Recognizing and Overcoming Sales Burnout
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As the pandemic – and all the uncertainty that comes with it – persists, burnout across all facets of the workforce is on the rise. In sales, many reps are feeling the pressure of keeping up with workloads and increasing productivity expectations while navigating rapid changes in the market on top of personal challenges. In fact, recent research shows that 44% of respondents report that reps are experiencing above-average burnout at their organization.
“Employee burnout and disengagement have been exacerbated by the turbulence of the past year, with almost half of sales reps saying they are less productive than they used to be, and less than two-thirds expressing confidence in their sales organization’s ability to close deals in the current economic environment,” said Denise Lee Yohn, author and brand leadership expert.
In many organizations, challenges with burnout manifest in increased turnover and decreased rep morale and engagement. By learning how to recognize, mitigate, and overcome feelings of burnout, sales enablement professionals can become better equipped to support their reps and position them for success.
From engaging reps proactively and listening to feedback with empathy to establishing trust and tailoring programs to individual needs, enablement can actively offset feelings of stress and burnout in sales. Sales enablement professionals can learn and implement a few of these practices to mitigate burnout among reps, resulting in a more empathetic, efficient, and effective sales environment.
What Causes Burnout?
Sales burnout can be triggered by a multitude of factors, including unforeseen circumstances like the pandemic, but can be further exacerbated by causes that leaders have control over. For instance, sales reps may feel overwhelmed due to an unsustainable workload, a lack of community, unaligned values with their leaders, and insufficient rewards for their work.
As a function focused on supporting reps with the resources they need to do their jobs most efficiently and effectively, enablement has the ability to make positive changes in their reps’ work environments to lessen the amount of pressure, stress, and exhaustion that they may experience in their career journeys. This starts with understanding the stages of burnout and common symptoms in each.
“People are dealing with a lot of stuff right now as a result of the pandemic, so I have had to reach out and help my colleagues, my teammates in different ways as a leader than I ever have had to in the past,” said Michelle Anthony, chief marketing officer at Lee Hecht Harrison. “We’re all part of different communities and making people feel valued and appreciated for the work that they’re doing as part of this community is really important.”
What are the Stages of Burnout?
Sales enablement professionals can educate themselves on the stages of burnout to better understand what the journey to burnout and warning signs look like. This knowledge arms enablement professionals with the ability to notice feelings of stress and tackle them before they mature into full-scale burnout. There are five stages in the burnout cycle and each comes with its own set of symptoms, which is why it is important to learn how to recognize each stage.
1. Increased Enthusiasm:
In the first stage of the burnout journey, individuals feel a sense of enthusiasm for their work, specifically around new goals, targets, or projects. People may increase their work hours, focus, concentration, and energy trying to achieve these objectives. The concern of this stage is that an employee is focusing on themselves and their own needs less, as they pour more into their work.
2. Overextending Ending in Frustration:
Similar to the first stage, reps in this stage display feelings of excitement. But here, reps now have to put in even more energy, focus, and concentration to reach the same result they had before. At this point, individuals tend to be overextending themselves to gain success in their work. Many feel they are getting more worn out at this point of the burnout cycle. This leads to feelings of frustration and resentment towards the extra work they committed to in the first place. Employees may begin voicing their frustrations or discouragement, but at this point, intervention tends to be the most effective.
“When we get to the warning signs, we’re going to really look at the behaviors to pay attention to, especially when we’re looking at this frustration stage,” said Katie Maycock, co-founder of OMNIA. “This is where you, as a manager or leader or as somebody just working in sales, you really want to intervene and start going backward at this stage, because this is before it gets really dicey, moving into the physical illness and further on into some mental health issues as well.”
3. Exhaustion and Emotions:
At this stage, individuals are more than halfway through the burnout cycle, which means intervention is crucial at this point. In the third stage, team members may be getting sick more frequently than before or come in but aren’t as productive. Many feel heavy, extreme emotions at this point and become too exhausted to work. Some find they feel a decrease in quality thinking and begin to take more days off. It is more difficult to bring an employee out of the burnout cycle at this stage, but it is still possible.
4. Numbness and Detachment:
During stage four, individuals begin to feel detached from their jobs and lose overall interest in their work. Some may begin looking for new work at another organization or fantasize about moving on from their position. Once an employee reaches this stage, it is difficult to get them re-interested or re-energized in their work since they feel a sense of numbness towards their environment.
The final stage and end of the cycle is complete burnout. At this point, the employee will likely leave the organization and feel total mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. This is the stage that most sales enablement professionals will want their reps to avoid altogether because it hinders sustainable growth for the organization and can harm the overall culture of the workplace.
Understanding and validating these stages and their symptoms can make team members feel seen and heard, allowing for an effective intervention to mitigate burnout before it fully manifests. Since physical, mental, and emotional symptoms accompany these stages, it is important to notice and alleviate pressure at the earliest warning sign.
What Can Enablement do to Mitigate Burnout?
To reduce the rates of sales burnout in an organization, sales enablement professionals may see improvement by implementing a few mitigation strategies. These steps work to help enablement professionals connect teams, utilize feedback, and individualize intervention approaches to address specific problems.
Acknowledge Individual Needs
Each rep has unique preferences for how they work and engage both internally and externally. For example, one rep may feel most productive at certain times of day and prefer to schedule meetings outside of those hours, or another rep may communicate best over a video call rather than an IM.
“The sales team are individuals and how they work, how they handle pressure, how they perform is completely different,” said Maycock.
Enablement can acknowledge these individual preferences by creating space for flexibility. For instance, perhaps time spent in live training can be designated to specific times of the day and communicated in advance, while self-paced learning can be used to supplement so that reps can control their own schedule.
“I think we need to be flexible in allowing sellers to be live when it’s advantageous for them to be live and give some diversity of experience and activity to our sellers to get greater engagement and less burnout from them,” Spencer Wixom, chief customer officer at Challenger.
Appreciate the Work Accomplished
Recognizing the work a team has accomplished successfully is important in cultivating a less stressful work environment for reps. Importantly, this recognition must go beyond the superhero moments where an individual exerted significant energy to achieve a monumental outcome. Enablement can also celebrate the accomplishments of teams across their daily responsibilities, such as highlighting an excellent discovery call or a well-written follow-up email.
By taking the time to praise, give complimentary or constructive feedback, and reward team members, sales enablement professionals can emphasize the value and meaning of reps’ work.
“You want to raise visibility of short-term wins,” said Helen Cummins, head of enterprise field productivity and readiness at Amazon Web Services. “I have found it really important to publicly recognize and reward people who are moving things in the right direction. It really sets the right tone.”
Create Opportunities for Transparent Feedback
Sales enablement professionals can also track feedback from reps to consistently check for symptoms and monitor the impact of their strategies in tackling burnout. To encourage transparent feedback, it is important to create several opportunities for sharing thoughts and opinions across different channels. For example, this can include surveys to measure how reps feel about their stress and pressure and create a baseline from which to improve. Other formats could include setting up enablement office hours, electing representatives to sit on a sales advisory board, or conducting one-on-one interviews.
“The most important thing, and sometimes the hardest thing to do in enablement I think, is to listen for things that are not said,” said Terri Petion, director of enablement at MaestroQA. “Paying close attention to areas where reps need support the most, but maybe they don’t recognize it on their own is critical. You have to be able to read between the lines in some cases, and in others where it is more explicit, you can create programs that are tailored to the specific needs of the organization and of those reps.”
Burnout in sales today is a real and difficult issue that organizations must learn to navigate quickly. Enablement can help reduce the risks associated with burnout, from loss of engagement and dips in morale to increased turnover.
“Burnout is the destination,” said Maycock. “There is a journey that precedes that.”
By understanding the root causes of burnout, the stages and symptoms to look for, and core foundations to have in place to begin intervention, enablement can help validate the pressures reps are feeling while taking action to alleviate those challenges.