Some observable warning signs of burn-out
The young woman (let’s call her Sophie) who came to see me one sunny morning for an exploratory interview, showed all of the signs of enthusiasm and a dynamic nature. She was an upcoming executive for a leading international financial services company, she told me she wanted to prepare for her rapid entry to her department’s Management Committee. I asked her a few questions, and with her first answers I started to get a bit worried…
“The pressure is awful at the moment, she tells me with a big smile, I am working twelve hours a day, seven days a week but I don’t have the choice, that’s the price of getting past the post”. Really? I ask her to tell me about a difficult recent experience, and the emotions she felt. “Emotions are a luxury that I can’t afford”, she tells me straight off. And then she goes on to tell me about her driving to work every morning, silently crying to herself behind the wheel and drying her tears in the car park before donning the mask of the motivated manager.
Sophie presents numerous warning symptoms of a burn-out: constant hyperactivity, no rest and relaxation breaks, emotional denial, lack of coherence between her behaviour (notably non-verbal) and the described situations, an appearance of faultless determination, etc. Managers on the edge of a breakdown are not always depressed, a lot of them hide their distress behind an “every thing’s fine it’s just a difficult phase” attitude… allowing them to continue with their working rhythm for just a few a more days, or weeks… until it’s too late.
That morning I asked Sophie to go and see her GP and I explained to her why it was too early to start a coaching program at that time. Thanks to proper medical support she caught it just in time, she took care of herself and gradually re-established her equilibrium. A few months later we had another meeting to start a coaching program, this time on a solid foundation with objectives which corresponded better with her true identity.
Coaching cannot replace treatment for psycho-social problems… but a fully trained coach who can detect the warning signs can contribute to halting a dangerous process and then help the manager to start a proper professional and personal development process at a later date.