Project managers must take steps to avoid burnout

Monday, September 16th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

It's unfortunately common for project managers to "prove" their mettle as leaders by working longer hours than everyone else on the team. You know the type. They're in the office making coffee before anyone else gets in, and they're still there ordering takeout past 7 p.m.

Admittedly, some project managers will defend this practice by saying that they love their work and don't mind the hours. Maybe that's true for some. But for many, they're simply asking for stress-related health problems down the line.

What's worse is that if other team members try to follow the boss's example, they're asking for additional stress as well. The result? Team-wide burnout.

Stress is a problem, and not just because of the health implications. Teams that are burned out are less able to function. They run the risk of failure due to simple, otherwise avoidable mistakes. The company stands to lose money as a result.

Writing for the Rapid Learning Institute's HR Cafe blog, contributor Dave Clemens argues that managers can avoid burnout by working smarter instead of harder.

He advises them to create what he calls "a culture of deadline realism." This means that deadlines are set in order to avoid a period of last-minute stress. Instead, team members should be rewarded for staying on task and meeting intermediate milestones without heroic efforts. One way to help them do that, Clemens writes, is to establish a certain time during the day when no one is allowed to hold meetings or interrupt each other, allowing all team members to focus.

While it can be difficult to rein in those who are driven to work long hours, Clemens believes that companies should follow reasonable guidelines regarding on-call employees. "On call" means being available in specific situations—it's not another word for working from home around the clock.

Working smarter doesn't mean working less. It means working efficiently while maintaining a healthy life/work balance.

New Leaf's research on overtime work discovered the "Rule of 50"—that no one returns more than 50 hours of results each week, no matter how many hours they work. Our analysis showed that staff working 50 hours a week can return 50 hours of results. But at 60 hours, effectiveness falls to 80% (48 hours), and at 70 hours, it drops to 70% (49 hours).

New Leaf's data also revealed that continued use of overtime rapidly degrades performance to burnout at about 30 hours of results! These findings are included in our basic 3-day program "Five Sigma Project Management."

With our white papers on a range of project management topics, New Leaf can help you get (and deliver) the most from your hours at work. For managers seeking professional certification, our "PMP Prep" program prepares you to pass the exam on the first try. Thereafter, New Leaf's QPM series of online estimating games will help you earn the necessary PDU credits to keep your PMP certification.

"PMI," PMP®," and "PMBOK" are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

"QPM™" and "Five Sigma®" are registered marks of New Leaf Project Management. All rights reserved.

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