Is Your Procurement Department Burning Out?
“Everyone in Procurement is talking about burnout,” says Tom Mills, Head of Procurement & Properties at Bibby Financial Services, in his recent LinkedIn post.
And he’s not wrong.
Procurement burnout is one of the most discussed topics we’ve continually encountered in the marketplace—in procurement, in sourcing communities, and with various clients—over the past few years.
So, what has brought this topic to the forefront of the procurement industry’s concerns?
As with many of today’s trending themes, it emerged out of an environment dominated by global disruption, supply shortages, pandemic fallout, and challenging macroeconomic headwinds—all of which stare procurement directly in the face. So while other organizational functions face these same challenges, the direct impact on procurement’s everyday activities has created particularly taxing working conditions for those serving in a procurement function.
Couple these wide-spread forces with more concentrated procurement issues and it’s easy to see why the occupation faces such rampant burnout. Those procurement-specific issues include:
One critical contributor has been the gradual leaning out of corporate procurement resources during the Great Recession and subsequent recessionary periods, as procurement departments became major targets for “cost savings”—or in other words, headcount reduction. And yet, when healthier economic times returned, say from 2012 to 2019, departmental resources were not restored to pre-recession levels (or at best, departmental growth did not keep pace with overall company growth).
And so today, what we are seeing is the average procurement professional being asked to do the work of two to three people in comparison with, say, 2007—which undoubtedly leads to and exacerbates burnout.
The problem is that in today’s environment in which suppliers are increasingly employing anti-competitive behaviors against their customers, if procurement teams are not vigilantly engaging with their supplier base, the suppliers are winning.
The leaning out of procurement resources has led to the magnification of vulnerabilities that have emerged out of these increasing supplier hostilities, fostering a challenging environment for expense management professionals and adding to the anxiety, stress, and inevitable burnout of procurement.
Fifteen years ago, a full team of three to five procurement professionals was well-equipped to stay on top of the categories they managed. And by “stay on top of,” we don’t mean just “get contracts out the door,” we mean actually getting down into the weeds and gaining an understanding of what suppliers were charging them for and why. They were able to get out into the field and develop relationships with teammates and stakeholders, building solidarity with them in preparation for the next marketplace activity.
But today, with that team of three to five now down to one, there is no way for that singular procurement professional, with all the responsibility for the same amount of spend on their hands alone, to devote the bandwidth required to optimally manage each expense—especially indirect expenses with low spend and high complexity.
Burnout happens when a person is repeatedly tasked with more work than can be accomplished given available time and resources. And today, this sort of workload is the norm for the procurement professional.
These are some of the most challenging times procurement people have ever seen, and this environment is rife with risks for burnout. And once burnout has taken hold, already resource-strapped procurement departments face reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and eventual turnover. Additionally, burnout harms procurement’s day-to-day effectiveness—and the organization’s bottom line—through diminished work quality, missed deadlines, and poorer decision-making.
Given our unique perspective into the way this issue is impacting procurement teams, we think Tom Mills’s advice is a good place to start for procurement professionals to “stop the bleeding” of burnout:
- Say “yes” to the true business priorities.
- Say “no” to burnout.
Procurement must use these chaotic times as an opportunity to learn, develop, and implement new strategies, not only to help their organizations weather the storm, but also to raise their own professional standing.