Addressing Burnout: Saying “No”
***NOTE: This is a series of articles on the critically important subject of burnout. We offer programs on burnout if its a bigger issue in your organization.***
When we work with professionals that are “burned out” or with leaders with teammates that are “burned out” one of the common issues that comes up is the ability to say “no”.
And it most cases it’s no one’s fault. In fact, in many cases, the world has wired the professional to fail.
What It Looks Like
Sally returned to her desk from the industry conference last week. She has a ton of notes and a small pile of business cards. She’d really like to start implementing, today, the great strategies she learn. But she still had a big project to complete from before the conference with at least 2 full days or work to go.
AND she already has 10 voicemails to return (and they say folks don’t use the phone any more) and 250 emails she couldn’t read while at the conference. AND paper mail showed up will she was gone.
As soon as she walks into her office she is overwhelmed. AND she has a meeting with her boss in an hour.
At the meeting her boss gives her the assignment that was held for her return. From the boss’ perspective the 3 days Sally was at the conference are already lost.
Sally just wants to crawl into bed or give up.
She’s burned out.
And it’s not uncommon. She feels like a lot of professionals today.
Wired to Fail
The way to get ahead in school and early in most careers to do everything. Say “yes.” It’s essentially a pie-eating contest of work and activities.
And to make it through the early stages of your academic work and career pie eating works just fine.
But at some point there is too much pie. Too much work. Too much activity. You can’t eat all the pie.
The answer for most professionals in this case is to try to work more hours, sleep less and generally be “productive.”
And that works – for a while.
But at some point there is just too much pie and the pie eating skills that got you so far fail.
And this normally brings feelings of overwhelm – and “burnout.”
Time for New Thinking
What happens next is critical and defines those that have amazing careers and those that are average.
At some point you have to start picking what you will do and what you won’t do. This requires active management and saying “no” a lot more often.
Actually being intentional in what you do and what pie you eat.
But Saying “No” Isn’t Easy
The next challenge the comes up is that saying “no” isn’t easy.
If you are the one feeling burned out you probably try very hard to make everyone happy. Saying “no” feels like a let-down to them.
If you are the leader know that your teammate likely wants to please you and make you happy but they don’t know how.
Simply many of us have not be taught to say “no”.
For leaders you need to enable your team to say “no” by helping them have clear priorities and helping them figure out what to focus on first. This will lower their stress, make them feel more in control and generally lead to better work product.
If you are the one overwhelmed it’s time to look at your total life and priorities. What’s important and what’s not. What can you get rid of?
As you build your “no muscle” and say “no” more and more often it will get easier. And you’ll feel more in control and intentional.
It’s amazing to watch our clients as they start to say “no” more often. Smiles come back, they feel in control and they feel like the decision makers they are meant to be.
But the key to being able to say “no” is to know what the priorities are in your business and your life so you can put things in the right order.
When we work with our clients we start with priorities and goals before time management or anything else.
Back to Sally
As Sally is sitting in her boss’ office she wishes should could push back by one week the project she had been working on prior to her departure for the conference. Everyone knows it doesn’t need to be done until next month. But she is afraid to say “no” so she has to figure out, in her head while her boss is talking, which nights this week she’ll skip sleeping.
What if the culture of the company allowed Sally to say “no” comfortably? Wouldn’t the company get a better result? Wouldn’t Sally be happier?
Sounds like a win-win.
More “no’s” often lead to happier organizations and doing more of what matters.
What have you done in your organization to make saying “no” OK? What will you do now?
Let us know!
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