Avoiding Productivity Burnout

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Avoiding Productivity Burnout

Push through this week and I can take it easy when things ease off.”

I’ve made the mistake of working up to and beyond the point of burnout, on more than one occasion, and I often find myself working with teams that are on the brink of, or well immersed in, burnout at they explore Teamwork products as a way to streamline their workloads.

All too often we wait until we are at the point of burnout before we realise that we need assistance. Further compounding this is that once we have streamlined processes in place, we see them as an avenue to do even more work, instead of utilising them as a way in which to create space to be human in our day to day lives. Burnout has a stigma attached to it by most of those who are affected by it. It is seen as a weakness. Areas where we were once productive we suddenly feel we cannot achieve what we should, so we push harder only to achieve even less. The concept of a “break” is ridiculous to us.

The truth, as my mental health practitioner has said, is that burnout is not a luxury. It is a demand for rest from a body that needs it.

Skyrocketing blood pressure and a lowered immune system are common signs of burnout. A cold might knock you down for two weeks instead of two days“, Tony Robbins on the effect of stress and burnout on physical health, How to Recognize Burnout Symptoms Before It’s Too Late

Anyone can suffer from burnout, leaving them physically and mentally exhausted, compounding other small issues into impassable roadblocks, killing productivity and even making them more vulnerable to illness.

Avoiding burnout means avoiding the risk of extended downtime by teams that are running on empty, and taking longer to recover from minor illnesses than those who have avoided burnout.

What exactly is burnout?

“Burnout” is the term for feeling as if you’ve got no spark left in regards to your work. Your mind has run out of fuel and all that’s left are embers, and can be a marker of the start of a major depressive episode if care is not taken to rectify the issue.

Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration” – Mirriam-WebsterBurnout Definition

Anyone who has suffered from burnout will know the feeling, no matter the cause. Generally, this involves:

  • Feeling disconnected from work
  • A lack of motivation
  • Withdrawing from people, colleagues, and responsibilities
  • Procrastinating
  • Difficulty focusing (without outside influences)
  • Persistent physical exhaustion
  • Negative thoughts towards work
  • Feelings of helplessness

Generally speaking, burnout is attributable to working too hard or too much. This leads to your brain essentially overloading with information and buckling under the consistent strain applied to it. However, a lack of engaging tasks and an excess of busywork can be just as damaging to your team’s mental health and level of burnout. – (ref: process street)

If you don’t give your team tasks that they have to think about and (on some level) enjoy, they’ll begin to distance themselves from those tasks. Similarly, if you pile work on to the point where the team member will never be able to clear their schedule they’ll crumble due to being overloaded and a constant sense of overwhelm. As I often remind clients when working on workflows and process mapping, if team members goals are not perceived as attainable, they will not be motivated to work on them.

This doesn’t only apply to the number of tasks, but the amount of time it takes to do the task. Many managers underestimate the time that it takes to actually get a task done. This is why it can be a good idea, when implementing software like Projects, to run a project with very general timelines they they have received from their teams, and time exactly how long it takes to achieve different tasks. This helps plan for future projects and gives a more realistic idea of how long things take.

No matter the cause though, burnout is almost never something which hits all at once. It’s a slow, insidious affliction which can start at any time and gets slowly worse until it’s addressed.

Why is burnout so bad?

Okay, so “burnout” is another term for having nothing left in your mental tank. So what? Writers force their way through writer’s block, marathon runners push through “the wall”, so why can’t your team push through burnout?

Because burnout isn’t a wall. It is an end. It is what happens when walls are pushed through every day for an extended period. One wouldn’t expect a marathon runner to run a marathon every day for weeks on end, so why do we expect our brains to be able to cope with extraordinary stress year in and year out without it affecting our overall health?.

Burnout doesn’t only affect our teams, and ourselves as human beings. It is more than an HR issue. It also affects our company bottom line.

Employee turnover can be one of the biggest sinks of time and money in a company. Anything you can do to limit the number of employees who leave will pay dividends in the long run.

Many studies show that the total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2X annual salary” – Josh BersinEmployee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned

In other words, the worse your burnout situation, the more likely your team is to quit. The more likely they are to quit, the more you’re going to pay in time and effort hiring and training their replacement. Not to mention that performance plummets the more burnt out someone is feeling.

By having effective plans and schedules in place we can help our teams avoid burnout and improve our overall efficiency even as we create more space for breathing room in our calendars.

It is worth looking over your team schedules and requirements and ask yourself whether the goals that have been set for them (and yourself) are realistic, or if they are a “dream target”. If they are an idealised target, remove the undue mental pressure, and adjust to more realistic timelines, and start getting your team to track tasks through apps like the Teamwork Timer app.

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