‘Project burnout’, or ‘project fatigue’, is a common problem in business. And never more so than today, with the pace of change almost outrunning our ability to keep up. Advancements in technology, increasing regulatory demands, a tough economy, and of course the introduction of AI into our everyday lives – no wonder organisations can feel they are firefighting just to stay in the game.
For project managers (and project staff in general), project burnout is a real red flag. Never mind the impact it can have on your project, what about the consequences on mental health, on team spirit, and on collaboration and effective working in general?
The best way to manage project burnout, of course, is to avoid it altogether. Below we’ve set out some simple tips that you can experiment with, to see if you can ‘burn-proof’ yourself, your team and your work. But if it’s unavoidable, we’ve also listed the red flags that indicate burnout is around the corner – and what to do if you’re really ‘in the trenches’. We hope our insights will be useful…
Can you avoid project burnout altogether?
The simple answer is ‘yes’ – but it’s not the same as protecting yourself against the ‘flu. Self-care is absolutely key here. Set healthy work boundaries, and make sure your team members (and yourself) are completely clear about your deliverables and what is expected of you. Make sure everyone understands the end-goal and the purpose of the project. Ask for, and give, regular feedback so that everyone feels they are being paid attention to. Give praise where it’s due, and make sure that team members know how valued they are. Importantly, if you are a project manager, be available – for support, for any questions, for challenges, and for collaborative conversation.
Spotting burnout in colleagues (and in yourself!)
Sometimes it just can’t be avoided – despite your best intentions. If you’re leading or working on a project – and especially if you’re a responsible, concerned team member – here are the key things to look out for in your colleagues.
- Constant exhaustion; losing interest in day-to-day activities
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Isolating themselves from other team members
- “Glass is half-empty” mentality (turning positives into negatives, often without even realising they are doing so)
- Missed deadlines
- Inability to concentrate and/or make rational decisions
- Quality of work suffers
Remember that it’s also important to make sure you don’t burn out. Project fatigue is contagious, so practice the self-care tips we’ve suggested to avoid it
Addressing burnout if it happens
If you spot any of the signs listed above in a team-member, there are some practical steps you can take. Why not make time to take them for a coffee or a chat outside of the regular work environment, and give them opportunity to open up to you? Remember to listen to how they’re feeling without judgement or criticism: you’re being a sounding-board for them. If it’s possible, could they take some time off to regain perspective? Could their workload be lightened, or focused on just one area? You could also consider:
- Breaking larger tasks/milestones into smaller, simpler deliverables
- Completely eliminating overtime and/or weekend working
- Suggest an “email off” policy after a certain time in the evening (we’d advise proposing it to the whole team, so the individual doesn’t feel singled out and so that others don’t get the wrong impression)
- Make sure the individual’s scope of work has not crept into other, demanding areas (of the project, or elsewhere in the business)
Have you ever experienced project burnout? How did it impact you, and your team? What did you do to address it?
We’re interested to hear: email firstname.lastname@example.org