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Stress and Burn-out

Although you may not be a manager, in title we all perform managerial duties in one form or another, whether it is managing your sales clients or managing your time to make sales calls on potential clients. For this reason, the ideas presented in this text can be applied directly to you and they can be incorporated into your job activities to reduce your stress level.

Stress and irritation go hand in hand with a job in sales and, we create many stressful situations through our own self-defeating behaviors. Like sponges, we absorb stress, and, like sponges, we can absorb only so much before reaching the saturation point, which often takes the form of burnout. Burnout is a syndrome involving both physical and emotional exhaustion. It may be manifested in negative self-image, a negative attitude towards work, and a general loss of concern and feeling.

Stress overload can occur in many ways. It may occur simply when the volume of work to be done requires far more time than is available. It also may result when the interpersonal requirements of a job require a person to relate toward people in an unaccustomed manner— such as when a shy, soft-spoken manager must continually contend with aggressive bureaucrats. Stress only becomes a problem when it builds to such an extreme that we are unable to cope with it. The solution to burnout, therefore, is not to eliminate stress altogether but to maintain it at a level where it is still a positive, motivating force.

Because stress is cumulative and can cause a sales associate to lose potential clients, early treatment of stress-related disorders is most effective. It is far easier to work on small stress-related problems than to wait until they develop into a full-blown crisis. Some of the signs of acute stress and burnout follow.

  • Resistance to going to work, high absenteeism.
  • Difficulty shaking coughs and colds and other somatic symptoms.
  • Difficulty sleeping and feelings of exhaustion and fatigue throughout the day.
  • Frequent clock-watching, boredom, and restlessness.
  • Excessive anxiety about new assignments. Filling time with less important tasks.
  • Resistance to input and stubborn opposition to new plans or concepts.
  • Inability to concentrate or listen to what someone else is saying.
  • Intolerant of others’ frustrations and inability to interpret their anger.
  • Quick temper and feeling either paranoid or omnipotent.

The Behavior Of A Burn-Out Victim: It is important to know the types of behavior burnout causes so that we can be aware of it in ourselves if we begin to possess some of these behavior patterns. The following are types of burnout behavior that victims display.

Detached Concern: dealing with others objectively, a lack of personal or emotional involvement.

Intellectualization: experiencing stressful situations more cognitively and seeing the world through a cerebral filter (like a chess master viewing a game).

Withdrawal: isolating oneself from all social interaction and avoiding communication whenever possible.

Change As A Stress Enhancer: The change from an old pattern to a new one can itself be stressful. Change always involves a certain amount of risk, and changing one's lifestyle in order to reduce stress can seem like an overwhelming task.

Consider the parable of the old wise man asking the student why he hits his head against the wall. The student answers, "I've always done it whenever I have a headache. The wise man shows the student that standing on his head can provide the same results without pain. The student responds, "Although my way hurts, it's familiar. I don't really know how your way will work, so thank you but I will keep my old method."

The key to changing old patterns is to start with one area that needs a better management strategy and move on from there. The following are suggestions on how to make a task more manageable.

  • Seek rewards across all areas of your life. Don’t try to compensate for one area’s deficiencies by waiting for success in another area.
  • Develop support systems. Associate as much as possible with people who affirm you and with whom you can talk freely about your problems.
  • Remind yourself of things you do well. Stop the “over-achiever - got to be perfect” internal script. Say to yourself each day, “I do not have to be perfect” and “It’s o.k. to ask for help.”
  • Stress in ways that make you feel good about yourself and which project your positive self-image.
  • Take care of your health. Exercise, arrange regular physical examinations, eat sensibly and regularly, and get at least seven hours sleep at night with 15-minute rest breaks scheduled in the morning and afternoon.
  • Make games and entertainment routine parts of life. Recreation can help re-establish equilibrium.
  • Pay attention to your personal needs—separate work from the rest of your life. Limit your work day to forty hours and say, “What doesn’t get done today, doesn’t get done. Develop a habit of self-awareness. Spend time alone setting goals for what you want out of life, both personally and professionally.

Suggested Solutions To Work Stress: Given the complex nature of work stress, there is no single, simple answer to a managerial burnout problem. Rather, there are a wide array of solutions. We suggest trying one of these solutions to assist you in alleviating the stress level associated with your individual sales position.

Develop A Feedback System: Feedback can inform a individual of the immediate impact thathis or her actions and performance has within the organization, and the best sources for this information are your clients and your fellow sales associates. These are the people who are directly affected by your style, leadership and expertise in the sales field. They can provide you with feedback that's positive and that will help you identify where to make changes.

You must show your clients and associates that you truly want feedback and value their opinions to improve your performance. To do this you must continually develop your listening skills so that you do not react emotionally and defensively to negative feedback, and if you do take action from their feedback and make positive changes that others can see, then they will know that you take them and their opinions seriously. This will create more trusting and closer relationships with your clients and associates.

Set and Monitor Short-Term Goals: It may be helpful for you to make a quarterly list of what specific activities you hope to accomplish in the upcoming three months and to set a for each activity. Post this list in a prominent place, on the dashboard of your car or in your deadline briefcase, just be sure it's in a place where you will frequently see it, and record the dates ou actually complete the activities. Hold on to these three month lists to see whether you are becoming more or less effective in meeting your deadlines.

Avoid Frustrations: Hard work does not necessarily cause burnout. Hard work that results in success can be exhilarating. On the other hand, hard work that results in frustration can be emotionally and physically damaging. You must set moderately difficult goals for yourself that are challenging but not impossible. Analyze your responsibilities and find other means of accomplishing the tasks that you are ineffective at; so you can devote more time to responsibilities at which you excel.

Increase Sources of Satisfaction: One hedge against stress overload is having a variety of sources of gratification. An individual whose entire life is consumed by his or her job is prone to becoming overwhelmed when that job is going poorly. But a person who has a reasonable variety of other interests is much more likely to have any frustration on the job compensated for by satisfaction drawn from those other interests.

Develop a Support System: When sales personnel experience stress, they seldom have anyone they can turn to for advice or for a sympathetic ear because they are either on the road, working alone, or other sales associates are too stressed out over their own problems to offer sound advice. Developing an informal support network is a suggested technique for combating this problem.

Participating in an existing support group. Individuals who participate commonly find these groups to be useful places for letting off steam, receiving moral support and sharing helpful advice. Those groups that appear to be most effective have the following characteristics: they are informal, no name, no by-laws, no officers and no guilt trips for failure to attend; they meet regularly but not frequently- once a month is common; they meet in a social or leisure setting- not a formal meeting; and they have no purpose other than to share ideas.

Cultivating relationships. You can add to your network of support by converting some of these casual business relationships into personal friendships. Rapport could be established by inviting outside contacts to lunch without a specific business objective in mind or by arranging occasional informal social gatherings among your sales associates

Seeking additional professional outlets Often individuals find their talents, skills, and interests are not — and cannot be — fully challenged in their current jobs. As a result, they seek to explore various outlets for their abilities, such as writing, or teaching courses.

Changing jobs: Sometimes no amount of tinkering with one's current job will make it work. Perhaps there is no way to restructure your job to avoid burnout. Or maybe it is not possible to reconcile one's personal goals with the demands of the job. In either case a job change is in order.

If you do decide to quit your present job, do not be concerned that you are somehow failing. You can probably do more good by starting a new career with vigor and commitment than by continuing half-heartedly in your current position.

Most cases of burnout, however, are not job-ending situations. More often than not, alleviating burnout is simply a matter of redirecting certain energies or developing a support network. Many individuals report seeing their jobs through new eyes when simple adjustments are made, and some even see a redefinition in their careers. It's taking the first steps to combat burn-out that will renew your professional life.

Summary: We spend more than two-thirds of our waking hours at work, the interactions we are exposed to on the job are the most likely candidates for creating, exacerbating, or perpetuating the factors that lead to burnout. To avoid these stresses, try the following strategies.

  • Limit your hours. Use short term job sharing for some of the more exhausting tasks.
  • Utilize interns and volunteers to bring down the peaks in the work load.
  • Participate in efficient training sessions, making sure that they are learning experiences and not emotional encounter experiences.
  • Get the training and supervision you require. Know the areas you are weak in, and insist on getting the knowledge necessary to do the job without feelings of inadequacy.
  • And finally, develop assertiveness and communication skills to survive bureaucracy.
  • Learn to say “no” to things you don’t want to do. Take initiative whenever the opportunity arises to learn new skills. Become active in other outside professional organizations, hobbies or social interactions.