There is no denying that being a Project Manager is a fast-paced and highly demanding career choice. This is generally outweighed by the rewarding aspects such as job satisfaction and seeing the hard work bear fruits which will improve the future for the customer. However, there can come a time when the negative feelings can outnumber the positive ones and this can lead to project management work-related burnout.
Burnout has a severe impact on productivity, morale and will affect your personal life as well; if left unattended. It is vital to the future of your career as a Project Manager that you discover how to identify and combat project management burnout – not only within yourself but also in those people who make up your project management team. A good Project Manager needs to always remember that each member of the team is an individual with their own lives and stresses. Being a great leader means that you need to show care and concern for your team and ensure that they know that they have your support.
Burnout, whether in a project management career or elsewhere in your life, tends to be a gradual process which can often go unnoticed until the symptoms are too severe to ignore any longer. The signs tend to present themselves in three categories and as a Project Manager, being able to identify them as early as possible can be essential for both yourself and the other members of your project management team.
1. Emotional Indicators
• Lack of motivation
• Decreased sense of accomplishment
• Sense of self-doubt and failure
• Feeling defeated
• Increase in negative outlook
• Feelings of detachment
2. Physical Indicators
• Generally feeling exhausted and worn out
• Lowered immunity leading to increased instances of illness
• Disrupted sleeping patterns
• Change in appetite/eating habits
• Physical ailments such as muscle pain, backache and headaches
3. Behavioural Indicators
• Withdrawing from responsibilities
• Using alcohol, drugs or food as a coping mechanism
• Loss of self-control in stressful situations
• Attendance issues at work
• Loss of interest in completing assigned tasks
• Lowered standard of work
• Disinterested in career progression
Although it is the responsibility of the Project Manager to ensure that the project runs smoothly and delivers the product on time, within budget and to the quality expectations of the customer, it can be impossible to achieve this when the project team is not performing the way it should. If you, as the Project Manager, are feeling dissatisfied with your job role, there is a good chance that your team members are feeling it too. This could be due to the same factors that are troubling you or simply because they have picked up on your negative energy and been affected by it.
Project Managers are also people with their own worries; however, to ensure that your team, and the project at hand, do not suffer it is important to address project management burnout issues as soon as they come to your attention. The best way to begin tackling these issues is to take a lesson from project management – identify the cause/s of the issue/s in order to gain an understanding of where the roots lie and use this information to assess the best way in which to resolve the situation.
Work related stress is often the main cause of burnout and the very nature of the project management field means that this is something that needs to be monitored. A good Project Manager knows that catching issues as early as possible provides a greater chance for resolution and this principle should also be applied to the health and well-being of project team members at all levels.
1. Personality Triggers
• Perfectionist traits
• Low self-esteem
• Controlling tendencies
• Reluctance to delegate
• High-achieving personality
2. Lifestyle Triggers
• Working too much
• Insufficient breaks/rest from work
• Insufficient time for personal enjoyment
• Taking on too many responsibilities
• Insufficient sleep
• Lack of supportive personal relationships
3. Workplace Triggers
• Feeling of inadequate control over your work
• Lack of recognition in the workplace
• Lack of incentives/rewards in the workplace
• Lack of support
• Unreasonable expectations
• Unrealistic work load
• Unclear/unstable chain of command
• Lack of understanding from others towards your role
• Lack of career progression
• Monotonous workload
• Chaotic working environment
• High-pressure fields of work
• Being undermined by co-workers/management
• “All take and no give” structure to the workplace
• Lack of adequate communication
• No structures in place for planned salary increases, bonuses or wage reviews
• Unfulfilled promises
• Lack of compassion
• Extended working hours with no reward
• Lack of gratitude for work well done
• Managers/Supervisors who take credit for the work of others
• Feelings of being under-appreciated in your job
• Not being provided with the resources for the job
Often managers, be it Project Managers or otherwise, wonder why they lose their most valuable employees. Although sometimes there are external factors or personal choices by the employee, it is very often the case that a combination of the factors listed above is the cause of the employee leaving their job. As any Project Manager knows, it is essential to the success of a project to have a project team that is effective and efficient in performing their roles. As the saying goes “A happy team is a productive team”.
How to Combat Project Management Burnout
In order for a Project Manager and project team to deliver a successful project, it is vital for project management burnout to be prevented. This is easier said than done in some instances but keeping an eye out for the signs mentioned above and learning how to avoid some of these occurring, can make the world of difference to how a project team operates and how a Project Manager leads by example.
It is almost certain that every Project Manager has, at some stage, felt utterly overwhelmed by the endless rush of responsibilities that come with the job. This is particularly true when faced with a project that is especially complex or tricky. At times like these it is helpful to reassess the priorities and focus on what is most important to the project. Spend the majority of your time attending to the big issues which will have the greatest impact on the project. When resolved, this will remove an enormous burden and you will feel validated and renewed in your determination to fight the smaller battles.
Although it is commonly accepted, and expected, that the Project Manager will handle most of the planning aspects with little assistance from the project management team, it does not always have to be this way. Asking for input from the rest of the project management team can have tremendous benefits. Multiple points of view can lead to a clearer vision of what lies ahead and can bring about issues or improvements that would have been otherwise missed. It also promotes an atmosphere of team work and enables the rest of the project management team to feel that the Project Manager values their input and trusts their instincts. This will not only take some of the pressure off of a stressed Project Manager but will also create a more unified team.
It is important to remember that a Project Manager is surrounded by a capable project management team and that there is nothing wrong with making full use of that team. Instead of trying to cope with everything at once, assign tasks to those who are able to execute them as required. Not only will this enable the Project Manager to focus on the aspects where their attention is truly necessary but it can also lead to other project team members being noticed for their abilities and this will encourage them as well as enable them to progress in their own project management careers.
There is no shame in asking for help. It is not unusual for a Project Manager to feel as though they have to prove themselves constantly and this belief can exacerbate the overwhelming feelings that can lead to project management burnout. A Project Manager, and their project management team, should bear in mind that any burned-out team member cannot focus adequately on the project at hand and this can severely impact the welfare of the project. However, the answer is not to try and ignore the situation but, instead, to ask for help in resolving it.
A lot of project management methods preach about “lessons learned” and this does not necessarily have to be only about what is learned about the product or project process. Discovering what level of workload is realistic, what expectations are reasonable and what can truly be achieved are all valuable lessons as well. And if you lead by example and ask your team for help when you need it as their Project Manager will create a project management team that feels supported and nurtured enough to ask for help when they in turn require it to perform to the best of their abilities.
Being a good Project Manager is a life-long quest as there will always be room for improvement and new things to be discovered. The important thing is to trust in your own capabilities and ensure that you are always willing to consider ways to increase your ability to lead your project management team. Be a Project Manager who leads with care, compassion and a genuine interest in assisting your team to become the best that they can be in their own roles. Developing a strong, confident and supported project management team will lead to greater project success and a reputation of which to be proud.