Mind Matters: RFP Management Strategies for Mental Health

Katie Flood
Katie Flood

Juggling RFPs can be a hectic, adrenaline-fueled experience. But there’s a difference between positive tension—which inspires you to do your best—and exhaustion-inducing stress. Too many RFP professionals are dealing with the latter: 80 percent of RFP responders experience professional burnout—which shows that the majority of teams could seriously benefit from RFP management strategies that prioritize mental health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health concerns—like anxiety and depression—cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity every year. And workplaces play a big role in employee mental health.

“A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism, and lost productivity,” WHO researchers elaborate.

 

Unfortunately, the causes of a negative work environment—an unrelenting workload, tight deadlines, unresponsive teammates, and poor communication—are rife in the RFP world. Responders often grapple with uncontrollable work volumes and minimal support.

But the flip side is also true: Workplaces that promote positive mental health behaviors and support employees who are struggling experience increased productivity, better engagement, and economic gains.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of how contributors, proposal managers, and organizations can promote a healthier RFP response process at every level of the business.

1. How Proposal Managers and Contributors Can Take Care of Their Own Mental Wellbeing

Practice Self-Care at Work

The RFP response process has a tendency to devolve into “late nights and cold pizza,” as Jon Williams, Managing Director at Strategic Proposals describes it. While ideally, teams should put systems in place to preserve contributors’ work-life balance (and we’ll get to those below) it’s often more manageable to start by examining your own work habits.

Self-care at work is about understanding “what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self” writes the Harvard Business Review. This boils down to implementing habits and routines that allow you to do your best work, whether that’s time-blocking your day, making sure you get in a walk or gym session on your lunch break, or gently establishing boundaries with coworkers (i.e. if I’m wearing headphones, please send me a message rather than tapping me on the shoulder and I’ll get back to you).

It also means having patience with yourself when things don’t go as planned. Cultivating self-compassion and resilience will make it easier to recover from mistakes and maintain a growth mindset.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Think of one thing you can do today to help improve your focus and satisfaction in your work. Some ideas: Start a new productivity habit, go for a walk, or catch up with a coworker on your break. For more advice on battling professional burnout, check out Hamza Khan’s candid talk at Loopicon 2020.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The secret to keeping your cool through the hectic RFP response process is, well, process. The less you have to think about what comes next on a given RFP response, the better. Take some time to map your current process from RFP intake to submission: What’s working? What could use improvement? Establishing some standard operating procedures around what happens when you get an RFP, how you’ll decide whether to respond, and who will be involved can help streamline the process—ultimately reducing uncertainty and decreasing your stress.

✓ How to implement this strategy: We’ve created a whole eight-lesson course that will help you build the perfect RFP response process in real-time. It’s free to access below.


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2. How Proposal Managers Can Promote Better RFP Management

Be Strategic About Saying No

With the amount of effort and adrenaline that goes into a proposal, it’s crucial that proposal managers focus their attention on the right RFPs—the ones they’re most likely to win—and don’t get distracted by the duds. One way to do this is to implement a decision matrix to use with each incoming RFP. These kinds of matrices look at factors like your relationship with the prospect, the strategic value of the deal (if won), and the competitors you’re up against to help determine whether pursuing the RFP is a good move.

✓ How to implement this strategy: We’ve created a decision matrix you can download. Give it a go with the next RFP that lands in your inbox, or tweak it based on your company’s needs.

Build a Library of Reusable Content

Creating a content library does take more work at the front end, but it will mark a huge reduction in a proposal manager’s workload over the long term. A content library provides a searchable repository of past RFP answers proposal managers can use to populate new RFP responses. They’ll be able to quickly fill out new RFPs by reusing old answers, without spending hours drafting new content—just tweak it to fit the new RFP’s requirements.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Start creating your own content library right now. This is easiest through a dedicated RFP response tool like Loopio, but Microsoft 365’s SharePoint or a shared Google Drive folder can also work in a pinch. Simply save the answers from your most recent 5-10 RFPs, then add any new answers to your library each time you complete another RFP response.

Provide Clarity, Structure, and Certainty for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Poor communication and unclear tasks are some of the biggest risks to workplace mental health, according to the WHO. Nobody wants to feel uncertainty about the work they’re meant to accomplish. Proposal managers can hedge against this by providing clear, transparent project planning: Content plans, workback schedules, and team kickoff meetings can help provide needed structure for subject matter experts and other contributors.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Host an internal kickoff meeting for your next RFP response. Simply organize a video call and prepare an agenda in advance. Use this opportunity to get buy-in, agree on roles and responsibilities, and set concrete deadlines for your project plan.


 3. How Organizations Can Reduce RFP Stress

Treat RFP Responses as an Integral Part of the Business Strategy

Even though RFPs play a role in generating a whopping 41 percent of sales, many organizations remain unaware of how critical the RFP responses are to their bottom line. The fact that only 16 percent of RFP responders feel “very satisfied” with the quality of work they produce may indicate these teams are under-resourced. For best results, organizations should make sure responders have enough time, budget, staff, and exec-level support to submit high-quality RFP responses.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Take a pulse check with your team. Ask your RFP responders—anonymously, if possible—how they feel about the quality of work they’re producing. What resources (time, budget, staff, etc.) would make the biggest difference to the quality of their work?

(Interested in benchmarks for how many people and hours should go into your RFP response process? Check out this industry trends report.)

Offer or Expand Mental Health Programs

A recent survey of American workers found that one-third of respondents had paid for mental health services out of pocket because their benefits were lacking. Given the high business cost of poor mental wellbeing, organizations should prioritize including or expanding mental health care in their benefits packages. If revamping employee benefits isn’t possible at the moment, businesses should at the very least make employees aware of mental health resources, such as local clinics or free online self-screening tools.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Raise awareness and reduce stigma by regularly reminding employees of the mental health resources available to them, whether through their benefits or in the community.

Foster an Environment that Supports Employee Wellbeing

It’s great if your employee benefits package includes mental health services, but counseling sessions will only act as a band-aid if the workplace itself does not support mental wellbeing. Organizations should strive for a culture of work-life balance. And that doesn’t necessarily mean offering expensive perks—rather, it starts with the basics: Making sure people have regular schedules and take enough time to recharge.

Even better if organizations can put policies in place which promote employee autonomy, like flexible hours and remote work. Decades of research demonstrate that autonomy—the freedom to determine how you structure your work—is a critical component of job satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

✓ How to implement this strategy: Don’t promote a culture of late nights and early mornings, make sure people take their vacation days, and require staff to take sick days when they need them. If possible, put flexible policies in place that allow staff to choose their hours or work from home.


The fast-paced RFP industry can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Luckily, there are actions that organizations, proposal managers, and contributors can take to mitigate the effects. Organizations should focus on providing adequate support and building a culture that values work-life balance. Proposal managers should work on building efficiencies into their process and providing needed structure for their contributors. And all RFP responders should make a habit of practicing workplace self-care. These actions all contribute to employee wellbeing, and by extension, effectiveness.

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