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What is agile burnout? 

Burnout is a serious (not only!) workplace problem, which occurs in most workplaces where employees work under high pressure. Eliott Aronson describes burnout as follows. This can lead to a sense of loss of personal identity and, as a result, reduced performance at work.

One type of burnout is agile burnout. This is used to describe a situation where agile team members feel overwhelmed by the work involved in agile projects, becoming exhausted and depleted. This can have a negative impact on their work performance and mental health. 

Agile teams may feel more able to burnout, as they have to constantly produce high quality results rather than working towards a single end result. Team members can become overly focused on getting as many results as possible, completing one iteration or sprint and jumping straight to the next. As Agile coach Robert Galen notes, team members can become "too focused on reducing Lean waste" and see any stop or slowdown as a potential waste.

Another well-known disadvantage of the agile methodology is that it can be time-consuming, as team members need to attend meetings daily and interact with stakeholders on a regular basis. In addition, working in repetitive cycles can often seem monotonous. 


What are the signs of agile burnout? 


Here are some signs of agile burnout to look out for:

  • Fatigue: employees appear visibly tired or have noticeably less energy than usual.  
  • Loss of attention: people suffering from agile burnout find it difficult to concentrate in meetings, often fall out of focus and fail to remember new information. 
  • Pessimism: agile burnout can quickly turn a positive mindset into a negative one. Employees may lack enthusiasm or motivation to try something new because they assume it will go wrong. 
  • Frustration: team members experiencing agile burnout can easily become frustrated. They find it difficult to cooperate and because of this it is possible that clashes can develop easier than before. 
  • Inconsistent work performance: staff members cannot meet project milestones and deadlines. There may be errors in the work they produce.


How can you manage it? 

Here are some steps a Scrum Master or Product Owner can take to manage agile burnout in their team: 

  • More communication: organise regular 1:1 meetings to help you check in emotionally with your team members. In these meetings, you can also listen to their concerns and feedback.  
  • Planning sprints effectively: if the agile team is finding it difficult to complete the sprint on time, it may be worth considering extending the sprint or splitting it into smaller sprints. Or, of course, against over-commitment, promoting and coaching a culture of saying no.  
  • Increased monitoring of workload: during sprint planning, it is important to make sure that team members have the capacity to carry out the sprint. Keep an eye on individual workloads. 
  • Setting an example: if team members see the Scrum Master/Product Owner working long hours every night, they may feel that they have to do the same, which sooner or later can lead to overload and then burnout. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the SM/PO also demonstrates a burnout-preventing work culture to the team.  

We hope you enjoyed the article (you can read the source article here) and if you are interested in more agility and lean related topics, head over to the RI Consulting blog where we are constantly sharing valuable content. 


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