Being a Corporate Trainer can be very exciting. The laughter, the applause, the adulation. At the same time, there is a very real chance of burnout in this role. What are the causes and what can you do about it?
The causes of burnout for a Corporate Trainer can include:
- Constantly Being “On”
- Difficult Participants
- Lack of Control
Some ways to overcome burnout for corporate trainers are to:
- Get Real (with your manager)
- Get Creative
- Get Involved
- Get Away
- Get Out
In my over twenty years of conducting training, I have experienced burnout on plenty of occasions. It can be overwhelming and sometimes I just wanted to quit. Luckily, I found several ways to understand and deal with it.
Burnout or Bad Day?
We all have stressful days in our jobs no matter what. So what is the difference between a “bad day” at work and actual burnout?
For me, typical signs of burnout are:
- Bad attitude (internal – I don’t display this outwardly to coworkers)
- Feelings of dread when having to go to work
- Disillusionment with company and/or job
Other signs according to the Mayo Clinic can include:
- Physical signs like stomach or headaches
- Irritability toward coworkers
- Eating or drinking more than usual
- Change in sleep habits
- Lack of energy
If/when you start to experience any of these, it could signal that you are feeling burned out in your corporate trainer role. A good first step to dealing with the burnout is to understand the cause.
What Causes Corporate Trainer Burnout?
There are a lot of factors that can cause burnout for a corporate trainer. Here are some examples based on my experience.
While not always required, many training jobs do involve some level of travel. In fact, some corporate trainers have to travel all the time since classes are held in a different city every week.
I learned early in my career that I can not handle weekly travel. I know some people love it and are great “road warriors”. I am not one of them. I had a job where we were in a different city each week. I lasted about six months and said “never again”. Now, that doesn’t mean I refuse to travel at all for work. But, if the job requirement is 80% travel then that will be a job I don’t apply for.
While some classes you teach may be “one and done”, most of the time, your company wants a class to be held several times. It could be an initiative where everyone in the company needs to be trained. Or, it might be a class that every new person has to take so it runs perpetually. For example a core sales class or a new employee orientation.
I am ok with some repetition of a class. The plus side of doing a class multiple times is that you get better each time. You learn what works and what doesn’t so you can create a more valuable experience for your learners.
On the flip side, when you do the same class over and over and over again for a long time, it gets boring. For example, I used to teach a New Employee Orientation every week for over a year. Initially, I loved it. It was a fun class and I enjoyed meeting the new employees. Slowly, though, I started to feel the burnout creep in. I was getting tired of repeating the same stories and making the same points over and over again. I found myself being less enthusiastic about teaching the class. On the outside, I made sure to still put on a good show for my audience. On the inside, though, I was struggling.
Constantly Being “On”
Sometimes the thing that attracts us to becoming a corporate trainer can also be a significant contributor to burnout.
Growing up, I always enjoyed being the center of attention. I liked to perform and speak for audiences. You would think that I was a total extrovert but, the truth is, I am actually more of an introvert. So, while I do enjoy the “thrill” of being onstage, it also wipes me out.
When you conduct a training class, you are pretty much “onstage” all day. Even when the class gets a break, you are setting up for the next section or answering questions. So even if you aren’t an introvert, it can be physically exhausting, especially if you are doing full day classes.
Those of us who get into corporate training tend to be enthusiastic, glass half full type people. We like to be liked. I don’t mean that to sound shallow. But like anyone else who gets up in front of an audience, the goal isn’t to be booed or told that you suck. You want to make a connection and, yes, you want them to like you and what you are doing.
That’s why, it can be a bit jarring when someone in the audience is clearly unhappy with you and doesn’t want to be there. And not only do they show it but maybe they even make comments or outright attack you (verbally). I have been really lucky where that is concerned. I imagine, though, depending on where you work and the type of message you are delivering, that could happen more often for some than others. And if it is happening regularly, it would definitely contribute to feeling burned out.
Lack of Control
In my first couple of training jobs, I did not participate in the design or layout of the classes I was teaching. I was given the materials and was expected to follow them. Yes, I could insert my own personal stories here and there. But, for the most part, I was expected to “stick to the script”.
This really didn’t bother me initially because I was excited just to be getting paid to conduct training. Eventually, though, as I did the same class over and over, it started to wear on me. I realized I was not going to be happy unless I could be more involved with the design and devleopment.
Suggestions for dealing with Corporate Trainer Burnout
As I mentioned, I have definitely experienced burnout as a corporate trainer. Here are some ways I’ve found that help.
Get Real (with your manager)
This has been the best way I have found to deal with some of the causes of burnout. It’s not always easy to speak up. You don’t want to come off as a whiner or complainer. But, if you don’t say anything, your boss won’t know that anything is bothering you.
When I was teaching new employee orientation week after week after week, I was feeling fatigued. I wanted to work on different projects. When I opened up to my Director about this, she was very understanding. Now, she wasn’t in a position to just wave a wand and make it so I never had to teach the class again. But, we were able to work out a schedule that allowed me to take more breaks from the class and work on things that were more interesting to me.
While you may not be able to change up all aspects of a class you are responsible for teaching, you usually have at least some leeway. I was always looking for different ways to engage the learners as well as myself while still “staying in the lines” so to speak.
For example, when I taught the CarMax Way class, I would rotate different stories into the class. I also turned the review sessions into a game show on occasion. These were just a couple of ways I would use to keep things interesting.
This is taking the “get creative” to the next level. Basically, it’s to get involved with the actual training design. See how you can contribute when classes are being created or revised. Even if your company has a dedicated instructional design team that creates the courses, the perspective of the person that actually teaches it is very valuable.
I started doing this more and more so that eventually, every job I took was a combination of developing the training as well as delivering it. This really helped me with buy in. When I was actively involved in the development, it gave me a sense of ownership and kept me engaged.
I have now made a total switch to the design and development side of training. Even so, I am always collaborating with the trainers because I know they bring a whole lot of value to the table.
Sometimes you’ve got to allow yourself to take a break. Get out of the classroom. Take a walk. Take some PTO. Anything to give your mind a rest.
All of the strategies I’ve mentioned so far have worked for me in various situations. Sometimes, though, in spite of all your effort, the burnout just isn’t going away. In that case, it may be time to consider a fresh start somewhere else.
When I worked as a training specialist for a small healthcare consulting company, we were swallowed up by IBM. I was initially excited to be working for such a prestigious, well known company. That soon changed as I went through five different bosses in the span of a year. My original boss, who I loved, left the company and they kept assigning people from non-training areas and backgrounds to run the training department. None of them were bad people. There just wasn’t a clear vision because of all the switches. This led to some serious burnout and I realized that me and Big Blue were just not meant to be.
If you find yourself feeling burned out as a corporate trainer, don’t worry. You aren’t the first nor will you be the last. The job can be demanding and intense but also truly rewarding.
For more information about a career as a Corporate Trainer, check out my Career Spotlight: How to Become a Corporate Trainer article.