Burnout. Can you avoid it?

Jan 09, 2017

We work a lot of hours and handle a lot of stress, so it’s important to take charge of life, both in and out of the office.

How many hours do you work each week? As compared with the rest of the world, Americans put in many more hours than our global counterparts. If you want proof, all you have to do is consider the statistics. According to the International Labour Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers; 260 more hours per year than British workers; and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

Clearly, our level of expectation as a culture seems to exceed that of the rest of the world. We wear it as a badge of honor, but at what cost to ourselves and others within our firms? And if we expect this work effort, are we driving our best talent away from our industry which is an industry already suffering through a shortage of workforce as a result of the Great Recession?

The best place to begin to address this challenge is with ourselves. As a firm leader, you set the example to be emulated by your team. If you cannot align your career with the rest of your life to avoid burnout, how can you expect those around you to avoid it? For those who are facing possible burnout, consider these recommendations:

  • Find a new career focus. This does not mean to pack your bags and give up your current career, but it does mean you should find and focus on those aspects of your career that you find more exciting and exhilarating. Money alone won’t address your burnout issues, but motivation certainly does.
  • Build up an external peer-to-peer network. You are not the only one facing burnout. You need to be open to discussing how you feel with your peers and not just peers internal to your firm. After all, some of your stress may actually stem from your internal partners or peers. Step out of that internal group to assess your situation and solicit advice. Odds are these individuals are facing some of the same issues you are dealing with and who better to understand the pressures of our industry than others within the industry.
  • Don’t over-promise or over-commit. Be realistic about what you and your team can or cannot do. One of my peers recently gave me some excellent advice when he said, “Sometimes, you just have to leave the hay in the field because the barn is only so big.” Absent adequate resources, there can be substantial risk related to over committing your staff in terms of workload and the organizational processes required to support that workload. And risk generates stress.
  • Don’t be an “army of one.” We probably all recognize this as a prior slogan for the U.S. Army, but its use was discontinued in 2006 as it was contrary to their core belief in teamwork. Yet our industry, which touts that it is built on teamwork, still tends to reward and congratulate those who put in exorbitant hours working by themselves. Rely on your team and the strength of its combined skill set to jointly complete tasks. And most of all, do not forget to recognize all team members for their accomplishments as compliments are a great stress reliever.
  • Walk away from your electronic tether. My guess is that at least one time today you have informed a client that you are available to them at any time, 24/7. Really? Just because you can be connected does not make this the right decision for either you or your client. Everyone gains from some time separated from the challenges faced at work. So lay down the phone, turn off the laptop and walk away.
  • Sometimes you just need a change. A friend who was an office leader at a very prestigious, global architectural firm recently changed jobs after more than a decade in this position. He had another decade of work in front of him, and while he enjoyed and was very good at his current job, he wanted the opportunity to rekindle the passion for his profession by facing the challenges offered by the new position. Consider all opportunities as starting fresh may end up being your best option.
  • Recognize that work is only one part of your life. Everybody is unique. For me, my work is intertwined in all that I do and I find it very fulfilling, but my happiest times are spent with my family. Figure out how to recharge your system. Identify what will enable you to be your best all-around person and make time to participate.

Let’s face it. Burnout can happen. Every one of us has experienced times that are stressful and challenging, and fresh insights about how to overcome these situations can offer a clearer and more restive path forward. Rediscovering and prioritizing what inspires us the most are important keys to reinventing work and life.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Lubbock, Texas. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.