The past few years have amplified concerns about employee mental health and well-being — and rightly so. A global pandemic, widespread shift to remote and hybrid work and, most recently, increased economic uncertainty, have left employees on the brink of burnout.
It’s not surprising that employees were feeling burned out at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as we make strides toward what has been deemed “the new normal,” burnout still remains high. In a 2022 global survey by McKinsey Health Institute (MHI), an average of one in four employees surveyed said they were experiencing burnout symptoms. The survey also found high rates of burnout around the world and across various demographics.
All employees are prone to burnout. However, training managers face unique job-related challenges that, if left unaddressed, will leave them feeling “emotionally and mentally run down,” says Andy Schuster, CPTM, senior training and development manager at Growmark, Inc.
Here, we’ll consider three core causes of training manager burnout, as well as possible solutions to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Mounds of Training Requests
Melaine Mahabir, CPTM, knowledge management officer at Guardian General Insurance Company, loves working as a training manager. However, when training became the answer to any (and every) problem in her organization, she quickly became burned out trying to fulfill mounds of training requests in a timely fashion, she says. Feeling like she “wanted to help everyone,” but not having the time and resources to do so, was challenging.
Mahabir, who hosted a roundtable on training manager burnout, quickly found that she wasn’t alone. Attendees shared their own stories of burnout, many of which also stemmed from a high number of training requests.
Schuster agrees that constant training requests can leave learning leaders feeling “like everyone is relying on you.” When those requests can’t be filled on time (or at all) — or, if they are filled but don’t solve the core business problem at hand because training wasn’t the right solution in the first place — both the training manager’s morale and their team members’ morale takes a hit.
As a training manager, you are likely committed to helping others by delivering programs that improve performance. But delivering training that isn’t strategically aligned to business goals isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Before developing any training initiative, conduct a needs analysis to confirm that there’s a performance problem present and, if so, whether or not training is the best way to solve it. If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” present your findings to the requestor and explain why training isn’t the best solution.
You may also consider setting a quota for how many training requests each business function can make every quarter, six months or year, depending on your training team’s time and resources. If one business function is struggling or about to undergo a major change initiative, allow them to submit more training requests than a function that is relatively stable or high performing.
To enact these tips, Alyssa Kaszycki, Training Industry Courses’ learning product manager, suggests implementing a standardized intake form for training requests. This form can include some initial assessment questions and can help combat frivolous or poorly thought out requests.
Challenge 2: Adapting to Change
The need to adapt to change isn’t unique to the training manager role. However, learning leaders need especially strong change management skills so that they can deliver programs to help employees adapt as needs shift.
This isn’t easy: Marjorie Van Roon, CPTM, senior manager of learning and development at Best Buy Canada, says that it’s challenging “trying to support the organization while we all navigate through remote work, hybrid work or [the] return to work.”
With the rise of remote and hybrid work, many training managers were tasked with shifting in person programs online. But that was only the first step. Ensuring that virtual programs are engaging and effective remains a challenge.
Mahabir says that delivering virtual training requires significantly more time and planning than it does to deliver training in person. Everything from whether or not to use poll questions and breakout rooms to lighting and audio quality needs to be considered. This creates extra “homework” for the already busy training manager.
Of course, the rise of remote and hybrid work is only one shift we’ve seen over the past few years. Things like mergers and acquisitions, newfound commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and even layoffs all require learning leaders to pivot — sometimes at moment’s notice.
With digital transformation showing no signs of slowing down, Schuster says that organizations will continue to rely on learning and development (L&D) for adaptable solutions. So, training professionals will need to remain agile in their roles.
Here are a few ways to build agility as a learning leader:
- Partner with stakeholders to keep your finger on the pulse of the business’ most pressing needs.
- Stay up-to-date on industry trends and news. For instance, if you manage sales training for a large retailer, make sure you’re aware of new product launches and updates.
- Consider attending a course or workshop on learning agility.
Challenge 3: Managing a High-performing Training Team
Training managers aren’t only responsible for leading a high-performing team. They’re responsible for leading a high-performing training team. This means that, in addition to general management challenges (e.g., giving constructive feedback, having difficult conversations, improving productivity and engagement, etc.), they are also tasked with developing and managing learning professionals who can deliver great training.
So, in addition to creating an effective L&D plan and acting as a strategic business adviser, training managers need to devote time and energy to their team’s development. This can be difficult if you’re already feeling burned out from other demands.
To support your team members, you need to first support yourself. So, if you’re experiencing burnout, start by simply talking about it, Van Roon suggests. Get support where you can — whether it’s your manager, your family, your friends or reaching out for external professional support. “You may be surprised at the level of support you get once you let people know how you’re feeling,” she says.
Having a strong network of peers — and leaning on that network when you need to — is a strong antidote to burnout.
Other ways to prevent and manage burnout include:
- Setting boundaries around your work hours and schedule.
- Learning to say “no” to training requests that aren’t business-critical.
- Practicing mindfulness.
- Reaching out to a trained professional if your burnout symptoms lead to a more serious mental health challenge.
Ultimately, learning leaders are responsible for delivering training that improves business outcomes. Thus, combating burnout among training managers must be treated as a business priority.
By recognizing and mitigating the job-related challenges outlined above, learning leaders will be better equipped to do what they do best: Deliver great training.