who have been in the workforce for a while. “Knowing that your age is not an indicator of wisdom and leadership may contribute to burnout.
This is further exacerbated by the possibility of a job being outsourced in the near future. Moore adds that “tech workers have to compete globally for competence and relevance, only to find they have to start from scratch with a new code or skill in the next few years." Fear of losing one’s job can result in depression in any industry, but maybe more so in technology if jobs are often outsourced or pressure to keep skill-sets current results in overload.
From the employer perspective, Jodi Lasky, CEO of The Pride, believes burnout and depression may also be a result of unmet expectations. “We hear [about] people in tech who are living these great lives, making huge amounts of money, and loving the crazy schedule - especially on social media." When these experiences are visible on social channels and in the media, employees may feel these anomalies are the norm. Not having similar experiences but rather “normal lives, with ups and downs, makes the ups not feel as high and the lows feel lower. As a result, we feel like there's something wrong with us,” says Lasky.
With advances in technology, expectation in productivity has followed suit, even though people are still people. If people are expected to produce more with the same hours in a day, burnout and depression are a likely outcome. “The tech industry is one of the fastest growing and advancing fields, which may be the underlying cause of the rampant depression”, says Backe. “Ideally, people grow and develop at a natural pace, feeding off their previous accomplishments and experiences. However, the tech industry doesn't allow for any transition period to properly integrate the past, live in the present, and adapt for the future. Rather, it functions in hyperspeed and waits for nobody. Advancements come at a mile a minute and you either sink or swim. This effectively prevents employees from being able to recognize and appreciate their work as it becomes just another piece of the past.”
And employees want to know that “they are respected, that they make a difference, and that they matter” in every field, notes Lasky. As an employer, she cites the need for employees “to know they are an appreciated, valued part of the team”.
So is the tech industry advanced in every area except for a culture that promotes positive mental well-being? There is no simple answer. For now, prospective employees may be best served by looking beyond the fun perks of ping pong tables and free beer Fridays to what a workplace culture is like in the day-to-day grind.