Project Management Burnout: How Can You Keep the Fire Burning?


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, January 5, 2023

If project managers suffer, so does the entire team - but how do you spot it?

Article 4 Minutes
Project Management Burnout: How Can You Keep the Fire Burning?

Project managers stand at the foot of an unforgiving mountain. Even the most experienced and effective professionals can slip and fall as they traverse the high-performance culture, fast-paced routines and prodigious responsibilities that come with a management position.

That kind of stress can stop anyone from reaching the summit - which of course, represents your overarching business goals. Research from Gallup revealed 67% of the workforce experience ‘burnout’ at some point in their career. 

Burnout has become so significant that it’s now recognized as an official disease by the World Health Organization. So how does it affect project management, and how can you spot it?

What is project management burnout?

Firstly, let’s clarify what burnout means. We’re not talking about a physical thing, but more of a mental state which manifests as an obstacle to success. When you’re facing huge amounts of pressure and stress, it becomes very difficult to achieve your objectives. Standards drop and tasks take longer than usual because suddenly, it’s hard to think straight.

This is burnout - the antithesis of motivation and productivity. The most significant issue is that it doesn’t just come about spontaneously. It’s more of a slow-burner, gradually overcoming employees. For project managers, the ramifications of burnout can be disastrous to the business.

These experts are the leaders of their teams, responsible for the needs and requirements of staff, clients and the project itself. Despite so many expectations, project managers are often overlooked when it comes to their wellbeing - this gives burnout the perfect opportunity to develop.

Project management burnout shouldn’t be seen as something everyone just goes through. Actually, it’s not normal and represents a sign that something has to change. The best way to equip yourself to fight burnout is to know all the signs and tackle them early.

How do you spot project management burnout?

Project management burnout is multi-faceted - there’s not just a single indication, but several aspects of an individual’s performance, health and behavior that should be identified and addressed before they develop into burnout.

1. Performance

One of the key signs of burnout is an unusual drop in performance. For example, if a project manager is missing deadlines or turning in lower-quality work, it’s worth your time to speak with them and offer support. 

The biggest problem with performance issues is that they stack up over time. If one project is submitted late, it’s more than likely that the next one will see a drop in quality due to less time being available for it. If your project manager is always reacting to challenges, rather than anticipating them, they’re at risk of burnout.

2. Health

Some project managers can work for a long time before showing any symptoms of burnout. However, when exhaustion does present itself, the consequences can be devastating. Tiredness can manifest as a result of stress, even leading to insomnia in some cases. As a result, the immune system can suffer, too.

Just like performance signs, your project managers can find themselves in a spiral if the pressures and stresses of the role begin to affect their health. Irritability, drowsiness and illness are all signs of health-related issues, so be alert to them.

3. Behavior

You know your people. Sometimes, a clear indication of burnout comes in the form of personality and behavioral changes. This doesn’t only affect how an employee interacts with you, but also their entire team.

Attitude is often one of the most significant signs of burnout. If your project manager is quicker than usual to become defensive and argumentative, they might be suffering. Look out for their relationships with other members of staff, as this will highlight whether support is needed. 

Additional signs of burnout worth considering include:

  • Excessive overtime and responding to emails far beyond work hours
  • Uncharacteristic mistakes
  • Increasingly confrontational behavior
  • Lost sense of humor
  • Excessive sick days
  • Canceling planned days off

Addressing these issues often involves setting clear boundaries, fostering positive engagements and relationships, and letting employees know they’re appreciated for their hard work. It’s worth factoring in a little slack to project deadlines, too.

Of course, avoiding burnout entirely is the best solution. It’s not always easy, but setting up regular wellness meetings and promoting self-care are essential methods. Encourage project managers to use their holiday and distribute it throughout the year. Make sure they understand not to come to work sick and nurture their mental and physical health instead.

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