Developer burnout has reached 'epidemic' proportions — and manual toil is a key factor

Software developer burnout concept image showing dev hunched over at a desk while working.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Developer burnout is reaching a 'epidemic' proportions, according to new research, with the issue affecting work-life balance and straining organizational resources. 

In a survey of 500 engineering leaders and practitioners from Harness, just over half of developers said that burnout has been a primary reason for their colleagues leaving their jobs.

Nearly a quarter of engineers said they're dealing with long hours, with 23% of developers reporting working overtime for at least 10 days a month.

Meanwhile, more than six-in-ten developers revealed they've experienced scope creep with expanding requirements; as a result, they're taking on more work, but with less confidence that they can do it effectively.

Similarly, new hires are doing little to alleviate the strain placed on developer teams, according to Harness. Onboarding takes at least two months, according to 71% of respondents - which actually creates more work in the short term.

Jyoti Bansal, CEO and co-founder of Harness, said developers have become increasingly stressed in recent years. Growing workloads and talent shortages mean many are struggling to hit deadlines.

"I talk to hundreds of developers a month, and one theme constantly shines through: they're all just trying to keep their heads above water, to hit their deadlines, and generally manage a massive workload," Bansal said.

"But their productivity isn't matching their activity levels."

‘Crunch culture’  has been frequently highlighted as a major factor in developer burnout, and it’s an issue that technology leaders need to both acknowledge and tackle if firms are to avoid widespread mental health problems for staff.

‘Toil’ is the key contributor to developer burnout

The main contributing factor to developer burnout, Harness said, is 'toil' - the prevalence of manual, repetitive tasks. This issue is further exacerbated by stress about project failures, the study noted. 

Nearly half of developers said they can't release code to production without risking failures, while four-in-ten revealed their code fails to push to production at least half the time. And when that code needs to be rolled back, two-thirds of developers said they do the job manually.

This leads to a broad sense that deploying code isn't as fast or efficient as it should be, with 42% of the developer community highlighting this as a critical issue at present.

"Our research shows that devs are wasting a ton of time due to toil, which kills their productivity, and it's up to leadership to fix it," Bansal commented.

"For my fellow CEOs, there's a crystal clear imperative here: If you can reduce toil, you can reduce burnout, which in turn positively impacts your bottom line."


The Harness report is just the latest to highlight the issue of developer burnout.

Earlier this year, JetBrains’ 2023 State of the Developer Ecosystem report found that nearly three-quarters of software developers had experienced burnout at some point during their career.

Harness’ study noted that developer burnout has far-reaching financial implications for companies, and could cost employers as much as $300 billion a year globally.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.