Synergo Field Notes



By Lindsey Brodie

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by twenty tweens, each begging to go next on the Giant Swing as you race impending rain? Are you spending your sleep dreaming about sending participants across a zip line? Have moments like this gone from feeling like part of the job to creating a deep, inexplicable dread?

If so, you might be experiencing burnout.

In an industry that is constantly growing and evolving, burnout is considered, by some, inevitable. The challenge course season, whether it be at a camp or teambuilding event, has its seasonal constraints, which means packing a lot of work into a short period of time. In order to prevent burnout in challenge course professions, it’s important to understand what it looks like.

Quite often, burnout can be mistaken for stress and vice versa. This can be confusing in any realm of life, but especially the challenge course industry, as stress is a prevalent part of the job. After all, you are holding other people’s lives in your hands. The difference often comes in the time span: stress is typically short-lived and lessons or disappears with a situational change. Burnout tends to extend over a long period of time and be more internally-sourced.  While burnout can exist in countless life situations, that are some specific ways that it tends to present itself in the challenge course industry:

·         Feeling less connected to participants

·         Having trouble getting excited or staying energetic

·         Lack of proper attention on elements/closer calls for potential accidents

·         Consistently late or not having proper setup time

·         Feelings of apathy toward your position

While nothing on this list is considered generally positive, those that create issues of safety, such as lack of proper attention or set up time, turn burnout from a personal issue to an industry issue. Anyone can go online and look at ways to help personal burnout, such as yoga, meditation, or a healthy diet; however, what truly needs to be addressed is how we, as an industry tackle the issue.

This is where Challenge Course Management becomes key. Whether you are reading this as a manager or as a facilitator, the implementation of certain practices to avoid burnout are critical to the safety and happiness of both guests and employees. Here are some actions managers can take and employees can suggest to address burnout before it begins:

Do not limit employees to a single element. Sure, Diane might be an excellent facilitator on the Catwalk. But anyone can get tired of repetitiveness, leading both Diane and the other facilitators to frustration and boredom as a result of a lack of variety. Make sure everyone gets proper rotation and training on all areas of the challenge course.

Do not put employees in situations where they feel pressured to say yes. This applies to all employees, but especially those who might be displaying the beginnings of burnout. Some workers are simply “yes” people, and will take on more work than they can or should, even if it creates resentment.

Stress the importance of taking daily breaks. Yes, it can be hard to find time to sit on a busy day, but it is critical. Without breaks, the body and mind burn out fast. Make sure staff is taking proper breaks, even if they insist on working through.

Write down why you took the job. This is important for managers and staff alike. Take a moment at the beginning of the season to write down why you are in this industry and what you personally get from it. When days start to get long, it can be helpful to have a reminder from yourself as to why you are in your current position.

Plan some time for fun. Whether it is just ordering some pizza one night or heading out for paintball, make time for positive out-of-work interactions for employees. This can cut down on existing interpersonal tensions and allow for greater bonding and support within a crew.

Invest in your employees. This ties in a bit with making room for element variety. An important way to make someone feel valued is to invest in their education. Look into trainings that will further their skill sets. Employees will feel appreciated and valued, while managers and companies have happy, skilled employees.

Burnout has quickly become normalized in a work-centric society, and even in our industry, but that does not mean it should be. One does not have to be a course manager to make these small changes. Take breaks and encourage those around you to do the same. Ask about additional learning opportunities and know when to say “no.” Most importantly, take time to remember why you are in this industry. Ours is a labor of love, and without that, none of us would be here.


Curious about upcoming trainings for your staff? Synergo hosts a variety of ACCT facilitation training and continuing education workshops.