A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “Stress”

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.

How to Overcome Job Burnout – NEW Online Course!

BANNER - Final

Is your job burning you out – but you can’t decide whether to “tough it out” in your current job OR take the step to find a new job?

  • Does your current job offer security – but you feel like your burnout is literally killing you?
  • Do you want to explore other employment opportunities – but you’re too burned out to harness the energy to take action?
  • Are you afraid of what might happen if you don’t take action to overcome burnout NOW.

What should you do?

To help you decide, I am proud to announce the first course in my new Online Training Academy:  Job Burnout: When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do.

This totally online course is available ON DEMAND, and will help you finally decide:

  • When you should STAY in your current position
  • When you should LEAVE your current position
  • What you can do NOW to overcome burnout

You’ll have full access to each of the 6 modules PLUS downloadable e-workbooks, audiopodcasts, webinars, short readings, Quick Checks, and a private interactive online discussion board – and, yes, I’ll be on the discussions to answer questions and give you even more tips on how to overcome job burnout.

Job Burnout: When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do is on-demand, so it is accessible 24/7 anywhere around the world.  Complete the lessons at your convenience on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

BONUS:  You’ll have full access to the course for 1 year – absolutely free!

The price for this course is $149 — but I am offering a special limited time discount through April 30, 2016.  Use discount code 70APR2016 and save $70 off the normal $149 price (only $79).

For More Information:  https://app.ruzuku.com/courses/12975/about.

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

Woo Hoo: My TEDx Talk Passes 62,000 Views on YouTube!

A huge “thank you” to all of you who have watched my TEDx Talk (Burnout v. PTSD:  More Similar Than You Think…) on YouTube – over 62,000 views and 455 likes so far!  Woo hoo!

I have been humbled by the number of emails and comments that I have received as a result of this video.  You have proven to me that I am not alone in my passion to finally eradicate burnout in the workplace.

If you’re experiencing job burnout, please consider participating in the first course in my Online Training Academy:  Job Burnout:  When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do.  This virtual, online workshop will be launching on February 29th.  Please subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss more detailed information and a special one-time discount link for this important workshop.

Once again, thank you for making my TEDx Talk a success!

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

Why Do YOU “Go to Work?”

Why Work - Stress Enjoy Boredom

Jobs and work:  mostly everyone wants one.  Mostly everyone needs one.  But not everyone is happy or productive in one.  In fact, job stress can be a leading cause of burnout.

In the graphic accompanying this article, a highly skilled individual who is in an unchallenging environment will be bored.

An employee who is challenged beyond his or her skill set (and, I might add, did not receive appropriate or adequate training) will be stressed.

But the worker who has found the perfect balance between his or her skills and the right degree of challenge on the job will most likely be happy and excel.

While I mostly agree with this somewhat simplistic approach to job satisfaction, there is a key consideration that is overlooked:  why exactly are you working in the first place?

The reasons why we go to work are as diverse as the individuals in the workplace.  While the relationship between our skills and the challenges of the job are important, our own personal reasons to “go to work” can have a powerful impact on not only our commitment and performance on the job, but also on our propensity to burnout.

Consider these reasons to “go to work”:

  • Simply to get a paycheck:  There is a strong likelihood that we will do the bare minimum that is required on the job – and we’ll probably be the first ones out the door at quitting time.
  • We “have to” (even though it bores us):  Boredom can arise because our skills are higher than what is needed on the job OR we view the work as comprised of routine, mind-numbing tasks.  It is almost inevitable that we will display “presenteeism” on the job – we’re at work, but we’re not really “there.”
  • We like our coworkers:  Because we are human beings, it is impossible to separate the relationships that we have with the people in our work environments from our satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the job.  But even though our relationships might be super, if the job itself doesn’t align with our career goals and aspirations, then we will ultimately have a nagging sense that “something is missing.”
  • Our job aligns with our professional goals BUT it is an unethical or poorly led company:  In this situation, we may simply be going to work in order to get the paycheck – but the building stress generally causes us to eventually believe that no amount of money is sufficient to keep us.  But until we find another employer, our stress levels build from the cognitive dissonance between what we believe is right and the environment that thwarts our good intentions.
  • We believe in the purpose and mission of the organization:  There is a greater tendency to commit more of ourselves to the job – in other words, the organizational vision is aligned with our personal values so we believe that our work has a meaning beyond a paycheck.

These are just a few examples of reasons why some of my clients have “gone to work” – as well as some reasons why they left their employers.

Understanding why you, your colleagues, or subordinates come to work each day provides a profound insight into the best ways to motivate and lead them to their fullest potential.  And when employees excel in their jobs, then the company overall reaps the rewards of higher productivity, better customer service, and greater employee commitment and loyalty.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Understanding the Reasons Why We Work 

As a career consultant for many years, I have often been surprised when I’ve asked clients about their career histories:  why they are in their current field, what they want to accomplish, and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals.

Their responses have often surprised me – primarily because many individuals (whether in entry-level or senior positions) often don’t have clear-cut answers to these questions.  They were quite capable of explaining their career history in terms of projects or events.  They could easily express aspirations about their futures in their fields.  But they were often stopped short when trying to identify what they were willing to sacrifice in order to reach those goals.

Once we understand the sacrifices necessary to achieve future goals, we get a better understanding of why we are working in the first place.

For example, let’s say that you aspire to a senior level position entailing extensive travel and long work hours BUT your reason for working is to provide a better life for your family.  The key is to understand specifically what “a better life” means to you:

  • If “a better life” solely means providing material comfort for your family, then you’ll probably do well in this type of position.
  • However, if “a better life” means spending quality time (i.e., fully present and engaged) with your family, then the demands of this job contradict your real reasons for working.
  • When the demands of your job contradict your real reasons for working, then stress and burnout are the likely results.

Finding a job and career that reflect your personal goals and values is critical in creating the life that you want – your job then becomes a powerful reflection of who you really are.  Unfortunately, far too many people are in jobs that frustrate, anger, or even demoralize them.  The only reason that they “go to work” is because they “have to” (usually for financial reasons).

A recent study revealed that 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs even though we spend an average of 90,000 hours “at work” during our lifetimes – that’s a lot of hours that cannot be replaced.  To avoid being part of this unhappy 80%, take the time to fully understand what you expect from a job and what you are willing to sacrifice in return:

  • Do the hours you spend at work reflect your own personal goals and ambitions – or is it time spent doing something that you hate in an uncomfortable environment?
  • Is work a “means to an end” – and is it really contributing to your desired end goal?
  • Finally, does your work make you feel good and proud at the end of the day?  If not, maybe it’s time to reflect on why you’re working in this particular job, in this particular company, and in this particular way – know when it’s time to move on.

Understanding and acting upon our answer as to why we go to work is fundamental to avoiding burnout.  Not only are we better able to create a new, more productive, and satisfying way to work, but also a richer, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling life as a whole.

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 #16: Know when to walk away

Paradigm ShiftIn the song The Gambler, Kenny Rogers advised, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

If you are a Type A personality, a perfectionist, or a high achiever, heeding this advice can be very difficult.  Instead, we try to “make it happen” – trying to force a “win” out of a losing hand.

I admit that I’ve succumbed to this entirely too often, usually for one of the following reasons:

  • Trying to change people’s minds that our point of view is the “right way”
  • Rationalizing other people’s behaviors as the result of a lack of knowledge, rather than a difference in motivation or ethics
  • Staying in a situation that simply isn’t achieving the necessary results because we’ve already invested so much time and resources

Often we perceive this inability to walk away as tenacity and stick-to-itiveness.  To walk away is the equivalent of being a quitter – something that contradicts the values of Type A’s, perfectionists, and high achievers.

But knowing when to walk away should be equated with the ability to fearlessly assess the ROI (return on investment) of the situation.  This ROI is not necessarily just related to financial considerations, but also to the emotional, physical, and stressful fallout of continuing to stay in a losing situation.

How to Know When to Walk Away:  I am not advocating that we “jump ship” at the first obstacle relating to the situation.  However, I am suggesting that the only way to know when to walk away is to first identify the desired outcomes of the situation.

By understanding what we want to achieve in a given situation, it becomes much easier to determine whether the current strategy or actions are contributing to the desired outcome.  If the intended results are not being achieved, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What am I currently doing that is affecting this outcome?  (Be honest:  it is very easy to feel like a victim.)
  2. What is currently occurring in the environment that is affecting this outcome?  (These factors might be easily seen or might require some “digging” to disclose.)

Once these questions have been answered, then it is time to decide between three options:

  • Option #1:  Should I “tough it out” by continuing on the current course?  This is a viable alternative when an evaluation of external factors reveals a more desirable trend that will affect our desired results.  Some things just take time to achieve.
  • Option #2:  Should I change what I am currently doing so that it is more conducive to achieving the desired results?  While we cannot control external factors, we always have the power to choose the actions that we take.  The key is to critically, objectively, and fearlessly assess whether our current actions are taking advantage of what is going on around us:  if the alignment between our actions and environmental factors is good, then “tough it out” – but if our actions are undermining our results, then it is time to change what we are doing.
  • Option #3:  Should I walk away from the current situation AND move forward to something more positive?  A very good friend of mine once sagely advised that, “Sometimes you just gotta punt.”  Maybe the timing isn’t right for the results that we want.  Maybe the environment just isn’t receptive to what we are trying to achieve.  Or maybe we no longer really want what we previously wanted.  If any of these situations applies, then it’s time to walk away.  Walking away in these situations does not characterize us as quitters, but rather as people who courageously know when to say “no” and move on to a more positive situation.

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

Link Found Between Long Work Hours and Alcohol Use: Result of Burnout’s False Cure?

Alcohol drinks

A new study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) discovered an association between “risky” drinking behaviors (defined as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men) and working over 48 hours per week.

According to this meta-analysis of published and unpublished data on over 430,000 participants across 14 countries, “risky” drinking is 13% more likely to occur in employees who work more than 48 hours per week compared to those who work 35-40 hours per week.

While many of us are not surprised by these findings, scholarly journals such as the BMJ present scientific research to conclusively prove the existence of assumed correlations between events and outcomes.  In other words, statistical proof supports what has been anecdotally observed.

There are two issues arising from the BMJ report:  (1) the ideal number of work hours per week for effective performance and (2) the correlation between work hours above this ideal number and the increased use of alcohol as a stress reliever.

To many of us in the U.S., a 35-40 hour work week is often considered to be insufficient to meet the high demands and workloads associated with our jobs – particularly for salaried exempt workers who are not eligible for overtime under FLSA.  In sharp contrast, the European Union Working Time Directive for 2014 now requires all EU countries to limit workers’ hours to an average of 48 hours per week, including overtime.

Secondly, as in many studies, alcohol use is generally self-reported.  The question, of course, is how many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism and don’t acknowledge it?

I have been commenting for several years about the perceived increased use of alcohol by stressed out, overworked, and burned out workers.  In my own research on burnout during organizational change, women were much more likely than men to talk about their use of alcohol as an attempt to deal with burnout.  Based on follow-up research, I discovered that much of the alcohol use was under-estimated by participants – their actual alcohol consumption was generally much higher.  Using alcohol to cope with stress is a “false cure.”

The “False Cures” of Burnout

When Freudian psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger identified the burnout phenomenon in his patients in the 1970s, he also warned of the use of “false cures” to ward off the effects of burnout.  In addition to increased alcohol use, burned out individuals also reported increased use of prescription and nonprescription drugs, smoking, sexual activity, over- or under-eating, and workaholism.

These activities are considered to be “false cures” because they aren’t effective in either avoiding or overcoming burnout.  In fact, these false cures may actually increase the severity of burnout symptoms.

Burnout’s false cures have been correlated with a wide variety of negative health consequences, including coronary heart disease and cancer.  Increased alcohol consumption, in particular, has been linked to liver disease as well as mental disorders.

Although the BMJ study did not specifically look at increased alcohol use in relation to workplace burnout, I see a logical connection between “risky” drinking behavior and burnout resulting from longer work hours, larger workloads, and higher levels of stress in the workplace.   Therefore, could the BMJ study’s correlation between risky alcohol consumption and longer work hours also provide substantial evidence of an increase in workplace burnout?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Swapping Proactive Methods for the False Cures of Burnout

Unfortunately, the excessive use of alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress appears to be gaining acceptance in many workplaces – particularly those that espouse a “work hard, play hard” culture.  But the short- and long-range effects can create devastating consequences for not only the individual worker, but also the company has a whole.

My B-DOC Model provides insights as to how people have emerged from burnout without succumbing to its false cures.  These methods can provide some alternatives to using alcohol as a way to not only combat the debilitating feelings of burnout, but also move forward in a more healthy way.

Since everyone is different, your particular strategy to recover from burnout might include one or more of these options.  Unlike the more reactive and ineffective “false cures” identified by Freudenberger, each of the nine methods in the B-DOC Model represents an effective, proactive technique for recovery.

BDOC - Recovery

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 People Leave Their Careers: The Connection Between Career Change, Organizational Change, and Burnout

Figure decidingHave you ever known anyone who “suddenly” quit their jobs and the careers that they spent years developing?  Did they leap into the unknown even though they didn’t really know what they wanted to do next?

Has this ever happened to you?

Many people change jobs due to downsizing, the completion of advanced degrees, or changes in one’s personal life.  It is a natural next step and is cause for celebration.  However, this does not address the millions of workers who “suddenly” quit even if they haven’t planned a logical next step.

Based on my career consulting practice as well as the experiences of my friends and peers, many workers are taking this dramatic step in their careers.  The question is “why?”

  • Are American workers expecting “too much” from their work experiences?
  • Are companies providing insufficient resources and recognition to help employees meet an ever-increasing list of job demands?
  • Is the stress of working in the modern workplace reaching such a critical level that workers must choose between a job’s financial security and their own emotional and physical health?

These “sudden” career changes are often met with shock, fear, and even anger – by both the individual as well as his or her colleagues, peers, family, and friends.  But the “suddenness” of the change is actually the result of a series of events that built up to the proverbial breaking point.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the average U.S. worker will have 7 careers in his or her lifetime.  Not jobs – but careers.  This means that most workers will only be with an employer for approximately 4 to 5 years.  Interestingly, Kotter & Schlessinger (1979) found that companies undergo change initiatives at the same rate.

Is there a connection?

In my research on burnout during organizational change, over 92% of my participants changed jobs as a result of the burnout that they experienced during their employer’s change initiative.  50% changed industries or careers in an attempt to avoid additional burnout.

Even as employers attempt to better “engage” their workers, they continue to downsize, rightsize, outsource, and offshore.  Considering that 70% of change initiatives fail, is it any wonder that employees choose to “jump ship” rather than continue to experience the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of stress and burnout?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Shifts to Help You Better Navigate Constant Change

The lack of corporate stability and employee loyalty is a critical component of the modern workplace – but this reality is often ignored by employers and their workers.  To better navigate this era of constant, unrelenting change requires a shift in our assumptions, perceptions, and expectations.  Here are 3 ideas to help get you started:

  1. Recognize that change is the new status quo.  Don’t expect that either your business or job will remain the same.  Rather than viewing change as something to avoid, re-frame change as something that is an invigorating opportunity to learn something new.  This simple shift will help increase your confidence and feelings of control in response to both small and large changes.
  2. Specifically identify your priorities in terms of work-life commitments.  If you are an individual, understand what you can comfortably give to a job so that you also have time and energy for a personal life.  If you are responsible for business strategy, recognize the effects on the bottom line that are the direct results of employee creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment – are your expectations and performance standards creating an environment that is “employee-friendly?”
  3. Plan for change.  One of the biggest challenges to burned out workers who desperately want to leave their jobs is that they simply don’t have time to launch a job search.  Try spending 10 minutes a day thinking about what you want in terms of job responsibilities and work environment.  Not only will you feel that you have greater control over your professional life, but your energy will increase as you make you a priority in your daily activities.  If you are planning an organizational change, don’t forget to include the “soft metrics” or the human side of your change initiative when calculating the costs, benefits, and probability of success.

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 #6: Define what “success” means to you (not for somebody else)

Paradigm Shift“Success” is subjective and only you can decide what your own success will look like.

On a personal level, we all know people who are very satisfied, happy, and successful in their careers – yet feel like failures during family holidays when they are interrogated as to aspects of their personal lives.

On a corporate level, one company’s vision of “success” might require global domination, while another company views “success” in terms of its reputation as a thought leader in its field.

Our frantic race to “have it all” (even if we don’t really want it all) is a recipe for disillusionment and burnout.

Abraham Maslow researched self-actualized individuals who happily committed enormous amounts of time and energy because the outcomes were closely aligned with what was personally important to them (not necessarily someone else).  These individuals chose not to “have it all,” but instead focused on what was important to them.  Although burnout had not yet been identified at the time of Maslow’s research, these self-actualized individuals did not display the 3 precursors to burnout (frustration, anger, and apathy).

It takes courage to make a definitive decision on what your personal success would look like – it takes even more courage to then act in ways that are aligned with that image of success.  Without this compelling vision to drive your activities, frustration and burnout can result from:

  • Chasing after goals that others want (even if you don’t)
  • Being reactive (rather than proactive) in the direction your life is taking
  • Taking actions that violate your personal values and ethics
  • Feeling frustrated and unfulfilled no matter regardless of others’ views of your “success”
  • Not enjoying what you’ve accomplished

How to Create Your Personal Definition of Success:  Decide not only what you want, but also why you want it.  Your personal definition of success should include tangible and intangible outcomes.  Tangible outcomes might be material items (e.g., car, home, etc.), while intangible outcomes represent the emotional and value-driven aspects relating to your success.  It may not be easy, but deciding will simplify your life by keeping things in perspective and better focusing your energies.

Case Study:  A small high tech firm made an intentional decision not to expand, but to keep the firm under 10 employees.  Sales revenue was not the driving force, but rather quality of work and quality of life.  As a result, they were selective as to the types of projects that they accepted and very satisfied to profitably occupy a small segment of a specialized niche within their industry.

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.  

Poor Leadership: 8 Ways Managers Burn Out Their Employees

Man dropping computer

In 10 Ways Organizations Create Burnout:  An Overview, I shared common mistakes that organizations make when trying to introduce change in the workplace.

Based on my original research on what causes and maintains burnout during organizational change, this Top 10 list came from the observations and perceptions of my burnout survivors.  So, there were no “clues” nor “hints” based on what I thought change managers were doing wrong

What was the #1 organizational factor that leads to employee burnout?

A whopping 92.9% of participants cited poor leadership

Are you surprised?  If you are like many people, you probably aren’t.

But just knowing the poor leadership can lead to burnout is not enough:  what specifically did these leaders do wrong?

Eight leadership mistakes were repeatedly mentioned as contributors to employee burnout:

  1. Refusing to provide the necessary support that I need to complete my projects
  2. Ignoring my emotions or fears relating to the changes
  3. Blaming me for problems that are outside of my control
  4. Threatening me with job loss if I refuse to take unethical (or even illegal) actions
  5. Overlooking or ridiculing my experience and KSA’s (knowledge, skills, abilities)
  6. Never recognizing or thanking me for a job well done
  7. Giving preferential treatment to the “in group” employees – even if their performance is substandard (particularly frustrating if my performance met or exceeded goals!)
  8. Micromanaging

Sound familiar?

A Case Study:  How poor leadership contributed to burnout.  In one real-life situation, there were many leadership problems that created high stress and burnout for this employee.  For example, her manager:

  • Did not include her on job-specific email distribution lists despite repeated requests for inclusion
  • Ignored requests for information and support
  • Continuously changed performance standards every quarter
  • Violated published organizational policies and Federal, state, and local employment laws
  • Created unrealistic workload demands that exceeded the scope of the job
  • Pressured her to violate personal ethics – even going so far as to recommend, “You better start thinking politically”

Eventually, the manager left the company and was replaced with a more experienced leader.

Nothing changed on an organizational level when the new manager took over.  However, the employee in this case study actually perceived that her stress levels decreased even though there was no respite from the enormous transformational changes that the company was attempting.

What caused these feelings of reduced stress?

Although the content of the changes had remained the same, the context had radically changed.  With the new manager, this employee not only knew what to do (because she was “in the loop” and received the necessary information in a timely manner), but also because the new manager generally cared and supported her in the execution of her duties.

In other words, a single person in the form of the new manager changed this employee’s entire work experience AND enabled her to begin her ascent out of burnout.

Puleo’s Pointers:  5 Ways Leaders Can Avoid Burning Out Their Employees

Mutual respect does wonders to avoid and overcome burnout in both yourself and others.  Here are 5 tips to help managers avoid contributing to a burned out workforce during organizational change:

  1. Standards. Set standards that are reasonable and internally consistent, explain their relevance to organizational goals, and encourage (rather than ignore) questions to promote greater understanding and buy-in.
  2. Resources. Provide the necessary resources (e.g., technology that works, tactical guidance, emotional support) that will enable an employee to perform at his/her highest level during the change initiative.
  3. Attitude. Support and develop (rather than punish and ostracize) workers who question the standards – particularly if the basis of their questions is to help them better plan for and meet the new standards.
  4. Equity and compliance. Comply with all corporate policies when dealing with all employees – playing favorites not only potentially violates employment laws, but it also leads to a demoralized workforce.
  5. Respect and appreciation. Re‑familiarize yourself with why you hired the employee in the first place – they proved that they had the skills to do the job, so guide them, support them, then step back so that they can do the jobs that they were hired to do!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management and HR consultant.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.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 a change management and HR consultant.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: