I had a coffee last week at the very lovely RAC club in Pall Mall with a chap who used to work with me back in the early noughties. He’d left me and set up his own business in 2015 and has been very successful, he is very likeable, always delivers and is technically brilliant. His idea of a London office resulted in a very nice and quite swanky location from which he conducts customer meetings, he said profile is everything. I can see it is in his market.

I enjoyed our conversation but he disclosed that the demands on his time had become too much during this year. He quoted my catchphrase:

“You can always recruit your way out of problems”

But he had understandably decided to just work harder and longer hours rather than build his team. This has resulted in him getting close to burn-out, the more he talked, the more I recognised that he wasn’t close to burn-out he was actually in the midst of burn-out. Having experienced it myself, I can spot the signs (the ones I experienced) and he was illustrating a lot more.

I read a great article earlier this month by Azadeh Williams in the Times titled “Fighting CFO Burn-out”. It highlighted a key factor by which you know things are getting too much, the article talked about identifying what is ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’ that is ok but when it becomes ‘continued stress’ it is not healthy and can lead to burn-out. The article said it reckoned three out of four CFOs were experiencing escalating stress levels in the face of greater demands and tighter business expectations. I thought while that is true about CFOs, I suspect it relates to all roles including Project Managers and particularly Site teams who are at the apex of demand.

Signs of workplace stress

When you research the symptoms of ‘continued stress’  I have personally experienced a number of these; struggling to sleep or losing your temper alongside being unable to switch off. That is the time to take a weekend off or talk to your boss about taking some time off. Of course it may not be something you are experiencing but have a look at your teams, are they demonstrating these traits, if so, step in and relieve the pressure.

The chap I was talking about earlier has a ‘halo’ above his head, he was someone when he worked with me, that everyone would seek out, ask advice, suggest he leads to delivery. He always found it difficult to say no because he would worry about his profile, yes really. My CEO at the time brought that 90s staple of ‘building your profile’ to the company, you rose and fell on your last contribution, it made for a quite uneasy existence, clearly not just for me.

In the article in the Times, they talk about CFOs being a dumping ground for problems because it is all financial and the buck stops with them. That’s unfair and not accurate, so the pressure grows. It is far easier to grow a support team around the staff member and pull it back if it is too much. Much harder to not support enough and watch them crash and burn in front of your eyes. I still think burn-out is often seen as failure, I think it is changing but slowly. It is a strong position to say you need to take some time out but feels risky unless you know your boss has your back.

What can organisations do?

Progressive companies put health and well-being at the centre of how they manage their staff, if you don’t, then you have a wonky platform to deliver your products and services. Don’t fool yourself that people come right in the end, sometimes they don’t. Allocate your resources well, support your teams, do a litmus test on yourself and prioritise what needs doing i.e not everything and now.

Above all, keep it on your agenda….

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