Are We Too Afraid to Think Outside the Box?

Think outside box tic-tac-toe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are we destroying the environment that created visionaries like Steve Jobs?

In an era of constant and often unforeseeable change, why do businesses predominantly focus on linear, quantitatively-driven logic to solve problems – even if these old ideas are what contributed to the problems in the first place?

In this age of “big data,” have the numbers become the goal – the “box” in which creativity and innovation are rigidly confined?

Where is the creativity – that elusive, non-quantifiable, intangible quality – that catapulted the U.S. into the role of a world leader?

Why are we so afraid to think outside the box?

No one would argue that the world has become much more complicated as conflicting demands compete for our time.  Nothing is certain and the risk for “failure” is always looming.

Circumstances change in an instant, destroying well-crafted plans in their wake.  Publicly traded corporations live and die by their quarterly earnings statements.  Technology controls us with a 24/7 e-leash that confuses the tool with its master.

Creative thinkers may be threatened with job loss not only if their new idea fails, but often if they innocently question the prevailing corporate wisdom.

In this fear-ridden environment that is the 21st century workplace, pragmatism trumps creativity nearly every time.  Rather than developing something new, employees believe that it is safer to take baby steps rather than boldly lead others into an unknown future.

Yet creativity and innovation are the de facto precursors of success in today’s global economy.

Pragmatism v. Creativity:  You Decide  

Pragmatism might appear to be safe, but it neither inspires nor motivates.  Pragmatism creates the walls that confine us within the status quo.

In contrast, creativity requires letting go of past assumptions.  Creativity speaks directly to that undefinable spark that makes us human.  Creativity expands the self-imposed walls, allowing us to explore ideas from vastly different perspectives.

While prevailing wisdom says that it is “better to be safe than sorry,” the allure of creativity reminds us that “no guts, no glory.”

But it takes courage to be creative.  Creative innovators are often ridiculed by respected leaders in their fields.

It also takes a thick skin to be creative.  It is much easier to acquiesce to peer pressure than defend one’s ideas.

It takes confidence to be creative.  Negative labels of being “cocky” or “arrogant” teach us to either fly under the radar or flee to another more accepting environment.

Finally, it takes a human to be creative – but creativity can only exist when the humanity of the workforce is consistently nurtured and respected.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creativity Is Innately Human

It is foolhardy and dangerous to focus primarily on “big data” as the source of creative problem-solving and decision-making.  While big data effectively shows what is happening, only humans are hardwired to creatively connect and make sense of the data points.  Unlike technology, humans can more easily make the leap of faith that leads to understanding not only why something is happening but also how to respond to it.

The level of creativity in the workplace is directly related to the level of humanism in its corporate culture.  When workers feel like drones, the probability of creative outcomes is negligible.

The 21st century business environment is fraught with dangers; only the courageously creative will survive.  Fear is the enemy of creativity.  When a company’s single-minded obsession is on “mitigating risk,” pragmatism reigns – but the human fire of creativity dies.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

TEDx Presentation: Burnout, PTSD, and ADAAA

TEDx Seton Hill StageIt’s been a month since my last blog post – but the reason for this delay was an exciting one.  I was given the opportunity to present at a TEDx event on February 19, 2014.  My topic?  Burnout and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:  More Similar Than You Think…  Don’t panic – this wasn’t a dry, medical-based presentation!

Over the past 14 years, I’ve been researching and analyzing just what causes and maintains employee burnout during organizational change.  One of the most shocking discoveries was that burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are frighteningly similar.

“Look – I’m like shaking!  It still like hits me.”  It’s an interesting story how I first made the connection between burnout and PTSD – in fact, it was really the observation of one of the interviewees in my research.  This woman was an experienced, articulate executive at a nonprofit organization.  As we continued to delve into her burnout experience, she began to have a very difficult time putting her thoughts together and was actually shaking as she described her burnout.

After taking a brief break in the interview, she laughingly compared how she felt with PTSD.  Her emotions were still raw and she was actually reliving the experience during the worst stages of her burnout.

The scary thing was that she had left the organization in which she had burned out 20 months prior to our interview.

The similarities between burnout and PTSD.  As I delved more into PTSD, I was shocked at its similarities to the burnout symptoms that my participants had identified.  Although commonly observed in soldiers’ war-time experiences, my participants’ experiences with very poorly led organizational change initiatives created the same reactions:  extreme stress, frustration, fear, and hopelessness.  Not only were these  the same characteristics, but the extent to which these symptoms were experienced was nearly identical.

Burnout v PTSD

Enter the new amendments to the ADA (ADAAA).  To the best of my knowledge, burnout has not yet been classified as a form of PTSD.  But I am hoping that this will soon change.  Under the recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAAA), PTSD is now recognized as a physical disability AND employers must provide reasonable accommodations.

In other words, employers must not only be more understanding of the symptoms of this condition, but must also find ways to adapt the work environment or work schedule in order to ensure that the employee with PTSD can perform the duties and responsibilities of the job.  (NOTE:  Reasonable accommodations are just that – reasonable adjustments that enable a qualified employee to be able to complete the duties and responsibilities of the job.)

If burnout would be considered as a form of PTSD, then the protections afforded to workers under ADAAA would be triggered.

Just think what it would mean if employers were required by law to acknowledge the presence of employee burnout AND provide adjustments to the employee’s work environment:

  • Additional time would be provided for projects – in fact, it would mean that unreasonable time frames might be abandoned.
  • Vacations would be encouraged – employees would actually use their time off and disconnect from the workplace without fear of reprisal.
  • Stress-invoking situations would be identified and avoided or mitigated – this would be a major shift from” management by control” to “leadership by inspiration.”
  • The 24/7, 110% mentality would be overturned – employers would need to remember the “humanity” in their human resources.

But isn’t burnout a “natural” part of the modern workplace?  Some of you might be laughing at this point:  after all, isn’t burnout a “given” in today’s hypercompetitive, 24/7 world?

Even though burnout is in epidemic proportions in the workforce, I firmly believe that it is not a “given” and unavoidable workplace condition.  The physical and psychological manifestations of burnout have far-reaching consequences and cannot be denied.  Neither can their eerie similarity with the symptoms of PTSD.

Just as important is the fact that a burned out workforce tends to be an indicator of the overall health and well-being of the organization itself.  Companies with burned out workers tend to experience high turnover, productivity issues, customer complaints, and a reactive (“me too!”) attitude toward innovation.

Burnout, therefore, is not just the problem of a single employee.  It is a powerful indicator of a company that is in trouble.

We human beings are not replaceable robots with on/off switches.  We have an incredible capacity for commitment and creativity – but we also have the very real need for respite and recognition.  We simply aren’t wired to give 110% 24/7 indefinitely.  Let’s hope that the ADAAA will remind employers of this.  Let’s further hope that companies start putting the “human” back in human resources.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Warning Signs of Burnout: 6 Symptoms That I Didn’t Ignore

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I inadvertently became a participant or statistic in my on-going research into what causes and maintains employee burnout during organizational change.  The situation:  I was a new full-time faculty member at a university that was attempting to transform itself and I had no control over the constantly changing expectations that were being demanded of me.

Last week I posted my Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC, for short).  Unlike most participants whom I interviewed as part of my research, I did not “suddenly” realize that something was very wrong.  Instead, I was acutely aware that I was exhibiting some of the various symptoms (or warning signs) of burnout.  These are the Top 6 symptoms that can occur at any stage in the cycle — from frustration and anger to a full burnout:

BDOC - Manifestations-Warning Signs

© 2011 G. A. Puleo, all rights reserved

Like most people who burned out, I displayed all of these symptoms at one point or another during my descent into burnout.  It’s fortunate that I experienced them in varying degrees and at different times — otherwise I would have been totally incapacitated if all of these symptoms were simultaneously present!  (Warning:  When all 6 burnout symptoms are present in a high degree, people literally shut down as a form of self-preservation.)

  1. Decreased accomplishment.  I’ll admit it:  I’m an over-achiever and I’ve always loved what I do.  I had earned accolades for my teaching when I was an adjunct at this university, yet I was put on a performance improvement plan as soon as I was hired for not meeting requirements that I knew absolutely nothing about.  (Lack of knowledge was not considered to be a defense.)  Even though I was still getting positive feedback from students, it was taking me longer to get things done (probably due to second-guessing myself) and I was not permitted to be creative in order to make sure that my students grasped the material.  (Warning:  50% of my participants were disciplined when they were burned out based on their inability to meet known or even unknown performance standards.)
  2. Physical.  Because I was literally working 7 days per week to teach +100 students each quarter, I was exhausted.  I did not have a day off for over a year.  While some burned out workers sleep all the time, others (like me) wake up every 1-2 hours, every night, for weeks (even months) on end.  It wasn’t surprising that I was diagnosed with a very bad case of swine flu (yep, swine flu) that lasted over one month – and I was still working 7 days per week!  (Warning:  A study by Taris, Geurts, et al., 2008, found that working long hours will not necessarily trigger health problems unless the individual is unable to detach from work.)
  3. Transfer to personal life.  I just wasn’t “me” any more – and I knew it.  I’ve always cared passionately about what I do and I’ve always had high (but achievable) goals and standards.  Conversations with friends turned into gripe sessions about work.  I had become boring and felt like a cog in a wheel.  Positive goals and an easy sense of humor were replaced with frustration, anger, and a sense of futility.  (Warning:  Losing your sense of humor is a very common symptom of burnout and was seen in over 50% of the participants in my research.)
  4. Grief and loss.  After finishing my Ph.D., I was excited to move from an adjunct to full-time faculty role and had high hopes for my ability to contribute to enhancing the students’ experience at the university.  Instead, I was micromanaged and I hated losing the sense of control over my own life.  I was warned to not “rock the boat.”  In other words, do what I was told and quit caring about the quality; if not, I would be another former employee.  Since I have always owned my own consulting practice, fear of job loss was a new feeling for me.  (Warning:  Fear of job loss is more common in women who are burning out than men – 70% compared to only 20%.)
  5. Psychological.  “Just do it” was not an inspirational Nike slogan, but was a warning to do what was asked without question – or risk losing your job.  Plus there was intense micromanaging of every nuance in teaching.  Eventually I was forced to take actions that I felt were not only not in the best interests of my students, but also conflicted with my value system.  (Warning:  Surface acting requires the individual to deny their authentic feelings and is a common symptom of burnout.)
  6. Alienation or isolation.  This is probably the toughest part for anyone who has ever burned out.  My colleagues had given up on trying to make things better and, because they no longer cared, advised me to also quit caring.  The problem was that I did care.  Going through the motions, putting on a noticeably fake smile, or feigning concern about the student’s welfare were actions that violated my core values.  Because I didn’t fit in, my only recourse was to psychologically withdraw.  (Warning:  64.3% of burned out workers report feeling alienated or isolated during organizational change.)

You’re probably wondering why I just didn’t stop the downward spiral into burnout.  This is where I became a participant in my own study:  I discovered the powerful potency of the interplay between an individual’s personality, the organizational environment, and physiological manifestations of burnout.  As you attempt to resolve one area of this Burnout Triumvirate, another area surges in urgency and causes you to continually redirect your focus.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing specific things that organizations do to create and maintain burnout in their employees during organizational change.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Working Wisdom: Every Minute Has the Power of Choice

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
– Stephen Covey

Life should not be a series of knee jerk reactions to the stuff that happens to us.  When things become chaotic, when we have too many responsibilities and deadlines, we can turn into robots that simply bounce around like bumper cars — with no direction, no balance, no satisfaction.  I’ve found that by focusing on that miraculous moment between an exhalation and an inhalation I can regain my ability to choose.  It’s a way of reconnecting with what really matters.  And when we consistently focus on what really matters, then we create for ourselves the opportunity for not only growth, but ultimately freedom.  We don’t have to bounce around aimlessly.  Within every breath, there’s the chance to choose our response to any given stimulus.  What a relief!

Working Wisdom uses my favorite quotes to think about work in a new way.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Working Wisdom: Is Apathy the Worst of All Evils?

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.  
– Helen Keller (1880-1968), from her book “My Religion” (1927).  

Apathy precedes burnout.  As workers descend the burnout spiral, their original hope deteriorates into frustration, anger and apathy before burning out.  Why does someone no longer care?  Change is a double-edged sword:  the paradox of the excitement in the challenge and the fear of the unknown.  When company leaders ignore the emotionally draining challenges that accompany their workers’ attempts to embrace and implement the changes, once-committed workers feel devalued and depersonalized.  Overwhelmed, they retreat into apathy as a defense against the increasing stress.  All change is emotionally charged.  The stress can only be alleviated by actively embracing the humanity of those asked to change.  Science will not find the cure for apathy – but humanism can.

Working Wisdom uses my favorite quotes to think about work in a new way.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Is There a Link Between Multitasking and Presenteeism?

Ah, the joy and satisfaction of multitasking.  You can do your laundry, watch a TV show, prepare an expense report and brainstorm ideas on new marketing campaigns all at the same time.  What a great way to save time and get more done!

Yeah, right.  The problem is that we’re not robots.

On paper, multitasking is a great idea – you can use the same block of time to complete more than one task or activity.  As a reformed chronic multitasker, I now realize that the only way to effectively multitask is by carefully choosing which tasks can be automated and which ones can’t.

My strategy is to automate the manual, repetitive tasks but not attempt to automate the strategic ones.  By programming technology to complete mundane duties, I’m then freed to focus higher level cognitive and creative abilities – those capabilities that are distinctively human – to complete important, creative or strategic activities.

But that’s not the way we usually multitask.  Chronic multitaskers are frustrated that we can’t program ourselves to complete several tasks at once – regardless of whether their natures are repetitive or strategic.  After all, if computers can do that, then it follows that we (the ones who created the computers) should be able to multitask, too.

But humans aren’t computers, so we physically and psychologically can’t do many things at once.  Well, we can – but often they are not done that well.  Whatever we are doing, part of our attention is diverted to something else, so we’re not directing 100% of our energies and creativity to complete the task at hand.

In other words, multitaskers tend to engage in presenteeism – a phenomenon where even though we are physically in a place, mentally and psychologically we’re really not there.  You know the symptoms:  the uncomfortable pauses or lost lines of thought when you’re talking to an employee about her performance while planning for an upcoming client meeting.

How effective are you in this situation really?  You probably realize that neither task has your full concentration – and lack of concentration leads to repetition and lost opportunities.  The presenteeism that is associated with multitasking leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings.

I’m all for automating routine, repetitive, nonstrategic activities.  But I no longer try to multitask when I’m involved in an important, strategic or creative project.  By single-tasking, I’ve become more efficient because I get things done faster and (more importantly) to a higher standard.

I also engage in serial single-tasking.  I’ll give myself a break at different times on a lengthy assignment by stopping work at an appropriate stopping point, moving on to another task that uses a different type of brain activity, then moving back to the original task.  It’s a great practice that helps build mindfulness, reduce stress and enhance job satisfaction.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com