Recognize & Remedy Before You Burnout

“Burnout” is often misunderstood as something that impacts only those individuals who work long hours in stressful, high-pressure jobs – your lawyer, banker, doctor types – and not a concept we typically employ in our day-to-day Customer Success vernacular.

Instead, you’ll hear Customer Success folks lament bad days, difficult customers and rough weeks.  Sometimes though, even for those of us in Customer Success, it is possible to go beyond the bad days and rough weeks and truly experience “burnout.”  And by this, I mean being physically and mentally exhausted for a prolonged time — to the extent where our lives outside of work are impacted and we are unable to brush it off, recharge and come back the next day feeling productive and re-energized.

As with any role, people working in Customer Success are also impacted by burnout. Why? Maybe it’s because of the types of personalities drawn to working in Customer Success. We want our clients to be happy and successful, and we care about making that happen, and we continue to care even when it’s past 5 pm. Technology also has a role to play. Between texting, Slack, IM, Skype, email, calls, social media, we’re available 24/7 ready to pick up the pieces and do what it takes to advocate for our clients who often work at global companies, across all time zones.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a study by Gallup, a management consulting firm,  concluded that around 60% of full-time professionals experienced burnout at some point during their career. And it’s not just the crushing fatigue that goes along with burnout.  Rather, according to a study by PLoS One, burnout can directly impact an individual’s health and well-being by contributing to illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disorders, musculoskeletal pain, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, mortality below the age of 45 years, insomnia, depressive symptoms, mental disorders and psychological ill-health symptoms.

Given the relatively high incidence of burnout and the potentially adverse effects on it can have on an individual’s health (and, by extension, the individual’s employer), it seems like we’d be actively combating burnout.  And yet, far too often, we try to pass off burnout as simply working hard and the price of success. But nothing could be further from the truth.

So what can we do to prevent burnout? To begin, we need to identify the factors that commonly lead to burnout.

Six of the common precursors to burnout include:

  • Lack of Role Definition
    • If employees do not understand what management expects from them or what success in their role looks like, employees can find themselves jumping from task to task and trying to do “everything.”   This can to overload, insecurity and inefficiencies.
  • Unmanageable Workload
    • As its name suggests, when an employee’s workload is unmanageable, it is too much. In some cases, this may be due to resource constraints.  In other cases, however, there may be ways to improve working efficiencies that should be discussed with your management.
  • Lack of Support
    • According to Gallup, employees who feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. A good manager will ensure that an employee feels supported and has open and honest lines of communication to ensure success.
  • Work/Life Imbalance
    • Everyone has different demands outside of work, whether it is different family demands, different health demands, or other different demands.  Though sometimes a difficult task, balancing these demands is one of the keys to employee satisfaction and avoiding burnout. A work environment that allows employees to obtain this balance will help to ensure that employees feel they are able to thrive.
  • Unhealthy work environment
    • Bullying, negative gossip and a toxic work environment can add an additional layer of stress to any employee. Fostering a positive, encouraging and supportive work environment allows employees to spend their time focusing on being successful rather than navigating a minefield of negative energy.
  • Avoiding taking time off or taking breaks
    • I am British. Before I moved to the US 9 years ago, I had 30 days “holiday” a year. 25 was standard, and then I had the ability to “buy” an extra 5. When I worked in France, they enforced a 35-hour working week, and August was essentially a month off for everyone. My friends in the UK have a year maternity leave. Now compare that to the US, where most (not all) companies provide a couple of weeks of vacation and only 8-12 weeks of maternity leave. To say it was an adjustment moving to the US and the culture around “time off” is an l understatement. I remember my US colleagues telling me verbatim that they “wouldn’t know what to do with 25 days off”. I am not saying that burnout is only a US problem, however, I am saying that a proven way to prevent severe burnout is through employees taking real and true time off. According to Glassdoor, Americans only take 54% of their allocated time off each year. 54%.

So, if taking a vacation and using your PTO is so important in preventing burnout, what tips should we implement to ensure we are able to take a guilt-free and interruption-free break from the office? Some of my favorites are below:

  1. Create a culture that embraces the importance of time off
  2. Delete your email app while on vacation
  3. Delete your IM app while on vacation
  4. Delete your company app while on vacation
  5. Have someone keep you accountable (either in the office or at home)
  6. Prepare co-workers in advance
  7. Let your clients know that you will be out of the office and what they should do if they need help in your absence
  8. Put on your Out of Office email alert
  9. Ensure team members take a vacation
  10. Help others when they are out
  11. And if you really, truly cannot avoid looking at e-mails and responding to that critical e-mail, set the expectation with your clients or colleagues that you are currently out of the office / spending time with family / putting your kids to bed and that you will respond in more depth shortly. You aren’t ignoring them.

I conclude by saying, be honest with yourself. If you can feel your stress levels are continually elevated, if your anxiety is worse than it has been, if your family life is beginning to feel the strain, recognize it and take steps to avoid burnout. “Powering Through” is not going to win you that promotion. Sometimes, a couple of days’ off might be all you need, or a break from travel, or a healthier diet. And other times, it might be necessary to look at other opportunities, with employers and managers who understand the importance of burnout, support work/life boundaries and actively take steps to encourage and stand by their employees in times of stress.


Laura Arnault is a writer for the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. She is currently a Customer Success Director at Seismic Software.

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