Beating burnout

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Any economic downturn can be rough on a fleet’s sales force. Even the top performers in the group can suddenly find it difficult to secure a sale. They begin to lose faith in their abilities. Nothing appears to work the way that it should, and life appears to spiral out of control. The feelings of burnout become difficult to escape.

The cost of employee burnout is not limited to reduced sales revenue, either. A 2009 survey by careerbuilder. com found that one-third of polled companies were worried about the way this mindset will affect their ability to keep the best staff.

Professor Michael Leiter, director of the Centre for Organizational Research and Development at Acadia University, suggests there are three stages of burnout.

It begins to emerge as exhaustion. To compound matters, people need to invest more time into personal care as they begin to age. “They might still be using the solution that worked great when they were a decade younger,” he observes. “The whole balance isn’t working.”

The exhaustion leads to “presenteeism” when employees lose their focus on different tasks. “It takes a fair bit of energy to be enthusiastic,” Leiter adds.

Then the sense of confidence begins to crumble. One issue simply piles on the next, making worries of failure a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And the stress may not be limited to the workplace. When commission cheques begin to shrink, members of the sales team may have trouble meeting personal financial obligations. That can lead to challenges at home.

“If they’re already struggling with other issues, with relationship issues, it may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back,” notes Mark Arnold, director of Ottawa’s Family Services Employee Assistance Program (fseap).

Executives can spot the troublesome signs of burnout by watching for changes in behaviour, he says. Sociable employees may suddenly appear to be withdrawn. Traditionally quiet employees may begin to lash out at their coworkers. “If it lasts a few days or more, then you might want to chat,” he says.

The first discussion can be as simple as asking whether everything is okay.

“People will react differently. Some will shut down. Others, it gives them permission to talk. They may be hiding a lot inside,” Arnold explains. But even the discussions about performance can have a positive tone. Executives can point out something such as, “You’ve missed a sales meeting for several weeks in a row, but that’s not like you.”

Depending on the nature of the underlying issues, there may be the need to talk about the support of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). “EAP counseling isn’t just for people at the edge of the cliff. You want to normalize it,” he adds. “A lot of employees don’t even know they have these programs.”

The layoff of fellow employees can contribute to the challenge as well. The need to accomplish excessive workloads over an extended period of time can certainly contribute to burnout, according to research by Health Canada. Another issue can be the lack of influence over daily tasks. There may also be a perceived lack of balance between effort and rewards, whether they come in the form of status, financial gains, or career advancement.

Workers may then begin to struggle with sleep, begin to drink, feel depressed or feel angry. That is when they are more likely to become distracted, make dangerous errors in judgment, and even put their bodies under stress -increasing the chance of physical injuries such as sprains and strains.

But it is possible to re-energize these employees. Leiter, for example, sees a value in using team building exercises to renew a sense of enthusiasm about a fleet’s common vision. Once that happens, co-workers will begin to hold each other accountable for different tasks and help to focus everyone’s efforts. “When under pressure -and so much of the economy has been under pressure -groups can pull together and become a tighter team,” he says.

The best solutions of all will often come from the employees themselves, adds professor Chris Higgins of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. The different approaches can be collected during retreats where teams have the opportunity to discuss what they can do to make themselves more successful.

“It is a state of mind,” he says of those who feel burned out. “And it takes time to change behaviour.”

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program, the Canadian Trucking HR Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated not-for-profit organizations that helps attract, train and retain workers for Canada’s trucking industry. For more information, visit



Although motor carriers have been more concerned about laying off drivers and owner/operators over the past 12-18 months, the driver shortage that has plagued trucking for well over a decade will likely return as the economy rebounds. Prior to the recession, six in 10 trucking fleets surveyed for research conducted on behalf of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, agreed that the shortage of Class 1/A truck drivers was one of the top two concerns for their companies. The concern was particularly strong among for-hire carriers with 50 or more trucks in their fleet. Almost six in 10 also agreed that they were not able to find enough qualified drivers and again the concern rose with the number of trucks in a particular fleet. How can that be the case when “truck driver” is one of the top three occupations among Canadian males? The CTHRC research found that fleet executives were not concerned about the total number of licensed drivers available, but rather the number who were actually qualified to drive for them. The research also delved into fleet executive perceptions about the reasons behind the shortage. The perceived quality of life and poor working conditions that come with the job topped the list followed by the concern that drivers are not paid enough, a remark often echoed in fleet executive panels hosted by Transportation Media. Those issues, in combination with the fact the current pool of drivers is aging and concerns that driving truck is not an attractive occupation for youth, present significant hurdles to overcoming the expected driver shortage once the economy resumes its stride.

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