A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “transformation”

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



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 #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.  

The Paradigm Shifters for a New Way to Work in 2015

Paradigm NewI admit it:  I’m somewhat addicted to the TV show, NCIS.  In watching a multi-day marathon over New Year’s, I started thinking about Gibbs’ Rules:  basic paradigms on how to avoid the common pitfalls of being a special agent.

Since inspiration can come from unlikely and unanticipated sources, I reflected on my own hypotheses to create a new, more enjoyable way to work in this hyperactive, hypercompetitive 2015 work environment.

Beginning in 2015, I’ll be posting weekly Paradigm Shifters to help you to accomplish more and enjoy your work and create and enjoy your life outside of work.

(FYI:  Just like Gibbs, the Paradigm Shifters will be posted in a random order – so they don’t have to be “followed” in any particular sequence.)

Watch for my Paradigm Shifters at www.a-new-way-to-work.com every Friday in 2015.  Feel free to share, comment, or even add some of your own insights to enjoy your work and 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.  

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.  

10 Ways Organizations Create Burnout: An Overview

It has been well documented that 70% of change initiatives fail.  While numerous reasons exist for these failures, I am convinced that it is primarily because many of the employees – whether they are change leaders or change “targets” – are frustrated, angry, apathetic, and burned out.

While many managers believe that it is the employee’s fault that he/she is burned out, there is an increasing body of research that argues the important role that organizations play in the creation and continuation of burnout.  My own research over the past 12 years supports this conclusion.  Too often, we focus on the individual when we should also be focusing on the environment in which that individual must work.

My Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC, for short) found that employees who burn out tend to go through a series of stages.  They move from feeling hopeful about the changes to eventually becoming frustrated.  Because they are thwarted in their attempts to do their jobs, they then become angry.  In order to control their anger and gain some control over what is happening, they revert into apathy.  But this lack of caring only builds the stress because it contradicts their normal way of working.  Eventually feelings escalate into the über stress known as “burnout.”

As I mentioned last week in Warning Symptoms of Burnout:  6 Symptoms That I Didn’t Ignore, burnout continues because each time you try to deal with your physical and emotional symptoms, something happens in the organization that adds fuel to the fire.  Thus, burnout continues to sizzle until – as one of my participants so aptly described it – you become “crispy.”

So what are these organizational factors that all but guarantee that workers will burn out?  What takes an employee from a hopeful contributor to an apathetic, burned out shell?

BDOC - Organizational Factors

© 2011 G. A. Puleo, all rights reserved

Out of the 10 factors in this figure, how do you think that they rank in their ability to cause or maintain employee burnout?  Take a minute and rank them based on your own observations or experiences.

Did you think that it was workload?  That’s what I originally thought – so the results of my research were not only surprising, but also quite enlightening.

Based on the frequency of organizational factors that contributed to employee burnout, this is the Top 10 List of Organizational Factors Leading to Burnout: 

1.       Poor leadership:  The #1 mistake that companies make when trying to introduce organizational change is having inadequate change leaders – particularly when they provide little support and simply tell employees to “make it happen” regardless of the emotional and physical cost.

2.       Lack of caring by the organization:  When the poor leadership is pervasive, burned out workers tend to believe that the organization as a whole neither acknowledges nor helps them to deal with the stressful changes occurring around them.  The psychological contract binding employee and employer begins to unravel, leading to frustration, anger, apathy, and burnout.

3.       Role of other employees:  Negativity by coworkers tends to spread like a virus throughout the workplace – it can even minimize the good relationships and camaraderie that you have with a few close colleagues.

4.       Politics or sabotage:  Experienced by over 50% of the participants in my study, burnout often occurs when actions by the organization are perceived as deceitful or giving unfair or preferential treatment – add malicious gossip throughout the organization and you have a “perfect storm” for burnout.

5.       Lack of organizational resources:  Surprisingly, this was more acutely felt by the change targets rather than the change leaders – so what does this tell you about the importance of front line managers in creating and sustaining organizational change?  It’s also related to poor leadership and a perceived lack of organizational caring.

6.       Over-emphasis on return on investment (ROI):  Those infamous cutbacks to reduce expenses in order to bolster the bottom line – closely related to perceptions of the organization’s lack of caring (#2 above).

7.       Work overload:  Are you surprised that this came in near the bottom?  Remember, most people who burn out during organizational change started out with high hopes – they were known as the “can do” workers before they burned out.  Many initially refuse to admit just how much work they are required to complete until they realize that they’ve burned out.

8.       Poor communication:  This was a huge stress inducer for women, but over 64% of my participants (male and female) just wanted to know WHY and HOW the changes were going to take place.  “Surprises” were generally viewed negatively.

9.       Unethical or illegal requests:  Since many organizational changes are reactions to decreased share in the marketplace, requests to “cut corners” in ways that don’t align with employees’ sense of values are far too common – even if civil or criminal penalties could result.

10.   No vision or direction by change leaders:  Despite the constant reminders by change management consultants, over 35% of workers who burned out during organizational change were uncertain about both the end goal and the way to achieve it.  There is no light at the end of the tunnel – or, if there is, it might be a train coming our way!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing my own personal experience with each of these organizational mistakes that were made during the change initiative at a university where I had started teaching full-time.  It was fascinating – although extremely stressful to experience – how each of these errors built upon and reinforced each other.  Recovering from burnout required that I not only identified what was happening, but also developed reasons as to why a company would make these mistakes.  As I’ve said before, I thought it was a job, but the experience turned out to be research.

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.

© 2014 G. A. Puleo

It Takes a Transformation to Create a New Way to Work

The longer that I pursue this path to create a new, better and more balanced way to work, the more I realize that what I am advocating is transformational change — and it is not for the faint of heart.

There are two types of change.  Incremental change focuses on actions and reactions to external events, situations and people — a one step at a time approach.  It would now be a luxury for organizations to change incrementally, over time, with small changes that slowly build up to a new way to work.

But “slow and steady” is not the norm.  Today’s American workplace is characterized by rapid changes that have created chaos and a certain amount of “breathlessness” in the workplace.   As Jack Welch said, “Change…or die.”  This type of environment requires more far-reaching change.  Transformational change is driven by a clear, detailed, future-oriented vision — it’s compelling, challenging and changes the essence of everything that it touches.

The problem that I see in most organizations is that the leaders of an organizational transformation are using a reactive approach to decision making during the process  — but transformation requires proactive decision making.  As a result, all they can hope to create are incremental changes that usually do not create innovation or a new competitive advantage.  No wonder 50-75% of change initiatives fail — people get impatient, give up or burn out!

It takes a leader to create transformational change.  A leader who will challenge the status quo and take decisive actions toward achievement of the vision.  This is not a project to be managed; it is a revolution that must be led.

Transformational change leaders inherently won’t “take it slowly” because too much is at stake.  But they often fail by trying to change the status quo with a heavy handed, command and control management style.  Transformational change must be led in a way that is inspirational, motivational and humanistic so that people feel supported as they take their tenuous steps out of their comfort zones.  Frightened, angry or apathetic employees have a vested interest in not changing.

Creating a new way to work requires transformational changes in the way in which both work and employees are viewed.  I see the new workplace as one that celebrates the uniquely human characteristics of its workforce — rather than viewing workers as line items on a budget.  A workplace that supports and provides the necessary resources for its employees to succeed — rather than a laissez-faire, “it’s your problem” lack of support.  A workplace that nurtures the creativity that can only be found in its people — rather than viewing their contributions as just a job requirement.  A workplace that celebrates its achievements and recognizes the hard work and sacrifices of its workers — rather than simply adding more responsibilities to the workload.

In short, I see a transformation.  Do you have the courage to make these fundamental changes to the workplace?  I do.

Working Wisdom: Life Is One Indivisible Whole

One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department.  Life is one indivisible whole. 
– Gandhi

Balance and authenticity: it’s what I strive for every waking moment.  Unfortunately, the politics of “business as usual” often challenge these virtues.  The pragmatism of the ends justifying the means seems to be replacing ethical integrity.  The financial bottom line dominates and destroys the morale and creativity of the workforce.  Technology’s e-leash controls workers – instead of the other way around.  I agree with Gandhi that segregating your values into different, discrete environments is impossible.  If you act ruthlessly in business, I don’t believe that you can act compassionately at home.  We can’t turn it on and turn it off.  Perhaps the foundation of a new way to work is to realize that work life, home life and spiritual life are irrevocably intertwined.  All these lives create the one indivisible whole of who you are.

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

Working Wisdom: The Heart of Business

Only do what your heart tells you. – Princess Diana 

Mankind is a thinking species, but also an emotional one.  This fact is often overlooked in today’s hyperactive, quantitative business environment.  Critical analysis, measurement and judgment are necessary “hard skills” of business – but they are insufficient.  “Hard skills” don’t lend themselves to innovation nor do they provide the fertile ground for insights and gut feelings that may defy linear logic.  To break out of the box requires vision, courage and emotional commitment.  Creativity and inspiration are the cornerstones of innovation and innovation requires passion arising from the hearts of workers.  Only a head tempered with an emotionally centered heart can fearlessly ask “why” and “why not.”

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

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