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Let’s Talk About Burnout

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Categories: adversity, change, culture, people

Burnout is everywhere in the work world, and it hurts morale, performance and ROI in both obvious and subtle ways. But burnout is a sensitive issue that can be tricky to discuss — and even harder to fix.

Many people are reluctant to admit that they are suffering from burnout, while others may not even realize it. They think the problem might be their own doing. Others know that burnout is affecting them, but they don’t see a way around it and feel trapped — until they quit, quietly or otherwise.

We recently polled the community about burnout and its main causes, asking: If you’ve experienced burnout in the past year, what was the main cause?

More than 40 percent of almost 200 respondents said they were overwhelmed with too much work and too little time. About 20 percent are uninspired with no direction or sense of purpose. Another 20 percent feel unappreciated with little recognition or support. About 8 percent said they feel disconnected, lacking collaboration or a team bond. And a fortunate 12 percent said they had not experienced burnout in the past year.

It doesn’t help that far too many organizations and managers do not even acknowledge that burnout is an issue, so they don’t recognize (or simply ignore) its symptoms. As a result, they never actually reckon with the causes of burnout. But they certainly suffer the consequences, from turnover to turmoil that hinders execution and stifles innovation.

The latest episode of PMI’s Projectified podcast focuses on Overcoming Burnout and Change Fatigue, with guests Rose James, PMI-ACP, PMP, and Mary Tresa Gabriel, PMP, discussing how they are helping organizations and teams find healthier ways to deal with these issues. Project team leaders can benefit from their insights.

The first step in overcoming burnout is simply to talk about it. “This helps [team members] understand they are not alone in their journey. Everyone has gone through it,” Gabriel says. “Don’t treat is as a sign of weakness.”

And that kind of transparent communication can help to reduce burnout. “Because when our team members want to talk about burnout, it is more likely they are okay to show their vulnerable side, which comes only when they trust you and when they are open to share with you,” Gabriel says.

In addition to providing a safe, open environment to discuss burnout, project leaders have an ongoing responsibility to provide clear direction to team members. Without it, “they may feel lost, confused, and struggle to find the real meaning of what they are doing,” Gabriel says.

Likewise, project leaders need to protect their teams—and themselves—from excessive workload and unrealistic timelines, which was the leading cause of burnout, according to our poll.

“If they are constantly faced with unclear expectations and shifting priorities or lack of proper information about the changes, this itself can cause a lot of uncertainty within the team, which can cause burnout.”

Easier said than done, right? In the podcast, James highlights two interconnected “pieces” that project leaders should connect.

The mindset piece can be as straightforward as making sure to take frequent breaks from the work to help the mind relax and reduce stress. But just as important, James says, is “to reframe threats as challenges, because when you are in a burnout state, your mind tends to see challenges as threats, or little mishaps as huge threats. If you put too much pressure on the team to achieve the goal too fast or to implement the change too fast, or frequent changes, your team is going to crack.”

The behavior piece is even trickier, James says. It’s about teaching the team how to learn to say no’ tactfully. How do you do that? James says that project leaders and team members must make the case —in reasonable, rational language—that adding more to their current list of initiatives is going to diminish the quality of output.

And if that doesn’t work? Well, when delivering value isn’t valued more than just delivering … when the talk of mental wellbeing is just, you know, talk … then burnout will continue. And everyone will lose.

So, make your case or make your move.

Posted on: July 28, 2023 04:04 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Great article, Aaron. In today's day, we are all having to jump in and cover two people's jobs as someone may have left or the organisation does not allow for a headcount to be replaced. While temporarily you can cover, it cannot be a long term solution and needs a resolution. Either you start creating efficiencies with tasks or removing non value added tasks, this would help streamline processes and help with working on more strategic activities.

Indeed Aaron,

Burnout is a serious problem, but it is one that can be prevented. By taking steps to manage stress and take care of yourself, you can help to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Here are some additional tips for preventing burnout in project management:

Take regular breaks throughout the day. Get up and move around, or step outside for some fresh air.
Schedule time for relaxation and hobbies. This will help you to de-stress and recharge.
Practice mindfulness. This can help you to focus on the present moment and let go of negative thoughts.
Connect with your team and manager. Let them know how you are doing and ask for their support.
Seek professional help if you need it. There is no shame in getting help if you are struggling with burnout.

To the point Aaron.
There will come a day when burn out will eventually be considered a professional desease. Let's hope that project managers will act ahead of this stage to consider this is one of the main risk of an ambitious project that needs active mitigation for many stakeholders among which the project manager him/hersel, the tems members, the sponsor, the project client...etc
Thanks for publishing on a still taboo item.

Straight to the point, thanks

Dear Aaron
Very interesting the theme that brought to our reflection and for debate
Obtained by sharing
Failure to value Burnout (by ourselves and our team members) can have irreparable consequences

Very interesting., thanks for sharing

Great article! I understand burnout all too well

Well-explained article to identify and address- - Burnout conditions with an agile mindset. Thanks!

Thank you Aaron for bringing up this important topic to the audience.

In my country, working under pressure is considered a strength or desirable characteristic that human resources possess. Working under pressure is synonymous with burnout, and it hurts the work of the project and the organization.
The statistics shown in the survey should be taken seriously to find solutions to avoid burnout.
I worked 30 years with exhaustion and time does not forgive.
Great work!

in fact it's a good expression which describes what we are suffering during our work lifetime.

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