A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “working hard”

Taking Control of Your Career: The Fundamental Skill of Career Management

Progress not perfection

I can’t believe that we’re already in the middle of the year!  Looking back over the past six months, it’s time to take stock of where we’ve been — and where we’re going.

While such career self-reflection seems to be a natural part of the December holiday season, it should be a part of our on-going routine.  With half the year gone, it’s a time to take stock of where we’ve been…compared to where we planned to be…and decide NOW where we’re going.

But here’s the problem:  for over-achievers, the quest for perfection often derails our probability for success.  In other words, we can begin right now to quit striving for perfection and instead commit to progress.

Successful career management is NOT a one-time, one-size-fits-all undertaking.  It is more than just resume writing and interviewing.  Managing your career is instead an adaptive journey that YOU have created that will lead you to a constantly evolving destination.

Think about your own career:  what you wanted as a new graduate is often quite different from what you desire as a seasoned professional – so your career map needs to reflect both the tangible and intangible elements of your professional goals.

How to Evaluate Progress in Your Career 

Tip #1: Recognize that “perfection” is an illusion – but “progress” can be planned for.  No two people have the same definition of any word; nowhere is this more apparent than in the definition of a “perfect” career.

The denotative (i.e., “dictionary”) definition of “progress” is simply “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” Notice that there is no time constraint included in the definition. As long as you are moving forward toward your goal, you ARE making progress.

Tip #2: “Progress” is NOT a comparative.  Don’t beat yourself up if your progress to date doesn’t match that of your brother, sister, college roommate, or coworker. Everyone’s path will be different — and that’s a very good thing.

The most effective measurement of your professional progress over time is based on what YOU are capable of.  Your strengths and areas of improvement are unique to you – so the progress that you make will also be uniquely yours.

Tip #3: Determine the “what” BEFORE planning for the “how” of your progress. Said another way, the “how” of your progress (the action plan or steps) can only be designed AFTER the “what” has been identified (your destination or outcome).  This is NOT just trying to find a job when you’ve been downsized or burned out; this IS learning the tools of successful career management.

Set aside time to decide what makes you happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. Find a quiet place and set a timer for 30 minutes. Then write down or record your answers to these questions – don’t be shy about your wants and needs…now is the time to be BOLD!

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • How do you want to be managed?
  • What kind of environment supports your progress?
  • What do you want your legacy to be? (Hint: You’re going to leave a legacy based on the actions that you have taken – in other words, you cannot NOT leave a legacy!)

Tip #4: Objectively describe where you are RIGHT NOW in your career. This can be a difficult process, but be brutally honest with yourself – no one else needs to read what you’ve written. Focus on how you feel before deciding what you need to do next:

  • Unsure of your next career step? Conduct a professional work experience audit in order to develop a step-by-step plan for the next 12 months.
  • In a career that no longer inspires you? Resolve to make the time to clearly identify your “must haves” and “can’t stands” in your job and overall career. Be sure to focus not only on what you want in a career, but also what you are willing to sacrifice in order to finally land your dream job.
  • Intrigued with the idea of being your own boss? Commit to letting go of your fears in order to take the first tenuous steps to writing a business plan and launching your own business – don’t be afraid to ask for help from other entrepreneurs!

Tip #5: Focus on BOTH the tangible and intangible aspects of work.  Being a professional “success” does not necessarily focus exclusively on the tangible results (such as upward mobility, increasing income, or notoriety). These are just the outward trappings of the traditional notion of “success.”

People who are happy with their careers and motivated by their work also focus on the intangible aspects of their jobs. Because these intangibles are key differentiators between one person’s idea of “success” and another’s, don’t compare what you want to the goals or results of other people.

Tip #6: Don’t let the naysayers prevent you from finding your own bliss.  NO ONE can tell you what to do with your life or why you should do it. While career coaches can offer insights and ideas on various career paths, the ultimate decision is yours. Only you know what makes you happy…what drives you crazy…what inspires you…and what demoralizes you.

Want to learn more about saying “no” to dream stealers? Click here for my FREE mini-eCourse, Letting Go of Dream Stealers.

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, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Why It’s Time to Put an End to “Busy-ness”

Pet Hamster Holding A Blank  Sign

Is your business life burning you out – or is it the constant “busy-ness” that’s exhausting you? Is there REALLY a difference?!

Simply stated, YES. There is a critical difference that is based on the priorities that you use to determine your daily activities.

While it is noble, worthwhile, and even essential to actively participate in the strategic planning and daily operations of your professional life, don’t let your attempts to meet the demands of your business fall prey to “busy-ness.”

“Busy-ness” is analogous to a hamster constantly running on a wheel – but ultimately not getting any farther ahead. Still stuck on the wheel in its cage, the hamster nonetheless continues to do the same thing regardless of the result.

While the hamster might be enjoying the run, a business professional rarely sees the lack of movement as a good thing. Put another way, busy-ness is frantically treading water just to stay afloat.  

No One Consciously Strives for a Life of Busy-ness 

People generally like to see progress, results, or achievement. If you’re collapsing from exhaustion at night (but feel like your progress or results don’t match your effort), then you are a candidate for energy sapping “busy-ness.”  But why?

A life of busy-ness often results from a lack of priorities or time management. Let me explain.

While we all have worthwhile goals that we generally want to achieve, it is far too common for days, weeks, months, or even years to pass by with little or no progress toward their attainment. Because our priorities determine our actions, our REAL priorities are found in what we spend the most time doing.

This is closely akin to time management – which requires prioritization as the foundation of how we structure our days and lives.

I know what you’re thinking:

“You don’t understand!
I have work responsibilities AND personal responsibilities.
People depend on me – and I’m only one person trying to do it all!” 

This is the definition of crisis management – and crisis management is a contributing factor to burnout. Think of it this way: if you’re burned out, how are you going to have the energy to help anybody else – not even yourself?

But most of us DO have these competing priorities. The challenge is how to manage them.

The Culprits of Busy-ness

We don’t intentionally over-schedule our lives — that is, leaving NO time out between our actions to take of all these competing demands.  But we do have to recognize the insidious culprits that create a life of busy-ness.

#1 – Meetings. While some might be necessary, the purpose of many is just showing up. Does anybody really know what the meeting’s purpose is? Or what the desired outcomes are? Or why we’ve even been invited to attend in the first place? But standing meetings and ad hoc meetings are often time wasters that drain time away from the more important duties and responsibilities. As a result, the busy-ness leads to constantly playing “catch up.”

#2 – The Rush of Activity. Being busy feels good – but only if we are also being productive. Doing “stuff” that is unimportant or mindless can be a respite from an over-scheduled life. But when we have nothing to show for our effort of constant motion and activity, it’s a short skip over to resentment. The unfocused activities inherent in busy-ness are NOT productive action.

#3 – Perfectionism. Perfectionists are notorious for creating additional “must do’s” on their “to do” lists. Coupled with a belief that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” perfectionists tend to subvert their priorities due to the constant struggle to do it all. Perfectionists fundamentally don’t trust other people to do what they say they are going to do OR do it in a way that meets the perfectionist’s high standards. Perfectionists may feel a sense of omnipotence even though their overscheduled calendars prevent them from meeting their true goals due to busy-ness.

#4 – Avoidance and Procrastination. Be honest: do you really want to clean the garage? Or tackle that monstrous report? Or deal with the communication problems in your team? Probably not. But the pervasive Puritan work ethic compels us to do something because we can’t just do nothing! So, we do the easy stuff. The mindless stuff. The stuff that takes time…but isn’t really that important. Then, when we miss the deadline of the avoided behemoth, we can honestly assert that we simply didn’t have the time – we were “too busy” with the other stuff.

#5 – The Absence of Planning. I once saw a cartoon where an employee was sitting quietly at his desk. When his boss asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was thinking – to which the boss replied, “Well quit thinking and get back to work!” In the cultures of many modern workplaces, thinking and planning are the equivalent of day dreaming – but activity of any kind is considered to be working! Unfocused activity that is done simply for the sake of doing something is busy-ness – and investing time in the unimportant is the result of poor planning.

3 Tips to Replace Busy-ness with Focused Action 

Instead of succumbing to action for its own sake, take a moment to decide what is truly important to YOU. What are the things that you need to do in order to create the legacy that you want to leave?  Remember:  you will leave a legacy even if you aren’t intentionally trying to do so.

Next, take stock of your weekly responsibilities in both your professional and personal lives. Estimate the amount of time that you think you need to complete each project – then be sure to include some “wiggle room” for unanticipated glitches or interruptions!

Finally, decide which projects must be completed by only you versus which can be delegated to others.  When delegating, even if they might not be able to do it as “perfectly” as you would like, you need to determine whether this level of perfection is actually required in order to achieve the goal).

Being busy in activities that bring you joy and lead to your desired goals creates the path toward actualizing your legacy. Plus you’ll be more energized and self-actualizing.

In contrast, permitting yourself to be victimized by a life of busy-ness leads only to exhaustion, regret, and resentment.

You DO have the power to give up busy-ness and get back on the track to the business of your life. All it takes is the courage and commitment to live your life by your priorities.

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, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Is Job Dissatisfaction Worse Than Overwork?

User's Guide - What I want

While work overload can cause burnout, being under-satisfied in a job can destroy hope.  Which do you think is more detrimental:  overwork or job dissatisfaction?  (I’m looking forward to your thoughts.)

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, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Workplace Compassion: What It Is, Why It’s Missing, and How It Contributes to Organizational Success

Compassion - Giving a hand up to another

Should we expect to find compassion in our workplaces – or should we check our emotions at the door in order to be more productive at work?   Is workplace compassion a “nice to have” bonus at work – or is it an organizational imperative for innovation and profitability?  According to recent research, compassion may be the key to innovation, learning, and adaptability in a constantly changing world.

Compassion:  What It Is (and Isn’t)

Compassion is defined as not only our caring response to another person’s suffering, but also to our attempts to help alleviate that suffering.  It is a hard-wired trait in humans – but one that many people feel is lacking in not only our personal relationships, but at work as well.

Workplace compassion is found in the interactions between employees.  It’s displayed in our willingness to help one another.  To understand that there might be reasons for a sudden change in performance.  To recognize that employees are human beings with lives outside of work.

In other words, compassion – whether it is in our personal or professional lives – is the resulting emotion of being conscious of another’s suffering or distress AND being willing to help them alleviate it.

Compassion is, therefore, not just a feeling but also an action.

And, according to many researchers, compassion can be learned.

Why Compassion Is Missing in Most Workplaces

In general, there are three causes that deter compassion in the workplace:

  1. The belief that professional and personal lives should be kept separate.
  2. The fear of appearing vulnerable and weak.
  3. The confusion surrounding how to offer support.

There is a long-held belief that emotions should be “left at the door” when we enter the workplace.  Whatever is going on in our personal lives should be compartmentalized in order to be “dealt with” when we leave work.

That may have worked when most of us worked a standard 40-hour work week and were essentially unreachable outside the office or work site.  But all that changed with the onset of technology.

While technology has been a great boon to many businesses and its workers, it has come with a price:  the 24/7 eLeash.  Today we are constantly accessible at any time of the day or night by email, text messaging, or even the “old-fashioned” phone call.  Workers often are unable to resist the technological call even if they are on vacation or celebrating a holiday with their families; some workers will “check in” even if they are hospitalized (but still conscious).

Because compassion requires the conscious acknowledgement of another person’s pain or suffering, it requires an emotional vulnerability that many workers are afraid to display in professional situations.

But this lack of compassion has deleterious consequences.  The employee who is attempting to balance a heavy workload with a family health crisis might be afraid to ask for help due to fears of being labeled as someone who “can’t handle” the demands of the job.  The resulting high stress levels negatively affect not only their performance, but also their emotional well-being and physical health.

Similarly, the manager who has excelled throughout his career may fear being labeled as “weak” if he responds compassionately (rather than autocratically or “by the book”) to a coworker’s need for some scheduling flexibility due to child demands from a recent divorce.  After all, wouldn’t this “softness” be transmitted through the office grapevine – with the result that he will be “taken advantage of” in the future?

If employees fear asking for some organizational help (or a little “slack”) when they are experiencing major challenges or changes, then they are more likely to become disengaged, unproductive, and burned out.

While the lack of workplace compassion is most frequently viewed as occurring between managers and their subordinates, it is also lacking in the interactions between colleagues and peers.

If the workplace culture is characterized by an obsessive compulsion to “win” and an aversion to “loss,” then employees tend to view providing any kind of compassionate assistance to their coworkers as an action that could undermine their personal ability to succeed.  In such an environment, even authentic offers to help may be viewed with suspicion:  what do they really want in exchange for this help?

Regardless of their formal structure of the workplace relationship, many people are uncomfortable when they are faced with someone who is hurting, in pain, or in desperate need.  How to offer support becomes a tricky undertaking:  would my offer to help make them feel that they are somehow inferior or then feel “bad” about themselves?

How Workplace Compassion Contributes to Organizational Success   

Displaying compassion to our fellow workers, subordinates, and managers requires an acceptance of our innate humanity.  In other words, compassion brings the “human” back into the workplace.

But compassion is not just a “feel good” workplace characteristic.  According to Worline and Dutton (2017), “compassion matters for competitive advantage.”

In an age in which innovation, collaboration, client customization, and adaptability are critical to organizational sustainability, there is an urgent demand for “bigger, better, and faster” – regardless of the goals’ reasonableness or achievability.  As burnout runs rampant in many organizations and employees choose to leave their employers (rather than continuously strive toward the achievement of these unreasonable demands), organizations must rethink their attitudes toward urgency.

Urgency was first touted as a way to create an adrenaline rush in employees so that they could work tirelessly toward the completion of tasks that were critical to organizational success.  But urgency and adrenaline are only healthy and sustainable in short doses; prolonged periods of urgent action that are not balanced with periods of respite and reward create not only burnout, but also emotional and physical health problem.

In other words, if everything is urgent…then nothing really is.

By instead rethinking organizational policies and processes in terms of their level of compassion toward workers, companies can reap the benefits of an engaged, energized, and loyal workforce.

I’m not kidding:  adding compassion as a criteria for policies and procedures has measurable benefits:

  • In a study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University, leaders who interacted with their subordinates in ways that were perceived as fair and self-sacrificing were rewarded with employees who were more loyal, committed, and collaborative in working to find solutions to problems.
  • Fowler and Christakis found that generous, compassionate, and kind actions created a chain reaction in workplaces – thus creating a cultural change toward compassion.
  • In a 2012 study published in BMC Public Health, compassionate acts built bonds between workers – which led to decreased stress levels and greater productivity.

Workplace compassion creates a culture of cooperation and trust.  Rather than a culture of competition, organizational cultures that exhibit and support compassion tend to have lower health care utilization rates, greater employee engagement, less turnover, and a culture of trust that supports learning and innovation.  (I told you I wasn’t kidding.)

5 Tips to Building Workplace Compassion

While I firmly believe that every employee desires to be treated compassionately at work, I also recognize that there are many hurdles to building a culture of compassion.

Based on my research, I have identified five simple ways that organizational leaders and individual employees can approach their work with a sense of compassion:

Tip #1:  Don’t respond based on implicit assumptions.  Bias is well-researched in the protected classes (e.g., gender, race, religion, etc.), but is infrequently acknowledged in the areas of human behavior.  While everyone has implicit biases through which we appraise the behaviors of others, it is important to step outside of these biases in order to see another’s perspective of the challenging situation.

Tip #2:  Be present and authentic.  Compassion should be given freely.  This is accomplished by becoming present in the moment – taking the time to see and listen to the people with whom you are engaged.  In other words, get out of your head and open your heart.

Tip #3:  Encourage employee conversations about non-work activities.  When employees are encouraged to socialize with one another, it provides greater insights into their motivations, fears, and aspirations.  When sharing such information, it can build trust and encourage a greater proclivity to help and support each other.  (NOTE:  Be patient with such sharing activities and NEVER force someone to share more than what they are comfortable with.)

Tip #4:  Create organizational initiatives that encourage employees helping each other.  Organizations that have a strong sense of community involvement may have an advantage in building a compassionate, collaborative culture – but don’t focus exclusively outside the organization.  Perhaps create an initiative that allows employees to provide assistance to other employees who might be in need.  For example, a fund which allows workers to donate their unused time off or make a financial donation to help a coworker.

Tip #5:  Recognize when employees act compassionately and help each other.  Formal recognition (e.g., awards, events) as well as informal “thank you’s” or even the offer to get an overworked colleague a much-needed cup of coffee are powerful ways to reinforce the importance that an organization places on compassionate activities in the workplace.

We humans are wired to empathize – which is an important aspect of compassion.  We’re wired to experience a visceral, emotional response to another’s suffering.  But compassion is more than empathy:  it is also the active response to help alleviate that suffering.

Additionally, compassionate action not only helps someone else who is in need but also makes us feel better and more hopeful.  Acting compassionately is a win-win.

So, even though pain may be an inevitable part of life, our feelings of suffering are not.  Compassion is what makes us human – and it’s a necessity in all of our lives.  Since we spend the majority of our time at work, we need compassion in our daily existence.  And it is through acts of compassion that companies can embrace the humanity of its workforce and harness the power of its only nondupulicatable competitive advantage:  its human resources.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, 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.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

 

Who Needs Sleep? How Work Overload Burns Out Employees (VIDEO)

This is the final video in my 10-part series focusing on the 10 ways that organizations burn out employees.  I’ll discuss how two types of work overload burn out employees — plus the actions you can take now to prioritize projects and help employees create a better work-life balance.  For more tips and ideas on how to avoid workplace burnout, please check out my blog at www.a-new-way-to-work.com.

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, keynote speaker, 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.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

7 Time Wasters That Destroy Work-Life Balance (VIDEO)

It’s tough to balance the conflicting responsibilities of our work and personal lives. Maybe it’s because we’re exhausted, but we all waste time.  I’ll identify 7 time-wasters that contribute to work-life imbalance In this quick 2-minute video, I’ll discuss 7 time-wasters that contribute to work-life imbalance AND can lead to burnout.

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, keynote speaker, 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.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

We Don’t Have It! How Insufficient Resources Create Employee Burnout

This is video #6 in a 10-part series focusing on the 10 ways that organizations burn out employees.  I’ll discuss how insufficient resources lead to employee burnout and give tips on balancing the financial and human costs of providing — or NOT providing — the necessary resources.

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

The Instant De-Stresser You Can Do at Your Desk

Breathe etched on stone heart

Breathing is natural.  It’s part of our autonomic nervous system, so we don’t even have to think about it.  But maybe we should consciously focus on our breathing in order to avoid stress and burnout.

Anxiety and stress have interesting effects on the breath.  Since breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, changes in breath will occur automatically without our control.  For example, do you consciously instruct your body to breathe faster when your “fight or flight” response is triggered?  How about if you’re frightened – do you tell yourself to “hold your breath?”

Stress triggers the release of hundreds of different chemicals to surge through your body.  These chemicals create changes in the way that your body is operating so that you are better able to respond to the stressor.

A few years ago, I was co-presenting a workshop on using yoga to avoid workplace burnout.  One of the exercises that I asked participants to do was to take a deep breath.

Sounds easy, right?  But I was amazed at how many people don’t really know how to breathe.

Deep breathing involves using your diaphragm (a muscle located horizontally between your thoracic and abdominal cavities).  As a result, your waist expands out sideways while your lower pelvic belly moves down and out.  This allows you to support your breath – which is why it is the foundation of good singing.

But in the workshop, many of the participant inhaled loudly, scrunched up their shoulders, puffed out their chests…then held their breath.  This is a classic example of shallow breathing.

The Dangers of Shallow Breathing

While deep diaphragmatic breathing can calm you, shallow breathing tends to increase stress and anxiety on a physical level.  One study even indicated that simply changing to a shallow breathing pattern can actually trigger feelings of stress and anxiety (Plarre, Raij, et cl., 2011).

Shallow breathing (or “overbreathing”) is triggered by the “fight or flight” response to a perceived danger.  Even though you may feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, these short rapid breaths are actually getting too much oxygen into your system.

Let me explain:  The act of breathing enables you to inhale oxygen (which fills your lungs immediately) and exhale carbon dioxide (which takes more time for your body to develop).  This delicate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide goes out of whack when you’re stressed.

Overbreathing pushes out large levels of carbon dioxide – more carbon dioxide than your body is actually producing.  Because your levels are now lower than normal, your blood’s pH level is increased – which constricts your blood vessels and reduces blood flow to your brain.  As a result, it’s taking longer to bring oxygen to where it’s needed.

Which leads to feelings of needing more oxygen NOW – even though your oxygen levels are probably normal!  This rapid breathing makes you feel worse.  The cure is to slow down your breathing in order to get back in balance (literally and figuratively).

The effects of shallow breathing include:  chest pains, light-headedness, weakness, tingling in the hands/feet/lips, feeling feint, and a rapid heart beat.  If continued for a prolonged period of time, shallow breathing can also contribute to panic attacks.

If left unchecked, shallow breathing can become your accustomed way to breathe – in extreme cases, your body may eventually forget how to breathe in a healthy way.

Re-Learning How to Breathe

Remember those workshop participants who didn’t know how to breathe deeply?  I used a few very simple techniques to help them reconnect with their breath and reduce their stress levels:

Tip #1:  Focus on feeling your breath fill up your belly.  Many of us tend to keep our abdomens tight.  Maybe it’s a conscious effort to look like we have flatter abs.  But it might also be an unconscious physical response to stress.

Tip #2:  Relax your mouth and tongue.  Seriously.  It’s a simple technique that can automatically relax you.  Stress causes many people to tense their jaws, grit their teeth, or even use their tongues to reduce air flow.  Open your mouth slightly and relax – you’ll quickly learn where you are holding your tension.

Tip #3:  Count while you breathe.  One of the most effective techniques that I’ve used to quiet the mind and trigger a sense of calm is to breathe as follows:

  • Before you begin, commit to simply following the flow of breath – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
  • To begin, inhale for 1 count; then exhale for 2 counts.
  • Inhale for 3 counts; then exhale for 4 counts.
  • Inhale for 5 counts; then exhale for 6 counts.
  • Inhale for 7 counts; then exhale for 8 counts.
  • Inhale for 9 counts; then exhale for 10 counts.
  • Repeat.

The speed of your counting doesn’t seem to matter; I’ve done it relatively quickly or quite slowly.  Nor is the number of times that you repeat this process set in stone – it really depends on the sense of calm that you experience; generally, I feel much less stressed after 3 or 4 repetitions.

What’s critical is to let your inhalations fully extend down into your diaphragm so that you are breathing deeply.

Tip #4:  Feel with gratitude the life force inherent in your breath.  No, the chi (or qi) life force is not some “New Age-y” psychobabble – it’s just a simple fact:  breath is life.  Consciously taking a moment of simple gratitude for life itself also helps to keep things in perspective and reduce stress.

Breathing can be an instant de-stresser.  It can be done anywhere – in fact, you will be breathing everywhere!  To de-stress, simply take a few moments to focus on the breath and be grateful for its life-giving force.

For more tips on diaphragmatic breathing, check out this 2-minute YouTube video:   https://youtu.be/6UO4PYZ6G98.

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, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

Give Thanks at Work, Too

2017-11-22 - Gratitude - not expressing is gift not given

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

TEDx Presentation: Burnout, PTSD, and ADAAA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnout v PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning 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

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