“Stress builds up in project teams when there is uncertainty and unpredictability and lack of communication. To ensure team members don't get overwhelmed by the project workload, it is important to set expectations in advance of every stage. A project I was involved in required team members to interact with multiple stakeholders across multiple time zones for almost a month. This was known in advance, and team members were oriented and mentally prepared to face the inconvenience of having to do late-night or early-morning calls. The milestone was nonnegotiable, and the team realized this. Ultimately, they worked together and got the job done.”
—Sudhir Swamy, PMP, senior project consultant, VentureBean, Bengaluru, India
WORK IT OUT
How do you prevent burnout among project team members? Share your best advice on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
“As a project manager, your role is to fully support the team when times are tough. That sometimes means taking on out-of-job-description activities typically performed by others so each team member can focus on their other tasks and so there's no slowdown in work progress. I have stepped out of my role on a few occasions to help the team focus on project deliverables so no member is overwhelmed. For example: taking minutes of technical meetings I didn't run and was not required to attend, driving our engineers to shops to buy hardware and even laundering their work clothes.
If it can directly impact our ability to deliver as a team, I will usually not hesitate to change my priorities as required. I expect our team to do what is necessary, within acceptable limits defined by our company policy, to achieve what we have promised. It means that I have to lead by example and go beyond my short-term priorities for the benefit of the project.”
—Alexis Pilotelle, PMP, project manager, Cavotec, Christchurch, New Zealand
“Project planning done right prevents team members from getting overwhelmed. In my experience, project managers must have exceptional leadership skills to instill a positive mood that motivates the project team without anyone feeling overwhelmed. But it also should be a priority that's identified in the risk assessment under human resources and health, safety, security and environment. Burnout should be assessed with a ‘high-risk' criticality, and the measure taken to manage it should be ‘avoidance.'”
—Rohini Kallicharan, contracts manager, Gulf Engineering Services Ltd., Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
ILLUSTRATION BY GEORGE PETERS/ISTOCK
MONITOR THE PULSE
“If someone is overwhelmed, it's the project manager's job to find a cure. When assigning work to project team members, I explain that I'm available to help complete the task—just ask me. I also pay attention to the individuals: Are they working late? Seemingly frustrated? Bored? You need to be in tune—each individual is unique and performs at different levels. When treated with respect and concern, I have never met a person who didn't want to give their best. It was just up to me to determine what that was and seek ways to improve it.”
—Leonard Byrd, owner, construction consultant, K2E, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
ALL HANDS ON DECK
“Collective problem-solving for workload issues is one of the best solutions. If there's an overwhelmed team member, I like to discuss the problem with the team member and reconsider the workload for all team members. When everyone gets involved and helps the other team member not get overwhelmed, it can solve problems and build team unity.”
—Ruzana Djanikulova, junior project manager, Hamon, Seoul, South Korea
SHIFT THE STRATEGY
“I led a long-term software implementation project where a handful of team members were responsible for a high volume of work due to their unique expertise. As the project wore on and technical issues occurred, it increasingly fell to these team members to work overtime to keep the project on schedule and preserve the critical path. It didn't take long for me to grow concerned about the risk of burnout.
The best thing we did to manage this risk was employ a slow-down-to-speed-up strategy. We reorganized the schedule to leverage resource strengths and reduced the administrative responsibilities of the technical team lead so he could focus on what he did best—technical problemsolving. We also agreed to a date at which we would decide if additional staff would be needed. I believe that proactively addressing this issue significantly reduced the risk of burnout, resource loss and project delays.”
—Sara Gallagher, PMP, senior management consultant, The Persimmon Group, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
BRACE FOR CHANGE
“Early and often, it's critical to communicate to team members anticipated changes in their workload. Clearly communicating when the workload is expected to change and for how long will serve the project team well. Also, creating an environment for open communication and trust allows for project teams to share thoughts and feelings about being overwhelmed before they become an issue. This way, there is enough time to mitigate.”
—Emmanuel Tackie, PMP, PgMP, manager, project management office, GE Healthcare, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Workplace well-being is a serious issue—a lack of it can limit productivity.
Among the world's 3.2 billion workers:
suffer from excessive pressure on the job.
are disengaged at work.
Overworked and disengaged workers can be costly for organizations.
Annual cost of work-related stress in the U.S.
Annual cost of disengagement at work in the U.S.
Source: The Future of Wellness at Work, Global Wellness Institute, 2016