by Sarah J. F. Braley | November 30, 2009
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Jaime BarnhartThe typical workplace has changed a lot this year. Take the office of Jaime Barnhart, CMP, director of conferences for the American Moving and Storage Association. She started her job in Alexandria, Va., a little over a year ago, taking charge of the group's annual meeting, four regional meetings and a board meeting. "Now, a year later, we are seven staff members down, through a combination of retirements, new jobs, going back to school and layoffs," Barnhart says. "I have all the responsibilities I had before, while also managing our political action committee, all the e-blast marketing we do and managing the lists."

At Levi's Brand in San Francisco, event manager Mike Mecham is the last man standing in the meetings department. "I have been a one-man band for the past 12 months," he says, "although I do have one person who helps me now half of her time, because we have new work. We have new leadership and there are things we want to do in new way, everything from gifts for customers to opening events at our sales meetings. It's more work."

To gauge how planners are feeling, M&C asked readers in October about their level of burnout. Almost half (49 percent) of the 128 respondents rated their level as medium, while 30 percent said it was high and just 21 percent said it was low.

As workloads keep growing and it becomes harder to check anything off the to-do list, stress levels rise in tandem. And many of us, when overwhelmed with work, blame ourselves for not managing our time better, or we become bitter critics of a workplace we can't afford to leave. Either way, we internalize the mounting stress, which in turn often leads to mental and physical exhaustion -- a classic recipe for burnout. However, according to human resources and psychological experts, there are steps planners (and employees in any profession) can take to help ease the pressure.

Prioritize tasks The true cause of stress comes down to how much a worker is being asked to do and the adequacy of resources she has with which to do it. To relieve the burden, either the demand has to be lessened or the resources increased. Since resources are being cut right and left, meeting planners have to find a way to cut extraneous tasks out of their days.

"One way to reduce the demand is by getting rid of silly work and prioritizing what matters most," says human resources expert Dave Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That's a tactic used by Mecham at Levi's: "I try to streamline. I look at my work and try to figure out what is absolutely essential and then discard the rest. Sometimes I ask, ‘Do we really need to do name badges this time?' or ‘Does this report really need to be updated at this time?' "