Coaching Leadership

Burnout is Bad Business

Every so often we need to put in some extra hours to get something done. The reasons that we decide to do this are many and varied, but it usually comes down to someone being over optimistic about how long something will take to do, versus the time available to do it.

If it’s something you’ve committed to, where you’ve been overoptimistic and where you see the value of getting things done, then it’s fair to accept the extra push. In this scenario, you are motivated to achieve the outcome, so it can feel exciting rather than draining.

However, sometimes it’s not what you’ve signed up for. The deadline is unfair and unrealistic, and you are being held to it by management or external stakeholders. In a perfect world this wouldn’t ever happen, but this world isn’t perfect. Short term incentives can support the push, but it’s not sustainable. Good leaders will reflect on what caused the crunch, and put practices in place to stop the situation happening again.

Bad leaders will see that we hit the date (that they likely just made up) and tighten the schedule more for the next time round. This is a classic recipe for work related burnout.

There’s lots of ways for people to get burned out in the workplace, for all sorts of reasons. The consistent crunch is one of the more obvious ones, and one of the ways that can take down entire teams if left unchecked.

That’s why it’s bad for business. You get short term benefits from the push, but it’s empty calories, any success or celebration is short lived without balancing rest.

If you keep crunching, the only things that are done are the urgent ones. In software teams that means your system becomes less stable and harder to change over time. Shortcuts get shorter and become more impactful. Valuable change starts to take longer to deliver.

Eventually, the team get burned out. They are constantly rushing, always in high-priority mode and chasing harder for smaller returns.

All this increases your costs, but it’s even starker when people start to quit. Someone leaving the team unexpectedly causes a hit to the team’s productivity. A team that’s in crisis will lose people more quickly, won’t have time to bring people up-to-speed and hits a spiral of declining effectiveness.

All of a sudden, your experienced team members are gone. You are hiring rather than team building and new people come and go as they can’t settle into the team.

Leaders that push too hard for too long cause this burnout, massively increase costs for the organisation and totally wipe out the short term gains with these costs.

Sometimes you do have to push, but rest and recuperate between these bursts to avoid the burnout that’s bad for business.