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Feature: How to Avoid Burn-Out


Under constant scrutiny and pressure to stay one step ahead, how do trainers stay fresh and avoid the all-too familiar burn-out? Mandy Green of The Matchett Group has developed some coping strategies to prevent burn-out and the resulting delegate apathy.

When the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) asked its members whether they were burned-out, 43% said yes*. A further 25% felt they were “in danger” of burning out. The overwhelming majority of the respondents (86%) indicated that their stress levels, due to work conditions, were increasing. Workload (83%) and demands from management (63%) were the most cited causes of stress. But there are techniques to address trainer burn-out and student apathy.

Self Management:
* Priority management is of the essence. This is all about managing your work schedule effectively, and being able to prioritise, or having someone to help you do that.

One area of stress tends to come from the schedule that you have in your head – i.e. a workload you feel you can deal with – versus the schedule that has actually been given to you, which may differ considerably. So it’s all about making your ideal schedule balance with reality, and matching those two things. This may sometimes mean saying no to untenable projects.

It all comes back to the basic tenets of self-management. So do we practise what we preach? We as trainers know all this stuff, and indeed we teach it. But to what extent do we apply it to ourselves?

* As well as holding some boundaries, we also need to push our own boundaries. We have to question what we do and how efficiently we are working. For example, how much difference will it really make to this course if I spend three or five hours preparing it? We need to trust our judgement when it comes to decisions like these.

* Work/Life balance is really important. We should make sure that we spend enough time with our family and friends, and do not work every weekend and evening when at home. Working smarter rather than longer should be our aim.

* Are you getting feedback from your training? People who go into training do so because they want to make a difference. If they don’t get any feedback (for whatever reason), this can be very de-motivating. Seek feedback – you need to know that you are doing a good job, or where you need to improve. However, if you do get negative feedback, don’t take it too personally. That feedback is valuable, but it is just from one perspective. Again, balance is needed.

* Make sure you have the mental resources of peer support. If you do not have a training community that you work in, identify one, and use it. There are a number of groups of people who are happy to share ideas (TrainingZONE, for example). It is important to network, go to training events, read the latest journals and keep yourself up-to-date with the training world. Look at opportunities to co-deliver with other trainers, try to sit in on other trainers’ courses – you will always learn something.

* Ask for help when you need it. Isolation speeds up burnout. If things are bad, share your miseries with your friends. Find a mentor.

* Do you have a reliable logistics service to back up the course administration? You need to know where you are going, your hotel is booked, the venue is booked, that the course materials arrive on time. This is critical for your confidence and your effectiveness.

* Have a proper hobby – something to stretch your brain in a different direction and introduce new people and ideas. Make it regular – something to look forward to on a habitual basis.

* Don’t forget the physical: don’t drink too much coffee – try to drink a lot of water instead. Coffee will make you hyperactive, and stop you sleeping properly. Don’t eat too many carbohydrates as this will make you feel sleepy at the wrong time. Wear sensible (comfortable) shoes, and dress in layers, as some training rooms are very hot, others are icy with air-conditioning.

Delegates’ interest:
* Firstly – don’t neglect your own Continual Professional Development (CPD); make sure you do at least one new course every year as an investment in yourself. If it is something new to add to your portfolio, then all the better, as you are broadening your range of knowledge, and you will have more to offer.

* If you have the freedom to change the courses you are presenting – do so. Look at multiple models, because one training objective could have many different ways of delivery. The analogy for this is that there is more than one route to get to the top of a mountain - so find a different path. The technique that I use is to try to imagine how my colleagues would present the course – each one would do it differently. Again, this will keep your ideas and delivery fresh.

* Watch your peers and colleagues as they train. Observation can be valuable as you will always learn from the experience of others.

* Take care not to bore your delegates or use too much energy. A good test is to notice how much talking you are doing. Make sure you are not the only voice in the room. Ensure you have a good balance of activities, and shared expertise from your students. Use different learning styles and techniques – get your class to discuss topics rather than lecturing them about it. Get the students to stand up – ask them to present, or work in groups.

* Use a variety of learning resources. Don’t be too ready to re-invent the wheel. A good web site I have used is use IT, games and quizzes.

With all these techniques at my disposal, I have so far managed to avoid burn-out, and keep the training lively for my delegates.

* ASTD survey 1995.


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