Pre-empting Burnout: Imposing Sanity on Your Uncontrollable Work World


by Marge Combe



More and more people are identifying themselves as ‘burning out’ – or more concerning, using the past tense.  They are seeking ways to retract from this state and to prevent its future reappearance.  This article focuses on preventive techniques for pre-empting burnout.

How Do You Know You’re Burning Out?

‘Burnout’ is a term more and more executives and managers are using to describe to me their situations at work.  If I were a doctor, I would have said that burnout was a condition like the common cold in years past: everyone gets it from time to time.  But it strikes me as an epidemic these days.  Virtually everyone I coach talks about it, and it is never a short-term phenomenon – rather a way of life.

What are they describing when they tell me they’re experiencing burnout?  A feeling of being severely worn out and having diminished interest in work, often attributable to churn, overwork, unrealistic goals, constant changes in priorities, bombardment of requests, and/or inadequate support.

They describe feeling distracted, unable to concentrate, hopelessness about doing all they’ve committed to completing.  They report impaired relationships with colleagues, bosses and employees: curtness, snapping at people, jumping to conclusions, confrontations.  And they relate warning signals from their families as well – everything from expressions of concern to ultimatums.

Unsustainable and Sustainable Methods to Preempt Burnout

More importantly, what are people doing to address this burnout?  Working more hours, being on call almost 24/7, attending to Blackberries and iPhones non-stop – in short, adding to the overwork and churn they feel.  Working harder is not a prevention technique.


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About the Author

marge-combeflag-usaMarge Combe

Marge Combe is a coach/consultant with Vernal Management Consultants, LLC (VMC), a firm specializing in the professional development and effective business practices of leaders and leadership teams (www.vernalmgmt.com).  VMC currently coaches a number of leaders and business owners in the project management profession, in North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Rim, and South America.  Marge joined VMC in 2008 after more than 35 years in portfolio management, strategic planning and large-scale change management for Northwestern Mutual and Whirlpool Corporation.   She has leveraged that experience and a passion for coaching and mentoring into a consulting and leadership coaching role with special focus on her roots: change management, strategic planning, and project management.  Marge is a former PMI board director and Chair of the Strategic Planning and Program Alignment Committee.  She was instrumental in shaping and leading a Fortune 500 Project Management Benchmarking Forum.  She is certified in coaching through Lominger International and in emotional intelligence through the Institute for Health and Human Potential.  She received the 2007 Woman of Influence Award for mentoring, and the 2010 Leadership Excellence Award from Marquette University.  Marge can be contacted at [email protected].