A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “creativity”

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.

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

Paradigm Shifter #5: You’re only as good as your last gig

Paradigm ShiftAndy Warhol stated that everyone will experience at least 15 minutes of fame.  The scope and reach of that fame might be different, but everyone will be in the limelight at least once in their lives.

The problem occurs when we cling tightly to our previous “moment in the sun” – and forget that yesterday is NOT today.

Couple this human tendency to dwell on our previous “glory days” with the enormous amount of information available to us and you have a society in which people’s focus is constantly being redirected to whatever is new or “trending.”

According to one blogger,

“one bit of information leads to five facts, which leads to three articles, which leads to an interesting interview you must listen to right now, which leads to 10 pages in your browser.”

Whew – no wonder we feel overwhelmed by the information overload in our lives! And no wonder many of us don’t even remember a lot of what we see, read, or even do.

The old cliché of “time marches on” has never been more apparent than today. Instead of marching, time seems to be running a never-ending sprint, constantly moving faster as we leave things behind.

So, even though we may remember the exact details of our past victories and successes, others will generally remember (at the most) just the highlights of our successes – and vice versa.

We have become a society that forgets.

While this might be depressing to some, I believe that this creates an opportunity for us to continuously re-invent ourselves. Instead of resting on our past laurels, we are presented with unlimited possibilities to create something new in our lives.

Dwelling in the “glory days” of our past prevents us from moving forward. As we learn more, grow more, and experience more, the types of successes that we can create ultimately expand well beyond what we were capable of in the past.

If we’re dwelling in the past, we can’t be fully present in the now.

Artists and musicians have always been aware of this fact. The curse of the “one hit wonder” is something that successful artists often use to fuel their creative drive so that they will be the ones who beat the curse and have a lasting body of work.

Why don’t more people in business embrace this perspective? Is business really so different from the arts?

Throughout my years in business and working with clients, I have found that it is all too easy to get “stuck” in one’s past triumphs. Change resistance is rampant. Just like the old joke about the size of the fish that keeps growing when compared with others, many business successes are glorified – even though important details and preliminary sequences are lost in the re-telling.

For example, I knew a financial planner who boasted that he held the record for the highest one day sale in the company’s history. Pretty impressive. However, he conveniently omitted that he had worked on closing that sale for a solid year before the deal was signed. He didn’t do it one day.

And he never again met (let alone exceeded) that triumph.

By looking at each day as a new opportunity to grow and learn, we can appreciate our past successes as the fuel that helps us move forward to something even better. It might not exceed the previous dollar amount or be completed as fast or even achieve the same level of notoriety and awe. But it can be something new that we have never before achieved – and that is personal growth and success.

Due to the revolving door found in many corporations, our professional lives are really comprised of a series of gigs that create not only our careers, but also our professional legacies. Gone are the days when we are hired right out of college, receive consistent promotions, a corner office, and a fully funded pension when we retire.

Just like the actor will play many different roles in many different venues, we, too, will have different jobs with different employers that are often in different industries. And, just like the actor, we will have both triumphs and failures.

But the successful move forward and move on.

What about you? Are you dwelling in your past successes – or looking forward to how you can excel based on what you have learned and who you are right now? After all, to others, you are only as good as your last gig.

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.

Why I Hate Labels: Are We “Should-ing” Ourselves Into Burnout?

Trapped in a box - RidiculeLabels.  They’re great for organizing things in our homes and offices.  They’re even great refrigerator reminders to jog our memories.

But when labels are used as boundaries that keep us within prescribed limitations, they’re lethal to our ability to move forward. These labels tell us what we “should” do based on preconceived notions of what others think about who we are and what we can become.

When we buy into these limiting labels, we relinquish our sense of self. Labels – particularly when they have been placed upon us by people whom we love or respect – can become so embedded in our brains and psyches that we feel guilty if we try to step outside of them.

While many labels that define prejudice and discrimination have been discouraged through laws and regulations, the most dangerous labels to our ability to succeed are those which we place upon ourselves.

The Stickiness of Labels

When we have a strong sense of self and a true understanding of who we are and what we stand for, we are much better able to remove the “glue” from the labels that others try to stick on us. But it’s not easy.

The problem is that many of the labels that we use to define ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) are not the result of recent experiences – or even our interpretations of those experiences. Instead, they are the result of what other people have told us about who they think that we are and, as a result, what we can become. For example, how many of these labels have crossed your mind in response to different challenges?

  • “I’m a control freak.”
  • “I don’t like change.”
  • “I guess I’m just too sensitive.”
  • “I can never overcome what happened to me in the past.”
  • “I can never be a/an [fill in the blank].”

Just like pulling off a bandage, pulling off a label can be just as painful. By saying that the label no longer applies to us, we automatically have to say that what other people told us is wrong. If the label came from our parents, family, friends, or even an admired boss or co-worker, the act of removing the label from our psyches actually changes our relationship with that person.

Consider the labels that society and families placed on women in the Baby Boomer generation. An “acceptable” job (which you only kept until you were married) was generally a teacher, nurse, or secretary/administrative assistant. Anything else was “shocking.” Although other women were in different careers, they were the exception and not the norm – and you were told that you weren’t one of them.

Although Boomers pushed back and opened the doors for women to enter any career, it was not without a great deal of anxiety and second-guessing.

  • Working women were directly or indirectly criticized for either not having children or for “deserting” their children when they were at work.
  • The “glass ceiling” surreptitiously appeared in corporations – although women could see the higher level jobs within the organization, they were effectively barred from moving into them.
  • Pregnant women were often forced to quit their jobs due to their “unseemly” situation – a practice which led to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • But even today, there are countless cases of sexual harassment against women when they enter into fields that have been traditionally male dominated – and often times the women never file complaints against their harassers.

While these pioneering Boomer women pushed through these doors, many privately expressed doubts and concerns as to the “wisdom” of their decisions. Although they loved their jobs and excelled in them, a nagging voice inside their heads often made them question their choices – particularly when others were nonsupportive or blatantly accusatory.

With doubt often comes guilt and, with guilt, comes anxiety. When anxiety couples with unmet expectations of what “should” have been the result of a decision, the result is burnout.

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to Pull Off Unproductive Sticky Labels

Labels only appear to be permanent but, in reality, the glue that sticks them to our consciousness is only temporary. Instead of affixed with super glue, we have the power to change that adhesive to one that is used on the little yellow stickies of Post-It™ notes.

When we permit ourselves to continue to hold on to the label that someone else gave us, we essentially relinquish our control to someone else’s judgments of who we are and what we can become.

To move forward, we have to let go.

If we believe that the glue of a negative or unproductive label is permanent, then it will be permanent. Why? Because we become who we believe we are.

Here are some tips to help you finally remove the caustic labels that are preventing you from achieving the success that you want on your own terms:

  • Try to discover the source of the label.  Was it something that your parents told you growing up? Was it the opinion of a manager who didn’t really understand you? Or was it a general consensus within society at a specific period of time? (It may take some time, but be patient.)
  • Determine what was going on when they affixed this label to you.  Did you make a mistake, but were then unilaterally labeled as a “failure?” What was going on in the labeler’s life at the time – could it be that the boss was belittling you with this label because he or she was afraid that you would take their job? (Remember: the label was placed on you by someone else’s reaction to you – so taking account of what was going on in their lives at the time helps you see the bigger picture.)
  • Consider when you used this label as a “safety net” to NOT take action.  One of the biggest problems with labels is the attached “should” that prevents you from taking a desired action – because the label says that “you’re not that kind of person.” Be very clear and detailed about the opportunities you’ve missed because you bought into someone else’s label of who you are. (The more you personally buy into this label, the more you increase the super glue-iness of its adhesive.)
  • Identify who (if anyone) would be “hurt” if you relinquished this label.  Many times we believe that if we change, we’re going to upset others. However, in the end, only you are in charge of your own life. Besides, the people who really care about you will adjust – and, if not, then they aren’t the type of people who are conducive to your success, so limit your interactions with them. (This is the first step in destabilizing the super glue.)
  • Imagine all the positive things that could happen in your life if you let go of this label.  Instead of dwelling on who might be upset or the even more scary unknown future, vividly visualize how much more free you can be once the label has been ripped off. Life is full of boundless opportunities – but you need to be free of the unproductive labels in order to take advantage of this abundance. (At this point, the super glue will effectively change to a temporary glue.)
  • Finally, start acting in a way that is the opposite of the previous unproductive label.  Yes, it’s going to be scary at first. Habitual actions can be difficult to overcome – but you can do it by replacing the negative actions resulting from the previous label into positive actions that reflect the antithesis of that label. Just like Post-It™ notes can be placed and removed repeatedly, it will take some time until you truly believe that the label no longer defines who you are. (When that time comes, celebrate and congratulate yourself for the courage you exhibited in overcoming the boundaries that have limited you in the past. Woo hoo!!!!)

I hope that these tips help you to stop “should-ing” yourself into the über stress of burnout. Let me know if these ideas worked for you!

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

Residual Burnout: Why It’s So *@%! Hard to Get Fired Up After Burnout

Frustration - man screaming - cartoonIn the hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with people who are recovering from burnout, a common refrain is, “I’m just not as excited and enthusiastic as I used to be…but I don’t know why.”

To escape the devastating effects of burnout, nearly all of these employees made the difficult decision to leave their employers.  This was accomplished either literally by quitting their jobs or figuratively through acts of presenteeism (where they were physically at work, but their minds and energies were directed elsewhere).

But simply leaving the situation that caused burnout is not enough to overcome burnout – and the likelihood of another burnout during recovery is frighteningly high.

Most people are unaware of two important conditions in burnout recovery.  First, while the descent into burnout is relatively quick, the recovery from burnout is lengthy – taking years rather than months.  Second, the recovery period is fraught with opportunities to boomerang back into another full-blown burnout at any time.

In researching my B-DOC Model, I discovered that this “danger zone” easily exists for two years following the burned out worker’s separation from their jobs.  During this time, burned out workers are extremely susceptible to a “boomerang” effect that I call residual burnout.

  • Residual burnout occurs – often without warning – during the 2 years after an employee leaves the situation that caused their burnout.
  • During this 2-year period, burned out workers are consciously trying to get rid of the lingering effects of burnout – including  the frustration, anger, apathy, exhaustion, and chronic health problems.
  • These recovering workers tend to be hypervigilant and highly sensitive to any situation, event, or interaction that triggers negative feelings that are similar to what they experienced when in full burnout.
  • “Fight or flight” reactions to these similar situations are common – usually with a vehemence and emphatic cries of “hell, no!” that are often out of character.

Sadly, workers generally receive little support or empathy from those whom they trust during this difficult 2-year recovery period.  Their logic is based on cause and effect:  since we left our burnout-producing situation, our burnout should simply “disappear.”

But it doesn’t.

The Hidden Landmines in Burnout Recovery

When we remove ourselves from the burnout-producing situation, we expect that our feelings of burnout will substantially decrease or disappear.

But when our feelings of burnout don’t disappear, we begin questioning ourselves:  “Why can’t I simply rebound back to my previous energetic self?!  What am I doing wrong?!  Is something wrong with me?!”

We tend to overlook the fact that recovery from burnout can take years rather than months.

This lengthy post-burnout recovery cycle is a treacherous part of the burnout phenomenon, but one that I believe has received little (if any) attention.  The duration and highly charged emotions of the recovery period often take us by surprise.

But what’s even more surprising to us is how quickly we seem to get “sucked back” into the burnout that we thought we had overcome.

Any situation during the recovery period can trigger us back to any or all of the previous stages of our burnout (frustration, anger, apathy, and full-blown burnout).  While the downward spiral to our initial burnout could have taken 6 to 12 months, this residual burnout can occur in just a few days.

Repeated experiences of residual burnout further lengthen our recovery.

To avoid another round of burnout, we tend to use the same coping mechanisms that we used when trying to avoid our previous burnout:  not sleeping or over-sleeping, over-eating, drinking too much, avoidance, denial, depression.

The boomerang nature of residual burnout is eerily similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Both PTSD and burnout sufferers are prone to flashbacks to the precipitating stress-producing situation.  It is a frightening, emotionally charged, and potentially debilitating experience.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the flashbacks of residual burnout can cause lingering feelings of dissatisfaction, anger, apathy, and both physical and emotional exhaustion.  When we feel like this, it is impossible for us harness our energy, enthusiasm, and motivation to move forward.

But despite these profound similarities, PTSD is a recognized disability that warrants reasonable accommodations by employers under the amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, while burnout does not.

Without this external support, it also feels like we are in a bottomless pit and that we will never fully “get over” our burnout.

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to Avoid Residual Burnout

Residual burnout is a landmine that thwarts our forward progress to recovery after we have left our burnout-producing situation.  While often ignored by researchers and practitioners, the similarities to PTSD make residual burnout a very real and foreseeable human reaction to the all-consuming feelings of distress experienced during burnout.

In my own experiences and when working with others, simply knowing that it can take two years to fully recover from burnout can be very helpful.  Although it is frustrating to know that a full recovery is such a long process, it helps us to remember to be kind to ourselves and our emotionally raw reactions after burnout.

  • We need to take the time and make the time for rest, exercise, and relaxation.  “Being kind to ourselves” is something that we often “forget” to do when we are in the downward spiral toward burnout.
  • We need to self-reflect (a critical stage in the recovery process) – but not necessarily on what we “did wrong” that caused our burnout, but on the interplay between what was going on in our lives, how others responded to us, and how we felt and reacted.  The goal is not guilt, but a core knowledge and understanding of who we are, what we want, and how we react.
  • We need to vigilantly observe what is going on around us – to be on the lookout for situations, events, and people that we believe are very similar to those found in our previous burnout-producing situation.  Perception is reality.  By identifying and categorizing these experiences, we are better able to move toward more proactive decision-making in regard to how we will (or will not) respond to these stressors.
  • Finally, we need to specifically describe what it is that we expected to happen after burnout.  Burnout often occurs when, despite our most diligent efforts, the reality does not meet our expectations.  Therefore, it might be unrealistic to believe that we will be the exact same people that we were before we burned out.  Burnout (like PTSD) is debilitating and demoralizing to its victims, so we cannot expect to view life the exact same way that we did before.  But we can use the knowledge and insights gleaned from our recovery from burnout to help us move forward in a newer, healthier way.

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 ROI of Engaged Employees: How Employee Engagement Affects the Bottom Line (Webinar presented by Dr. Geri Puleo)

“Engagement” seems to be the new buzz word in the business community.  It’s often used as a way of determining an employee’s level of commitment to the job and the company because a fully engaged employee harnesses his or her physical, intellectual, and emotional resources in their work.

This 7-minute “mini” webinar looks at employee engagement from the perspective of quantifiable, bottom line financial results.  While it may take some time to develop, an engaged workforce is a powerful and non-duplicatable competitive advantage for any company — regardless of size, industry, or market.

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

Paradigm Shifter #25: Determine how badly you want it

Paradigm ShiftThere is a huge difference between living proactively vs. reactively.  Living proactively means knowing what I want, why I want it, and the specific sacrifices that I must make in order to achieve it.  Living reactively means bouncing from goal to goal, idea to idea, person to person, or thing to thing.

Living reactively never satisfactorily answers the fundamental question, “How badly do I want it?”

Depending on the goal, we’ve all lived both ways.

Resources are finite – whether it is the amount of time, money, energy, or will power.  The only way that we will gladly and purposefully commit to achieving something is when we choose to spend these limited resources on the things that matter most to us.

We can’t be all things to all people nor can we possibly do everything.  The amount of commitment and level of sacrifice that we are willing to exert is directly related to how badly we want something.

“Things” do not necessarily mean tangible items or symbols of status.  In fact, many of the most important “things” are intangible – things like love, respect, or making a difference.

A basic tent of Buddhism states that life is suffering.  But rather than this being a depressing edict that negates our very existence, accepting that suffering is a natural part of life can actually be very freeing.  In fact, it can help us avoid turning mere “bumps” in the road into cataclysms that throw us off course and derail our progress.

If we want something (whatever it may be) badly enough, then we can transform any roadblocks into surmountable challenges that educate and inspire us.  Our view of obstacles is thus directly related to the importance, value, and desirability of whatever it is that we say that we want.

But if we don’t want something badly enough, then we tend to rationalize obstacles as heavenly interventions telling us not to continue toward what we say is a worthwhile goal.  Far too often, we quit when we should have moved forward.

We are all human beings, but the things that we want are vastly different.  One person’s goal is neither better nor worse than someone else’s.  It takes all these different individual goals to create the synergies necessary to move both the world and society forward.

We can’t do it all – nor should we.

But we can and should determine what is important to us…and why.

Only then can we persevere to creatively find solutions to what appear to be insurmountable obstacles.  We are more willing to reflect on what is happening so that we can best determine whether to stay the course, modify our road map, or totally transform what we’ve been doing.

It takes courage to boldly state just how badly we want something.  We will be questioned or even belittled and ridiculed – it’s part of the journey.  We may also find that we need to change our personal networks in order to move forward – while hurtful and sad, it too is part of the journey.

But we won’t do what is necessary unless we believe that what we desire is valuable and even noble.  It takes courage not only to express it, but also to act upon it.

If you’re not achieving something that you say that you want, do you really want it badly enough?

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

Have We Lost the Ability to Say “NO” at Work?

say-no limited timeOne of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace is work overload.  Too much to do, too little time, not enough resources, not enough energy!

Stress management techniques wisely advise that we need to take back our ability to say “no” when we recognize that we cannot do all that is expected of us.

Tell that to your boss and watch what happens.

We humans have limited supplies of time and energy.  When we have exhausted these reserves, then our interest in related projects also eventually depletes.  We may know this intuitively, but the modern workplace practically demands that we ignore our human limitations and continue to take on more work – or face the consequences.

Throughout my blog posts, I have consistently called for a re-emergence of humanism to find a new (and better) way to work in the modern workplace.  Throughout my career, I have consulted with and coached clients who are frustrated, angry, burned out, and underperforming.  The common thread is the inability, unwillingness, or fear of saying “no.”

Like many of us, I can remember as a young girl that saying “no” to my parents resulted in some form of punishment – or at least “the look” and a very strong reprimand.  Old habits die hard, so I shouldn’t be surprised when we continue to avoid saying “no” in order to avoid displeasing the people in our professional lives.

Although we are not put in “time out” at work, saying “no” to our bosses can lead to some form of direct or indirect reprimand.  Consider what saying “no” to a new assignment can mean to our jobs and careers:

  • We are not viewed as “team players.”
  • Our loyalty to the company is questioned.
  • We are being insubordinate to our bosses – which will not be forgotten in our annual performance reviews.
  • We are being “difficult.”

The tragedy is that saying “yes” to others (especially when we don’t really want to) actually undermines our current and future relationships with that person or organization.  In addition, we are much more likely to experience the negative effects of cognitive dissonance:  we are acting in a way that contradicts how we really feel.  This leads to anger, resentment, and burnout.

Why Saying “No” Can Be a Good Thing

Although saying “no” was grounds for punishment as a child, we are no longer children but adults whose contributions are critical in order for our companies to excel.

So how can saying “no” to an assignment actually be a good thing?

  • Saying “no” can indicate a significant lack of resources that will eventually undermine the success of the assignment.
  • Saying “no” can reinforce the need to better delegate the workload or increase staffing (temporarily or permanently).
  • Saying “no” can benefit customers by keeping their expectations realistic and then delivering on those expectations.
  • Saying “no” can protect the company from litigation arising from illegal actions by employees.
  • Saying “no” (and having that “no” accepted by management) can increase employee commitment and engagement because we are being heard and respected.
  • Finally, saying “no” can protect the organization from negative “group think” and open the door to future innovation and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, many companies view an employee’s “no” as a sign of disrespect, insubordination, and grounds for future discipline – including termination.

But the fear of saying “no” ultimately does nothing to support the health of either the organization or the individual worker.  Not standing up for something that you believe is wrong ensures that the unrealistic demands, disrespectful treatment, and stressful workplace will continue – for you and others.

How to Say “No” at Work

Learning to say “no” can be a challenge for many workers – as equally challenging as learning how to accept a subordinate’s “no.”

How do you create an environment in which an employee’s “no” is viewed positively?

First, always consider Mehrabian’s three channels for effective interpersonal communication:  55% of meaning comes from nonverbal cues, 38% from tone of voice, and only 7% from the words themselves.  Be sure that all three are in alignment.  In other words, don’t say “no” using a hostile tone or defensive mannerisms.

Second, provide a brief rationale for your “no.” Be sure to include a logical reason why you are refusing the request and the potential benefit to the person making that request.  For example, be clear that taking on the new assignment will undermine your ability to successfully meet the deadline for another important assignment.

Third, offer another option to get the work done.  This may include recommending that the assignment be divided among several employees who are experts in their individual project areas so that the increased workload does not become unmanageable for any one individual.

Fourth, don’t say “no” late in the game.  If the project’s due date is near and you had previously agreed to the deliverable due dates, don’t “suddenly” announce that you can’t finish it.  Keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and don’t be afraid to ask for help if there is any indication that the due date might not be met.  It is better to modify plans, rather than never complete them.

Saying “no” at work is hard and many of our past experiences have supported our belief that we should never say “no” at work.  But when we can’t say “no,” we feel out of control – which is a primary factor in the debilitating downward spiral toward burnout.

Learning to say “no” can be very empowering.  It can enhance our professional relationships as well as increase the levels of mutual respect.  Most importantly, it can be the first step in creating a new, more humane, and more productive way to work. Saying “no” to one thing can be the first step to saying “yes” to something much better.

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

Paradigm Shifter #35: Single-tasking is better than multi-tasking

Paradigm Shift“There’s too much to do!!!  Do more with less!!!  Don’t waste time!!!”  These are caveats by which many of us live our lives.

For greater efficiency and financial profitability, many companies now expect their human resources to be able to multi-task in ways that are comparable to the feats made possible by artificial intelligence.

Instead of harnessing technology, it has instead become our 24/7/365 master.  We tend to expect that we can accomplish multiple tasks not just simultaneously, but also at the speed of our computers and mobile devices.  If not, we think that there must be a problem with us.

But the real problem is that many of us ignore the needs and limitations of being human.  We are not wired like computers.  We are not programmable robots.  And that is ultimately a very good thing.

The drive to not only do more with less but also to do it faster is fertile ground for our misguided attempts at multi-tasking.  The primary issue is that there is often very little consideration of the nature of the tasks themselves when we multi-task:  each task is simply a line item on our ever-increasing “To Do” lists.

Recent studies have shown that interruptions (either by others or self-imposed through the process of multi-tasking) actually interfere with our ability to concentrate and ultimately slow down our progress.  In other words, we actually waste time when we try to do too much because our brains need time to re-group in order to “pick up where we left off.”

Any “time savings” or efficiencies achieved from simultaneously working on tasks that involve critical thinking or creativity are thus undermined by the reduced quality or effectiveness of our completion of each task.

So, if the tasks require critical thinking, creativity, decision making, and/or learning, then we shouldn’t multi-task!

There a few other things that I’ve noticed about multi-tasking:

  • Multi-tasking destroys mindfulness.  We’re not totally “present” in anything that we’re doing because we are trying to simultaneously compartmentalize and control competing thoughts and goals.  The likelihood of breakthrough, “a ha!” moments is severely limited.
  • We overlook some of the most important concepts or aspects of our tasks.  Because we’re not present in the moment (i.e., fully concentrating), we tend to skim over documents or conversations.  Then we berate ourselves for missing the “obvious.”
  • We also miss the important nuances.  Since both the devil and the serendipitous discoveries are found in the details, we lose the opportunity to notice either.
  • Finally, multi-tasking tends to draw out projects beyond the time that they should reasonably take to complete.  We have a false sense of accomplishment because we completed 25% of five different projects even though we haven’t 100% completed any of them!

However, there is one type of multi-tasking that I believe can be very effective.  Multi-tasking via technology works precisely because it isn’t really multi-tasking.  Instead, it is actually a form of technological delegation.  The “grunt work” is done by technology, leaving us free to concentrate, analyze, ponder, and use our creativity to solve higher level, more complex problems.

In my own life, single-tasking actually increases my productivity in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness.  Maybe that’s because I’m fully focused and using all of my resources to get something 100% done.  By saying “yes” to this particular project or task, I can more readily say “no” to other competing interests.

What about you:  is your multi-tasking propelling you toward the goals that you want to achieve OR is it undermining your path to success?

  • Look at your past history.  How effective have you really been when you tried to do too many things at the same time?
  • Which of your key projects have you actually completed?  Did the completed projects meet your expected standards?
  • How many other projects have “fallen through the cracks” because your attention was focused elsewhere?
  • Have any 6-month projects turned into 5-year odysseys?
  • Of the projects that are still partially completed, how much time would it actually take to finally check this project off your “To Do” list?
  • Are you willing to at least try single-tasking and see what happens?

While everybody works differently, it is critical that we understand and appreciate the most conducive environment and tools needed for us to do our best work.  Single-tasking requires prioritizing what is important – then taking the time to focus on completing the task at hand.

Although it’s against the “norm” of our multi-tasking society, maybe it’s time to be a maverick and try single-tasking in order to achieve the goals and success that we really want.

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

Fear, Change, and Life-Long Learning

Learning

Can we ever stop learning?  Most people would agree that we are constantly learning new things about ourselves, our environment, other people, as well as what works and what doesn’t.

But how many times have you attended a mandatory training session – and been bored to tears?

Or how many times have you been “forced” to learn a new method to complete a task that required you to “forget” everything that you used to do?

In the 25+ years that I have been a trainer, facilitator, and keynote speaker, I have often been surprised that many of the participants really didn’t want to be there.  Some displayed this through a lack of interaction.  Others simply looked down and were absorbed with their smart phones.  Many adopted a “wait and see” attitude as to the value of the information.  Still others were blatantly hostile and combative to any new ideas that were presented.

Sadly, a not large enough percentage approached the training as something enjoyable, informative, and applicable to their daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities.

Of course, it is and always has been my duty and responsibility to engage the audience by answering the fundamental question that underscores all learning:  “WIIFM (or what’s in it for me)?”

Fortunately, I’ve been pretty successful in giving the audience something that they could actually use.  I admit that (thankfully) not all people have been resistant to learning something new.

But I can’t help but wonder what past experiences jaded many attendees to fully embrace new ideas in the form of life-long learning?

In corporations, a large percentage of training is required to meet regulatory compliance (e.g., sexual harssment, ethics, EEO, etc.).  However, much of the other corporate-sponsored training often focuses on building key employee competencies to successfully compete in their markets.

Such “competency-based performance models” are the new rage in business.  “Competencies” indicate a high level of mastery or expertise in key areas of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors which are then used to create a competitive advantage for the company.  In other words, it’s the stuff that you’re really good at.

But, identifying those competencies is a lot easier said than done.

Whether or not the competencies identified by seniors leaders are actually the “real” core competencies for the company, the corresponding training always focuses on changing the tools, methods, and even reporting relationships that employees use to do their jobs.

How Fear Affects the Passion to Learn

Changing the way that you work is based on a changing organizational foundation.  And that’s scary for most workers.

Perhaps most frightening is “un-learning” things that have led to success in the past.  Can we be just as good at the new way of doing something as we were in doing it the old way?

Another challenge occurs when managers don’t reinfoce the training back in the workplace – particularly if the company follows a “new is always better” approach.  This occurs when company leaders are constantly changing the way that things are done…but without a sound explanation for employees as to why.

Is it any wonder that employees are reluctant to put forth the effort to learn something new when the past has proven that it will just be replaced with something even newer a few months down the road?

Adults are not children and they have very different learning needs than children:

  • Adult learners already have insights, opinions, and assumptions about what works and what doesn’t – so we are less likely to accept new approaches at face value.
  • Adult learners are often subject matter experts in our fields – so we want our opinions to be heard and shared.
  • Finally, adult learners are busy – so if we are going to spend time in training (and not on something else), we want to make sure that we will be able to actually use these insights back on the job.

Change and the Learning Organization

We live in an age of constant, unrelenting change.  In the book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge encouraged companies to embrace life-long learning across all functional and hierarchical levels.  In a world that is constantly changing, the only way to adapt is by being open to learning new ways to approach both new and old problems.

Notice that “learning” corresponds with “change.”  Given the high degree of change resistance in many organizations, it is not surprising that these fears will be most noticeable in employee reactions to training and development.

  • Ego plays an important role in the unwillingness to abandon old beliefs and replace them with something which is currently unknown.
  • Economic realities threaten our feelings of security when we aren’t initially “good” at something new because we fear that we are now “replaceable” in the organization.
  • In today’s time-strapped workplace, there is often an expedited learning curve that just isn’t conducive to learning and then implementing higher level, complex ideas.  It’s just easier to continue to do things the old way.
  • Information overload is a genuine problem affecting worker productivity and organizational performance.  Exhaustion and fatigue coupled with misguided attempts to multitask cause us to shut down to new ideas.  There is simply too much to learn and do.  We are overwhelmed.

Learning inherently questions the status quo in order to create something that is more efficient, effective, and powerful.  This is a double-edged sword for many senior organizational leaders.  An informed workforce is like the child who isn’t afraid to say that the emperor isn’t actually wearing any new clothes:  employees can and will challenge organizational leaders and the decisions that they make.

Moving toward a commitment to life-long learning is therefore a major paradigm shift for both the organization as a whole and the individual workers within it.  But fearing new ideas and stubbornly refusing to at least try them is a prescription for failure in a constantly changing world.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Don’t extinguish the flame

As humans, we are hardwired to want to understand and know more about ourselves and our environments.  Many times we will fail in our first attempts to try something new – but that shouldn’t prevent us from continuing to move forward.  This is perhaps the greatest advice from Senge’s Fifth Discipline:  failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn.

Once the fire for learning has been lit, we humans tend to continue to stoke the flames:

“Knowledge always desires increase; it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself.” (Samuel Johnson)

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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