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Home » Burned Out By Real Estate: Understanding The 5 Stages Of Burnout – A Real Risk For Realtors

Burned Out By Real Estate: Understanding The 5 Stages Of Burnout – A Real Risk For Realtors

Real Estate Agents face a stress on a day-to-day basis. Deadlines, unexpected land mines and difficult Buyers and Sellers are just a few of these stressors. The reality of burnout in this industry is very real, and as an Agent, it’s important to know what to look out for, so you can avoid the worst implications of burnout.

Read on to understand the 5 stages of burnout agents risk facing in their business, so you can keep yourself thriving… even through the toughest market conditions!

According to a study published by Winona State University, the 5 stages of burnout are as follows:

5 Stages Of Burnout:

Real Estate Agents Face High Stress

5 Stages Of Job-Related Burnout:

Stage 1: Honeymoon

Stage 2: Balancing Act

Stage 3: Chronic Symptoms

Stage 4: Crisis

Stage 5: Enmeshment

(5 Stages are an excerpt from stress study by Winona State University)

I’ll explore each of these stages, what they look like through the specific lens of a Real Estate Agent, and what red-flags to look for at each stage. Understanding the 5 stages of burnout can help you can avoid the health implications that come along with chronic stress in your business… so you can be mindful of symptoms and address them before they become chronic!

Understanding The Difference Between Stress / Overwhelm, and Burnout

The key idea that differentiates stress and overwhelm from burnout is the duration and severity. Stressful days are pretty much a given, at least from time to time. But most of us have a reprieve from stress… in other words, it comes and goes. This might ebb and flow with project deadlines, a particular client, or market conditions that are out of our control.

Stress and overwhelm become something different entirely when they go on unchecked. Periods of long-lasting stress and overwhelm with no relief will eventually result in Burnout. Different people experience the phases of burnout differently, but the progression through phases can happen over a relatively short amount of time. Stress and overwhelm at a chronic level, with no end in sight, is the perfect recipe for Burnout in the workplace.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout can be described in many ways, but generally it the the complete dissolution of a work-life balance. It is what happens when job stresses overtake a person’s day-to-day life and begin to affect their physical and mental well-being. Burnout is beyond stress and overwhelm. It should not be taken lightly.

Burnout does not come on completely without notice. It has predictable phases of progression. But if you don’t know the signs of trouble, you can find that you’ve progressed through several phases before you realize what’s happened.

The Winona study linked above describes it well by stating, “burnout is the loss of meaning in one’s work.”

In order to fully digest how a Real Estate Agent might experience the various stages of burnout, it is first necessary to have an understanding of how job related stress will present itself at each stage.

What Are The Symptoms At Each Stage Of Burnout?

Once we know the basics, we can explore how these stages might specifically look for a Realtor / Real Estate Agent. Let’s dive in! (The following stage descriptions are adapted from this stress study, as published by Winona State University.

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Phase

Workers are generally satisfied with their jobs in this phase, energy is high, creativity thrives, and positive coping mechanisms allow the effective management of the inevitable stresses that come with the job. This phase is ideal, but few can perpetually function day-to-day in this phase.

Stage 2: The Balancing Act Phase

Losing some of the high energy and positive outlook of Stage 1, this second phase of burnout comes with some more variance between days on the job. As a business owner, you’re more aware that there are good days and bad days, and that some days take a toll on you stress-wise.

You can feel a sense of dissatisfaction with your job, and feel so mentally taxed with the “busy-ness” of day-to-day operations that you can experience sleep disturbances and ongoing mental and physical fatigue. This will often lead to choosing unhealthy activities of “escapism”, like poor food choices/binging, indulging in too much alcohol, or other vices like smoking and drugs or generally zoning out at the end of the day.

Stage 3: Chronic Symptoms

In this stage, you’ll likely feel any symptoms you experienced in Stage 2, but they intensify. There can be a feeling of ongoing or chronic exhaustion, and more frequent bouts of illness (due to a suppressed immune response). In addition to the typical symptoms of stage 2, new symptoms can begin to surface. This can present as anger or depression.

Stage 4: Crisis Phase

If you reach crisis phase, you’re at a critical juncture. Frustrations from the workplace begin to overtake your daily life, you can feel obsessive about it, and experience greatly intensified symptoms from phases 2 and 3, or a larger number of symptoms. Your outlook officially swings from positive to negative overall, and you develop patterns of self-doubt.

Stage 5: Enmeshment Phase

In this phase (which is beyond the point of crisis), the symptoms of burnout are so prevalent in your day to day experience, that you risk significant physical or emotional implications. You are considered beyond “a burnout case” at this phase… and may feel like you are living with a larger socio-emotional problem vs. feeling the impact of workplace burnout. Others may dismiss you as a case of job-related burnout, being more likely to label you with a broader mental health issue.

What Might The Symptoms Of Burnout Look Like For A Realtor / Real Estate Agent?

The stresses that come with running a Real Estate business can be somewhat cyclical. Realtors usually have a “busy season”, as markets ebb and flow, and the natural cycles of the calendar year unfold. But during periods of extreme market conditions (both good and bad), the work-related stressors can quickly become too much for Agents to manage.

The “normal” business cycles can be upended, and start to feel unpredictable. The “busy season” can feel endless, and Agents can quickly become stretched so thin that they have nothing left to give in their personal lives.

Realtors are especially prone to falling into a pattern of Burnout, because the job so heavily depends on being available to clients on short notice. Despite best efforts to preserve a reasonable schedule, successfully troubleshooting deals often demands that Agents be available to clients at inconvenient times (to manage the problems and meet deadlines)!

These demands pull us away from our personal down-time, vacations, family time and self-care; the very things that help us cope with stress. It can escalate quickly.

Being able to identify when you are experiencing the early signs of Burnout can help Realtors make adjustments to help avoid the worst, most destructive risks of job-related burnout.

Workplace Burnout Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase – what it might look like for a Real Estate Agent

You’re shot with the spirit, as they say. You’re excited about your job and the high level of service you’re brining to your Buyers and Sellers. You’re eager to meet new people and fill your pipeline with leads. Following up on them feels fun and exciting, and the fruits of your labor are fully enjoyed at the closing table when you help your clients achieve their real estate goals!

Stage 1 doesn’t come with many symptoms, because you’re generally in a high-satisfaction state with your job.

Red flags / what to look out for: It’s natural to not be able to sustain a work-life balance that always lives in the Honeymoon Phase. Just be aware of slipping out of it, and make adjustments if you aren’t living in this ideal phase at least part of the time… on the good days!

Workplace Burnout Stage 2: The Balancing Act – what it might look like for a Real Estate Agent

The onset of stress in the real estate business is inevitable. This will most certainly surface from time to time, and Agents may find themselves dipping in and out of phase 2, depending on the particular market conditions, clients and unforseen issues that arise. How these issues coincide with an agent’s personal demands can also be critical.

Stage 2 Burnout Symptoms Might Include:

  • Increasing frustration with difficult negotiations or challenging client personalities
  • Insomnia, or waking with a busy brain; constantly thinking about all the things you have on your plate, or constantly worrying about what you might be forgetting
  • Increasingly choosing ‘escapist’ activities like over-indulging in food or alcohol, knowing that you’re seeking it as a coping mechanism, feeling like you “need” it to get through your day

The demands on Agents will come in various forms; intense physically demanding periods spent driving and showing homes (when you’re buyer heavy), or mental fatigue as you manage the listing appointments and many moving parts of preparing listings for sale and seeing deals through to the closing table.

Many agents are likely to live in Phase 2 for several months (sometimes back-to-back months) of the year. The key is that there is relief around the corner, when things slow down and allow you a chance to regroup. These essential periods of relief allow Realtors to catch up on personal demands, as well as behind-the-scenes aspects of the job; things like continuing education requirements, budgeting for taxes, staying on top of a changing market and keeping in touch with their database of clients.

Even while swinging between phases 1 and 2, there is still a balance in place between work and life outside of work.

Yes, you may miss your son or daughter’s sporting event. You may have to dip out of a dinner to take a phone call to resolve a problem within a contract deadline. It comes with the territory. But these disturbances shouldn’t take away all of your down time.

Red flags / what to look out for: when the balancing act of phase 2 tips the scales too much toward work (or for too long without any relief), stage 3 is breathing down your neck. Keep tabs on any new physical or mental symptoms that pop up, so you know when you’re slipping into unhealthy patterns. This can range from irritability, to sleep disturbances and anxiety. Being honest with yourself at the onset of symptoms is the best way to prevent them from becoming chronic, and it’s also the best time to come up with a plan to resolve them.

Burnout Stage 3: Chronic Symptoms – what it might look like for a Real Estate Agent

As stress and overwhelm on the job reach the chronic symptoms stage, day-to-day life begins to be affected. Agents may feel physically and emotionally exhausted, and dread dealing with problems that arise. The likelihood of health-related symptoms become higher as the stress impacts your immune system and overall health.

Instead of identifying with clients, and holding yourself to a high level of service, you may find yourself blaming your clients for problems that arise, and becoming overly frustrated or consumed by small issues that would have previously only been small annoyances.

Stage 3 Burnout Symptoms Might Include:

  • Feelings of anger toward clients and contacts when problems arise
  • Feelings of overwhelm when new leads present themselves, or a feeling of dread when taking on new relationships with prospective Buyers and Sellers
  • A lack of empathy in situations when you would normally have the energy to problem solve and strive for a win-win situation
  • Exhaustion, both physical and mental, persistent in nature and detracting from your personal life

Red flags / what to look out for: If your feelings of overwhelm start to take over, to the point of paralysis, you begin to risk crisis level burnout. When you have so much to do that you don’t know where to begin, and find yourself ‘paralyzed’ with overwhelm, you can be sure you’re solidly in the 3rd stage and slipping. This is when you start dropping the ball on deals, or forgetting to do simple tasks. It’s time for a serious reset – and that MUST include some time off work, at this stage.

It’s time to reflect on what really matters to you, so you can better align your priorities and remind yourself of your larger goals for your business.

This feels like a good time to mention retirement planning. Did you know that this website has a whole section dedicated to Retirement Planning for Real Estate Agents?

Sometimes looking up from your day-to-day grind, and thinking about your goals for the more distant future can be enough to help you cope during a hard spell.

If this sounds intriguing to you, you’re not alone. It’s what got me out of my own downward-burnout-spiral following the post-pandemic housing craze of 2021. My own story is the subject for another post – but do check out our Retirement section if you need some inspiration for the future.

Burnout Stage 4: Crisis – what it might look like for a Real Estate Agent

If you’ve reached the crisis level of burnout, you can’t hide it. From yourself or from others. Chances are, many of you reading this might have landed here to read this article because you’re in a crisis state in your business and you know it. For the rest of you, simply becoming aware of the symptoms of crisis level burnout may be enough to ensure you avoid it at all costs. It is critical to get a handle on your work-life balance at this phase, for the benefit of your own health and well being.

For Realtors on the brink, sometimes all it takes is one unexpected situation to push you over the edge into Stage 4. This might be something like facing your first lawsuit. Or being audited on your taxes in the middle of your busy season. It can be a personal demand, like a family health issue, too.

Sometimes, a single out-of-your-control circumstance that hits you at the wrong time is all it takes to pull you from coping reasonably well with a stressful work period and draw you into a downward spiral of burnout. It’s a slippery slope.

Crisis level burnout is often all-consuming, with negative self talk (“I can’t possibly manage all of this!”) becoming the norm. Agents will likely feel resentful of new business leads, instead of appreciating them. Joyful aspects of the business will start to feel like “going through the motions” and agents may detach from the personal connection with clients and contacts.

Stage 4 Burnout Symptoms Might Include:

  • Obsessing over work-related stresses in your personal life; not talking about much else
  • Falling into bouts of depression or feeling like things are never going to improve
  • Snapping at clients, or other contacts when negotiations become challenging
  • Falling into anger more easily in day-to-day business, feeling like all the cards are stacked against you
  • Further falling into unhealthy habits like substance abuse or unhealthy eating/sleeping habits to the point of debilitating physical symptoms (think chronic headaches, GI issues, ulcers, etc.)

Red flags / what to look out for: At this phase, things are severe. Keep tabs on any feeling of apathy toward clients or your business goals. Feelings of detachment or despair are tell-tale signs that you are sinking into full-blow burnout and you need to seek professional help. Find someone to talk to, a trusted colleague or loved one and make sure that you don’t ignore these symptoms. Get yourself outside, away from your desk, and with help from others, you can formulate a plan to get back on track.

Burnout Stage 5: Enmeshment – what it might look like for a Real Estate Agent

A Real Estate Agent who has reached this phase of burnout will need drastic measures to get back on track. This might require an extended vacation, or a sabbatical of sorts. I encourage you to seek a prolonged period of down time, even if it means that you are financially strapped for a while. Plan a vacation, or discuss options with your employing broker.

If you don’t have your health, everything else suffers, and this stage of burnout is a severe health issue. Please treat it as such. I’m not a medical or mental health expert, and I’m not equipped to tell you what you need at this stage – but I do have some ideas on how to avoid getting here.

Please know you’re not alone and seek the down time you need to heal. Your physical and mental health is worth it, and the deals will be there when you come back (refreshed and ready for them).

Avoiding Burnout – How Agents Can Set Themselves Up For Success

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you realize that this is not exactly an uplifting topic. But given the recent pandemic-induced stresses of the world in recent years, this topic has come to the forefront. I think it’s important to understand the reasons that Realtors and Real Estate Agents might be at a higher risk of burnout than others – and to bring awareness to the issue so people feel less alone if they experience it.

It goes without saying that once you’ve identified the symptoms of burnout, you will want help learning how to cope with it. A follow up post will address this subject in greater detail, but for now, here are some go-to solutions to help get you back on track if you are slipping into feelings of burnout. I hope they help! There are lots of ways to get your flame burning bright again – and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section.

Activities That Can Help To Avoid Burnout:

  • Set time aside each day to quiet your brain. This could be a 5-minute meditation, a series of deep breaths in your car between appointments, or a hot, unrushed shower with calming music before you start your work day. No matter what it looks like, make yourself stick to a practice that feels calming to you.
  • As much as possible, try to stick to consistent sleep and wake schedules. Keeping bedtime around the same time each night can help improve sleep.
  • Spend the last 30 minutes before bed away from your phone and computer, to help you get to sleep.
  • Move your body – take a walk outside, even if it’s just around the block.
  • Exercise! I know, it’s the last thing you think you have time for when you’re overwhelmed… but exercise gets stress moving OUT of your body, to make room for better energy and coping.
  • Avoid alcohol and sugar late at night. Each can disturb sleep and even worse, create an unhealthy habit that can turn into a larger health problem.
  • Look up, and step back! Take a 10,000 foot view of your life. Don’t forget your future and your bigger goals in business an life. This too, shall pass.

Burnout FAQs:

What are the 5 stages of burnout?

What does burnout feel like?

What burnout does to your body?

How to cope with burnout?

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