A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “Goals”

5 Myths About Organizational Change

Myth v fact

There are few words that are as dreaded by employees as “organizational change.”  But is the fear justified – or is it the result of some all too common misperceptions by change leaders?

Based on my research and practice, I’ve identified five common myths about organizational change:  what it is, why it often fails, and what to do instead.

Myth #1:  Change resistors must be silenced.  According to many change leaders, organizational change will only succeed IF you have “the right people on the bus.”  In other words, any employees – regardless of their positions on their organizational hierarchy or tenure with the company – must “get on board” or risk being removed from the organization.

Why This Is a Myth:  For the most part, change resistors usually have some very good reasons to support their reluctance to fully embrace the proposed changes.  Why would any change leader ignore their experience and insights?

What to Think Instead:  Change resistors’ ideas should be considered because they can forewarn of potential obstacles that can sabotage the change initiative.  Plus these resistors can potentially become some of the company’s best change advocates IF the change leaders address their fears and concerns.  Click here for more information on what I call the “Change Resistance Zoo.”

Myth #2:  If you present a logical argument, then people will change.  Business tends to be driven by quantitative metrics focused on achieving tangible results – which tend to be the primary focus of any change initiative.

Why This Is a Myth:  If only human beings would consistently behave in a “rational” or “logical” way – but it’s not in our DNA.  While human beings are logical and capable of rational decision-making, we are emotional beings as well.  Our behaviors are ruled by our beliefs, values, and the all-important WIIFM:  “what’s in it for me.”

What to Think Instead:  Effective change leaders focus on both the tangible and intangible aspects of a change initiative.  Employees’ fears stemming around potential job loss, demotion, or even closing of their office location must not only be addressed, but also incorporated within the strategic action plan.  You can’t ask workers to embrace the destabilization of their work environment without addressing the question of what’s in it for them as a result.

Myth #3:  Change occurs in isolation.  Organizational change can be compartmentalized, which makes it much easier to forecast any potential effects on other areas of the business.

Why This Is a Myth:  Organizations are constantly evolving, cross-functional, intradependent entities.  As a result, changes in one part of the organization can (and will) have effects on seemingly unrelated aspects of the business.

What to Think Instead:  Organizational changes affect the company’s lifeblood on strategic, operational, and tactical levels.  A “tweak” in a company’s product can (and will) affect not only the manufacturing process, but also the sales, human resources, customer service, and marketing functions.  A seemingly “little” change that can wreak havoc in a company’s short- and long-term functioning.  Think outside the box of compartmentalized change and consider the obvious and not-so-obvious consequences.

Myth #4:  To create transformational change, you must bring in outsiders to lead it.  Because the company’s culture is often the target of transformational change, the only way to get a “fresh perspective” is to bring in change leaders from outside the organization – maybe from the same industry, but maybe not.

Why This Is a Myth:  This is probably the most pervasive myth in transformational organizational change – and perhaps the reason why over 70% of change initiatives fail.  Outsiders may have new ideas BUT they also are not intimately aware with how things currently work in the organization and why they are being done in this particular manner.  As a result, there is often a lack of appreciation for the company’s history and an ignorance of the power of the company’s formal and informal network leaders.

What to Think Instead:  Consider tapping your current workforce for ideas on how to transform the organization – rather than thinking of them as change resistors.  Current employees have a great deal of intangible but persuasive capital within the company:  not only do they understand what is currently happening (which means that they are uniquely qualified to highlight the underlying problems), but they usually have some great (but often untapped) ideas on how to improve things.

Myth #5:  You can create change by sheer force of will.  If you really want to change, then you will be able to change – it’s all about willpower.

Why This Is a Myth:  If only change could be accomplished simply by willing it to happen.  It can’t.  Successful changes take place by moving through the transition period connecting the past to the desired future – no one navigates this “no man’s land” without a clear road map and the necessary resources to reach the destination.

What to Think Instead:  Change leaders need to provide the Four R’s throughout the planning and implementation process in order to ensure that successful movement through the transition period.  A Road map that outlines the desired path to achieve the goal, the potential effects throughout the organization, and built-in flexibility to stay on-track when obstacles emerge.  A compelling Reason for the change initiative that addresses tangible financial needs as well as the intangible emotional needs of employees.  Sufficient Resources to support employees as they move through the transition period – including manpower, relevant technology, sufficient financial resources, and emotional support.  Rewards that celebrate the short-term wins along the way to transformation; this can be financial or (perhaps even more important) time off or public recognition for employees’ often Herculean efforts.

Organizational change is not for the feint of heart.  It can be confusing, confounding, frustrating, and terrifying.  The first step is to debunk these five prevalent myths about the process of change.  By replacing them with more proactive beliefs, both change leaders and change targets will be more likely to listen to the arguments as to why they must temporarily destabilize their current work environment in order to create one that is better for both the organization and them.

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

 

 

Listen to the Naysayers: How Resistors Can Actually HELP During Organizational Change

Change Resistence in Business

Change resistance.   It’s the bane of change leaders’ existence…but should it be?  Could change resistance actually be a BLESSING?!  And if you are the target of an organizational change initiative, should you keep your doubts and concerns to yourself?

These are some of the fundamental challenges facing change leaders and change targets when an organization is attempting massive change.

In talking to change leaders over the years, one of the biggest challenges that I’ve seen is the anger that change leaders feel toward any employee who resists or even questions the veracity of the need for change OR the method of changing OR even the potential outcomes of that change.

A common refrain by change leaders is, “Get the right people on the bus!  We only want employees who embrace change – anybody else is a change resistor and we need to get them OFF the bus!”

I remain shocked that a change leader would discount the insights and concerns of employees when you are asking them to fundamentally shift their work processes, assumptions, and routines.  As the photo above says, “I don’t think so!”

The Change Resistance Zoo

Change resistance is defined as efforts focused on impeding, redirecting, rejecting, or stopping the change (Coetsee, 1999).  It is often thought as being overt…but it can also be very effectively done through covert actions.

Although change resistance is viewed as a “bad thing” that needs to be eliminated from the workplace, employee resistance to proposed organizational changes can also be a very GOOD thing because:

 “When resistance does appear,…it should not be thought of as something to overcome…Instead, it can best be thought of as a useful red flag – a signal that something is going wrong.”   (Lawrence, 1954)

In general, a certain amount of resistance should be anticipated when an organization demands that its workers change their working behaviors, processes, or even attitudes.  But these responses will vary based on their view of the changes being asked of them.

Therefore there is no ONE change resistant response or behavior.  What employees will exhibit as resistance will vary greatly.  For change leaders and change targets, it’s important to understand these differences.

Based on my research, I’ve developed six attitudes toward change in what I call “The Change Resistance Zoo.”  Each type views change somewhat differently, which consequently leads to distinctly different behaviors and responses throughout a change initiative.

Ostrich

The Ostrich.  The employee who avoids change at all costs is like the ostrich sticking its head in the sand.  Ostriches staunchly deny what is going on in the organization and may even view the current status quo as being “not that bad…really.”  Rather than change, Ostriches will often resign from an organization – either when changes are anticipated OR after the change initiative is lost.

What’s Bad About Ostriches:  These are the die hard change resistors who dislike any degree of change to the status quo.  They are in denial and will do anything to avoid making the change.  This is particularly bad for the organization if one of your key employees is an Ostrich.

What’s Good About Ostriches:  Even though they dislike changes to their status quo, Ostriches are also smart enough to realize that the changes are going to happen – so it’s better for them (and the company) if they find a more suitable work environment with another employer.

 

MoleThe Mole.  The Mole is sneaky about refusing to go along with the changes.  Rather than being upfront about their doubts, the Mole goes underground and covertly sabotages the changes.  This could be through missed deadlines or by spreading negative gossip about how the change is progressing or what it really means for employees.

What’s Bad About Moles:  Moles can sow seeds of discord and fear among not only their immediate coworkers, but throughout the organization.  Because their resistant tactics are covert, Moles can be difficult to spot:  there’s always a “logical” excuse for a missed deadline and it’s rare to catch them as the source of misinformed or outright malicious gossip.

What’s Good About Moles:  Consider the option that the Mole has a good reason for refusing to change.  Even though they can be toxic in the workplace, Moles serve as an indication that something has not been considered when planning and implementing the change initiative.

 

TigerThe Tiger.  Unlike the covert activities of the Mole, the Tiger is vocal and aggressive in resisting the changes.  Tigers will argue with change leaders by challenging their ideas and assumptions about the changes.  Their goal is to attack everything related to the change initiative so that it will not proceed.

What’s Bad About Tigers:  They are disruptive and combative, which can make other employees uncomfortable – regardless of whether those employees support or disagree with the changes.  Unlike Moles, it is easy to spot a Tiger – but it’s harder to deal with them in a rational, calm way.

What’s Good About Tigers:  The Tiger will let you know what is a contentious aspect of the change initiative – there’s no guesswork involved.  Try to discuss the Tiger’s concerns in private (so that they don’t damage employee morale) and remain calm.  There is a good chance that the area of disagreement might be eligible for some sort of compromise that creates a win-win outcome in the proposed changes.

 

DogThe Dog.  The Dog will never directly challenge the activities or expectations in the change initiative – that is, unless they’re part of a group of more vocal employees.  Believing that there is “power in the pack,” Dogs resist the change initiative through a group effort – and they’re not afraid to “fight dirty.”

What’s Bad About Dogs:  Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they can also be terrifying in an angry pack – particularly a pack that is united in staunchly fighting the change initiative, in whole or in part.  Because change is frightening, some employees may go along with the “pack” because they fear being ostracized by their peers or coworkers.

What’s Good About Dogs:  Because Dogs are part of a pack, swaying the opinion of one Dog toward the change initiative can lead to the entire group becoming more receptive to the changes.  Also, if there is a group of employees who have banded together to fight some aspect of the change initiative, this is a clear indication that the change initiative most likely has unintentional deleterious effects for a subset of the workforce.

 

OwlThe Owl.  The Owl is usually an experienced employee – someone who has been with the company for a long time or is recognized as an expert in their field.  Because they are wise and knowledgeable, they will point out minute flaws in any aspect of the change initiative.  The challenge is that Owls believe that, although it is their duty to identify problems, they consider that any active involvement in remedying those problems is “beneath” them.

What’s Bad About Owls:  Owls can appear to be condescending, “know-it-alls” who focus too much on the details – but miss the big picture.  By overlooking the broader outcomes associated with the change initiative, Owls can develop tunnel vision that obscures any information that is not within their area of expertise or interest.  This can be particularly damaging if an Owl is selected to lead a change initiative.

What’s Good About Owls:  Subject matter expertise and knowledge are essential criteria for an employee to be considered an Owl.  As a result, they have a breadth and depth of knowledge about how the changes will affect their department, unit, or location.  Listen to them!  But also encourage them to take the lead in improving the steps in the change initiative, so that they can mentor others to create the necessary changes.

 

SnailThe Snail.  The Snail just…kind of…creeps along…with their tasks.  Their goal is to avoid making any waves.  This reaction to change is usually based on fear about the potential consequences, so they will make every effort to avoid detection.

What’s Bad About Snails:  It’s difficult to understand how a Snail feels about a change initiative; because they tend to “fly under the radar,” they are often overlooked or tend to avoid discussing their opinions in meetings.  They do their jobs in a way that makes their performance less likely to stand out from the crowd – for either good or bad results.

What’s Good About Snails:  Snails will continue to get their work done – but don’t expect them to wholeheartedly embrace the changes.  Because the work is still getting done, this can be a good thing for consistency during a change initiative.  Also, snails won’t “make a scene” or add to the disruption in a workplace undergoing change.

Identifying an employee as one of these “zoo animals” does not mean that change leaders should attempt to squash their responses.  Quite the opposite:  change leaders should view their reactions to the proposed changes as red flags or beacons warning about aspects of the change initiative that may have been overlooked.

Change resistors can actually prevent a change initiative from derailing – IF they are respected and listened to.

5 Quick Tips to Benefit From
the Insights of Change Resistors

Change leaders can only observe the behaviors of these animals in the change resistance zoo in response to their requests to change – but it takes a little more digging to unmask the why behind these perspectives.

The following five tips will help you better understand the reasons behind change resistant employees’ behaviors and then adapt your management style to help guide them toward acceptance of the desired changes.

Tip #1:  Communicate the practical economic reasons for the change, but don’t forget to include emotional appeals to employees’ values.  This transforms the change initiative from a cold, quantitative rationale to one that is inspirational and motivating.

Tip #2:  Always listen to employees’ concerns before, during, and after a change initiative.  Resistant behaviors and words that are not acknowledged can potentially undermine the desired changes.

Tip #3:  Respect employees’ fears about the changes by taking an evolutionary approach to change.  Rather than focusing on what will change, also highlight what will remain the same.  This provides a sense of security for workers.

Tip #4:  Include employee input throughout the change initiative.  Don’t just “spring” changes on employees!  Instead, frame the problem that needs to be addressed and ask key employees and network leaders for their opinions on how to remedy the problem.  In nearly all cases, this will involve a change of some kind – but it will be embraced because the employees had input into how this will be achieved.

Tip #5:  Focus on the resistance as a potential treasure trove of new ideas.  Tap down any feelings of anger and resentment that your workers are not immediately embracing the changes.  Remember that it is impossible to predict every possible outcome or effect of a change initiative – so, listen to your change resistors for insights that you might have overlooked (and which could potentially sabotage the changes).

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

 

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness: How Leaders Balance Both (NEW Video)

Efficiency vs. effectiveness:  why is it so hard to have BOTH in today’s hypercompetitive world?

When a company relies exclusively on being efficient, it can result in a culture that is change resistant and focused on maintaining the status quo.  Conversely, focusing exclusively on being effective can lead to constant “tweaking,” missed deadlines, and a tendency to veer off course.

The goal, of course, is to know when to focus on being efficient…and when on being effective.

In this free mini-webinar, I’ll discuss the crucial skills that differentiate efficiency from effectiveness as well as provide tips on the situations that most benefit from each.

The difference between efficiency and effectiveness coincides with the different skill sets of successful managers and leaders.  By developing a balance between these two skill sets, organizations can better innovate and compete in a hypercompetitive world.

FREE COMPANION RESOURCES!  

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

Paradigm Shifter #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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worked to Death: The Physical Consequences of Extreme Burnout

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

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

But death by overwork is a very real phenomenon.

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

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

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

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

What Does Karoshi Have to Do With American Workers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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