A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “emotions”

Paradigm Shifter #1 – Trust your gut

Paradigm Shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is our gut instinct based on this same foundation?

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

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

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

So what leads to these gut feelings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brain and the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting your gut is essentially a commitment to trusting yourself.

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

 

 

 

Paradigm Shifter #48 – Identify your life’s purpose

Paradigm Shift

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

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

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

But it is often much easier said than done.

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

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

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

The fear of “missing out”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The so-called “egotism” of a higher calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fear of failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are YOU at Risk for Burnout? Understanding the Top 6 High-Risk Personalities (Webinar presented by Dr. Geri Puleo)

Not everyone responds to stress in the same way.  Some people seem to be energized by it, but far too many others tend to become frustrated, angry, apathetic, and burned out.  Even though our workplaces can create highly stressful environments in which we do our jobs, how we approach our work (based on our personality type) is an important risk factor to burnout.

This 11-minute “mini” webinar identifies the Top 6 high-risk personalities for burnout.  While some of these personality types might not be surprising, others may shed light on why not only Type A’s burn out.

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

Can We Be Happy at Work?

Happiness CartoonThe goal of “being happy” is an ingrained human desire – I’d even call it a hard-wired need.  Not only do we want to be happy in our lives, but we also need to be happy.

Yet happiness seems to elude many of us – even if we have the trappings of what others believe create happiness:  a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a good job, and (of course) love.

But as we all know, sometimes what we think will create happiness doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually makes us happy.

Even though we all want to be happy, many of us haven’t truly figured out what “happiness” means to us or the best path to achieve our definition of what it means to “be happy.”

Marketing professionals constantly bombard us with the outer, external, and “tangible” products that they promise will make us “happy.”  Whether it is the latest iPhone or the fanciest pair of shoes, the message is that if we buy these items, then we will finally “be happy.”

But it’s not just “stuff” that we’re told will make us happy.

I’ve recently discovered a fascinating phenomenon in companies that provide services to business owners.  Most of them promise that their product or service – no one else’s! – will finally help us to achieve the success (aka “happiness”) that we want – and deserve! – from our businesses.  What they offer is often a turnkey, “one size fits all” model that may actually conflict with what the business owner actually needs to be “happy” in their business.

I’ve never been a fan of such “cookie cutter” approaches.

Why?  Because I firmly believe that each of us is unique.  Even though we are all humans, our backgrounds, experiences, values, and preferences create very different expectations of what it means when we really are “happy.”

When it comes to happiness, one size doesn’t fit all.

In my research on burnout, I’ve discovered (not surprisingly) that burned out workers are also very unhappy workers.  In fact, burnout tends to turn off our sense of humor – nothing is funny any more and everything is frustrating.

According to George Sand (as quoted in the cartoon above), “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”  While we can understand and appreciate this in our personal lives, why does this fundamental insight fly out the window when we go to work?

In other words, why do we tend to manage others in a way that doesn’t address our human need to love and be loved?

Obviously I’m not recommending anything that even hints of sexual love in the workplace.  Sexual harassment and discrimination are not only illegal, but they also reflect anger, resentment, and degradation rather than love.

But healthy, nonsexual expressions of “love” can be shown in numerous ways in the workplace:

  • A simple “thank you” or “great job” for others’ efforts.  Genuine expressions and acts of appreciation are closely related to the positive feeling of love, which is closely associated with feelings of happiness.
  • Empathy and understanding for employees’ competing work-life demands.  The ability to understand and empathize with another’s struggles and joys not only creates positive bonds between people, but we also tend to be happier when we believe that we are understood.
  • Asking for someone’s expertise and input during the planning and implementation phases of a project.  Love and happiness cannot exist in a healthy way unless there is respect between the parties.

We spend the vast majority of our time at work, thinking about work, and actually working.  As a result, our work environment and on-the-job experiences play a huge role in our feelings of overall happiness.

Happy people are rarely burned out.  Perhaps this is because they enjoy the work that they do and they do the work in an environment in which they are appreciated, respected, and valued.

Happiness also rarely exists in a vacuum.  Toxic work situations characterized by politicking, mistrust, disrespect, and behaviors that don’t address the very real emotional needs of the workforce are rarely “happy” places to work.  As a result, those unhappy workers won’t be fully engaged and committed in helping the company achieve its goals.

When a star performer is also an unhappy and burned out worker, you can bet that he or she will soon leave the organization.  When they don’t “feel the love,” they’re destined to find it somewhere else – usually with your competitor.

Maybe it’s time that managers and human resources professionals begin to focus on employee happiness rather than on the nebulous and esoteric concept of “job satisfaction.”  After all, you can be technically “satisfied” at work, but still not really be happy to be there.

Happiness at work creates that added “oomph” that transforms and enhances the way in which we do our jobs.

If you want outstanding performance from your workers, then you need to provide a work environment and culture that constantly reinforce that they are appreciated, respected, and valued.  In this way, you can “show the love” for your workers – which is one step closer to helping them achieve the happiness that they want and need at work.

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

“Should do” vs. “Want to do”: Why Both Are Needed to Sustain Change

Change Button - BlueChange is a natural part of life.  In fact, many believe that change has become the new status quo.

But changing is rarely easy for the people who have to modify – sometimes radically – the way that they do things, their self-image, or even their goals.

In organizational change, the underlying reason is usually in response to shifts in the external environment.  The examples are seemingly endless:  A new competitor has entered the marketplace and “stolen” some of your customers.  Or perhaps a new law has drastically challenged your current payroll strategy.

Organizational change can also be in response to internal shifts, such as a new vision, business model, or target market.

But, whether the reason for the change is external or internal, the arguments made in support of the change are usually based on what the company “should” do – whether they want to or not.

And therein lies the rub:  organizations can only change when its people change.

When demands are made for people to change their normal behaviors or habits, there is an understandable pushback.  What is often overlooked is that this so-called “change resistance” can provide valuable insights into the nature of the change initiative.

But these insights can only occur if we actively solicit employee feedback before, during, and after the change.

Unfortunately, in most change initiatives, many of these change resistors are ostracized or transitioned out of the organization.

As human beings, initial resistance is somewhat of a hardwired response to change.  Just like the 3-year-old who crosses his arms and shouts “No!” when it’s time to go to bed, the logical arguments (or why sleep is necessary in order to avoid crankiness and unhappiness) usually fall on deaf ears.

In other words, although we know that the child should go to bed, he doesn’t want to go to bed.  Even though he might be forced to go to bed, it is a time-consuming, emotionally draining ordeal for both parent and child.

The same can be true of employees who are told what they should do as a part of the change initiative…but really don’t want to do.

Addressing what we should do as well as what we want to do should be an important consideration in any change initiative.

Addressing the “Should Do” of Change

Corporate leaders often have very logical, reasonable, and comprehensive reasons to change the long-term strategy or daily operations of their organizations.  They often argue their case via spreadsheets, pie charts, bar graphs, trend charts, and any other data-driven tool that can support the rational reasons underlying the need to change.

While analysis is a critical part of the planning stage of any change initiative, the role of the change manager cannot rely on pure analysis to motivate workers to change.  Organizational change is a major undertaking that can take years to fully incorporate into the existing culture – and can be emotionally draining for the entire workforce.

Although threats of what could happen if the organization doesn’t change can initially inspire fear-based change, people don’t like to live their lives in fear.  The “doom and gloom” prophecies that threaten workers’ sense of security—either now or in the future – will often result in key employees and high achievers “jumping ship” to an employment situation that is less frightening.

To sustain the long-term motivation necessary to change an organization, the focus needs to shift from managing employees to change by telling them what they must do.  Instead, change leaders need to inspire employees and seek their participation in determining the best way to create the change as painlessly and effectively as possible.

The logical “should” of a change initiative is only one part of the change equation because intellectual arguments are insufficient to inspire workers to put forth the additional effort needed to transform the workplace.

Addressing the “Want to Do” of Change

People need to be motivated to change – and motivation is not only inherently internal, it is also emotional.

Addressing this “want to do” part of the change equation requires tapping into WIIFM:  “What’s In It For Me?”  Unless employees are confident that there will be a benefit to them as a result of the change, it is doubtful that they will commit wholeheartedly to the necessary actions that will radically transform the organization.

In contrast, employees will often “go the extra mile” when they understand the value of the change initiative AND they have participated in the planning and implementation activities related to that initiative.

When people participate in identifying what needs to change, they are more likely to embrace the necessary activities that will create that change.  After all, if it’s something that I recommended, then I have a vested interest in ensuring that it will lead to the desired outcome.

Puleo’s Pointers:  3 Ways to Inspire Employees to Change

  1. Take the time to involve employees in the planning stages of the change initiative.  Be sure that they represent the various functional areas of the organization and come from different levels within the organizational hierarchy.  Not only will this assist with employee buy-in, but it will also generate some insights into the implementation plan that can easily be overlooked by senior leaders who are not intimately involved with daily operations.
  2. Treat employees like adults, not children.  Relying solely on the “shoulds” of a change initiative is the equivalent of a parent dictating actions “because they said so.”  Pushback is inevitable.  Instead, recognize that your employees are your only non-duplicatable competitive advantage and they were hired because they have expertise to perform their jobs well.  Tap into that knowledge by respecting their input and concerns.
  3. Schedule two-way conversations that address employee needs and fears associated with the change.   Announcing the change via a lecture by the CEO or an article in the newsletter typify one-way communication.  Such messages to change can easily be interpreted as being talked at rather than talking with.  But two-way conversations in live town hall meetings or even discussion boards in a special change-related online chat room enable better identification of the workforce’s WIIFM’s – which can then be used to modify, expand, remove, or add programs to the change initiative that will better encourage workers to want to do what is necessary to create the necessary changes.

Although these three suggestions take time, they can create the foundation for tremendous future benefits in efficiency and effectiveness during the implementation phase.  Employee pushback and resistance may still occur, but, through the use of participative management in the planning phase, it tends to be much less intense.

While the decision to change might be logical, the act of changing can be highly emotional.  Some changes we should do, but we won’t actually do what is necessary unless we want to do it.

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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