According to Gallup, 76% of employees in both leadership and non-leadership roles have experienced burnout at least once. The profession of a project manager belongs to senior positions with an increased level of responsibility and as a result, stress.
Let’s take a small test.
- Do you feel frustrated lately?
- Do your projects hardly meet their deadlines?
- Do you start every Monday with the thought that weekends pass you by and get angry with your team members every time you talk to each other?
We don’t want to frighten you but if your answers are positive, you’re probably under stress or facing emotional burnout syndrome.
Stress and Burnout: Is It the Same State?
The WHO has included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupation-related state. It’s described as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Thus, burnout is a result of continuous stress at work. This state is much more complex and challenging to cope with as compared to stress. Burnout manifests itself as a state of mental and physical exhaustion.
The main difference between these phenomena is that stress is a short-time reaction of the human psyche which passes off as soon as the irritant disappears. As distinct from it, burnout is a long-term state that doesn’t get any better if you cope with an irritating or stressful event.
Let me give you an example. You’re anxious because of an approaching conference where you’re going to be a speaker or an important meeting on which the further success of your project depends. If your anxiety and exhaustion disappear as soon as you accomplish your task, you were facing stress. And when it’s still bothering you though you successfully completed all your assignments and the state is getting even worse, you’re probably dealing with emotional burnout.
Signs of Approaching Burnout
You can easily prevent burnout if you timely notice and react to signals that may lead to it. The most common signs are as follows:
- You often feel irritated at work.
- You think you work too hard but can’t see the results.
- You’re followed by the feeling that you’ll miss all possible deadlines.
- You think about challenges and feel stressed even at home.
- It’s difficult for you to get up in the morning and you feel sleepy earlier than usual.
The WHO distinguishes the following three dimensions peculiar to emotional burnout:
- energy reduction and exhaustion;
- mental detachment from one’s job or job-related cynicism; and
- decreased occupational efficacy.
In the article by Harry Levinson, he claims that the following emotions and states are specific for the burnt-out employees:
- Constant fatigue;
- Irritability with those putting forward their demands;
- Cynicism and negativity;
- An instantaneous manifestation of emotions.
Why Burnout Is Dangerous
Probably some of you don’t take it seriously but this state is hazardous and can attack anyone.
- Despite it’s an occupational phenomenon, it can also negatively affect private life.
- Passionate and engaged employees are not immune to emotional burnout.
- People who have ever experienced burnout are more likely to take sick days, visit the emergency room.
- Employees who experience burnout at least sometimes, are 2.6 times more likely to seek another job.
Causes of Project Burnout
As has been mentioned above, one of the main reasons of burnout is accumulated stress. But why does it occur? Let’s dwell upon PM’s duties to understand the origin of stress.
Managing Dysfunctional Teams Is Waste of Time
Probably everyone dealing with projects knows what Student Syndrome and Parkinson’s Law are and how they can affect business. Saving project tasks from employee’s procrastination is really difficult and stressful. And it’s almost impossible without a proven method. You can’t control everyone individually.
Preventing Others from Burnout Is Stressful
As the position of a project manager belongs to the executive leadership role types, these experts manage not only projects but also people. Leading teams is always challenging. Moreover, one of the PM’s duties is to prevent team members from stress and burnout. A project manager acts not only as a strategist and supervisor but also as a ‘psychologist’ who is responsible for team spirit. It’s of no surprise that these duties may cause stress and lead to emotional burnout. Besides, ill humor is ‘transmissible’.
Communication with Clients and Stakeholders Is not Always a Pleasant Experience
Regardless of the desire, the project manager’s responsibilities involve a lot of communication with people. Needless to say that discussions don’t always flow in a positive way, which may significantly affect the PM’s mood and emotional state. For instance, some clients change their minds too often and change the requirements from time to time. As a result, a project manager has to adapt and stay tolerant no matter what. This job implies suppressing emotions, which can’t but negatively affects the psycho-emotional state.
Too Many Projects to Run Is Challenging
When a project manager is in charge of more than one project at once, he or she is dealing with a multi-project environment. As compared to traditional project management, multi-project management is complicated by
- Project and task prioritization;
- Inter-project relations;
- Complicated interaction within the team (especially when working remotely);
- Team members’ under- or overload;
- Strict time frames;
- Budget limitations.
Working under stressful conditions will somehow or other lead to exhaustion.
Too Much Uncertainty and Risks in Projects Is Overwhelming
A project manager is responsible for successful project delivery within time and budget frames. But this task is complicated by a lot of issues that can’t be predicted. Uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges in projects. If a PMO expert doesn’t have a reliable approach to manage uncertainty in projects, he or she is at risk to suffer from stress every day.
How to Avoid Burnout
Find an Assistant or a Reliable PM Tool
Managing projects is challenging. And if you work in a multi-project environment, your duties and their complexity multiply. You need a person or a software solution to keep your things organized. A PM tool can prioritize tasks automatically and save some time for other things or just some extra rest.
Take Care of Team Building
Don’t forget that you’re a leader responsible for your team. If your coworkers face overload regularly, they experience stress. And you already know the consequences. No doubts, it will affect you, too. So, your task is to build a strong team whose members treat one another with respect and work together for a common goal.
Prepare for Unpleasant Meetings and Difficult Negotiations
You have to deal with the people you don’t like and agree with them even if you didn’t like their ideas. Do something you really enjoy after a difficult day at work full of long conversations and troubles. You can prepare something beforehand if you know you’ll have a difficult day at the office. For example, download a good movie or order some faviourite food for the evening.
Manage Your Time
Don’t overwork yourself. Have small breaks for coffee and go home when your workday is over. Take your time.
Leave your occupational routine and problems at the office. Don’t try to make things up while spending time with your family. You won’t and it’ll have a negative impact on your relationships. And make it a rule to unplug for the whole weekend.
Master the Art of Rest
Very often, people in managerial positions can’t relax because of constant tension and stress. But if you want to stay productive just learn how to rest. Try yoga lessons, some meditation can’t hurt.
Find a Hobby
A hobby is any type of activity that makes you feel either happy or at least draws your attention and makes you ignore occupational issues. You can have several hobbies at the same time. The only rule is ‘do it until you like it, once not, drop it and find another one’.
Pay Attention to Health and Physical Fitness
If your health is poor none of these tips will ever help you. Consult a doctor if something disturbs you and don’t shelve an issue. When your health is ok, workouts will help you relieve stress and prevent the development of emotional burnout. Harvard Medical School experts state that any type of exercise will be effective, even simply walking.
How to Beat Burnout Syndrome
If you haven’t managed to prevent emotional burnout and you feel like you’re in a trap, here are some tips that will help you cope with this state and manage your projects as efficiently and enthusiastically as you did it before:
Take a break
Don’t postpone it anymore. You’ve deserved a good rest, and your body and mind are crying out for it. Don’t take any new projects and just stop for a while.
Talk to Your Team
Your team members will definitely notice your psycho-emotional state and it may affect them, too. They should know you care about them and that you’re as vulnerable as any other person. It’ll not only make you feel more relaxed at work as you won’t have any secrets but also will consolidate your leadership.
Consult a Doctor
The best way to beat burnout is to combine your rest with a doctor’s appointment. You can consult your family doctor or a psychotherapist. Sharing a problem and being heard are always helpful. Apart from the free expression of your feelings, you’ll get an expert opinion and some recommendations on how to deal with your state.
Employ Project Management Software
When you recover and get back to work don’t make the same mistakes. Look for a multi-functional and reliable software solution and ‘delegate’ some of your responsibilities, as for example task prioritization and resource allocation.
Prevention is always better and easier than treatment. If you find yourself in a stressful environment at work, try to have a rest, manage your time, reduce your workload, and take care of your health.
If stress has turned into burnout, the best thing you can do to help yourself is to take a break and consult a doctor.
And in the era of digitalization, why not to employ a virtual project manager that would help you deliver your projects without tension and stress? Contact our sales manager and book a demo to know more about multi-project management software and Epicflow.
Have you ever experienced emotional burnout? What are your methods of preventing and overcoming it?