The best way to avoid sales team burnout is to create a healthy workplace. We spoke to Christina Maslach, the foremost expert on burnout and Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Berkeley University, about six dimensions of workplace health that managers should monitor.
In an ideal world, your reps feel challenged by their work and have the skills and resources to do it well. But often, a lot is asked of workers without giving them what they need to accomplish their tasks at a high level. “You may have too much to do and not enough time, not enough people, not enough equipment,” said Maslach. We see this happen often with public school teachers who work with limited budgets, or healthcare workers at understaffed hospitals.
On the sales floor, this could amount to saddling reps with unattainable sales metrics, lagging on professional development, or poor technology. To counter that, you should make sure goals are calibrated to reps’ abilities, coach them up when needed, ensure they are completing their training, and, of course, ensure they have the time they need to recharge.
Autonomy is a measure of, “how much discretion do you have to innovate, to change course when things aren’t going well,” Maslach said. “Or do you just have to do what you’re told to do and no other way.”
Because sales is a KPI-driven job, team leaders fall easily into micromanagement. And while “process” is important, your reps need independence to figure out what works for them, solve problems and test out ideas without feeling like they aren’t “doing it right. When people don’t get that latitude, they feel belittled or untrusted, and that can undermine a sales rep’s relationship with their manager and the wider company.
We all love to hear the cash register ring, especially when it earns us a healthy commission or SPIFF bonus. But “reward” isn’t all about money.
Social rewards are also important, said Maslach. “Feedback from other people that you did a good job. Saying ‘Thanks for doing that’ or ‘you really rescued us on that client’s call.’” When managers praise reps for a job well done—and encourage the entire team to do the same—they build a culture of appreciation.
The workplace community is simply the people who cross your path on a regular basis—coworkers, bosses, clients, and direct reports. When a community works well together, there’s trust and a willingness to collaborate on projects, share new ideas and share credit when appropriate.
“If there’s not, you’ve got unresolved conflict, you’ve got bullying, and people working in a culture of fear,” said Maslach. “As they often describe it, a socially toxic workplace.”
Whether sales teams are returning to the office full-time or not, it is up to managers to engender an esprit de corps—a feeling of pride and fellowship—among the sales team; and your not going to build it with Zoom trivia night alone.
Instead, build systems where reps work together and share in rewards. Some managers we’ve spoken to have developed cross-functional teams that bring departments together. Others pair seasoned sellers with junior ones as part of a mentorship program. As Maslach noted, “when there’s support for each other, there’s trust.”
In a fair workplace, a company’s rules and policies are applied equally across the board. People are rewarded for their achievements and held accountable when they break the rules. Unfortunately, some workplaces fall prey to cronyism, sexism, and other kinds of discrimination.
Sales managers who are transparent about how rewards systems operate and how accounts are awarded might be considered fair, but that’s only part of it. Sports talk, regular golf outings when only some team members can play, and other ostensibly innocuous actions can breed in-groups and out-groups.
“When people feel that what we’re doing here is unfair, that can breed a lot of the cynicism that we see in burnout,” Maslach said.
Company leaders often devote time and consulting money to sussing out their corporate values. But the way business is conducted every day is more important than anything written on a website or office wall.
People want to feel fulfilled by the work they do, and that sense of contribution is undermined when managers ask them to do things that they feel are dishonest, shady, or otherwise out of line with who they want to be. Make sure your team knows why they’re part of the team, how they’re contributing to a greater good, and why that matters, or you may lose some good eggs.
“People with really strong ethical conflicts, leave their jobs for something that is more meaningful or more important,” said Maslach.