3 min read

How to not flame out at work in a downturn

When financial pressure creeps in, hours worked creep up. Here’s how to stay durable through it all.
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Photo by Skyler Ewing on Unsplash

Sustain issue #59 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

Tremendous progress has been made in the area of employee well-being and flexibility in the last two years. Companies had to pay attention to it in the face of The Great Resignation.

But as world economies slow, I’m afraid we’re about to see this care for well-being trend flip. In tech companies outside of the big five players, we’re seeing layoffs begin to happen.

Why do I think these trends are about to flip? Two reasons.

For the average CEO, employee well-being is a nice to have, not a need to have

When financial pressure creeps in, hours worked creep up. And how much the company cares about employee well-being falls off. Everything is done in the name of profitability. Well-being is typically an expense to the company because most companies treat the symptoms of burnout with costly wellness programs rather than attacking the root of the problem.

Flexibility is threatened as the push back to the office happens.

“Managers believe employees who work remote are lower performers than those that come to the office,” Brian Kropp, chief of human resources research at the consulting firm Gartner, told The New York Post. “They will on average be more likely to lay off those who are working remote than those who are coming into the office.”

Major ugh 😞

Should you give in and return to 60 hours a week in the office on the non-stop route to burnout? No. Here are a few mutually beneficial actions for you and your company.

Ruthless Prioritization

With fewer people and more expectations, it’s natural to try and prove your value by doing all the things. You need to show how indispensable you are after all.

However, it’s always better to prove that with quality over quantity. Trim the fat and focus only on high-impact initiatives. Prove your worth with the outcomes your produce, not the hours you work.

Doing so requires deep alignment with your boss. Make sure you take time weekly right now to explicitly cover what’s on your plate to ensure you’re focused on the mission-critical stuff. Get rid of the rest.

Take care of yourself

We’re still in a pandemic, war, climate emergency, fight for basic human rights, and now throw in an economic downturn (and the senseless slaughter of school kids since I wrote the first draft of this). It’s more important than ever to take care of yourself.

Don’t worry so much about being resilient, worry more about daily restorative actions that allow you to sustain yourself (Think: Three Good Pockets). But know that you can’t bring it each day. So give yourself some slack to say today’s not my day.

You provide the most value as an employee if you can show up in the best state of mind and body. If you flame out in the short-term, it does nobody good. Durable companies need durable people.

Remember: You can be a top performer without all the hours

“If all things are equal, the person in the office might have an advantage,” according to a management expert. “But if you’re a top performer, I don’t think it makes a bit of difference.”

It is important to not conflate being a top performer with total hours worked. I’m a top performer at my company. I work 38 hours a week, don’t check-in outside of hours, focus only on high-impact work, and regularly take semi-extended time in the middle of the day to fill my cup.

I’m far from the smartest person, don’t have a graduate degree, and suck at making fancy slides that wow. But I take care of myself so I show up with the best I have that day and focus on moving high-impact work forward.

I don't share this to brag.

I share it to validate that taking care of yourself and doing high-impact work well is a legitimate path to strong performance marks. This is both good for you and your company. Well-being is win-win. You can’t let a downturn convince me otherwise.


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to eliminate burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) and suffered deep burnout and came back from it even though I never found a playbook for doing so. So, I'm writing it myself.

✉️ Want my top tips? I share my full step-by-step playbook in How I Quit Burnout, my premium newsletter. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

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