Eleven practical ways for DevOps engineers to better manage their work environment
At last month’s DevOpsDays Boston, many hallway sessions and Open Spaces discussions were devoted to talking about engineer burnout. The artifacts of engineer burnout are many but the main ones identified by the conference attendees were:
- Decreased employee happiness. Employees become less satisfied and content with their work
- Decreased productivity. Because employees are fatigued, they are less productive
- Frequent job shifts. Throughout the industry, it has become standard for engineers to switch jobs every 2 to 3 years in hopes of finding employment that won’t burn them out.
How to recognize burnout
How do you realize that you are suffering from burnout? It’s like the famous description of a frog in boiling water. The frog only knows he’s going to die when it’s too late. Similarly, the engineer only knows they are suffering burnout when they have either burnt bridges or broken friendships or flamed out.
Is it me or is it you?
Burnout is a symptom of the institution as much as it is of the engineer’s ego trying to take too much on. Engineers are famous for their fear of the “Impostor Syndrome” where they fear they are the least smart person on the team and they are just one step away from exposing themselves. In a great article in Business Insider, “Impostor Syndrome” was described as being like the boogie man: “open the closet, turn on the lights, look around, and you see that nothing is there. But it never goes away entirely. It’s just temporarily gone, and you’ll have to expose it again.” And even though the boogie man is shown not to exist, the Impostor feeling continues
As a coping mechanism, the engineers spend significant amounts of times compensating rather than reaching out for help. Engineers seem to delude themselves into thinking that the long hours are only a problem with their company. But really the problem extends to all companies.
Expect the unexpected with less stress
Using OnPage, management can better manage the arrival of high priority alerts. High priority alerts can go directly to the on-call engineer’s OnPage app on their smartphone. For overnight on-call shifts, the engineer can be assured that they will be woken up by the prominent OnPage alert which continues for 8 hours until the message is read. Low priority alerts could be directed to the engineer’s OnPage account via a low priority alert or via email. By not having to constantly check email or SMS for critical alert messages, the engineer can alleviate significant amounts of stress. The engineer knows they will receive the critical message.
Better management of work environment
When the time came for reflecting on how DevOps environments could improve their practices to minimize burnout, the following actionable points were raised:
- Employees should set boundaries for themselves. By practicing better pacing, employees know when to say ‘no’ to new work.
- Fibonacci story telling.Points are assigned to a task based on the amount of time the whole team thinks the task will take based on the team’s velocity. When the team has taken on projects whose total point value equals the team’s maximum velocity, they stop taking on more items.
- Mentoring: Make it easier for engineers to ask questions and have an adequate support structure. This type of program will help mitigate the feeling of “Impostor Syndrome”.
- Pairing: Work in teams on challenging projects so engineers don’t feel the weight of an entire challenge on their shoulders alone.
- Make unplanned predictable. Use OnPage’s critical alerting platform to apprise the o-call engineer(s) when a critical event has occurred and needs immediate attention.
- Brain dumping. At the end of the day write up tasks that remain to be done. Productivity is truly aided by coming to work with a fresh brain.
- Make management responsive.Managers need to show they are listening and responsive to engineer issues. The managers need to show they are willing to be accountable and when engineers say they cannot handle more work, managers should listen.
- 9-5 needs to be flexible.Teams need flexibility to change their mode of working. If an engineer has worked for 12-13 hours to get a project done, he or she should be able to take the following day more leisurely
- Hire more.Teams need visibility into the work pipeline so they can see how much work is awaiting them. If work is continually added after a board has been agreed to, then management needs to consider hiring more people.
- Avoid email. Additional work should not come through email. Keep work structured and on tickets.
- Be disciplined about time: Use the last hour of day for personal development or small projects. Rather than finding yourself at 5 pm in the middles of fixing a bug or a project, start winding down at 4pm so that when 5 or 5:30 comes around, you are ready to leave.
Even discussing these 11 points would be the basis for a great brown bag lunch between management and employees. The discussion would allow for DevOps engineers to work with their managers so that each could have a better understanding of the requirements for their team to be successful while also realizing the limitations of the team.
OnPage is cloud-based incident alerting and management platform that elevates notifications on your smartphone so they continue to alert until read. Incidents can be programmed to arrive to the person on-call and can be escalated if they are not attended to promptly. Schedule a demonstration today!