How Tech Leaders Can Prevent Data Practitioner Burnout

Data is more valuable than ever, but the humans managing it are burned out. Here are three ways that leaders can ensure their data teams are fulfilled and engaged.

Drew Banin, Co-Founder, dbt Labs

July 3, 2024

4 Min Read
one lit match burned out while others are not
Brain light via Alamy Stock

The data science industry is booming and, as a result, the appetite for a career in the field is increasing. However, most people might not realize the immense responsibilities and pressure that come with being a data practitioner. Burnout is an ever-present challenge for data teams, and concerningly, most business leaders might not even realize it.  

While tricky economic times may be contributors, the reality is that most causes of burnout for data professionals are preventable, and leaders can change internal processes to lift some of the burden on their teams.  

I’ve seen first-hand how tech leaders can unlock impressive productivity in their data teams while instilling a sense of fulfillment and engagement. Here’s what you need to know. 

Causes of Data Pro Burnout 

Over the last 10 years, businesses have wised up to the value that data can provide and how critical these insights are. As a result, data practitioners are extremely busy, often tasked with collecting data, analyzing it, visualizing it, producing reports, and presenting the findings to business leaders. While this is good for the business, the workloads on data teams have become tremendous. 

This challenge is often exacerbated by unrealistic timelines and unattainable expectations set on data teams. For example, an executive may request insights on website clickthrough rates for a certain product by the end of day, not fully understanding the work that goes on behind the scenes. Is the data easily accessible and already available, or do they have other time-sensitive projects on their plate? Most requests may seem simple on the surface, but they are actually quite complex. Additionally, conflicting priorities within an organization can lead to data professionals being pulled in too many directions while causing balls to be dropped. 

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These challenges would be more manageable if data teams were consistently receiving recognition from leaders. But this, unfortunately, is not the case. When data teams are doing their jobs well, their contributions are often invisible to the organization; but when dashboards are broken or the data becomes delayed, it can be a highly visible, hair-on-fire event. This asymmetry means that many leaders only interact with the data team when things are broken or challenging, and that’s not a recipe for a healthy data function. 

Of course, this situation impacts businesses negatively. Most organizations know how valuable a highly functioning data team can be, but frankly, burned out data professionals are less impactful than they could be, which can hurt the long-term success of the business.  

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How Leaders Can Address the Issue 

So, what can you do about it? 

To start, leaders need to genuinely understand what data practitioners are responsible for and how they operate. This means meeting with their teams, talking about the projects they’re working on, and understanding their challenges. Leaders who get a better understanding of a certain data initiative or project can often suggest positive changes and improvements that can make processes remarkably less challenging or time consuming.  

Another way to address the issue is by properly enabling the rest of the organization. In some instances, employees are asking for data that they could actually access themselves, but they just don’t know where to go or how to get it. By encouraging baseline data literacy within the organization, data teams will have far more bandwidth to focus on higher impact projects. 

Additionally, it’s important to be mindful and strategic when prioritizing projects. Data teams are responsible for managing technical debt and the health of a technical platform. When projects that could take a day end up taking a week because of accrued tech debt, neither the data team nor the business stakeholders will be happy. By creating space for data teams to pay down tech debt, future projects can progress more efficiently. In the long run, this will help data teams spend more of their time on high-impact work instead of fighting low-grade, perennial fires.  

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Finally, it can sometimes be easy for leaders to forget to acknowledge their team's efforts and output. Being vocal and appreciative of the data team's work can be a small, yet powerful way to improve their job satisfaction.   


Tech leaders should want their data teams to be engaged, and they need to make a conscious effort to better understand the teams' work and focus them on projects that will meaningfully move the needle and drive business outcomes. This will generate tremendous business insights and a well-oiled data machine. But more importantly, the data team will feel significantly more engaged, fulfilled, and happier at work. 

About the Author(s)

Drew Banin

Co-Founder, dbt Labs

Drew Banin is the co-founder and former Chief Product Officer at dbt Labs, a Philadelphia startup pioneering the practice of modern analytics engineering. Dbt is used by over 40,000 companies every week to organize, catalog, and distill knowledge in their data warehouses. Drew works with open source maintainers, contributors, and users to build dbt and strike fear in the hearts of database optimizers. 

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