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Three Ways Tech Professionals Can Mitigate Excessive Job Demands

Heavy workloads and a feeling of always being behind are pervasive issues in the U.S. workforce, specifically in my area of focus – the Software Product Development space.  So what are the causes and how can you lessen the problem?

A competitive market: With fierce competition and much of the innovation happening with small companies and start-ups, being first-to-market is critical. If a company can’t move fast enough to get their products and ideas to market, they will miss out and may even fail. This puts tremendous pressure on employees, especially engineers, to work at a furious pace. I often hear from engineers who say that deadlines and project schedules are often unrealistically short.

An overly connected world: We live in a world where we are all connected 100% of the time. A generation or two ago when you left work, you generally left work behind. These days, that rarely happens. Employees are often expected to be accessible on email all the time, and many of the engineers I work with communicate with their co-workers and continue working into the night. Vacations are too rare and often turn into “working vacations.” While this helps companies stay ahead, it adds to the stress and feeling that we are working at a frantic pace.  

So how do you avoid being overworked and overcommitted?

1. Work with the right company.

The first thing I recommend is to seek-out work in environments where reasonable goals are set. You want to work for a winning company, and growth is appealing – but it is possible to balance these with an environment that supports life outside of the office. When looking for a job, assess the culture and pace by talking to a variety of employees.  Tap into your network for feedback on a company’s culture, speak to recruiters who know of the company’s reputation. Use sites like Glassdoor, which can be a valuable tool in understanding a company’s culture (and of course beware of the tendency for many of these websites to attract chronic complainers).  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask the right, very direct questions, such as:  What does a typical week look like, or a typical release cycle look like? How often do you or your team work on weekends?  How often do you work more than 50 hours a week?

2. Create boundaries.

I also recommend creating appropriate boundaries between home and work. You don’t want deadlines created with the assumption you’ll work during all your home and free time to meet them. This can be tough, especially if you value some of the flexibility or “work-from-home” benefits of today’s tech-oriented work environments. With that said, it is possible. Try to develop and communicate a routine or schedule so that your manager and co-workers know what to expect and know when to, and when not to hear back from you.

3. Use your words.

Finally, be vocal and communicate with your boss and the people who are setting your workloads and deadlines. I’m surprised how often people are frustrated and vent to friends and family, or even leave a job, but have yet to communicate their frustration to someone in a position of authority. If you feel your workload is too much, speak to coworkers and more importantly speak to your manager. Try to influence the amount of work that is given to you.

The current labor market is in your favor with high demand for talented tech professionals.  If you are a valuable employee, your company needs you desperately and if your requests or complaints are reasonable, they will be responsive.