Are Developer Workloads Increasingly Unfair?

Developer workloads are clearly higher now, yet there are ways of improving the daily lives of programmers.
Posted November 17, 2010

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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ALSO SEE: Does Every Developer Deserve a Mental Health Day?

Let’s face it, working as a developer can be a daily grind.

If you’re a developer and feel like your workload is increasing, you aren’t alone. RBS announced 1,000 technology job cuts in September 2010 and HP announced another 1,300 jobs being cut in October 2010. Job cuts like these across IT organizations have happened before in the early 90’s and after the dot-com bust. The difference this time is that companies aren’t in any hurry to rehire because they anticipate a long, difficult economic recovery.

And companies have learned to do more with less. Therefore, if you’re now carrying the load of two or three people’s responsibilities, don’t anticipate returning to a normal workday any time soon.

Even if you love your job, this constant piling on of work can be disheartening. Some veteran developers may even feel like their soul is being sucked out as they see their coworkers lose their jobs – while they’re left behind, still gainfully employed, yet suffering under the weight of an ever-growing work load. It seems to just keep piling up.

I endured and survived a major layoff in the early nineties and was on the other end of it this decade. It isn’t fun on either side.

The survivors still have a paycheck, but face the uncertainty of a changing company landscape and the divvying up of work amongst the remaining coworkers. Those who were laid off face the uncertainty of a dismal job market in the wake of a layoff.

After surviving my layoff, I remember talking to a recently cut teammate and it went something like this.

Me: You are actually lucky to have been let go.

Lucky Guy: Oh, how so?

Me: You wouldn’t believe the amount of work they are piling on us since the layoff.

Lucky Guy: Really? You wouldn’t believe the bills that are piling up on me.

Okay, so having been laid off has raised my awareness (and sensitivity) since then. I now realize “Lucky Guy” wasn’t so lucky after all. I was the real lucky guy to still have a paycheck.

But I’ll admit, it’s hard not to complain when you have a long list of projects, bug fixes and on-call responsibilities. You feel badly about bemoaning your increasingly frustrating situation.

Yet what if you could reclaim your soul and make your job more bearable? There may not be a remedy for getting executives to turn the hiring faucet back on, but you can change the way your team works together to lessen the stress and deal better with the workload.

The easy (and popular) thing to do when a team feels like they’re being crushed with work is to moan about it. My four-year-old likes to stomp her foot and yell “not fair!” when she feels slighted. We all don’t have the luxury of acting out like a little kid and instead need to act like grown-ups and deal proactively with the situation.

Those of us who have been around a while and lived through layoffs realize that, although group commiseration may make everyone feel better in the short term, the complaining ultimately makes things worse.

You know what’s worse than being overworked? Being overworked with a bunch of bitter people that make snarky comments about every decision that management makes.

Instead, everyone should come to the realization that life isn’t always fair and try to work to find ways to be more efficient and effective. Here are three immediate steps you can take to improve your work situation after an major layoff.

First, work on time management. This is something that can be done on your own, regardless if other team members would rather wallow in their misery or not. Keep a daily journal of your time, from the moment you step into the office until you sign off for the day.

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Tags: developer, programmers, IT management, developer salary, developer tools

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