How to Burn Bright, Not Out

March 19th 2020

by Mark Mulcahy – founder/owner, Organic Options and Columinate consultant

Interestingly, in the nearly 24 years I have been consulting with stores, farms, and businesses around the country, I still encounter managers in many businesses who have lost their vision and motivation. They feel burdened with the weight of all their obligations and responsibilities, and feeling burnout has become a regular part of their daily work life.

One of the most common areas that managers neglect on the road to burnout is their own basic needs. Skipping lunch or eating at their desk while checking emails or doing orders is common.

Personal time off is another area that often takes a hit. Managers feel obligated to be at work because things aren’t going as well as they should. They often sacrifice their personal life for the needs of the store.

Sacrifice comes with the territory, and some situations call for it: employees calling in sick, quitting, or being terminated. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Allowing time for family, hobbies, and other activities will keep you healthier, happier, and mentally prepared to do the job. Schedule two days off in a row. If you need to take separate days off, make sure you take them. Research shows it will make a world of difference! Get away from the store during your lunch break (yes, it’s crucial that you take one!).

Doing these things will give you a fresh perspective and set a good example for the rest of your crew. Quite often, we fail to recognize that we encourage burnout in others with our behavior. Good employees are a valuable resource and shouldn’t be depleted.

If you are looking for ways to handle this situation, step away from your department or business for a few days.

Do you say you can’t afford it? You can’t afford not to! 

After all, you take time off when you or your kids are sick. If your car breaks down, you take the time to get it fixed. Remember, your health and the health of your department depends on it.

Review the reasons for your fatigue; reflect on what motivated you in the first place. If your motivation was a dream to create something different or better, then invest the time to replenish your desires. Visit a farm, go to a sustainable agriculture conference, and invest in that book, film, or music that will inspire you. Call up a colleague to vent or seek counsel from someone with a different perspective of your store.

Take a good look at your department and find the areas that need work, make a list, and set a course for change.

Most often, it’s the lack of systems that stop the progress, including consistent scheduling, job descriptions, and accountability for the work. If systems are in place — for daily routines, proper training, clear lines of communication, and understanding of department finances — you will have more time to create and blossom. Frustration will be at a minimum, and the department will become a place where employees enjoy working.

Another piece to your revitalization process is creating a shared vision. I often hear from managers that the crew “doesn’t get it”. Ask yourself if you have taken the time to communicate your dream for the department. Are you clear about what it is yourself? Write down your past, present, and future vision. Think about the part you play in achieving it. Ask the crew how you can reach goals together. If your team feels they have a direct effect on those goals, they will be more willing to embrace it.

If we are going be as sustainable as the food we sell, let’s make our own sustainability a priority too! This way, we can make sure we are like a star that offers light after it is gone: the light of a creative and passionately lived career. 


Mark Mulcahy is the founder and owner of Organic Options and Member of Columinate, which provides transformative leadership and consulting services for natural and organic food retailers and co-ops, as well as farmers and produce distributors worldwide. 

 An award-winning consultant, educator, and organic advocate, he has spent more than 35 years in the organic and natural foods industry through leading, guiding, and inspiring others to their fullest potential. 

 Mark is known for his creative merchandising, accountability and time management programs, effective training techniques, and successful sales growth and promotion strategies, as well as his deep-seated passion for produce and dedication to sustainable agriculture.