Why Are Top Performers Burning Out?

You'd think, the more successful the rep, the more permission would be granted to recharge. WRONG!

In my experience (as a sales rep, manager & now coach) top sales performers are suffering from burnout, too. I've spent a lot of time digging into the why and I've come up with a few reasons.


This manifests in many ways. Once established as a consistent top performer there's an expectation put on the rep by both themselves and leadership to "hit." For those of you not in the sales world, by "hit" I'm referring to attaining or overachieving on quota. Missing is not an option. There's a fear that not only would they let themselves down, but their entire team, too.

There's also the fear that one miss could turn into a pattern of misses. In many sales orgs two missed quotas can result in a performance improvement plan or even termination.


There's this unwritten expectation placed on top performers that they will carry the weight of the team's low performers, securing the team win. Even if they are at or above attainment, management asks for more, because the team or company isn't necessarily at their quota. Leadership knows the rep can do more and ask for it, unknowingly sacrificing their mental health to get to the number. This short term way of thinking can have long term mental health effects on sales reps.

Even though top performers are often at or over their number in advance of the end of an attainment measurement period, they continue to push themselves up until the very end due to this pressure. They should be using this time to re-charge and build pipeline for the next month or quarter to avoid burnout.

Subject Matter Expert

Top performers are the subject matter experts. They know the product, process and team better than anyone else. They are the go-to for questions, training new hires, running team meetings, and for their managers to run ideas off of. This is important for growth, but it often goes unacknowledged from leadership and becomes expected.

As a sales leader, I've certainly fallen victim to this. I've leaned on my top performers to join calls, answer questions and train new hires without acknowledging how much they actually have on their plate. Looking back, I wish I had done more acknowledging and had an open and honest conversation with my top performers giving them permission to lower their quota attainment expectations while taking on team lead roles and responsibilities.

No only does the role of subject matter expert fill a lot of their day, but it can also force top performers to feel like they can't unplug, because if they do they won't be there for their team members when they need them via SLACK or email.

So, how do we fix this?

Shift from a short term to long-term mind-set

Leaders and reps need to focus on long term (annual) attainment vs. in the moment short-term achievement. The long term gains of balance (& accepting a miss once in a while) far outweigh the short term gains of high overachievement resulting in burnout.

Pushing someone to drastic over-attainment can certainly be great for the team number and their paycheck, but is it worth the stress and potential burn-out that can result? Be cautious when asking for "more" from your top reps.

Distribute Help

Diversify who your new reps go to for information, don't lean on just 1-2 people on your team. Encourage reps to use enablement information first and only go to top reps when they've exhausted other options. Explain why you're suggesting this approach, sample soundbite.

"Your gut reaction will be to reach out to (top performers name), but before you do that, let's make sure you exhaust all of your other options first. One day soon you are going to be the rep that all new hires go-to for advice or help, when you're in those shoes you will appreciate the team going trying to figure it out on their own first."

Acknowledge & Celebrate Constantly

Managers can easily fall into the camp of expecting our top reps to perform for us (trust me, I've been there), resulting in a lack of appreciation. It's so important that we reward our top performers with extra praise and consistent coaching and feedback. It's easy to let them coast and continue to crush it while tending to other reps that need help immediately, but top reps need and deserve just as much if not more attention for their own growth and development and to show them how much they matter to the team.