Take a Break You Idiot !

SEs are overworked ! Our mental health is being put at risk as well as our general health.  We are constantly tired and the stress is a killer.  I have been there and made some big mistakes when it comes to being overworked.  My wife once locked my phone in a safe to stop me working, so this is personal !  You need to take a break and have a holiday or vacation.  So take a break you idiot !

Overworked

The reality of being overworked is very real for many people in the sales profession, not just SEs.  The concept of job burnout is real.  I have witnessed it in other people and yes, I have experienced it myself.  I had one situation where I told someone that they needed to slow down but they didn’t take the advice and ended up in hospital.  It is a lose-lose scenario for everyone.

In this post we will look at the causes of burnout and then, more importantly, look at how YOU can avoid it and bring a better work-life ratio.

What is Job Burnout ?

Job burnout is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion.  It can affect your ability to accomplish goals, affect your sense of self worth and impact your relationships at work as well as at home.  Different people are affected in different ways, and some in the medical profession believe that it is a form of depression.  Your physical and mental health are both at risk.

It can result in stress, insomnia, anger issues and substance abuse as well as longer term health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  This is one of the most serious problems at work because it does not respect gender, race or background.  And it is a killer.

How to Spot Someone With Burnout

All of us will know someone that has experienced burnout.  We will often see the signs:

People that are more cynical than usual or overly critical of others.  They lack energy or the ability to concentrate and have no job satisfaction.

As we look at ourselves, do you have to drag yourself to work, have trouble sleeping or maybe are using food, alcohol or other substances just to get by.  Do you have regular headaches or unexplained physical problems?  These are all symptoms of a potential problem.

At work, we usually see that the performance of someone heading to burnout degrades from what is expected.  The person is just not capable of doing what needs to be done.  As a manager, if you see someone that has been a great performer and now they are below expectations then you need to take action and get them some help.  

What Causes Burnout

There are many factors that create burnout and it can affect each person differently.  But there are a number of areas that are key contributors.  Extreme levels of work or even just a constant high level of work are often the main issue – that constant pressure that someone feels.  This is very common in a sales environment due to the workloads that we often face.  Related to this is an imbalance between work life and personal life.  

It could be unclear expectations at work so that you are spinning your wheels, not knowing if you are hitting the goals that have been set by your manager or even peer pressure.  A dysfunctional workplace that might include bullying and pressure to conform in a way that you are not comfortable.

There is also the lack of social support, either from work colleagues but also from family and friends.  We all need someone to confide in and to unburden our concerns.  The lack of ability to do this just builds personal pressure.

Sometimes it can be a combination of these, and it only takes a relatively small change to tip someone into a path to burnout. And this small-change element is important.  Burnout can build quickly from almost nowhere to a major issue.  We also need to consider the impact of Covid-19, how it changed our working practices, our lack of social contact and also the pressures of companies wanting us to return to office working.

Changing Working Practices

The working practices element is a really interesting one to drill into.  We shifted many of our meetings from in-person to being on video calls like Zoom, Teams and Google Meet.  The issue here is that with in-person meetings we would usually get a natural break between meetings, obviously if we had to travel to them.  But video calls allow us to do back to back meetings without a break.

Microsoft did an amazing piece of research on brain activity that focussed on Zoom calls.  They looked at the impact of back to back calls compared to calls with breaks in between.  The data clearly shows the stress levels increasing on back to back calls, but it also means the individual is less effective as well.

Now imagine that you extend this across a day, a week, a month.  Is the effect here cumulative ?  In my experience the answer is Yes.

I have had many people tell me that they cannot take a break because the business and their role needs them.  That is utter nonsense !  What they just admitted is that they are putting the business at risk by not sharing and delegating the work that they do.  In the event that they have a health issue or there is an unforeseen event like an accident then the business WILL be impacted.  If you are a leader you MUST take action to prevent this situation, and that includes senior leaders.

How to Handle Burnout

Handling burnout is complicated as it affects people differently.  However, there is one simple truth – taking a break from work – a TRUE break – can help immensely.

Sometimes the break might just be a long weekend, sometimes a week or two weeks (which I recommend at least once a year).  You could use a mental health or well-being day at work.  Some breaks are more like sabbaticals and can last months and may be needed for severe cases of burnout.

The vast majority of people that work in a wider sales team are granted some form of annual leave, and yet many simply do not use it all.  This is ridiculous ! And yet I was guilty of doing the same up until a few years ago, while telling my team to take a vacation.

I particularly dislike the ultra-macho fools that say things like “I have not taken a vacation in three years and I am doing great”.  In my opinion they should have a flashing neon sign on their heads saying “I am an idiot”.  The nonsense that they are talking about can cause real harm to themselves and the team around them..

Take a Break

There are studies that have clearly demonstrated that giving breaks improves productivity.  The recent study in the UK for a 4 day week showed significant improvements in productivity in real world situations.

And when I say take a break, I mean a complete break.  Ensure that your work is handed over to someone else for the duration of the break.  Set an out of office responder and change your voicemail.  I even know of people that delete the email and messaging apps on the phones before they go on a break.   You need to cut the link back to work.

You need to let your mind rest and so make sure that you do something completely different.  Go see a different city or country, read books or binge watch a TV series that you have been meaning to watch.  Anything that takes your mind away from work.  It will be tough for the first few days, but stick with it.

I have personal experience of how much more productive you can be after a complete break from work and how it improves your mental health.

Making it a Habit

You need to make a habit out of taking a break !

Plan your holidays or vacations through the year and book them early to get them in the calendar.  It has the dual benefit of ensuring that you take your vacation time and it also gives you something to look forward to.  If you wait to book vacation time through the year then you will run out of time to get them booked.

Take regular family weekends.  Leave devices at home or set a personal focus to disable work alerts, but give your family the time and attention that they deserve.

As a manager, make a habit of ensuring that your team is taking vacation.  It will improve your performance and your team’s performance.  Oh and a great additional benefit is that it drives retention as you are demonstrating that you care about your team.

What Else Can be Done ?

Recognising that there is a problem means that you are half-way to solving it.  But it means that you need to start making some other changes as well as taking breaks.

Change how you book meetings.  Don’t do back to back meetings.  Book them for 25 minutes or 50 minute meetings and make sure that you finish on time.  Block out some thinking time during the day.  You need to think of the brain like a muscle.  You need to give it different exercise schedules during the day – big tasks, small tasks and regular breaks, as well as drinking water.  This is how athletes train to become champions.

Find someone at home, your friends or at work to confide in.  A problem shared is a problem halved and you will probably find that others are having issues as well

Exercise regularly – although I am not a great example for that.  Set a regular sleep schedule, and stay away from electronics for at least an hour before bedtime

And don’t forget – Get support from a medical professional if needed

Conclusion

Taking  breaks is one of the easiest ways to avoid job burnout.  It is also a gift for your family, your health and mental wellbeing but also for your job performance.

Small changes to how you work can also have a big impact on your wellbeing and don’t forget to think like an athlete and spread your workload and tasks through the day.

So don’t be a macho idiot – take a break !

Links:

YouTube Episode : https://youtu.be/32e9kUd1D_M

Blog Links:

https://thepresalescoach.com/blog/effective-time-management-1/

https://thepresalescoach.com/blog/effective-time-management-2/

https://thepresalescoach.com/blog/the-art-of-saying-no/

Video Links:

Time Management Part 1 : https://youtu.be/uNJKIpfq6xs

Time Management Part 2 : https://youtu.be/AYSmH869ji8

The Art of Saying No : https://youtu.be/S3j2-YYy8lM

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