A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “working”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiraling Downward: The Path to Burnout During Organizational Change

As I mentioned last week, I inadvertently became a case study over the last year in my on-going research into what causes and maintains employee burnout during organizational change.  Even though I had worked as an adjunct prior to accepting a full-time faculty position at this university, I was unprepared for the radical difference in expectations required to teach there.  Coupled with constantly changing requirements and standards set by the university, I felt like I had absolutely no control over what I taught, how I taught, or even where I taught.

As a high achiever, I consequently have high standards – but these standards could not be met even by working 7 days a week, 50-60 hours per week, and constantly thinking about what still had to be done even when I wasn’t working.  Is it any surprise that I felt burned out?

In 2011, based on extensive research and interviews with burned out workers, I created the Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC ,for short) to help understand what causes and maintains employee burnout during organizational change.  This is what burnout “looks like” – and I proved it in my own experience:

BDOC Model

© 2011 G. A. Puleo, all rights reserved

As you can see from this model, the path to burnout tends to be much steeper and quicker than the journey to overcome it.  Although nobody takes a job with the intention of burning out, workers who burn out during organizational change initiatives tend to follow this same pattern.

  • Ironically, burnout begins with hope.  It’s a new job, a new adventure, and a chance to learn new things.  But, probably more than anything else, the job is often seen as a chance to make a difference.
  • I found both in my research and my own experience that a variety of organizational factors leads to frustration in what were originally hopeful and committed workers.  (More about these specific organizational factors in a later post.)
  • As the environment continues to undermine or thwart the employee’s actions to do their jobs well, it’s not surprising that anger (either expressed or internalized) emerges.
  • Since being angry is not a good way to live your life, my participants and I both eventually quit caring – but apathy is the immediate predecessor to burnout.  In many ways, no longer caring was literally the only way to survive the stress.
  • The culmination of this downward spiral is burnout.  No matter how burnout was defined by those who experienced it, the results were the same:  the initial hope was extinguished and all that was left were the burnt embers of what was once a committed employee.

How long did this descent take?  About 6 months for change targets like me.  (Since I was a new full-time faculty member, I was not part of the leadership that was planning and directing the continuous changes.)

To overcome the burnout and arise from its smoldering ashes, the #1 strategy used by my participants as well as me was to psychologically remove ourselves from the stressful environment.  We still came to work, we still did our jobs, but we no longer cared passionately about meeting the unreasonable expectations or going the extra mile (because our efforts were not appreciated).

For most of, psychological removal was followed by attempts to physically remove themselves from the workplace.  In my case, a reduction in force changed my status to adjunct – a lot less classes, but a lot less pay.  According to my research, nearly all of my participants (over 90%) eventually left their employers as a result of their burnout (either voluntarily or involuntarily).

These psychological and physical removals represent the darkness before the dawn.  Many burned out workers acknowledged that once they had removed themselves (either psychologically or physically) from their stressful work situations, self-knowledge and acceptance were the unanticipated “gifts” of their burnout.

CAUTION:  The burnout cycle doesn’t end there.  To fully recover from the effects of burnout requires the creation of a personal revised psychological contract with work.  After burning out, people who have taken the time to acknowledge and accept what happened will draw distinct lines in the sand as to what they will and will not do for an employer.  There is a better understanding of what is essential for one’s success on the job.  Perhaps most importantly, the “deal breakers” have become visceral and this emotional context provides a stalwart determination to never tolerate such treatment in future work situations.

I proved my B-DOC theory in my experience as a full-time faculty member at this university.  However, neither I nor any other worker recovering from burnout is “out of the woods” yet:  any situation can trigger residual burnout in which we can rapidly move back into any of the previous stages of descent (frustration, anger, apathy, and even a new round of burnout).

My goal for this year is to move forward and, by sharing my experiences of burnout during transformational organizational change with you, I hope to give you some ideas to move beyond burnout, too.

I Thought It Was a Job…But It Turned Out to Be Research

Shocked manIt’s been a long time since I posted to this blog.  I had accepted a full-time faculty position shortly after my last post, but never thought that the workload would literally overtake my waking hours.  Even though I have taught business and HR classes at universities for over 12 years and have always loved the experience, this wasn’t anything that I had anticipated.  In fact, I inadvertently proved my theory on what causes and maintains employee burnout during organizational change!

My Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC, for short) was based on extensive interviewing and research of employees who had burned out when their organizations were attempting to create transformational change.  I found important differences in not only the way in which these workers burned out, but also when they started on burnout’s downward spiral.  These are the 3 basic burnout-creating categories (what I call the Burnout Triumvirate – or Triple Whammy):

  1. The individual’s personality and expectations
  2. Organizational factors that were outside of the employee’s control
  3. The physical malaises that emerged as a result of these high levels of stress

I also discovered that change leaders burned out at a much slower rate than the change targets (those workers who could not control the changes that they were required to make).  Here are the time frames that I found:

  • Change leaders usually felt burned out after approximately 1 to 2 years from the launch of the change initiative.
  • In sharp contrast, the change targets burned out within 6 months of the start of these changes.

That’s a big difference.  Since I was only a faculty member and not in a university leadership position, I too burned out right on schedule at the 6-month mark.

I also found that women tended to burn out much more quickly than men.  Once again, I proved my findings by burning out in less than 6 months.

However, one important finding in my initial research was not supported by my experience:  I did not deny my symptoms.  (My research found that over 35% of workers initially denied that they were beginning to burn out.)  Maybe that’s because I’ve been researching burnout during organizational change for over 10 years…

Fortunately, I am no longer involved with this university as a full-time faculty member.  However, I think that my experience is very important in fully understanding the burnout phenomenon that is (in my humble opinion) taking over American workforces and consequently leading to poor organizational performance.

It is said that writing about your experience is the best way to fully understand it.  If you’ve also been burned out, come with me and follow my journey as I talk about how I descended into and eventually arose from the ashes of burnout. Perhaps I can give you some ideas so that you, too, can once again take control of your life.

Here’s to a GREAT new year!

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.

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