How to Get Ahead of Q4 Burnout Before Winter Hits

Kayla Schilthuis-Ihrig


There's a pressing need for people working in sales to proactively avoid winter burnout. While many people experience the winter blues, the end of the year is particularly difficult for sales representatives.

winter burnout  represented by matches on fire

One-third of people who work in sales report that they have no work-life balance at all. That lack of balance, paired with increased fourth-quarter (Q4) stress, makes winter burnout an active risk for sales teams.

Is it possible to avoid winter burnout? While stress will always be present at the end of the year, you can reduce how severely it impacts your work-life balance, mental health, and energy levels. Let's look at how.

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What is winter burnout?

Winter burnout is the sustained feeling of exhaustion, stress, overwhelm, or general mental strain. While normal burnout can be felt year-round, the culmination of the change in weather, decreased sun exposure, shorter days, and demanding Q4 targets often leads to increased burnout risk in winter.

Burnout symptoms can be both mental and physical, impacting your body, professional life, productivity, happiness, and personal relationships. Symptoms can range from feeling overwhelmed and having low energy levels to depression and an inability to function properly.

For years, winter has been correlated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a seasonal depression experienced by roughly 5 percent of US adults, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that a more mild version of SAD, which they refer to as the winter blues, has a hold on 10 to 20 percent of the US population. These are both attributed to shorter days and a decrease in sunlight in the winter.

The scientific community isn't in total agreement over the objective proof of SAD, but the stress associated with Q4, the holidays, and the darkest time of the year creates a compounding effect of pressure that almost everyone working in sales can understand. Here’s how to beat it.

How to Beat Winter Burnout

While you can react to feeling burnt out in winter, you can also try to avoid burnout altogether. Try these tips to improve your work-life balance and well-being in winter.

1. Focus on the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule states that 80 percent of your output comes from 20 percent of your input. You can use this understanding to help you manage your time in winter by isolating the 20 percent of your work that yields 80 percent of the results.

This is more formally known as the Pareto Principle. Understanding it can decrease wasted time and improve your feelings of efficiency, motivation, productivity, and focus.

"My best tip for managing burnout in Q4 is to ruthlessly manage your time to prioritize revenue-generating activities and intentional breaks," said enterprise SaaS sales rep Adam Purvis. “I define a 'revenue-generating activity' as any task, meeting, or activity that either builds pipeline or progresses a deal.”

Some tasks include:

  • Prospecting.
  • Discovery calls.
  • Product demo preparation.

“Burnout is often an outgrowth of sales reps spending extra time on tasks that are not tied to revenue generation, spinning their wheels on busy work that doesn't actually move the revenue needle,” Purvis shared.

“Simply eliminating all of this 'busy work' can be an effective way to reduce the number of hours you're working in a week, reducing the chance of stress and burnout.”

2. Make clear goals.

Data from our State of Sales Report found that 26 percent of sales professionals said that clear goals and expectations helped keep them motivated.

While many people will wait until January first to re-evaluate their goals, it's wise to establish clear goals right away. Waiting until January will slow your momentum and cause unnecessary stress that contributes to burnout.

3. Advocate for yourself.

Self-advocacy can help you manage your stress and avoid winter burnout before it becomes debilitating. When the winter stress starts to hit, consider advocating for:

  • Time off, such as upcoming vacation time.
  • Shorter work days where possible.
  • The ability to work remotely.

“Advocating for yourself includes stepping away to recharge instead of driving yourself into the ground, voicing your mental health needs to your supervisor/HR department, and even making sure you're receiving the types of rewards and incentives you find most meaningful," shared Bill Warshauer, reflecting on decades of experience working in sales leadership.

“For instance, while most salespeople are typically motivated by money and recognition, that doesn't necessarily mean your employer is offering those things. Speak up and collaborate on opportunities to make your working environment work for you.”

4. Consider gym time or other exercise.

Physical activity helps you learn, think, and maintain emotional balance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you've never tried movement to relieve stress in the past, see if incorporating exercise into your routine can help improve your energy levels and release stress.

See if these exercise routines could help you:

  • YouTube yoga class.
  • Step count goal.
  • Gym routine.

Consider documenting your feelings before and after your exercise to track the differences in your mood.

5. Lean on your team.

If your well-being, health, and work-life balance are suffering, it's time to lean on your professional teammates. When you sense exhaustion and stress taking over, talk to your manager and colleagues about getting support.

"Year after year, I‘ve seen how end-of-year sales goals can lead to burnout, and I’ve found that establishing an environment where my sales reps aren't afraid to ask for support or feedback truly works," shared Hannah Shahriyari, director of sales at GeoLinks.

“I ensure that my team understands that I, as well as their colleagues, have an open-door policy for sharing knowledge or guidance whenever it's needed. We lead with a 'best idea wins' mantra and truly work as a team.”

6. Manage screen time.

If you're feeling overwhelmed and need to relieve burnout symptoms immediately, consider finding room in your day for a break from screen time. For even a small part of your day, unplug from:

  • Email.
  • Social media.
  • Non-essential notifications.

Consider spending time in nature if you have access to it. Time in nature can benefit your mental health, according to the American Psychological Association. The APA suggests that even watching videos of natural settings can still have an impact on our mental health.

Exercise to prevent burnout symptoms: Pick a day specific before the end of the year that will be free of screen time and will be spent outside.

7. Make time for friends.

Vacation time is something that requires extensive planning, but you might be able to help avoid burnout by putting some friend time on your calendar in the next few hours or days.

While breaks of all types are beneficial when feeling burnt out, taking a break with friends has an even greater benefit. According to the Mayo Clinic, friends have a measurable impact on your physical and mental health. Specifically, meaningful relationships can help reduce stress and improve happiness.

Even if it's only a few hours, talk to or spend time with friends and see if you feel a decrease in stress. Incorporate friend time in your weekly or monthly routine to make sure that you always have something social happening in the near future.

8. Monitor your mental health closely.

All of the goodwill towards beating winter burnout before it hits will be lost if you can't identify the warning signs your body is giving you. Look for signs of mental health deterioration, such as:

  • Nonstop feelings of stress, overwhelm, and worry.
  • Disinterest in the other areas of your life.
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.

During Q4, consider journaling to help stay in a constant feedback loop with yourself on how your mental health is doing. If you feel you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, get free help 24/7 through the Mental Health Hotline.

How to Cope With Winter Burnout if You Can’t Avoid It

If you can't avoid winter burnout, you should take steps to minimize the feelings that cause decreased motivation, a bad mood, and emotional suffering. Try these tips the next time burnout creeps in.

Offer proper motivation and support.

“Managers can help their team members during a time of unavoidable burnout by focusing on motivation and support,” shared Kenny Silbert, sales manager at Flex Workspace Solutions. “Team members should be provided with more frequent meetings to help support sales efforts and discuss how the leadership team can assist them.”

Silbert suggests that managers encourage all team members by providing motivation, such as small additional sales incentives for hitting targets, like gift cards or a free paid time off (PTO) day. He also suggests team-wide incentives that aren't tied to specific goals, such as “Early Finish Fridays,” where team members get a jump start on their weekends.

“Unfortunately, burnout is unavoidable at times. However, managers can and should manage the severity.”

Exercise: Suggest a team survey that asks what incentives would keep teammates feeling motivated and supported during Q4.

Invest in sleep.

When stressful work conditions that lead to burnout can't be minimized, spend time investing in your rest and sleep. Feeling tired adds another layer of pressure and stress to the body that should be avoided whenever possible.

Getting a sufficient amount of sleep on a regular basis is effective at reducing stress, according to the Sleep Foundation. While sleep isn't always easy to control, you can take steps to improve your rest today. Some of the previous tips, such as getting exercise and reducing screen time, help foster better sleep.

Exercise: Find three ways that you can improve your sleep this week.

Make wellness a part of the routine.

Explore creative, holistic approaches to managing the pressure and stress of winter burnout, such as a wellness routine.

“By promoting a culture of well-being, sales teams can recharge, reduce stress, and build resilience, ultimately enhancing their performance and motivation during the intense Q4 period while fostering a supportive and innovative work environment,” shared Ilan Nass, chief revenue officer of Taktical.

“Consider a program like 'Wellness Wednesday,' where you focus on self-care activities such as meditation sessions, team yoga, or wellness workshops.”

Exercise: Dedicate one day of the week to taking a break and resetting your mental health.

Take breaks.

Don‘t wait for the perfect moment to take a break when you’re feeling stressed. Instead, factor breaks into your day-to-day routine. It's in your best interest.

“While taking longer breaks might not be possible during crunch time, leaders should ensure their teams are taking ample breaks throughout each day and week,” shared David Janovic, founder and CEO of RJ Living. David suggests that managers encourage their team to block time out of their daily schedule and take the time to unplug, then follow up and check their calendars to ensure they're really doing it.

“You can't work at full capacity 100 percent of the time, so time blocking isn't going to ruin your productivity rate. In fact, those breaks can re-energize your team and help pull up sales numbers in the middle of your busiest quarter!”

Beyond taking a break in your day-to-day routine, consider taking vacation time the next time the opportunity presents itself. Research shows that vacation time helps reduce stress, improve sleep, and boost cognitive function.

Exercise: Use time-blocking to factor regular breaks into your day.

Uphold work-life balance.

Work-life balance is something that‘s hard to prioritize at any point, let alone during Q4 crunch time, but it’s never more important than when you're stressed. Balancing your life with your work requires you to invest time in your personal time. Some common ways to do this are:

  • Art.
  • Sports.
  • Reading.
  • Family time.
  • Socializing with friends.

While this helps improve workers' quality of life, managers also have a vested interest in their team’s feeling of balance. “Encouraging your team to take time off to recharge and setting realistic expectations can significantly reduce the risk of burnout,” said Liam Lucas, the founder and CEO of Off Road Genius.

Liam shared that during a particularly challenging Q4 at his company, leadership noticed signs of exhaustion among their sales team. “Instead of pushing them harder, we decided to implement a mandatory unplug day each week. This allowed our team to recharge and come back refreshed, leading to increased productivity and improved morale.”

Exercise: Set aside decisive time to do things that you enjoy that are unrelated to your work.

Don’t Wait to Address Burnout

When winter burnout prevents you from being able to function properly in your role, it's time to find support. While winter burnout can be difficult to address, try not to wait for burnout symptoms like feelings of ongoing stress, depression, or lack of work-life balance to re-evaluate your work routine.

It's not uncommon or embarrassing to feel overwhelmed by Q4 sales goals and tired from the shorter days and lack of sunlight. Rest, seek support, and take care of your mental health and body before winter burnout becomes debilitating.

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