Every industry contains a danger of job burnout. Although it’s not an actual medical disease, the Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642)
It sounds like fun, right? No, not at all. Real estate agents can be especially prone to burnout because of the unique nature of their job. As independent contractors, agents can feel isolated even if they’re part of a thriving brokerage. Dealing with people, in general, is stressful and can lead to burnout; dealing with people who are in the middle of one of the biggest transactions of their lives is exponentially more stressful than dealing with people sitting down for a meal or buying a pair of jeans. And the sheer complexity of the transaction itself can be overwhelming for agents.
But burnout is far from a sure thing. There’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from feeling that state of physical and emotional exhaustion.
How do you know it’s burnout?
First, you have to be able to identify what you’re experiencing as burnout. It affects everyone a little bit differently, but there are some typical symptoms that people with burnout tend to have that can help you pinpoint if it’s happening to you.
Think about your recent sleep patterns. If you have burnout, you may also have insomnia; either you have trouble falling asleep at night, or you wake up way too early and can’t get back to sleep, or both. This could be paired with chronic fatigue: Because you aren’t getting enough rest at night, you might feel tired all the time at work, listless, with no energy.
Your food consumption can also alert you to burnout if you pay attention. Some people lose their appetite, while others overeat out of stress — so if the number on the scale has been creeping up or down from its normal spot, and you’re not intending to gain or lose any weight, that could be a sign that your job is starting to affect how and what you eat.
If you’ve been diagnosed before with anxiety or depression, or you know someone who has, then some of this may sound familiar. In fact, anxiety and depression often coexist with job burnout; job depression can incite anxiety and depression in people who have never had either before, and it can also make pre-existing conditions worse.
Another strong emotion that can be a warning sign of burnout is anger. Are you on a hair-trigger these days, finding your blood pressure soaring when you encounter certain situations at work? Do you notice yourself snapping at people much more than you ever did?
You may find that you’re forgetting things more often, or have serious trouble focusing or paying attention during your workday. And burnout can come with physical symptoms, too, including shortness of breath, heart palpitations, a propensity to get sick more often, and other body troubles that indicate all is not well in your world.
Does any or all of this sound familiar? It’s quite possible you have burnout. So what can you do to resolve it?
How do you fight burnout?
Burnout is quite common in real estate, but it’s far from inevitable! There is a lot you can do to improve your situation if you do think you have burnout, and prioritizing yourself will help you deal with your current burnout as well as prevent it from coming back in the future.
1. Set boundaries
The reason why burnout is so common in this industry is that it can feel like a 24/7 business. It’s a stressful time of life for your clients, who don’t buy or sell a house every day, and they are thinking about the obstacles to the closing table around the clock … but that truly does not mean that you have to do the same. The first thing you have to do to protect your psyche and manage your time more wisely is to set boundaries with your clients.
This can feel very uncomfortable for some agents, but with some practice, even the most bend-over-backward types will learn that the vast majority of clients are happy to respect your boundaries. So during your first meeting, tell them, “These are the hours during the day where I will be available via phone or text message to answer any questions you have. If you ask me a question before 6 p.m., I promise I will get back to you the same day. If you need something after 6, you can email me, leave me a voicemail, or text me, and I’ll reply as soon as I can the following day.”
If you’re working with sellers (who are more likely to have an after-hours emergency that might affect your business), it might behoove you to set up an answering service that can help connect your sellers with emergency plumbers, electricians, and contractors so that you don’t have to.
2. Take care of your body
One of the first things to go when we’re feeling stressed out is our self-care, which is absolutely the worst possible move to make, yet we do it all the time. You’ve heard it before and it’s nothing new, but taking care of your body through diet, exercise, and an appropriate amount of sleep will alleviate stress, give you more energy, and even extend your life. That’s why even in the peak of the busiest time of year for real estate agents, it’s critical that you’re planning your day so that you can eat nourishing, healthy food instead of pulling up in drive-through after drive-through.
It is quite common for agents to cut corners on sleep in particular as their business ramps up and they feel stretched thinner. This is one of the worst things you can do for your body. Sacrificing your sleep for work should be an absolute last resort and something you do extremely infrequently. Exercise can help if you have insomnia; spending 30 minutes sweating every day can wear you out enough to send you to bed when you’re supposed to go and keep you there all night.
Get some assistance
One of the best things about being a real estate agent is that the work that goes into your day is incredibly varied. You have to find and work with clients, market your listings and your business, negotiate deals, tie up loose ends, manage your own business finances, and generally be a person of all trades to the best of your ability.
That’s an amazing experience on its best days, but when things start going sideways, every agent will admit that there are some tasks they enjoy more than others. Some thrive on building social media following into the tens of thousands while others would rather file taxes than post to Instagram. Some are marketing-savvy while others enjoy the numbers and economic interplays in real estate.
Think about the things you have to do every day in your business, and then take some time to identify the tasks that you have grown to dislike — or maybe you just don’t enjoy them as much as you do everything else. Make a list and review it to determine what you can delegate. As soon as you can afford to, consider hiring an assistant or subscribing to a service that will handle that task for you.
You may find a little stigma in the real estate industry around not doing everything yourself. But so what? If you’re happy in your job and an assistant helps you achieve more work-life balance, it is a sign of the maturity and opportunities in your business that you have enough work to handoff. Savor it.
Give yourself something to anticipate
Maybe it’s a vacation planned to a destination you always wanted to visit but haven’t yet, or perhaps you can set up a standing Friday night date for you and your closest friends to bond over tapas and wine and commiserate about the past five days. Even though it seems counterintuitive, some agents fight burnout by working on next year’s business plan and strategy. It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you have something to look forward to, you can summon its presence whenever burnout rears its head and you feel like throwing your laptop at the wall.
Another way to build anticipation into your world is to give yourself a creative outlet that you indulge on a regular basis, whether daily or weekly. Channel all of those awful experiences into the novel you’re writing or the metal song you’re composing. If you can do this consistently, you might even catch yourself smiling when things get crazy at work because you know it’s all grist for the mill of your art.
Establish a support system
A mentor can be an immense help for new agents who are struggling to juggle all of the nuance and detail that goes into a real estate transaction. If you don’t already have someone you consider your mentor, think about making it a priority to find one.
You can also build a network of people who can be trusted to support you when you need it. That could be your mom, your partner, your neighbor, your best friend, your book group, a therapist — anybody you trust to help you handle some of the emotions and experiences that emerge when you’re working in real estate. Coworkers can be a huge source of help: They’ve been there before and they understand what it’s like. If you don’t feel like there’s anybody at your brokerage who can provide that support system for you, look online. There are a ton of social media groups for real estate agents to support each other, and one of them is probably a good fit for you.
Rearrange your day
How different would work feel if you remembered to take regular short breaks to refresh and revive yourself every day? Well, the great thing about being in real estate is that you are your own boss. Too often, that means that you drive yourself into the ground trying to impress yourself — but if you give your boss-self permission to be a nice, indulgent boss (on occasion) to your employee-self, you’ll probably discover that you begin to enjoy your workplace incrementally more.
Breaks are just one way to reorganize your working day to facilitate feelings of equilibrium and stability at work. Maybe you can do something with your workspace or car, adding personal touches that make you feel happy and soothed when you’re in that environment. A plant or candle on your desk (with a clean workspace) can do wonders for your mood, and if you have a home office, painting at least one wall your favorite color, or hanging an image you love where you can see it, can be a good way to spruce up your work area.
Surrounding yourself with things that make you happy can be supplemented by building small treats into your day. Do you love to sit on your porch with a cup of tea in the afternoon? Is stopping at home to eat lunch one of your favorite parts of your day when you can make it happen? Well, guess what: You got into real estate so you could have a lot of flexibility around your work. If tea time or a lunch break is something that rejuvenates you and helps you be more present during the rest of your day, you can be your own boss and add it to your schedule.
Shift your mindset
The best thing about anything shiny and new is its shiny newness. It is very common for humans to start something new, feel thrilled at the fact that they’re allowed to do what they’re doing … and then, gradually, become dulled and inured to the awesomeness of your life. Can you remember how exciting it was to start a new career in real estate? How much freedom you felt when you realized that the sky was the limit in terms of earning potential and that you could craft your business to suit your needs as an independent business owner?
When you’re feeling especially terrible, if you can, stop and try to think about the first time you felt really excited about being a real estate agent. Maybe it was the feeling you got when you passed the exam, or when the brokerage you wanted to work with most told you that you were also their top choice. Perhaps it was a time when a client heaped praise on you for the effort you put in on their behalf. Stash up as many of those memories as you can, and revisit them when things are feeling bleak to give you a little extra boost for the day.
Sometimes, this can be as simple (or as incredibly difficult, depending on your perspective) as changing how you talk about work in your head. When your phone rings, instead of thinking “What now?!,” maybe you can train yourself to think, “Someone needs my help!” or even “What kind of problem will I be solving?”
Avoid toxic clients
This is often easier said than done, and although we all have the best intentions about who we will and won’t work with professionally, it’s often difficult to stick to those convictions when you know you need to close another deal this month and the toxic client is your best option. But think about the repercussions for you personally. Working with toxic clients affects your health and your energy; it can literally drain years from your life, and contribute to issues you might already have at home — or generate new ones.