Being a sales professional is stressful. There’s the pressure to hit your quota, demanding customers, the need to keep your pipeline fresh and organizational changes that are completely out of your control.
Burnout is a term that we hear thrown around a lot in sales and is often dismissed as just part of the job, but it shouldn’t be. There are things you can do to manage it.
But before we dive into handling stress and avoiding burnout, let’s look at some common sources of stress that everyone — regardless of industry — faces on a daily basis.
Sources of stress at work
Christina Maslach, author of “The Truth About Burnout,” identified six “mismatches” that make you more likely to feel overworked. You may be surprised to hear that just one of these is too much work.
- A lack of control
If you haven’t been given enough autonomy or responsibility, or you don’t have access to the necessary tools and resources you need, it can be endlessly frustrating. You start to feel out of control.
- Not enough reward
“Reward” here doesn’t necessarily mean money — it’s anything that makes the day-to-day flow of work satisfying. Alongside financial rewards, this means things like social rewards (recognition), and intrinsic rewards (feeling like you’re doing a good job).
If you’re lacking in any of these 3 areas, you’re more likely to feel dissatisfied and be more likely to burnout.
- Lack of community
A strong sense of community comes from good teamwork, low levels of conflict, and positive social interactions. If these are lacking — like your manager constantly tearing down team members, or a generally negative culture — you’re going to be more susceptible to stress and burnout.
- Lack of fairness
If you feel you’re not being treated fairly, then you can feel disrespected and powerless. This can take a lot of forms, like working longer hours than you’re getting paid, cheating in the workplace, someone else being given a non-merit-based promotion or handling disputes poorly.
- A conflict in values
According to Maslach, the 5th source of burnout comes when your personal values are out of alignment with the organization’s — like being asked to partake in dubious ethical practices to make a sale.
- Work overload
Finally, the one that most people think is the biggest reason for burnout: working too much. It’s simply when the job you’re doing is past the limits of what you can do. It may happen when you’re asked to achieve a quota in too short a time, or when a major deal is beyond your current resources, skill set, or level of ability to close successfully.
What sales burnout looks like
So what does sales burnout look like? You’ll likely notice changes in a few areas:
- Physical exhaustion
This can be insomnia, falling asleep at your desk (or in a meeting), or falling asleep while driving.
- Emotional exhaustion
Feeling a lack of empathy toward others, compassion fatigue, or depersonalization.
- Greater negativity
Being uncharacteristically aggressive or cynical, feeling anxious, feeling detached from your work.
You may also see other, general signs of stress, such as:
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Using alcohol or drugs to feel “normal” (i.e. cope)
5 Ways to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout
1. Organize your time.
You’ve got a lot on your plate, and if you don’t have things organized it will seem like you’re constantly playing catch up. To combat this and ease your tension headache, try time blocking. Time blocking is a system to help fit everything you need to do in a day and consists of 5 steps:
- Plan it
Start with a blank calendar, with every day divided into 30-minute blocks of time. Then, make a list of all the acts you need to do on a daily basis.
- Fill it out
Next, block out your days with recurring tasks and activities. Go to the gym at 7 a.m. every day? Block it. Eat lunch at 12-noon on the dot? Block it. Standing team meeting at 10 a.m. every Friday? Block it.
Once you have all recurring tasks blocked out, fill in everything else that doesn’t happen on a daily basis, but still needs to be blocked out.
- Follow it
Once you’ve filled out your time block for the month — follow it. It’ll take discipline but stay on track.
- Share it
To help you stick with your time block, let coworkers and team members know that you’re working on a time block. If you have a mentally-taxing task blocked off, put a note on your door or cubicle that says not to disturb you. Set Up an “away” message on your phone and email — whatever you need to do to get your work done.
- Audit it
In sales, you’re not always in charge of your time. Meetings pop up unexpectedly, a junior rep needs help closing a sale, etc. Flexibility is a necessity. Every 2-4 weeks, run an audit. Print a copy off and check tasks off as you complete them, taking note of how long it actually takes you to complete them. Make adjustments accordingly.
2. Work on your healthy habits.
Sleep enough, exercise regularly, eat well — everybody knows these, but who actually makes a real effort to do them? Your body needs sleep to repair and rejuvenate, as well as consolidate memories. That includes recovering from the stress of your job.
Exercising increases endorphins, acts as “meditation in motion.” and improves your mood — among other benefits.
Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar stable, providing you with more energy. Eating healthy fats assists in brain function. ating veggies and high-fiber foods neutralize harmful hormones that are produced when you’re under stress and increase alertness.
3. Consider meditation.
Stepping away from the high-paced, high-stress world of sales to meditate — even for 5 minutes — can help you manage your stress levels. Meditation can help provide you with a sense of calm, peace, and balance. Alongside those, it can help you:
- Gain a new perspective on stressful situations
- Build skills to manage your stress
- Increase self-awareness
- Focus on the present
- Reduce negative emotions
- Increase your imagination and creativity
- Increase your patience and tolerance
4. Set boundaries + allow yourself to turn off.
This one is simple in theory; complex in practice. Leave your work at home. Leave your home at work. How you do this is entirely up to you. Ellen Kossek, describes how you can set boundaries by being a separator, an integrator, or a cycler.
A separator goes to work and works. When the workday is done, he or she goes home and leaves it behind. An integrator works for a few hours, attends to personal time, then comes back to work later. A cycler is likely less applicable to sales, but worth noting: heavy work, heavy time off (think a farmer during harvest, or an accountant during tax season).
Whichever you choose, but sure to be 100% in the moment in whatever you’re doing.
5. Take time off regularly.
To perform at your best, and to keep you energized throughout your career, you need to take time off to recharge. If you have vacation time, use it! And when you’re on vacation, unplug; don’t try to keep up with deals or feel the need to check your email every minute.
You don’t need to take a 2-week long vacation every quarter. Nonetheless, be sure to have time away from the office where you spend time with loved ones or friends, doing things that you enjoy. Make sure to give coworkers and your manager ample heads up about any time off you take. repare colleagues, clients, and prospects about when you’ll be OOO so you don’t feel pressured to check in or feel guilty about being gone.
Managing stress appropriately allows you to bring your best self to work every day. In order to do this, organize your time, double down on healthy habits, and be sure to relax and unplug.