Get off the road to burnout and on the path to peace

With a pressurised PR and media career, Gill Munro knows a thing or two about “people pleasing”, burnout, and that lightbulb moment. She’s now a coach focused on helping people working in marketing and business development succeed without sacrificing their energy…and their sanity.

Gill Munro, Gill Munro Coaching

There is a problem with burnout in the marketing and business development (MBD) sector. How often have you heard the word “burnout” buzzing around in zeitgeisty conversations? I’m guessing quite regularly.

If you are also a habitual social media scroller you won’t have escaped the slew of self-care and self-love quotes that circulate instructing you to slow down and do things differently to avoid the burnout buffers.

That’s ok then, isn’t it? We’re talking about burnout and there is no end of content out there reminding us of things to do so we don’t crash and burn. Where’s the problem?

There is a huge amount we in the MBD sector still need to do because knowing burnout happens and papering over the cracks by encouraging some “me time” simply isn’t enough to support both ourselves and our people. The papering cracks approach only postpones the inevitable.

Understanding the root cause is crucial. When clients come to me they’re often feeling distracted, exhausted and - in some cases traumatised - from the "always on" and “never ending” way they are working.

Even where there are good policies in place for duvet days, mental health days or a staff helpline they don’t tackle the root cause of the issue, often only providing a temporary reprieve from that road to burnout.

These people, usually women, are typically around a decade or more into a very successful career. Suddenly they notice things are not feeling good for them. They are not sure whether to try and progress up the ladder. Should they get the hell out of there? And if they did that, what then?

Often adding to the confusion that comes with burnout is the fact people like their colleagues or their place of work, so they struggle to understand how they have got to this stage and simply feel broken. Because that is how it feels - that you have somehow broken…or are about to break.

The root cause is this. It is their learned behaviours that have brought them great success, but over time those behaviours have become a millstone around their necks. Behaviours serve you until they don’t. On first inspection that doesn’t make much sense, but the truth is they are what got to where you are.

The effort of trying to repeat the successes that got them where they are, plus trying to meet the challenges of the life they now lead - and want to lead in the future - is what causes the burnout.

There is a gap between the demands put on them, the demands they perceive are placed on them and the mental and physical energy they have available to fulfil their role over time.

Clients often say to me they "just fell into" their job. They’ve reached this conclusion because they are not recognising the part that their own behaviour patterns have played in their progression and success.

Take the example of 'people-pleasing'. Simply, many people succeed in PR because they are conditioned to put others' needs before their own. That is especially true for women, though it’s not exclusive to them. This is what becomes unsustainable for people to bear.

“If someone has been operating successfully for a sustained period (years) always putting the needs of ‘others’ first, they will hit a wall with it. Whether ‘the others’ is a colleague, a project, a story, a team, doesn’t matter. The mentality of subservience is bad news for everyone.’’

If someone has been operating successfully for a sustained period (years) always putting the needs of ‘others’ first, they will hit a wall with it. Whether ‘the others’ is a colleague, a project, a story, a team, doesn’t matter. The mentality of subservience is bad news for everyone.

For me this was my lightbulb moment. The exact type of person I was, helpful, polite, keen to please, responsible, loyal (you get the picture) was the exact type of person my PR roles absolutely loved and rewarded with interesting projects, high pressure situations, lovely appraisals and so on.

I carried on this way when I ran my own digital marketing business too. I recognised I had got to the end of the road with always feeling anxious about results and outcomes. That applied to my home life too. I fixed it by getting a coach for myself who worked with me on identifying how I wanted to feel in my business and how I could make it happen.

It's in everyone's interests to work out why those behaviours are so integral to the individual. Work out what boundaries you need to develop and maintain so that you can have the enriching career and life you want. Find a way to work and live that doesn't deplete you.

And how do you do that? The good news is the recovery from burnout can be quite rapid. I teach my clients how to put themselves first in their own lives and still have a rewarding career. Having the space and time to talk is essential, being open to challenges to your thinking (with compassion) about the behaviours.

When this clicks for people it is a genuine epiphany. It is transformative and, by extension, it is also transformative for the people around them too, both in their workplace and their wider life. It is why I became a coach. It’s a privilege to be part of that process.

I know what I’m talking about. I've walked the walk when it comes to tough jobs in PR and communications. I've worked agency side, in-house and covered arts, consumer, charity, tech and broadcast PR. I spent a decade in various roles in the BBC and have been at the eye of several high- profile storms in the press office there. I have had countless fantastic days at work.

But. I have also been the swan on the surface but paddling like fury underneath. I know the allure of adrenalin and feelings of validation that comes from success at work. I have run my own businesses and the challenges that come with that. Without a foundation of understanding my own behaviour patterns I was on the road to burnout, and burnout I did. It doesn’t have to be this way.

My work as a coach is focused on enabling the creative, energetic, motivated and interesting people working in MBD to succeed in their careers without sacrificing their energy and sanity. There is a path to peace…and you need to get on it. If you’ve had a moment of recognition reading this, I’m here to help.

Gill coaches individuals, leaders and teams working in PR, communications and marketing when they want to understand how they got to where they are and how to avoid burnout.