While in a conversation with one of the finalists for our Application Support Specialist position, I was asked to share one of the major challenges I’ve faced in building Sandhills Development. This type of question is pretty common and there is always a myriad of answers, but today I had a quick answer to what I believe the biggest challenge has been for me, and what also poses one of biggest risks to us as a company.

Burnout.

Having gone through a period of intense burnout, I can tell you that severe burnout is an incredibly destructive and show-stopping experience for anyone.

I am a person that is constantly driven to build new things. When I find a problem I want to solve, very little excites or motivates me more than finding a solution to that problem. I set my mind to it and I find a way. But when major burnout happens, no amount of motivation or desire is enough to overcome the constant weighing thoughts of I don’t want to do this.

In 2017, after working on our products intensely for five+ years, I started to encounter the first symptoms of real burnout. My motivation began to dwindle. My willingness and desire to spend time helping customers lessened. The amount of time I was engaged with the team shrunk. My connection to the products and the community in which we built our products began to fray. A nagging thought became a constant: I don’t want to do this anymore, maybe I should sell the company.

It’s an interesting exercise, considering selling your company because you don’t want to be there anymore. It also has the potential for being incredibly destructive. Like all things, decisions made under pressure rarely have the best outcomes. I was living and working under the pressure of intense burnout, and it pushed me to consider walking away.

My burnout lasted until at least the first few months of 2019, when I finally managed to find a way out of it. Today I can confidently say that I have beat burnout and am excited, motivated, and driven again. I’m deeply enjoying being immersed in my work and the work we do at Sandhills, but I am also constantly reminded of what burnout did to me and what it can do to all of us. It has made me realize just how important it is that we constantly work to protect against burnout. Each one of us, especially those that love to build things, need to be always on guard against the looming threat of burnout, and we as a company, and all companies, must strive to make available to our teams everything possible to alleviate the chance of burnout.

During my burnout period, I can remember one very distinct event that was a turning point in helping me rediscover my passion and motivation. I was working with a local architecture firm to produce blue print drawings for our brewery’s floor plan (required for alcohol production licenses), and while talking with one of the owners, he shared with me that their average tenure for team members is 20+ years. I was floored. 20 years is an immensely long time to work at the same company, and that was their average. When I asked him how they achieved that, he had a very simple answer:

We take care of our people. When they need to take an afternoon off for their kid’s baseball game, the answer is “yes”. When they need a day for personal time, the answer is “yes”.

Obviously giving people freedom to step away from work isn’t the only thing that causes people to stay at one place for 20+ years, but it is hinting at one of the keys.

That conversation led me to realize that one of my core motivations and goals is to build a lasting organization that is more than me, and one that outlasts me. I want Sandhills Development to still be here when I’m gone and in order to do that, we must first and foremost make commitments to caring for our people.

Burnout is one of the most significant risks we face. It nearly caused me to walk away from the company and it has caused us to lose great people in the past.

I don’t know the definite answer to how we can prevent burnout, but I do know some things that have helped and we have embedded these in how we work and the flexibility we afford our team. We:

  • Allow employees to take paid time off whenever needed
  • We require employees take a minimum of 5 consecutive days off work at least twice per year
  • We offer a $200 bonus when employees successfully unplug completely from work for a full week
  • We encourage employees to work when and how they wish
  • We encourage frequent breaks
  • We encourage open sharing of our struggles
  • We strive for calm at work.

These all help but they’re not enough. If we are to succeed at building a long-term company that always puts its people first, we must constantly be mindful of how we can better shape our lives and place of work to prevent the sinking pressure of burnout.

Have you suffered from burnout or do you or your company have your own methods for preventing it? Feel free to share your tips or experiences below. We’d love to hear them!

Pippin Williamson

About Pippin Williamson

Founder and Managing Director of Sandhills Development.

3 comments

  1. Pippin Williamson

    Dear Pippin,

    Thank you so much for sharing this publicly. I met you 5 years ago at a Word Camp in the midwest U.S., and was impressed with your deep technical knowledge, rapid recall, and generosity in sharing your time. I didn’t realize until recently that you were affected by burnout. I’m glad that you decided to reengage with your company and your customers. [Adding a brewery to your company’s revenue stream is pretty cool, too.] Here’s to wishing you well going forward, and continued success with growing Sandhills.

    1. Pippin Williamson
  2. Pippin Williamson

    Great article Pippin! Burnout is definitely something we’ve experienced at Organic Themes, and last year was a turning point for us as well. Glad to hear you’re re-motivated!

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