A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “working hard”

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, 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

 

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

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: 

 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

BDOC - Manifestations-Warning Signs

© 2011 G. A. Puleo, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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