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Do project managers have an expiry date?

Adeline Teoh ed.
December 17, 2012

It’s a malady that has the potential to infect any unsuspecting project manager and any project team. It can result in million-dollar mistakes, tantrums and broken families—but there are no special days to raise awareness of this affliction. What are you doing about burnout?

I was walking around inner city Sydney last week and noticed a street filled with lights. “Oh that’s nice,” I thought, “they haven’t taken their Christmas lights down yet.” A minute later I realised that Christmas hasn’t even happened yet and laughed at myself. But who could blame me? Decorations went up two months ago and shopping centres have been playing carols for several weeks now. I have Christmas fatigue, and it’s only mid-December.

The problem is, something like Christmas doesn’t crescendo like a well-paced symphony. As soon as the retail sector decides it’s Christmas, IT’S CHRISTMAS IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I wouldn’t be surprised if we needed a holiday from the holiday.

Which brings me to the serious part of all this tinsel. Santa knows that you’ve been working hard. He also know when you are sleeping and knows when you’re awake, which means he knows that you’ve been running at full capacity for several months now and that it’s going to take a lot of hammock time to get rid of those rings around your eyes. Take your holidays because your body needs it. Take your holidays so your team feels comfortable taking theirs too. Take your holidays—because no one else will take them for you.

The difference between a good project manager and a bad one can be as simple as a bad decision. If you’re being pushed too far your brain becomes overstretched and your decision-making clouded. You become unduly influenced by things that don’t actually matter. Your sense of reason becomes distorted. If your team has project fatigue, the risk of the project going off-track rises exponentially. You make mistakes. Well, everyone makes mistakes, it’s just that this time you can’t remember how to deal with them.

If this sounds like you, whip out that leave form and fill it in right now. I used to think that saving up leave was a good idea (think of all that extra pay you get when you leave a job!) until I realised it meant relentlessly working until the end of the job.

Now organisations are restricting the amount of leave an employee can ‘save’, not just to avoid the lump sum payout at the end, but to encourage work/life balance. If staff can avoid burnout by regularly replenishing their energy levels, it turns out that productivity increases and teams are more effective. Doesn’t that sound like a nice Christmas present to you?

I’ll be taking a break until mid-January so this blog will be silent for a few weeks. In the meantime, I encourage you to take our 5-minute 2013 Professional Project Management survey, which focuses on the professionalisation of project management and the educational requirements needed to support it. I’ll be lining up some great prizes over the New Year so watch this space!

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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