A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Burnout”

Is Burnout a Form of PTSD? How These Similarities Can Affect Business

When I presented my TEDx Talk on Burnout vs. PTSD:  More similar than you think… in 2014, I never expected the incredible response that I would receive.  People from around the world have reached out to me to share their own burnout experiences as well as their recovery.

So, a huge “thank you” to all of you who have watched my TEDx Talk on YouTube – we just passed 174,000 views!  Woo hoo!

If you haven’t yet watched the video, this blog post will discuss why I believe that burnout is a form of PTSD – and what that may mean to businesses.

The Similarities Between Burnout and PTSD

My Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC) is based on my participants’ experiences of burnout resulting from transformational organizational change.  Six characteristics emerged that were identical to those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

Burnout v PTSD

While workplace burnout might not be identical to PTSD resulting from the ravages of military conflict, many people emotionally and psychologically experience their workplaces as modern day battle zones.  Even though the dangers are NOT immediately life-threatening in workplace burnout, the feelings of hopelessness and abuse that my research participants experienced was nonetheless traumatic for them.

What’s important to remember is that the feelings of stress are not necessarily universal.  Each person reacts to a stressor in his or her own unique way – and this response can change over time.  Your perception is your reality:  if you perceive that the effects and impacts that the stressor is placing on you are negative, then you will be more likely to be fearful, angry, stressed out, and burned out.

In other words, the stressor is not inherently the cause of burnout – it is the individual’s perception and reaction to the stressor that can trigger the burnout cycle.

So, how did my participants experience the above characteristics of PTSD in their job-related burnout?

  • Exposure to a traumatic event or extreme stressor. Although many were mentioned, their burnout was often triggered by an abusive boss, unrealistic (and unachievable) deadlines, change that is constant and unrelenting, or a culture of sabotage and mistrust.
  • Response with fear, hopelessness, or horror. This was particularly evident when the worker’s expectations about the work environment were not met – leading to a belief that their workplace was unstable, aggressively combative, or lacking in moral integrity.  The reality was so different from their expectations that it fundamentally challenged their basic beliefs, work ethic, or confidence in their professional ability.  These workers lived in a negative state of apathy, hopelessness, and unrelenting fear about their ability to adequately perform their jobs.
  • Sleep disturbances, nightmares. Stress and fear trigger the adrenal glands to release cortisol to prepare the body for fight-or-flight – your body is mobilized to take action!  But highly stressful environments or situation that do not offer workers any reprieve also do not offer any time for the body to recover to its pre-stress levels.  This constant state of hyper-alertness leads to persistent sleep disturbances.  Over time, the lack of restful sleep significantly impairs workers’ ability to solve problems, make decisions, and develop creative solutions.
  • Depression, withdrawal. Findings in a recent study published in the International Journal of Stress Management indicated that 90% of participants who identified as “burned out” also met the diagnostic criteria for depression.  Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans (that’s 18% of the population over the age of 18).  In addition to feeling depressed (which may or may not have been clinically diagnosed), the vast majority of my participants only started to recover from burnout when they psychologically or physically withdrew from their stressful work situations.  Can a business really afford rampant burnout-related presenteeism or turnover?
  • Frequent mood changes, generalized irritability. Mercurial mood changes, generalized crankiness, and even “forgetting” how to laugh drastically changes how burned out workers interact with their coworkers, friends, and families.  With such negativity and pessimism, it’s no wonder that their productivity and performance deteriorate.
  • Avoid activities that promote recall of the traumatic event. Perhaps the most surprising finding that led to my Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC) was the tendency to “boomerang” back into burnout’s downward spiral if subjected to a similar stress-producing event (such as an abusive manager or mismanaged change initiative) even if it was at a different workplace.  This “residual burnout” quickly brought my participants back into their previous burnout.  By creating a new psychological contract with their work, they could move forward because they had determined clear boundaries relating to not only what they would give to an employer, but also what they expected (demanded?) in return.

Could the ADAAA Require a Reasonable Accommodation for Burnout? 

The original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not consider PTSD to be a disability because the disability could not be separated from its symptoms.  Because medications mitigated the symptoms of PTSD, employers were not required to make reasonable accommodations.

However, that all changed with the 2010 amendments to the ADA (ADAAA).  PTSD is now considered to be a de facto physical disability and the mitigating factor of medications to treat PTSD is no longer considered to be sufficient to absolve employers from reasonably accommodating workers suffering from it.

Some potential reasonable accommodations for PTSD include granting employees additional time to complete projects and acknowledging that behavioral outbursts are part of the disability (usually responding by removing the worker from the stress-producing situation).

Here’s my question:  if the symptoms of burnout and PTSD are so similar, could burnout be a subcategory of PTSD?  While current psychiatrists do not make this correlation, it is interesting to speculate on how the workplace would change if employers would be legally required to reasonably accommodate burned out workers.

The result would be a fundamental shift in company policies and practices:

  • Employees would be actively encouraged to take vacation time – even to the extent of not “checking in” while away from the office.
  • Leaders and managers would be expected to recognize and appreciate the efforts of their subordinates – perhaps even being evaluated on their level of support on annual performance reviews.
  • Dedicated efforts would be focused on modifying (or even abandoning) policies, procedures, rules, and regulations that increase stress levels in the workplace.
  • Mental and emotional space would be given so that employees could engage in serendipity – releasing their creativity (without fear of reprisal) and fostering greater innovation.
  • Such an enlightened company would return humanism and humanistic ideals into the workplace.

The result is not only an enlightened corporate culture that emphasizes humanism and humanistic ideals in the workplace, but also an organization that experiences bottom line results due to enhanced productivity, performance, and overall employee job satisfaction.

Viewing burnout as the “new norm” in the American workplace is misleading and dangerous.  Not only are the workers’ psychological and physical health threatened by burnout, but so is the company’s brand and financial strength.  A burned out workforce will never be psychologically or physically able to produce the innovation, quality, and customer responsiveness that are demanded in today’s hypercompetitive market.

Burnout is real and is estimated to affect over 50% of U.S. employees (Families and Work Institute, 2017).  It’s time to identify and treat the warning signs of burnout before they lead to PTSD-type symptoms – and before they challenge the foundation of a high performing organization.

To learn more about my B-DOC Model, please click here to download my free white paper.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.  

Paradigm Shifter #1 – Trust your gut

Paradigm Shift

I’ve observed that many of us rely almost exclusively on quantitative evidence, while ignoring or even disparaging our more subjective qualitative insights.

Is this indulgence in data-driven, linear analysis due to our fear of the unknown?

Are we so driven by “hard” data that we are blocking the “soft” insights available only through our gut feelings?

But, are our data-driven and intuitive minds really so diametrically different?  In other words, why is it so common to believe that a linear way of looking at a problem is the only way to look at that problem?

Anyone who has truly mastered a skill has what seems to be an uncanny ability to “see” things that others who are less skilled simply overlook. In fact, someone who has mastered a skill or craft often does not engage in the machinations of “hard” data analysis, but can “see” the solution to the problem or potential outcome quickly.

Should this master’s insights or suggestions be ignored? Hardly, because it often is the result of experience and a finely honed ability to recognize patterns or trends that lead to those insights.

Is our gut instinct based on this same foundation?

Gut instincts nag us to do something – even if it’s not necessarily what we had planned to do.  Often these gut feelings contradict our more linear perception of reality and we don’t heed the advice:

  • Remember that “funny feeling” you had when you accepted a job offer that sounded so good – even though “something” was telling you not to accept it? You only discovered (after much angst) that what the employer told you about the job wasn’t the reality of the job.
  • Or what about the time that “something” told you to get off the plane in which you were traveling? More than likely, you ignored your gut – but then gave yourself a head slap when the plane had to make an emergency landing down a runway filled with firetrucks and responders in hazmat suits. (This actually happened to me!)

In both of these situations, did you question why you didn’t listen to your gut?

So what leads to these gut feelings?

While the specific mechanism of what creates a gut feeling may not be fully understood, it seems that we humans are wired to have them.

In fact, I haven’t met anyone yet who does not acknowledge that they have experienced a gut feeling about a person or situation at least once in their lives.  Although the feeling may have defied logical analysis, the insight ultimately came true.

The sad reality is that gut feelings are often only acknowledged after the fact.  In other words, we recognize or admit to having that gut feeling only in hindsight.

Given the ubiquitous nature of gut feelings, the number of people who actually listen to their gut (anecdotally based upon my observations) is substantially smaller.

The question, of course, is why are we so afraid of acting upon our gut instincts or using them in our decision making? Why is it so challenging to accept these gut feelings before we act – rather than recognizing their wisdom afterward?

Perhaps it is the fear of being wrong or failing that prevents us from accepting the spontaneous insights of our guts. But what if our gut instincts are simply the result of processing information at a much higher speed than our more linear thought processes?

The Brain and the Mind

For lack of a better location, our gut instincts emanate from our brains – and the full capacity and capabilities of this amazing organ have not yet been fully mapped.

I’m sure that you’ve heard the recurring myth that people use only 10% of the total capacity of their brains. However, this assumption from the early 1900s has been debunked by current research.  The reality is that nearly every part of our brain is constantly active:  although only 3% of total body weight, the brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy.

In other words, the brain is constantly active processing, organizing, and storing external and internal information.

Maybe our gut instincts are the result of our brain sensing patterns or similarities with information that it had previously stored – information that would take longer to detect using purely linear thought processes.

So, why not become a little more receptive and accepting of the quicker insights of our gut feelings?

I’m not suggesting that quantitative data be ignored in decision making. Instead, I am suggesting that data be viewed as a tool that needs to be analyzed and interpreted by using both parts of our brains:  the linear quantitative and the creative qualitative.

Our experiences have shown that hindsight is always 20/20. But imagine how our lives would be enhanced if we finally learned to trust those gut feelings when they happen!

Trusting your gut is essentially a commitment to trusting yourself.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a change management/HR expert and passionate advocate for eradicating burnout in the workplace. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, university professor, and researcher, she is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and corporate trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.

 

 

 

Paradigm Shifter #48 – Identify your life’s purpose

Paradigm Shift

You will always leave a legacy – whether you intend to or not. To intentionally leave a legacy, you must identify and act boldly based on your life’s PURPOSE.

This advice is perennial: success requires that you understand why you are here…at this time…in this place…with these specific talents.  Your legacy is, therefore, the result of the interplay between your internal talents and the external circumstances that create the fabric of your life.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that this unique amalgamation is random or dictated by a higher power. What matters is that you identify for yourself the “why’s” of your life.

But it is often much easier said than done.

Boldly asserting your life’s “purpose” can be frightening:

  • Will I become so focused on a single goal that I miss out on all the other things that life has to offer?
  • Is it egotistical to believe that I am here for an important reason that can impact society – or even a small portion of it?
  • What if I want to achieve this purpose so badly and commit so many resources to it…then don’t achieve it?

Whether expressed out loud or just simmering in our subconscious, these fears powerfully sabotage our ability to really achieve success on our own terms.

The fear of “missing out”

I am adamantly against the idea that anyone can “have it all” – but I just as adamantly support that you can have what you want.

Several years ago, I was the keynote speaker at a university’s conference on women. My topic focused on transcending the guilt-inducing societal edict that we can – and should! – “have it all.”  Instead, I recommended that we focus on our personal priorities in order to achieve what’s most important to us.

While many of the women agreed with me, I was astounded at the anger and vehemence of a few of the women. In fact, one attendee said that the topic should have been that “Geri Puleo has it all.”

Why did this well-meant advice create such astonishingly diverse reactions?

Having the courage – and, yes, it takes courage – to proclaim what we want and then act accordingly holds a mirror up to our lives. Our actions reflect our priorities even if we profess something entirely different.

Realizing that we can’t “have it all” but that we can “have what we want” is profoundly life-changing.  It takes away the guilt if we don’t try to do everything…for everybody…but often not for ourselves.

This insight also might lead us to take actions that will upset or hurt other people because we may need to say “no” to their requests in order to say “yes” to what we need to do in order to achieve our life’s purpose.

But when we live our lives based on what we believe is our guiding PURPOSE to be here at this time, in this place, and with our unique talents, then saying “no” becomes much easier.

And the people who truly support us – our “tribe” – will embrace us along our journey.

The so-called “egotism” of a higher calling

When we finally muster the courage to define what we want (our life’s purpose) and decide to go for it, we must also let go of that which does not support that purpose.

And when that involves letting go of (or at least distancing ourselves from) certain people, it is far too common for them to demean us in order to assuage their feelings of rejection.

So they call us egotistical. A dreamer.  Unrealistic.  Even a braggart.

Striving for a higher goal, a noble purpose, is life-affirming – even if those who are currently around us try to belittle our ambitions.

Again, it takes courage to live based on a rock solid belief in the PURPOSE of our lives.  This has the effect of propelling us toward people who also live their lives based on a higher calling.

We generally are not “discarding” the people who are currently in our lives (but don’t necessarily support us). Instead we are shifting our relationships with them on a continuum traversing friends who have moved to the periphery of our relationships to those who are toxic and thus no longer a part of our lives.

But, even more importantly, living our lives based on PURPOSE makes us much more compassionate and empathetic toward others. In fact, we tend to be more open and give more of ourselves to those who also want to make a difference – and the probability of supportive reciprocation is vastly increased.

Defining the difference that we want to make – whether it is on a small familial level or on the greater world stage of society – is the essence of identifying the unique purpose of our individual lives.

And there is no egotism in wanting to achieve something that ultimately helps others.

The fear of failure

I really don’t believe that there is an objective difference between a “winner” and a “loser.” The truth as to who “wins” and who “loses” rests solely in the eye of the beholder.

Life is a journey. Anyone who has achieved greatness has also had the gnawing fear of “what’s next” and “how do I top this?”  You still have a life to live after you achieve the goal that you defined as identifying you as a “winner.”

Because life is a journey, living with PURPOSE creates a better sense of balance. Goals become benchmarks on the path to creating an intentional legacy.  If a particular tactic doesn’t achieve a goal related to the overall purpose of your life, then it is much easier to adapt and shift.

The biggest fear comes from not achieving the scope of your life’s purpose.  Maybe you won’t save the world, but your daily actions aligned with your purpose will undoubtedly create small successes and even joy.

There will be challenges, but your journey toward actualizing your PURPOSE will also be energizing and enjoyable – something that you don’t want to “miss out” on. When your purpose is based on a higher noble goal, it is the antithesis of egotism.  And, finally, recognizing that “failure” is really an opportunity to learn creates curiosity and commitment.

Living in alignment with the PURPOSE of your life transcends the siren call of society’s more mundane definition of “success.” Rather than living with fear and second-guessing, a life lived with purpose is a life well lived and produces a sustainable, intentional legacy.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert whose goal is to eradicate burnout from the workplace. She is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.

How to Overcome Job Burnout – NEW Online Course!

BANNER - Final

Is your job burning you out – but you can’t decide whether to “tough it out” in your current job OR take the step to find a new job?

  • Does your current job offer security – but you feel like your burnout is literally killing you?
  • Do you want to explore other employment opportunities – but you’re too burned out to harness the energy to take action?
  • Are you afraid of what might happen if you don’t take action to overcome burnout NOW.

What should you do?

To help you decide, I am proud to announce the first course in my new Online Training Academy:  Job Burnout: When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do.

This totally online course is available ON DEMAND, and will help you finally decide:

  • When you should STAY in your current position
  • When you should LEAVE your current position
  • What you can do NOW to overcome burnout

You’ll have full access to each of the 6 modules PLUS downloadable e-workbooks, audiopodcasts, webinars, short readings, Quick Checks, and a private interactive online discussion board – and, yes, I’ll be on the discussions to answer questions and give you even more tips on how to overcome job burnout.

Job Burnout: When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do is on-demand, so it is accessible 24/7 anywhere around the world.  Complete the lessons at your convenience on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

BONUS:  You’ll have full access to the course for 1 year – absolutely free!

The price for this course is $149 — but I am offering a special limited time discount through April 30, 2016.  Use discount code 70APR2016 and save $70 off the normal $149 price (only $79).

For More Information:  https://app.ruzuku.com/courses/12975/about.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a passionate advocate for eradicating burnout in the workplace.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, she is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as an author, researcher, and popular keynote speaker and trainer.  To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  She can be reached at geri@gapuleo.com

Woo Hoo: My TEDx Talk Passes 62,000 Views on YouTube!

A huge “thank you” to all of you who have watched my TEDx Talk (Burnout v. PTSD:  More Similar Than You Think…) on YouTube – over 62,000 views and 455 likes so far!  Woo hoo!

I have been humbled by the number of emails and comments that I have received as a result of this video.  You have proven to me that I am not alone in my passion to finally eradicate burnout in the workplace.

If you’re experiencing job burnout, please consider participating in the first course in my Online Training Academy:  Job Burnout:  When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do.  This virtual, online workshop will be launching on February 29th.  Please subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss more detailed information and a special one-time discount link for this important workshop.

Once again, thank you for making my TEDx Talk a success!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a passionate advocate for eradicating burnout in the workplace.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, she is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as an author, researcher, and popular keynote speaker and trainer.  To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  She can be reached at geri@gapuleo.com

Paradigm Shifter #8 – Every day can be a new beginning IF you want it

Paradigm ShiftMany people view the New Year as a time for new (or renewed) commitments. I have also found that just as many view the changing of the calendar as just another day.  Is one view better than the other?

What if there was a third way to view the start of a new year? What if we could look at every day as a new beginning – regardless of the date on the calendar?

As anyone who has ever been a member of a health club will tell you, the first few weeks of January are filled with people who have “finally” decided to get in shape. Unfortunately, this causes only a temporary problem with delays and waiting for machines because all of these new year’s athletes’ staunch resolutions to “finally” do it have…well, vanished by February.

I also know clients, colleagues, and friends who believe that the New Year is really just another day. “Nothing new to look forward to – just the same old, same old.”  Unlike the New Year’s athletes, their resolve to do something new often vanished long before January 1st.

Very different perspectives yet, in both of these cases, there is a common theme: a nagging unhappiness.  Maybe it is the belief that something in our lives is wrong.  Maybe it is a fear that we have no control over our lives.  Maybe it is an anger that our current lives are not what we had anticipated or hoped for.

Henry David Thoreau’s observation that most of us “live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in [us]” is uncomfortably familiar.

But what if we instead recognized that every day (and every individual moment within each day) is brand new? That every day has never happened before…and will never happen again?  How would this paradigm shift change life as we know it?

While I agree that the New Year can be a “good” time to “finally” take action on that which we want to achieve, why limit ourselves to only one day in the year? For both the New Year’s athlete whose resolution starts out strong then fades away and the person whose life is one of monotony without change, it may mean the beginning of the end to the unhappiness and dissatisfaction that we feel.

We can (and, I believe, should) embrace the challenge to view each day as a new beginning:

  • Let go of the past. Easier said than done, but all of those “wouldas,” “couldas,” and “shouldas” are powerful “guilty glues” that feed our fears of wanting and doing something more.
  • To let go of the past, we need to remind ourselves that we are NOT our pasts. The amazing thing about humans is that we have an innate capacity to change and adapt. The paradox is that we are often afraid of those changes due to an unending litany of “what ifs” that prevents us from moving forward.
  • Learn from the past – but remember that this is valuable hindsight and not necessarily inescapable foresight. Just because it happened before doesn’t necessarily mean that it is inevitable now. This is true for both victories and failures. The consistent practice of self-reflection helps us to recognize patterns so that we can avoid repeating past mistakes or proactively replicate the factors that contributed to past successes.
  • Don’t be afraid to open up to the road ahead. To do that, we need to stop looking backward in the rearview mirrors of our lives. What lies ahead? Where do you want to go? What do you want to be? How can you use your God-given talents to get there? (Surprisingly, many people with whom I’ve spoken to have absolutely no idea what their ideal life would look like – without a destination, it’s nearly impossible to map out the best route to get there.)
  • Take three deep breaths and just do it! Nike was on to something when they branded themselves with those three little words. Yes, we’re all afraid of what might happen! Yes, it is inevitable that there will be surprises along the road! And, yes, we might even decide to change our destination! But not doing something empowers our minds to weave powerful, self-righteous “what if” fictions that rationalize and reinforce the “guilty glues” that are keeping us stuck and unhappy.
  • So what if we fail? Most failures are NOT – I repeat, NOT! – the end of the world. Failures lie on a continuum from minor upsets to life-threatening catastrophes. What’s fascinating is that the same “failure” can be viewed as earth-shattering by one person, but only a minor pain to another. Our perceptions create our realities.

Success has never been and will never be a linear path. Many people who ultimately succeed often admit that they have “failed” their way to success.  They learn from the past.  They don’t let their pasts define their futures.  And they don’t wait to make the necessary changes in their lives based on a date on the calendar.

I hope that every day in this New Year can be a new start and an awakening for you. Happy New Year!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert whose goal is to eradicate burnout from the workplace. She is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com

Worked to Death: The Physical Consequences of Extreme Burnout

work-til-death-1024x768Karoshi (or “death by overwork”) is real.  It is not some exaggerated description of the exhaustion of burnout, but is a documented, very serious condition that has dire consequences for its victims.

In my training and consulting practice, I’ve heard many people emphatically state that their work is “killing” them. Fortunately, I have not had a client die at his or her desk as a result of severe work overload — even though many experienced chronic or acute physical disease.

But death by overwork is a very real phenomenon.

The term used to describe this condition is “karoshi.”  It is the business counterpart of the Japanese form of suicide called hari-kiri. In fact, karoshi has been recognized as a cause of death in Japan since the 1980s.

This obsessive attitude toward work has been hailed by some critics as the reason for Japan’s high levels of productivity.

Recently in May 2015, the Japanese Prime Minister’s cabinet approved a bill exempting the option of overtime payments to workers who earn more than 10.75 million yen ($88,000 USD) annually. This so-called “no overtime pay bill” focuses more on productivity (rather than work hours) and presumably offers greater flexibility to workers.

But the proposed bill has been met with opposition by critics who argue that the number of overwork-related health problems and deaths could potentially increase if the bill is put into law.

What Does Karoshi Have to Do With American Workers?

Japan’s proposed “no overtime pay bill” is similar to the exempt status of certain workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act – those workers who are paid a salary, meet minimum compensation thresholds, and have duties that fall within the FLSA’s requirements for exemption.

Like exempt employees under FLSA, many Japanese workers perform duties and responsibilities of their jobs via “free overtime.” In other words, they are completing important elements of their jobs but not being compensated for the corresponding hours.

Some studies suggest that Japanese workers tend to work much longer than those in other countries. While 11.3% of U.S. employees work over 50 hours per week, this is only half of the 22.3% of Japanese who log in these long hours. Although official Japanese figures show that there are an average of 400 overwork-related deaths per year, some researchers suggest that the actual numbers could easily approach 20,000.

Read that number again: 20,000 hard working, dedicated, high achieving Japanese employees die from overworking.

Are American workers just as susceptible to death by overwork – or is this exclusively a Japanese phenomenon?

While I wasn’t able to find any research on karoshi per se in U.S. workers, there is some staggering evidence that the typical American “workaholic” is on the path to not only burnout, but also karoshi. (FYI: The term “workaholism” was coined in 1980 – way before the advent of the 24/7 e-leash of emails, texts, and smart phones.)

  • The refrain in many organizations is “time is money.” To stay ahead, employees attempt to work more hours with less sleep, relying on caffeine to overcome the effects of sleep deprivation.
  • There is mounting evidence that information overload, work overload, impossible deadlines, and limited resources have surpassed our human ability to process all this information – we are simply not hardwired to work such long hours without respite.
  • “Vacationitis” is growing as fewer and fewer workers take the vacation days that are owed to them each year. According to the March 2015 Project: Time Off report, over $224 billion of unused vacation time sits on corporate balance sheets. The result? Employee health, happiness, productivity, and performance decline – which leads to lowered overall organizational performance.
  • And for the record, a Japanese worker found slumped over his desk in the morning will trigger a karoshi investigation – yet, if the same situation occurs in the U.S., the cause would be considered to be “heart failure.”

Puleo’s Pointers:  Are You at Risk for Karoshi?

Although my primary area of expertise is workplace burnout, I can’t help but be concerned that a burned out worker can succumb to death by overwork if remedial action is not taken immediately.

If chronic distress precipitates burnout, then a full-blown burnout might easily contribute to karoshi.

Some of the warning signs of burnout are also indicative of karoshi. To avoid both, take corrective action if you experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • You routinely work more than 60 hours per week.
  • You can’t remember the last time you took a real vacation day that did NOT tether you to the office via an e-leash.
  • You obsessively talk about work – and have trouble discussing or focusing on anything else.
  • You take technology to bed with you.
  • You have trouble sleeping, eating, or communicating.
  • You feel out of control…instead of being the master of your destiny, your work has become an unforgiving master of your time, energy, and resources.

I urge you to take action if you relate to any of these symptoms. Feel free to explore this blog for other articles and mini-webinars on burnout. Also, I will be launching a new series of on-demand workshops focusing on how to overcome and recover from burnout. (For more information, please contact me at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.)

Workaholism, burnout, and karoshi are NOT inescapable byproducts of today’s fast-paced work environment. Actively seek the help that is available so that you can reclaim your energy, creativity, and uniqueness. There will never be another you – don’t let burnout or karoshi shorten your life. Isn’t it time for you to enjoy ALL aspects of your life?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Burnout: Causes and Cures (Interview with Dr. Geri Puleo, 2014 Kiss Burnout Goodbye Telesummit)

Last October, I was thrilled to be a keynote speaker in Jeanell Innerarity’s Kiss Burnout Goodbye Virtual Summit. I thought that you might want to listen to our interview: in it, we discuss how people burn out, how to overcome burnout, and even talk about “laughter yoga.” And, yes, there is a Q&A at the end!

I spoke with Jeanell this summer and am also pleased that we’ll be contributing content to each other’s blogs over the next few months. She is a practitioner, teacher, and researcher in the field of somatic and mind-body arts, as well as a yoga instructor and reflexologist. Our complementary practices strive to finally reduce the stress and eliminate burnout in today’s hyperactive, constantly changing world.

Please check out Jeanell’s website at www.jeanellinnerarity.com.

NOTE: There were a few audio problems in the middle of the broadcast, but they were quickly resolved. I’ve also provided the audio podcast if you’d like to listen without any visuals.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

 

Forgetting How to Laugh: An Overlooked Sign of Burnout

Smiley laughingEver notice how much better you feel when you laugh out loud?  Scientific studies have shown that your belly laughs play a vital role in your overall health and well-being.

The Mayo Clinic found that laughing has an immediate effect on your stress response by stimulating circulation and relaxing your muscles.

Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air that stimulates your vital organs and triggers your brain to release those “feel good” endorphins throughout your body.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

So why do we “forget” to laugh when we’re burned out?

I first noticed this connection when one of the participants in my research on burnout during organizational change mentioned that one of her first signs of burnout was losing her sense of humor.

Think about the last time that you were stressed out:

  • Did it seem like it was just “too much work” to find the humor in a stressful situation?
  • Did you actually get angry when a coworker or family member kidded or teased you about something?
  • Did you even consciously try to prevent yourself from laughing at something that you would have normally found to be funny?
  • Were you afraid that if you did allow yourself to start laughing…you might end up crying instead?

One of the things that constantly surprises me is how many adults tend to snicker, giggle, or just smile rather than let themselves full out belly laugh. I’m not sure if it’s that laughing out loud is somehow “not cool” – or if we are simply taking ourselves too seriously.

Even worse, what if the lack of laughter or a sense of humor is directly proportionate to the level of burnout that someone is experiencing?

Whatever the reason, when was the last time that you actually laughed out loud?

How Laughter Reduces Stress

Although we intuitively know that we feel better after a good laugh, there has been a growing body of research investigating the physical changes that occur during and after laughter.

In addition to the short-term effects relating to endorphins, laughter stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also specifically targets your body’s stress response by initially increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, then “cooling down” that stress response. Stress and burnout usually manifest in tightened muscles – but a good laugh aids in muscle relaxation. The result: an immediate positive, relaxed feeling.

If you laugh frequently, you will also experience some substantial long-term benefits. Over time, stress compromises your immune system.  The positive feelings associated with laughter release neuropeptides that not only fight the stress, but also protect your body from more serious illnesses. Laughter even produces its own natural pain killers; for people with certain types of muscle disorders, a good laugh can actually break the pain-spasm cycle.

And people who laugh seem to be happier, more personally satisfied, and have better relationships with the people around them.

Learning How to Laugh Again

Laughing is closely linked to happiness – it’s difficult to feel burned out and stay burned out when you are happy and laughing.

But can you make someone laugh? Even master stand-up comics aren’t “funny” to everyone, so telling a joke might not work.

Here are two ways to reduce your stress by laughing – particularly when you’re too stressed out to think that anything is funny.

  • Anticipation…just THINKING about something funny can trigger the beneficial effects of laughter.

In a study conducted at Loma Linda University in California, researchers discovered that seeking out positive experiences that make you laugh can significantly impact your body’s ability to stay well.

Just anticipating “mirthful laughter” releases beta-endorphins (that alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which support the immune system). Such anticipation also decreases levels of three important stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac).

As your stress levels decrease, your overall wellness increases – and laughter is a great way to reduce stress.

  • Laughing yoga.

Yes, there really is such a practice! Created by an Indian medical doctor, laughter yoga is usually conducted in groups and appears to tap into the joyful inner child that often lies dormant in all of us.

An interesting finding is that the body’s responses to the act of laughing are not based on whether the laughter is real or fake. In other words, simply laughing (even if you might not initially think that there is anything funny) generates the same physiological and psychological benefits.

Can’t laugh if you can’t find anything funny? Think again: have you ever noticed that when you force yourself to laugh…you tend to start finding your laughter funny…and then you laugh even more? If you’re in a group, the more you laugh, the more everyone around you will start laughing, too — and the overall stress levels in the group will decrease.  (My friends and I used to call this a “laugh attack.”)

Little children are great at making laughter contagious: when one starts laughing, suddenly all of them find it hysterically funny and keep on laughing…and laughing…and laughing.

Even though stressed out parents are creating stressed out kids, our innate inner child is curious, joyful, happy, and stress-free. No matter how old we are chronologically, that inner child wants to come out to play and laugh. Laughter can be a great way to tap into the creativity and joy in the child in all of us.

Laughter may truly be the best medicine to reduce the stress in our lives. It’s free, feels good, and has long-lasting benefits.

So, in addition to eating that apple a day to keep the doctor away, let’s all try to have a good belly laugh every day to keep burnout away!  Ho, ho, ho!  🙂

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

The Tiny Little Word That Stops Burnout

Words hurt or healNo one would argue that words can be very powerful.  Not only do they convey our feelings and beliefs, but they can also motivate or demotivate not only ourselves but also others around us.

But a strange phenomenon sometimes happens when we talk to ourselves.

While self-talk can be used as a way to empower and motivate ourselves to go after that which we want in life, it is an empowering way of talking to ourselves that (for some equally strange reason) must often be learned.

In sharp contrast is the negative self-talk that operates unconsciously deep in our psyches. This endless loop of guilt, condemnation, resentment, and anger is a powerful influence on the actions we take (or don’t take), as well as our feelings about the resulting outcomes (either positive or negative).

Ironically, the types of comments and opinions that would enrage us if said to us by someone else are often repeated in our private negative self-talk loops. Although frequently not acknowledged in our conscious minds, these comments continue unabated as absolute truths as to who we are, what we do, and what we want.

While we can learn to ignore unwarranted criticism from others, our unconscious negative self-talk is even more damaging to our psyches. Why? Because the reality that we experience is colored by our perceptions – if our self-talk is negative, then our perception of the world and our role within it will also be negative.

More powerful than the words spoken to us by others, negative self-talk internally motivates us to act in either proactive or reactive ways. As Earl Nightingale said, “We are what we think about.”  But the behavioral impact of our words is often ignored, diminished, or accepted as undeniable truths that define who we are even if it is not who we want to be.

Consider these examples:

  • We tell ourselves what we should do (even though it might not even be something that we are interested in doing) – then berate ourselves when we don’t do it.
  • We second-guess our choices and decisions – then imagine a more perfect world if we had taken another course of action.
  • We “make nice” by doing things that we really don’t want to do (or even have the time to do) – then feel guilty or angry because we have no time to do the things that we really want to do.
  • We take on too many responsibilities as well as the problems of others – then wonder why we are so exhausted and burned out.

The more negative our self-talk, the more harshly we judge the difference that we perceive between where we are and where we want to be (or where we told ourselves we should have been). The damage to our psyches can be chronic, acute, and difficult to overcome.

Our negative self-talk is a powerful contributor to not only burning out, but also to staying burned out.

The One Syllable Mantra to Combat Burnout

The negative self-talk specifically associated with burnout focuses on four issues:

  1. The difference between our expectations and our perceptions of the current reality
  2. Anger, guilt, and self-doubt associated with the “should’s” of perfectionism
  3. Our attempts to change or blame others (often to overcome our feelings of being victimized)
  4. Ineffective attempts to deny our frustration, anger, and apathy associated with being burned out

Because these negative self-talk loops frequently exist on the subconscious level, we must actively attempt to bring them to the conscious level – their power over us grows in proportion to our attempts to ignore them.

But, once these statements are expressed, we are rightly shocked by the venom in the words that we have used to identify and define ourselves.

By acknowledging and verbalizing these negative subconscious judgments, we can consciously begin to exchange them for proactive alternatives: words expressing acceptance, kindness, and compassion toward ourselves.

But how do we start?

By saying one tiny little word every time our negative self-talk rears its ugly head: “NO.”

  • Say “NO” to condemning ourselves if our current situation is not what we had expected. Instead, replace it by accepting that what we previously wanted has changed OR that our mistakes have simply shown us what didn’t work (thus giving us a new launching point for future action).
  • Say “NO” to the unrelenting “should’s” of perfectionism. Instead, replace it by acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can with the resources that we have OR that our goals may have been unrealistic given the circumstances (thus helping us to better learn how to set realistic yet inspirational stretch goals).
  • Say “NO” to misguided attempts at trying to change others. Instead, replace it by remembering that we only have the responsibility to change ourselves OR by being grateful for the positive qualities of those who we are trying to change (no matter how badly they treated us, every human being has something about them that is positive).
  • Say “NO” to our barely controlled feelings of burnout-related frustration, anger, and apathy. Instead, replace it by finding safe ways to express, vent, and release these feelings AND develop new phrases that are proactive and nurturing.

Saying “NO” to our negative self-talk is both an acknowledgement and a choice. Saying “NO” helps us to reclaim our power. Saying “NO” can truly be a positive expression of our own self-worth.

“NO” is one of the tiniest words in the English language – yet our ability to say “NO” to negative self-talk can transform our lives. Saying “NO” enables us to say “YES” to being kind to ourselves. Isn’t it time that we start treating ourselves the way that we would want others to treat us?

P.S.:  To learn more about the self-talk of burnout, please watch my mini-webinar by clicking here.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

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