Winning the Business

Fighting Proposal Industry Burnout

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As we begin a new year and start to tackle fresh RFPs and other new business opportunities, it’s essential that we examine ways to ease the widespread stress and burnout in our industry. Organizations largely rely on proposal managers and writers to drive revenue: They simultaneously manage multiple bids and oversee every step of an RFP response, including outreach to subject-matter experts, brainstorming win themes, writing, vetting and finalizing submissions. They must meet impossible deadlines, often with limited resources both in people and automation tools.

This work pace, especially when it includes a lack of support, can lead to a host of issues, from irritability and exhaustion to insomnia and mental and physical health problems.

Why not make 2020 the year we resolve to combat burnout? We aren’t alone in recognizing the crisis of workplace burnout. The World Health Organization last May officially recognized burnout as a syndrome stemming from “chronic workplace stress.”

8 in 10 Proposal People Report Burnout, Overwork

According to APMP’s 2018-2019 Ethics Survey Report that surveyed more than 1,750 APMP members, eight out of 10 respondents reported some sort of overwork, burnout or emotional distress.

Mairi Morrison, senior proposal manager for Strategic Proposals’ office in the U.K., has seen the consequences of stress after losing a friend and proposal colleague. The tragedy led her to examine stress among her colleagues in the U.K.

“[A]nything we can do to minimize the stress, we should,” Morrison says. “The main thing is to take care of our own mental health and well-being first — that’s more important than finishing a proposal on time.”

During a webinar she presented in November, Morrison recalled earlier in her career working 29 hours straight to complete a proposal and then traveling by train 150 miles to hand-deliver it on time. “I’ve worked until three in the morning and had to be back in the office by 6 a.m. to deliver a proposal by 10. It’s not very easy being a proposal person,” she says.

Looking at Workplace Stress in the U.K.

To get a handle on how widespread stress among proposal teams is, Morrison looked at results of the 2018 U.K. Workplace Stress Survey before surveying 200 APMP U.K. members to compare stress levels among proposal industry professionals, compared with the general population.

“Some 59% of people in the general workplace felt under stress or had mental health issues, and that rises to 88% in the proposal industry,” she says.

The good news is that, according to Morrison’s survey, 50% of proposal organizations in the U.K. are now aligned with a mental health organization that provides resources to employees, while 44% of these workplaces had a mental or health well-being course in the last year.

The bad news: 77% of Morrison’s survey respondents say they have no one with whom to talk, and, when they do reach out for support within their company, more than half reported getting negative feedback.

“People felt that they were seen as weak,” Morrison says. “Someone else recalled that management said all the right things but took no action.”

Managing Stress

Proposal colleagues in the survey did take steps to cope or improve their situation. Nearly one-quarter talked to friends or family members, relying on a support network outside of work, and 14% sought professional help, consulting with their doctor. However, 15% did nothing and carried on with their daily routine.

Finding ways to manage stress and relax will not only enhance your productivity but also will protect you from burnout.

“Our mental health and well-being should be first and foremost in our life because that is what is going to give you a long and happy life,” Morrison says.

Here are some ways people can help themselves:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Go out and talk with friends; have a support group around you.
  • Be there for your colleagues.
  • Speak up and ask for more resources and support.
  • Educate managers around workplace balance/health and
    wellness.

“[Talking to supervisors] is quite difficult to do, but we need to talk to management about mental health and well-being to help them support us,” Morrison says. “Also, we have to care for other people on our team. Be aware that everybody else is under stress. Take them for coffee; ask them halfway through the week, ‘How is your week going?’ ‘Is there anything I can do to support you?’”

Why Relax

Relaxation can help you prevent stress from getting a foothold, enabling you to:

  • Think more clearly and make better decisions.
  • Better fight future stressors.
  • Gain a more positive outlook on life and your experiences.
  • Have a healthier body, with a slower breathing rate, more relaxed muscles and reduced blood pressure.
  • Reduce your risk of diseases, disorders and other stress-related illnesses.


Anne Wainscott-Sargent, CF APMP, is the marketing communications director for Expedience Software and an independent proposal consultant. Expedience helps organizations enhance, automate and evolve their proposals and proposal-creation processes using Microsoft® Word. Learn more at ExpedienceSoftware.com.

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