A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Stress”

The Instant De-Stresser You Can Do at Your Desk

Breathe etched on stone heart

Breathing is natural.  It’s part of our autonomic nervous system, so we don’t even have to think about it.  But maybe we should consciously focus on our breathing in order to avoid stress and burnout.

Anxiety and stress have interesting effects on the breath.  Since breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, changes in breath will occur automatically without our control.  For example, do you consciously instruct your body to breathe faster when your “fight or flight” response is triggered?  How about if you’re frightened – do you tell yourself to “hold your breath?”

Stress triggers the release of hundreds of different chemicals to surge through your body.  These chemicals create changes in the way that your body is operating so that you are better able to respond to the stressor.

A few years ago, I was co-presenting a workshop on using yoga to avoid workplace burnout.  One of the exercises that I asked participants to do was to take a deep breath.

Sounds easy, right?  But I was amazed at how many people don’t really know how to breathe.

Deep breathing involves using your diaphragm (a muscle located horizontally between your thoracic and abdominal cavities).  As a result, your waist expands out sideways while your lower pelvic belly moves down and out.  This allows you to support your breath – which is why it is the foundation of good singing.

But in the workshop, many of the participant inhaled loudly, scrunched up their shoulders, puffed out their chests…then held their breath.  This is a classic example of shallow breathing.

The Dangers of Shallow Breathing

While deep diaphragmatic breathing can calm you, shallow breathing tends to increase stress and anxiety on a physical level.  One study even indicated that simply changing to a shallow breathing pattern can actually trigger feelings of stress and anxiety (Plarre, Raij, et cl., 2011).

Shallow breathing (or “overbreathing”) is triggered by the “fight or flight” response to a perceived danger.  Even though you may feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, these short rapid breaths are actually getting too much oxygen into your system.

Let me explain:  The act of breathing enables you to inhale oxygen (which fills your lungs immediately) and exhale carbon dioxide (which takes more time for your body to develop).  This delicate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide goes out of whack when you’re stressed.

Overbreathing pushes out large levels of carbon dioxide – more carbon dioxide than your body is actually producing.  Because your levels are now lower than normal, your blood’s pH level is increased – which constricts your blood vessels and reduces blood flow to your brain.  As a result, it’s taking longer to bring oxygen to where it’s needed.

Which leads to feelings of needing more oxygen NOW – even though your oxygen levels are probably normal!  This rapid breathing makes you feel worse.  The cure is to slow down your breathing in order to get back in balance (literally and figuratively).

The effects of shallow breathing include:  chest pains, light-headedness, weakness, tingling in the hands/feet/lips, feeling feint, and a rapid heart beat.  If continued for a prolonged period of time, shallow breathing can also contribute to panic attacks.

If left unchecked, shallow breathing can become your accustomed way to breathe – in extreme cases, your body may eventually forget how to breathe in a healthy way.

Re-Learning How to Breathe

Remember those workshop participants who didn’t know how to breathe deeply?  I used a few very simple techniques to help them reconnect with their breath and reduce their stress levels:

Tip #1:  Focus on feeling your breath fill up your belly.  Many of us tend to keep our abdomens tight.  Maybe it’s a conscious effort to look like we have flatter abs.  But it might also be an unconscious physical response to stress.

Tip #2:  Relax your mouth and tongue.  Seriously.  It’s a simple technique that can automatically relax you.  Stress causes many people to tense their jaws, grit their teeth, or even use their tongues to reduce air flow.  Open your mouth slightly and relax – you’ll quickly learn where you are holding your tension.

Tip #3:  Count while you breathe.  One of the most effective techniques that I’ve used to quiet the mind and trigger a sense of calm is to breathe as follows:

  • Before you begin, commit to simply following the flow of breath – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
  • To begin, inhale for 1 count; then exhale for 2 counts.
  • Inhale for 3 counts; then exhale for 4 counts.
  • Inhale for 5 counts; then exhale for 6 counts.
  • Inhale for 7 counts; then exhale for 8 counts.
  • Inhale for 9 counts; then exhale for 10 counts.
  • Repeat.

The speed of your counting doesn’t seem to matter; I’ve done it relatively quickly or quite slowly.  Nor is the number of times that you repeat this process set in stone – it really depends on the sense of calm that you experience; generally, I feel much less stressed after 3 or 4 repetitions.

What’s critical is to let your inhalations fully extend down into your diaphragm so that you are breathing deeply.

Tip #4:  Feel with gratitude the life force inherent in your breath.  No, the chi (or qi) life force is not some “New Age-y” psychobabble – it’s just a simple fact:  breath is life.  Consciously taking a moment of simple gratitude for life itself also helps to keep things in perspective and reduce stress.

Breathing can be an instant de-stresser.  It can be done anywhere – in fact, you will be breathing everywhere!  To de-stress, simply take a few moments to focus on the breath and be grateful for its life-giving force.

For more tips on diaphragmatic breathing, check out this 2-minute YouTube video:   https://youtu.be/6UO4PYZ6G98.

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

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Lemons, Lemonade, and Lemon Drops: The 3 Possible Responses to Any Challenge

Lemons

It has been said that “life is what happens when you’re planning something else.”  Our responses to these unwanted, unexpected, or “unfair” situations are the determining factors of how our lives will continue after these situations eventually end.

These responses are more profound than the simple choice between optimism and pessimism. Instead, our responses to any situation reveal our “go to” reaction to the inevitable challenges that life throws in our paths.  Do we persevere, seek revenge, or retreat from the situation?

Whenever life throws a curve ball, we are blessed with the innate power to control how we perceive it and respond to it.  Really.

Over the past 6 weeks, I was deep in the demands of being the executrix of my father’s estate. For what appears to be unfathomable reasons to “everyone,” selling his house (the primary asset of his estate) was fraught with difficulties, lies, and unethical treatment by the professionals with whom I entrusted the marketing of this property.

But, more importantly, these challenges caused me to scrutinize my reactions to this enormous and prolonged challenge (he passed in May 2014) that life had thrown in my path. My responses ranged from high hopes and confidence in the predictions that it would be a very quick sale to frustration, anger, and (ultimately) apathy toward the entire process.

The problem was that I couldn’t simply walk away from it. The house had to be sold in order to get out from under the surprisingly high costs of maintaining it.

I am a firm believer that there is a higher truth attached to everything that happens to us.  Each person and event in our lives ultimately provides us with opportunities to learn the lessons that we need in order to move beyond them and go forward toward our destinies.

Since my descending emotions mirrored those that lead to burnout (see my Burnout During Organizational Change [or B-DOC] Model), I was well aware that I had to develop a proactive response to these challenges.

In order to avoid a full-blown, long-lasting, emotionally and physically debilitating burnout, I had to take stock of not only what was happening but also how I was interpreting it.

What I discovered is that when life throws the inevitable lemons onto our paths, we have the choice to respond with lemons, lemonade, or lemon drops.

The Lemon Attitude: Lemons are valuable ingredients to bring acid and brightness to a recipe. The lemons that life tosses onto our paths have the potential to do the same:  to bring brightness and clarity from a tart and challenging situation.

But responding to life’s challenges with a lemon-based attitude throws additional acid onto the situation. It simply sours the entire experience by responding with pessimism and negativity.

A lemon-based response keeps us focused on the tart acidity of the challenge. Lemons blind us to the complete circumstances of the problem by reinforcing our frustration and anger.  Lemons focus on devising diabolical ways to “get back” at that which is causing our distress.

Just like too many lemons in a recipe can cause the dish to be inedible, responding to life’s challenges with a “lemon attitude” overshadows all the other aspects or “ingredients” of the problem — aspects that can be transformed into a more positive outcome.

The Lemon Drop Attitude:  Lemon drops are a very popular alcoholic drink – since they taste good, we might end up drinking a little (or a lot) more than we should. The result is that we escape and “forget” for at least a little while.

Responding to challenges with lemon drops is akin to being ostriches with our heads firmly buried in the sand. Instead of responding in a forthright manner to the obstacle that life has presented to us, we ignore the problem.  Or we refuse to take responsibility for our potential role in solving the problem.  Or we adopt the role of a victim by blaming the whole thing on someone else.  Or we put on a “happy face” and just “hope for the best.”

The result, however, is the same: we do nothing.

But we erroneously rationalize our lack of action as evidence of our “patience” — when, in fact, it is the result of fear or exhaustion. And, despite our attempts to “escape” the problem, it gnaws away at us in both our waking and sleeping hours.

While there is a time in every prolonged challenge to take some “time off,” I personally believe that the amount of time has to be limited. Otherwise, it can easily become a self-defeating habit:  ignoring a problem will never lead to the results that we desire.

The Lemonade Attitude:  We’ve all heard the old adage of turning lemons into lemonade when life throws challenges at you. It’s a lot easier to do when the problem isn’t big, prolonged, and financially or emotionally destabilizing.

But this change in our perception of the problem is the only way to proactively address it. We summon the courage to face our own fears that caused us to perceive the situation as a challenge in the first place.

After all, our perception is our reality.

The lemonade attitude is not a vacant affirmation that “everything is going to be all right.” The lemonade attitude requires courage, self-understanding, and a belief that there IS a way out of this debacle (but we just haven’t discovered it yet).

The recipe for lemonade is quite simple: lemons, water, and sugar – but they have to be in the right balance.  Adding the right amount of sweetness or positivity to our perception of the situation is what transforms the tartness of the challenge into something that is not only drinkable, but can also be enjoyable.

Yes, I am saying that any challenge life throws at us has the potential to be enjoyable. (And, no, I haven’t drunk too many lemon drops in order to believe this.)

The foundation of my personal belief system is based on life-long learning – not just in the “book” sense, but also in the more esoteric realm of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-growth. It is not an empty “feel good” affirmation, but an energizing “live good” journey.

At no time in my life was this belief system more challenged than in the past 18 months following my father’s death. I am glad to say that the house sold at the end of October and I am in the last steps before closing the estate.  It was a difficult, challenging experience but one for which I will be eternally grateful.  It challenged my beliefs and I came out stronger than I was before.

Life’s lemons are inevitable. Will you respond with more lemons, mind-numbing lemon drops, or a revitalizing lemonade?

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

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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