FROM BURNOUT TO RISING STAR: How to profit under pressure


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Employees and business owners are reaching breaking point after being pushed to perform miracles under increasing time, capacity and financial pressures. Could the secret answer to solving the pressure-puzzle come not from avoiding stressful situations, but from embracing them?

I’ve been lost and stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Drug dealers held a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. I broke a Guinness World Record with seconds to spare. A Great White Shark swam up to me and smiled. I’ve run across the coldest and deadliest place on the planet. I’ve even attempted to drive from Omokoroa to the Mount in under 45 minutes on a Monday morning.

So it’s fair to say I’m qualified to write about performing under pressure. And while weighed down under the stresses of modern life, I’ve developed an unpopular opinion: Almost everything you know about working under pressure is wrong.

What’s worse, is that your attempts to ‘reduce’ the pressure you and your team are under are actually leading to burnouts, stress-outs and breakdowns.

But while the rest of the business world is struggling to ‘perform’, there is a way for you to actually ‘profit’ and even ‘prosper’ under pressure.

It’s time to discover why the puzzle of being put under pressure might be solved by getting over it.

Letting off steam

The workplace is under more pressure than ever before. Budgets are being slashed, teams are being stretched, leaders are being scrutinised and customers are being more frugal. As a result, we experience the crushing pressures of not enough time, money, attention or breathing space to create the lives we desire.

This increasing weight of pressure negatively impacts our health, performance, decision-making ability, creativity, sleep and relationships. So far, not a pretty picture.

I’m unlikely to win a Nobel prize for telling you that pressure leads to burndown and breakdown. I’ve experienced this personally, both inside and outside of the workplace, and the research backs it up. In fact, a recent study showed that 87% of employees felt their ability to perform at work was inhibited by the amount of pressure they were under.

So, what does any responsible business owner do? They try to reduce the pressure their teams experience. And this is their first big mistake.

The pressure valve

There is nothing so dangerously indestructible as an idea once it has been planted inside a person’s mind. A few years ago, a notion was created, seeded, and inserted into the brains of millions of professionals. What was this concept that was neurologically absorbed?

Pressure is bad.

As a result, business leaders and HR directors scrambled to do anything they could to turn down the flames simmering under the corporate pressure cooker: Wellness apps were commissioned; DiSC profiles were thrown around like green, red and yellow frisbees; Wacky team workshops with enough props to fill an S&M convention were booked; Lunchtime yoga sessions were scheduled.

But there was a problem: People still felt under more pressure than ever before. Absences continued to rise, employee engagement continued to fall, burnout kept burning, and capacity kept falling.

This is when the second mistake was made.

Leaders felt they had only two options: Keep paying out for the wacky workshops and wellbeing schemes that clearly weren’t working, or push their people to work harder through increasing waves of pressure.

No wonder it feels like so many businesses – and careers – are slowly drowning. So it’s time to stop fighting the current.

Sink or swim

The war against pressure at work cannot be won. Trying to reduce pressure is about as fruitless as trying to reduce gravity, trying to control the sunrise, or trying to convince Gucci to open their new flagship store on Devonport Road.

It isn’t going to happen. So for how long are we going to pretend otherwise?

Like it or not, we are a people under pressure. We encounter pressure from the moment we look at our phones, to the second our child announces they left their shoes at school; from the moment we log onto our laptops, to when we get asked, “What’s for dinner?”

Scrap the Myers Briggs assessment, because in 2024 everyone has a profile that reads: ‘WTAF’.

Rather than wasting time, money and energy fighting the forest fire of pressure, it’s time we learned to cook on the flames instead.

Cooking on gas

Pressure is like fire. If handled incorrectly (as most businesses do) then it leads to burnout. But if handled correctly, you can ignite talent rocket fuel.

Keeping employees protected and as far away from pressure as possible is a sweet idea, but it means they become like a ‘pressure pavlova’ – they crumble upon exposure to a little heat.

But if you want to create a workforce full of diamonds, then pressure will need to be applied.

Obviously, this isn’t about pushing people to breaking point: I know personally what it feels like when you have to pick up the pieces of your own demise. But a little pressure doesn’t lead to Burnout … it creates ‘BurnON’.

BurnON happens when you create the conditions that allow your team to fire their boosters and soar to a new level. Like any endeavour to reach new heights, there will be challenges, risks and you won’t be able to 100% guarantee that progress will be perfect…
…but that is what happens when you want to break ceilings and put careers into orbit.

And this is where I challenge you. Because I believe you do your teams and colleagues a disservice: You try to remove the pressure because you’re afraid they will crumble and fall.

But what if you turned up the heat a little, gave them their wings and they flew like a glider soaring above Mount Maunganui? What if you gave them an opportunity to prove what heights they are capable of reaching?

Life at the corporate coalface is tough, and we can’t change that. But with the right support – and the right kind of pressure – your team can still shine like diamonds.

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Freddie Bennett
Freddie Bennett
Guinness World Record Holder, podcast host and bestselling author, Freddie is known as ‘The Profit Hunter’. He helps business owners enjoy more time, money and freedom by discovering and extracting hidden profits in their companies. Freddie@conqueryourmedia.com

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