Career Q&A: A Strategy for Confronting Burnout

Lindsay Scott also shares tips for exploring citizen development, upskilling agile and taking the freelance dive. 

After two years of relentless work pivots and replanning, I’m suffering from burnout. How can I make sure it doesn’t derail my career?

Burnout is real—and you’re right that it’s a sign you need to step back and reassess your role and career.

Start with a dose of perspective: Lots of project professionals are struggling with burnout, and many organizations are responding with an increased focus on employee mental health and wellbeing. Make sure you access any services your org might offer. You could even form a cohort with team members to share coping strategies and support each other.

Those conversations will likely reveal a shared reality: We’re still adjusting to new ways of working. Those new structures—and the rate at which those changes are implemented—vary by organization. Is the way you’re working now really the right fit? Or do you (or your organization) just need more time to adapt?

Surrounding yourself with the right people will help you evaluate which new processes are most challenging—and pinpoint whether the problem is you or the structure. The project management office (PMO) can also be a perfect partner to find a workable solution. Remember: Its leaders are there to help and support you.

I’d urge anyone facing burnout to avoid making rash decisions. Use your professional connections and workplace mentors as a collective sounding board. They can help you work through thoughts and develop new ways to manage burnout. And if you decide to take a break—sick leave, unpaid leave or even walking away completely—set aside fears that it will hinder future pursuits. Your skills and experiences will be just as valuable after a recharge, and recruiters and hiring managers will appreciate the refreshed perspective you’ll bring to any role.

I work in a PMO. I keep hearing about citizen development. Is this a good skill to add?

Absolutely. The PMO community is currently abuzz about citizen development—where teams with little or no coding experience build their own tech solutions. That makes sense, considering it’s seen as an obvious opportunity to develop applications and tools that support successful project delivery.

To build this knowledge, study the learning options that PMI Citizen Developer offers, including courses and handbooks. You can also take the lead at your organization by starting conversations with the IT department about what’s possible for your PMO. What kinds of tools would the PMO be interested in developing—and what data would be needed?

PMO skills development that touches on data analytics and automation will be in high demand in the coming years. So, get ahead of the curve to help your PMO—and your career.

Most of the roles I apply for require agile experience—but I have none. What’s the quickest way to upskill?

Forget about shortcuts and hacks. You want to build your knowledge the same way agile delivers projects: incrementally.

There’s an abundance of online courses and resources on the web, which can help you acquire the knowledge that underpins agile. Once you broaden your understanding of agile, you will quickly realize what skills are needed and how to tackle any gaps.

Also, don’t assume that all job postings that mention agile are looking for the same thing. When assessing an open position, try to distinguish between organizations that are fully agile and ones that are just starting to adopt agile. For project managers with limited agile experience, the latter is likely the better target.

I’m tempted to switch from full-time to freelance, but I’m worried about finding consistent work. Any advice?

There are two things I always recommend for people who are thinking about becoming a freelancer in project management. First, build up a nest egg, if possible, so you have savings to fall back on in case you don’t get immediate contract gigs or have occasional gaps between jobs. Second, before you make the leap, talk to your project management network. Ask your freelance connections for tips on how to get started and how to manage risks. Then, talk to people who have full-time roles to see if their organizations use freelancers: It’s one way to start identifying possible freelance opportunities and spread the word that you might be available.

—16 March 2022

Woman sitting in an empty row of chairs

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Lindsay Scott's Column

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A Strategy for Confronting Burnout
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