Sales burnout is sometimes dismissed as part of the job or coming with the territory—easy redirections for a difficult problem. But burnout is often much more dangerous than working hard or crunch time.
Occupational burnout was first detailed in research by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. Freudenberger described occupational burnout as highly similar to a state of depression. And while work burnout isn’t actually depression, research shows that this type of chronic psychosocial stress impairs interpersonal behavior, social functioning, and cognitive abilities. Worst still, burnout can literally change the anatomy and functioning of your brain.
The risk of sales reps and associates experiencing this type of psychological stress is high, an occupational hazard one might say. Commission based pay, aggressive quota targets, and continuous rejections erode away at even the most resilient salespeople. Besides the human concern, businesses should be worried as performance slips to less than optimal under these conditions. Fortunately, you can spot and alleviate the symptoms before the mental and physical consequences take a hold.
What Sales Burnout Looks Like
To put it simply, sales burnout is simply a version of occupational burnout, overwork, and stress from the particular challenges of selling. Disruptions whether through new hires, departures, budget cuts, compensation adjustments or other forms of operational change all contribute to further exacerbating the following symptoms. Keep this point in mind as you monitor yourself, teammates, or direct reports.
With that said you want to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Physical exhaustion: This can take the form of unshakeable insomnia, an unscheduled nap at work, or falling asleep at the wheel.
- Emotional exhaustion: Prolonged lack of empathy, compassion fatigue, and depersonalization.
- Increased negativity: Uncharacteristic aggression, cynicism, added anxiety, and work detachment all signal burnout.
While we all experience some of these ailments like anxiety or lack of sleep on occasion, it’s the combined and prolonged status of these conditions that is cause for concern. During times of change at a company, it helps to get ahead and keep these symptoms in mind. And to prevent burnout, there are a few things you can do yourself or encourage reps to do.
How to Prevent Sales Burnout
It’s better to get ahead of burnout, especially in the fast-paced and stressful world of sales, rather than let it get out of hand before it’s too late. There are a few techniques and practices that the research points to as ways to prevent sales burnout:
- Meditation or some sort of relaxation ritual in the morning can set a calmer tone for the day
- Healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits can be truly transformative
- Set boundaries for work-life balance, establish and carve out “me time”
- Take breaks from email and technology. Constant notifications and reminders of responsibility can compound the stress that causes burnout
- Follow a detailed and orderly schedule. Time management can significantly reduce stress through minimizing surprises and increasing efficiencies
What If You’re Already Burnt Out?
At this point, you or a salesperson can recover from burnout through a concerted effort, professional help, and a plan. Research points to the three Rs for soothing burnout: recognize, reverse, and reevaluate. Each of this practices is powered by a willingness to identify, admit, and act on the knowledge that there is a problem. Of course, the best course of action is to never let yourself or others fall that far.