Stressed IT workers, software developers – we’re no fun, but have you tried restarting your breathing? • The register


Software developers and computer scientists can improve their sense of well-being and self-awareness if they participate in mindful breathing, a trio of boffins have found.

Birgit Penzenstadler, Assistant Professor of Software Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, Richard Torkar, Professor of Software Engineering at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg, and Cristina Martinez Montes, PhD student at Chalmers, recently completed two studies in small groups on how the tech types are doing breathing exercises.

The trio describes the results of their research in an article [PDF] titled “Breathe Deep. Benefits of Neuroplasticity Practices for Software Developers and Computer Scientists in a Family of Experiments.”

Their goal was “to explore the use of neuroplasticity practices, more specifically, the use of a breathing practice, in terms of its benefits to software developers and computer scientists with respect to their awareness of the attention, well-being, perceived productivity and self-efficacy. “

The study assumes – reasonably reasonably – that physical, mental and emotional resilience is important in the work context and that software developers and IT professionals tend to push themselves, or be pushed by management, to the extent where their health suffers.

“Sleep deprivation is often worn as a badge of honor [among developers]”, explain the authors, noting that the overall cost of sleep deprivation in the United States has been estimated at $ 411 billion per year. “In addition, the pandemic has taken a toll on well-being and productivity. “

Sleep deprivation is often worn as a badge of honor … Additionally, the pandemic has taken its toll on well-being and productivity

When people work from home, say boffins, they tend to be less motivated, less productive, and less engaged.

A recent study by researchers at Microsoft – perhaps not an entirely disinterested party when it comes to office and remote work policies – comes to the same conclusion, that remote working hampers productivity and innovation. .

The article on breathing cites a 2020 survey the authors supervised that found physical activity to be the most popular way for software developers to deal with stress. While recognizing the value of physical exercise, the paper argues that not everyone can participate and that physical training may not adequately respond to mental well-being.

Various researchers have examined how mental exercise can improve mental health. In 2019, for example, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Santa Clara describe how mindfulness promotes more innovative thinking. While focused breathing may seem to data-driven types like aerial mysticism, it is nonetheless common enough that it has been. integrated into Apple Watch.

To see how breathing work affects software developers, Penzenstadler, Torkar, and Montes took 146 volunteers who spent at least 70 percent of their time working on a screen through different iterations of a program called Rise 2 Stream. The diet, which not everyone completed to the same degree, consisted of targeted breathing exercises – three sets of seven minutes each with brief relaxation breaks in between, followed by a 20-minute relaxation – and other interactions (Zoom conversations, additional reading material, periodic surveys, etc.).

And after the 12-week period of investigation, they concluded that deliberate breathing work was worth it.


“The data indicates the usefulness and effectiveness of an intervention for IT professionals in terms of increasing well-being and resilience,” the document said. “Everyone needs a way to deliberately relax, disconnect, and recover. The practice of breathing is an easy way to do this, and the results call for more work to be done to make this happen. common practice.”

What the study did not find was a perceived increase in productivity – these results were inconclusive. But Penzenstadler said The register in an email that was not unexpected.

“We are not surprised that the results did not show a direct increase in perceived productivity as we only have their self-assessment but no tests,” she said. “So we have to rely on their awareness, and any overall increase in awareness also makes people more aware of when they are not paying attention, so self-assessment might be more critical than at the start of the day. study.

“When people are less stressed and happier, they do more as a side effect and make fewer mistakes (other research has shown this). , so our assumption is always that over time this increases productivity in a healthy and sustainable way. “

When asked how employers should view this research, Penzenstadler said: “Companies can understand that incentive and facilitation programs like this are worth it because they have the potential to cut down on days. illness (eg, stress-induced migraines, symptoms of burnout). Second, it has the potential to increase employee retention (higher well-being and a company that cares is a good reason to stay). And a long-term employee who feels good and supported is more productive.

Penzenstadler is currently engaged in conducting a third round of this study, as detailed on the program site. Interested IT professionals can probably still register.

The data and code for the first two rounds of Rise 2 Flow have been published online for anyone interested in trying to replicate the results. ®

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