Clinical Research Burnout: 3 Ways CRO Experts Can Cope

We recently let our LinkedIn followers vote on a topic for a blog post and today we are delivering on their vote. Mental health is increasingly important in an industry that keeps growing and innovating to meet the demands of the market. Overwhelm and burnout, far from being badges of honor, slow down the pace with which research moves forward. 

Today I’ll share some tips for taking care of yourself as a clinical research professional so you can avoid the pits of burnout and remain motivated and productive. No one wins if you feel incapacitated by the dread of burnout – especially not the patients you could otherwise help.

1. Promote a work-life balance culture across the company. 

I have a friend who is quickly climbing the ladder in a big CRO – she had never been a competitive kind of person until she started working for the company. Bonuses and promotions didn’t mean much to her but once she found her passion – supporting clinical research in her new role – ‘overtime’ became her hobby. 

This is a common thing – when you find a job you love, there is always a honeymoon period in which long hours don’t feel that long and you seem to have an endless supply of energy and motivation. 

But there’s another thing that often happens too – you start getting praised for the effort you put in your work and the results you achieve. There are no bad intentions on your colleagues’ side, yet, you quickly learn that great praise-worthy results = being ‘on’ all the time. 

The friend I mentioned? She works evenings, responds to emails on the weekend, and spends every Sunday afternoon getting ahead on the next week’s tasks. 

Instead, you need to set boundaries around your off-hours – especially with yourself. Decide that evenings are for family and friends and thinking about that case at work that didn’t get resolved today is a no-go. 

By turning yourself off in the evening (and that means no emails, no Slack, no Teams) you give your colleagues the permission to do the same and you promote a work-life balance culture across the company, or at least across your team or department.

2. Learn to work smarter not harder.

Does that sound familiar: you are so busy with the hustle and bustle of every day, meeting deadlines and responding to urgent emails, that you have no time to stop, look at the bigger picture and ask “Is this really going to move the needle”?

I’ve been there. Sometimes the word ‘deadline’ blindsides us creating a sense of urgency and importance.

But just because a task has a deadline doesn’t mean that in the grand scheme of things it’s a stepping block toward your goals or the goals of the company. 

When we developed TrialHub we had one thing on our minds: how to help professionals in clinical trials feasibility work smarter not harder. We knew that finding and analyzing data took a huge part of the time CROs have to prepare for the bid defense – and they weren’t even guaranteed to win the project. So, we set out to automate this process and free up time that would be better spent discussing strategies and big ideas and connecting with KOLs and other key partners for the success of a trial.

This is just one example of thinking in terms of impact vs effort. But if you really want to be able to prioritize tasks and focus on the most impactful, you need to have a) a long-term vision broken into smaller goals and b) data about each task’s total impact. That way you know how much task X contributes toward goal Y and you can focus on fewer but more important to-dos. 

3. Delegate responsibility when possible. 

If you work in clinical research, then you work with smart, motivated, capable people. There is no reason why you shouldn’t utilize their skills and know-how especially when you are already overwhelmed and could use a hand. 

Often, we don’t know how to delegate responsibility – even a responsibility that is not really ours but made its way to our desk. Whether it’s because we want to have complete control over a project from beginning to end, or because we feel like we couldn’t possibly ask for help and risk burdening someone else. 

But our team is there to help us – by supporting each other we can succeed together, instead of burning out on our own. Not to mention that often people in entry-level roles thrive on the opportunity to learn about the industry and challenge themselves with increasingly difficult tasks – only to be overlooked due to their lack of experience. 

By learning to delegate responsibility when appropriate, you can avoid having too much on your plate and give your colleagues the opportunity to help you.   

Do you have any tips or experience in preventing burnout you want to share? We’d love to hear from you. 

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