Procurement teams under pressure: How to avoid meltdown

Why are procurement teams increasingly suffering burnout? Dr. Howard Price, Head of Procurement Content at Skill Dynamics offers his insights and advice

Procurement teams are facing increasing challenges

Over the last three years we’ve seen successive, overlapping waves of global disruption; a pandemic, extreme weather disruptions, a major war and prolonged supply shortages. Now economic conditions are deteriorating into recession in many parts of the world. Inflation is at its highest for decades. These are the most challenging times most procurement people have ever seen.

The impact of these challenges on procurement teams

The environment is complex and these challenges all interact. For example, steps taken to address one problem can create problems elsewhere; onshoring may improve availability but increase cost; consolidating suppliers may reduce cost but create additional supply risk.

Dr. Howard Price, Head of Procurement Content at Skill Dynamics, says: “We’re now seeing cost inflation overtaking supply shortages as the biggest single cause of concern in procurement, although supply availability is still a problem for many. As a result, procurement professionals are taking a battering, juggling a wider range of challenges than ever. We’ve also seen that some experts say that significant procurement people are leaving the profession altogether.”

Why are procurement professionals suffering “burnout”?

The term that’s increasingly coming up is “burnout.” It’s not just another buzzword - the World Health Organisation has identified it as a global problem. Burnout happens when a person is repeatedly faced with work tasks that exceed the time and resources needed. The WHO says that burnout resulted in 2.8 million deaths in 2019.

Dr. Price says: “Unfortunately, that’s the tragic tip of a bigger iceberg since hundreds of millions struggle with chronic mental and physical health problems. These problems range from extreme tiredness, difficulties concentrating, anxiety, depression and other mental and physical disorders. The signs are that procurement will be a prime target for burnout. Recent research by Procurious found 80% of respondents were asked to ‘do more with less.’”

The 5 main causes of burnout

Research has highlighted five main causes of burnout: An unreasonable high workload, lack of control over work patterns, “always being on call”, unfair treatment by managers and lack of social support. “If we look at these factors,” says Dr. Price, “it becomes clear that action needs to be taken quickly to tackle this effectively, both at the individual and organisational levels.”

How organisations and individuals are dealing with burnout

Companies are increasingly recognising the problem and investing in supporting employees with wellness programs, meditation, relaxation classes, exercise, etc. “But the key drivers of burnout are overall workload, level of discretion and fair treatment of employees,” says Dr. Price. “So the danger here is that companies are addressing the symptoms of burnout rather than the causes. As one expert puts it: ‘You can't yoga your way out of burnout.’

“Looking at the individual perspective, it seems that the main way that individuals are dealing with burnout is by walking out – leaving their organisations. A large survey found that forty percent of employees were considering leaving their current employer within the next three to six months. But unless they are leaving the workforce altogether, they may be leaving the frying pan for the fire!”

Dr. Price’s advice for the future

According to Dr. Price, the CPO needs to take a hard look at whether they are creating the right conditions for success or contributing to a toxic environment. “It’s never easy to recognise that you might be part of the problem, but research suggests that the company is often the major cause of burnout.”

He says that the questions we have to ask are:

  • Is the team given enough discretion over managing their work?
  • Are they given enough time to go offline from constant messaging traffic and actually solve problems?
  • Is the CPO putting the right people into the right teams who can support each other and contribute different skills?
  • Do the team members feel empowered to speak up and ask for help when overloaded and long before they become ill?

Another key aspect to help teams avoid burnout is training. “There’s clear evidence that training gives employees improved confidence, showing them that the company values them and is committed to their development,” he says. “Greater skill improves efficiency, providing a way to handle increased workloads. Upskilling will undoubtedly help them cope better with the unprecedented challenges procurement now faces.

“For the individual procurement professionals, I’d offer three pieces of advice,” he says. 

“Firstly, take as much control over your work environment as possible. If clear priorities still need to be set, set priorities yourself. Communicate them clearly and assume silence means consent. 

"If possible, go offline from email and messaging communications for fixed periods of the day and use these for quality thinking-time. Message chatter is the enemy of clear thinking.

"Secondly, prioritise your personal health, take regular breaks and exercise. Don’t hesitate to speak up if you feel anxious, overloaded, or mistreated. And remember that your colleagues and suppliers may be suffering too, so watch for signs that others may be struggling and be supportive.

"Finally, however challenging things feel right now, remember that these chaotic and difficult times present the perfect opportunity to learn and develop. Prevailing through challenging times helps us become more adaptable and build new skills we never thought we would have!”

Dr. Howard Price is Head of Procurement Content at Skill Dynamics. He’s an accomplished Chief Procurement Officer, with over 30 years of experience. He led the procurement practice at KPMG and holds a PhD for his research into strategic procurement.


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