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Job Burnout: What Leaders Need to Know

in PODCAST

Workplace and job burnout expert Dr. Geri Puleo joins DDI for a discussion on what leads to employee burnout, how to avoid it, and what role leadership plays.

headshot of Dr. Geri Puleo with an image of a male leader in the background with his head in his hands, suffering from job burnout

A 480 PODCAST

Job Burnout: What Leaders Need to Know

51 minutes | 10/13/2020

00:00:00 00:00

In this episode of the Leadership 480 podcast, we interview Dr. Geri Puleo, the owner of Change Management Solutions, Inc. Dr. Puleo is an expert on workplace and job burnout and she joins us to talk about her extensive research on this topic, and how leadership comes into play. You can also learn more about our leadership development courses that can help leaders develop the skills to prevent burnout culture, including our new microcourse developed with Dr. Puleo, "Ensuring Your Team Avoids Burnout."


Beth Almes:

Hey there, leaders, and welcome back to the Leadership 480 podcast. And if any of you are feeling as wiped out as I am these days, then today's topic is for you. We're talking about job burnout and how that affects leaders. Our guest today is Dr. Geri Puleo, and she is an absolute expert on burnout. She has her own company, Change Management Solutions, and a Ph.D. in management, specializing in organizational change and burnout, and she's got a great TEDx Talk on burnout as well. 

In fact, I had met Geri when we were partnering with her to create a short course for leaders about burnout. We had such a great and engaging conversation, I figured I had to bring her on the podcast to talk to you all. So with great excitement, Geri, welcome to the Leadership 480 podcast.

Geri Puleo:

Well, thank you, Beth. And I tell you, I hope I can live up to that intro. That was pretty fantastic.

Beth Almes:

I have no doubt.

Geri Puleo:

Oh, thank you.

Beth Almes:

So you've dedicated a lot of your life to study about burnout, and have really researched this heavily. How did you get interested in workplace burnout?

Geri Puleo:

Well, I had done career coaching for many years at the start of my career, and I found that a lot of my clients were those high performers who were unhappy at work. So they were leaving, sometimes not just to change jobs with a new employer in the same field, but they were changing careers altogether. And when I started, I got a master's in HR, I started focusing on work-life balance. Because a lot of these career coaching clients whom I was working with were saying how stressed they were, and they didn't have a balance in their life.

Well, when I started doing the research on work-life balance, this concept of burnout kept coming up. So then I did my MBA, and I focused on leadership, and surprise, surprise, I was focusing on leadership and burnout. And then when I went on for the Ph.D., I focused specifically in burnout during transformational organizational change. 

And what I found interesting was, when I was doing my lit review, there was no research out there on burnout and change management. And for about the past 20 years, change has become the new status quo, so organizational leaders have to know how to manage change, or even better, how to lead change, which is a very different concept than change management.

And so I focused on burnout during organizational change, and what I realized once I developed my B-DOC Model, which is Burnout During Organizational Change Model, but B-DOC is just a lot faster to say. When I started presenting that, and especially in my TEDx Talk, I was getting funny looks from people, and they were saying, "That's what I've gone through. That's what I've gone through." And one of the biggest challenges for organizational leaders now is finding the right employees, and then developing and retaining those employees.

Because in my research, what I discovered was well over 90% of my participants left their employers, either for a new employer or for a new career. So to me, workplace burnout is that dirty little secret. Everybody knows about it. Mostly everybody has suffered from it at some point. But it's not talked about. As I said, it's that dirty little secret. 

So that's how I got interested in workplace burnout, because it was not a win-win for the employer or the employee, and if you want to talk about the clients, if you've got a burned out organization and a burned out workforce, you're not going to be able to treat your clients well, and you're going to miss opportunities. So I looked at this as, it's something that's really important that I think is a stumbling block for many, many organizations.

Beth Almes:

So I have a question for you. When you're saying that people often don't talk about burnout, that makes some sense to me in the way that, I don't think a lot of us know the difference between burnout and stress. It's like everybody's stressed, nothing to cry about. We're all feeling stressed here. How do you really recognize the difference between regular, healthy stress and real burnout?

Geri Puleo:

If you can sleep it off in a weekend, you're not burned out. That's just a physical or emotional exhaustion. Burnout is more than just stress. In fact, I'm working on a new research project now based on gender differences in burnout, and I've started reviewing women. I'm going to be interviewing women first, followed by interviewing men, and then doing compare and contrast. 

But what I found with a lot of these women almost across the board, they knew something was going on, but they ignored all of the warning signs. And burnout...how can I explain this? It affects you psychologically, it affects you emotionally, and it affects you physically. A really frightening statistic I had in my first research was approximately 15% of my participants were diagnosed with cancer...

Beth Almes:

Oh wow.

Geri Puleo:

...after their burnout experience. That was scary. That was very scary. And there's been a lot of research done in the medical field about all of the chemicals that surge through your body when you're in a high stress state. And they're beginning to recognize how those chemicals really create disease and malaise and chronic or acute situations. So what I found is that it's usually when you start developing physical symptoms, that cold that you can't get over, which, boy, that sounds like a minor thing in this year with COVID, doesn't it? But the cold you can't get rid of. Skin conditions.

If you have chronic sleep disturbances where you either can't fall asleep, or you're waking up every hour, or you're almost suffering from narcolepsy where you just collapse at your desk and you fall asleep, those are symptoms of burnout. Gastrointestinal problems. Heart diseases. I interviewed one woman, and she went for a routine eye exam, and the ophthalmologist was looking in her eye and said, "You need to see a doctor." And they set it up, and it turns out she had a 90% blockage.

Beth Almes:

Oh my gosh.

Geri Puleo:

And they think a lot of it was stress related. Now, what's interesting with this is a lot of these symptoms are overlooked by many doctors in the US. The more progressive doctors are the ones who are recognizing the role that stress is playing on human health. But over in Europe, they've been looking into this connection for a much longer time. And that's hopeful, and hopefully comes into the United States. Another way to tell if you're burned out is real simple. You're really irritable, you're really cranky, and you go home and kick the cat.

And I'm a cat lover, so that's not a good thing. But there's something that happens. I've had people talk about a spaciness, that they're just not there. It's almost as if they're robotic, and they're going through the motions, but they're just not there. And so it's a lot more than stress. 

Stress can be energizing, as I'm sure you know. There's eustress, which is positive stress, and then there's distress, which is the negative stress. But the thing that's often overlooked is that the stressor, that external situation that you believe is causing your stress, is inherently neutral.

So it's how you perceive it and how you define it that can help determine whether you'll get a sense of positive stress, eustress, or whether you'll succumb to severe negative stress, distress or burnout, or whether you're just going to say, "Yeah, it happens. So what? Doesn't bother me." But if I can...I know I'm talking a lot here, but this is part of the problem with burnout, and why I believe it's the dirty little secret, because many people believe that burnout is a sign of weakness. Burnout is a sign that it's an individual's maladaptive response to stress.

And guess what? You just can't cut it. So I think it's why a lot of people don't talk about it. And even, this is the sad part, what I'm finding out in this new research is, even if they talk to their employers, the employers don't know what to do. They have no idea how to help the situation. They may feel bad about it, but they don't know how to help the individual. That's the good organizations. A lot of the other, what I would consider to be poor organizational cultures, those leaders basically say, "Deal with it. If you can't cut the job, we'll find somebody else."

Which just adds to that stress. But burnout can be a workplace burnout. Christina Maslach, who is one of the pioneers in this field, was one of the first to say, "It's not just the individual. Burnout is the canary in the coalmine. Because if you've got a burned out workforce, you got something going wrong with the culture, with the leadership, with the policies, the practices, or whatever." So I think that's also a reason why it's the dirty little secret. People don't want to pay the price that they perceive they'll have to pay if they admit to feeling burned out.

Beth Almes:

So let's talk, then, a little bit about what's going on in organizations that leads to burnout. People are feeling like this, they're feeling overwhelmed and terrible, and in some cases it could be an individual, that they have personal things going on in their life, but when it's the workplace culture that really creates it, what kinds of patterns have you seen about, this is what organizations do that creates that burnout feeling?

Geri Puleo:

Well, it's interesting you should mention that, because in my original research, I was able to identify 10 organizational stressors that lead to employee burnout. Now, that's kind of unusual, because most of the research out there is focusing on the individual and their perception of the stressor. But I can tell you this, you can be doing everything right to prevent burnout. I mean, you can be meditating, you can be exercising, you can be spending time with friends and you have a support network, but if the culture is so toxic, you're still going to fry.

It might take a little bit longer, but you're still going to be frying. So what I found in terms of organizational stressors, and it's a top 10 list. Now, you have to realize with these stressors, I did a grounded theory methodology, which is qualitative research. So I did not give choices to my participants in terms of what was going on in the workplace that caused them to stress out. They brought these ideas up.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

One of the things that I think is interesting, is most people think you're burned out because you're suffering from work overload. Right? You just got too much on your plate. Well, that came up as number seven on the list.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

So it was near the bottom. What came up as number one is poor leadership. Poor leadership. And I think a lot of companies have never defined what good leadership is in their organization. So you may have these very autocratic leaders, you may have some who are engaged in participative management, you could have some that are more laissez-faire with a hands-off approach. But the companies never identified what good leadership means, and then trains for that and develops them, and also, excuse me, removes people who are not practicing them. But the poor leadership...Well, you know this, Beth. A lot of times it's viewed as touchy feely.

Beth Almes:

Yep.

Geri Puleo:

It's the old great man theory of leadership. Your leaders are born, they're not made. Either you've got it or you don't. You have to be charismatic. But leadership can definitely be taught, and it's not touchy feely. Even though managers tend to focus on the head, and keeping a certain amount of a status quo, and focus on efficiency, leaders focus on the heart. They create change. They question things in order to be more effective.

Now, the reason I bring this up, that many times leadership is viewed as touchy feely, and you'll get some managers who say, "I don't have time to really talk to my employees. I don't have time. I tell them what to do, they need to do it. We're all stressed out." 

But I recently completed a research project with a gentleman by the name of Frank Angiolelli, and Frank is a cybersecurity expert. He's been in the field for a long time. So we conducted a research of cybersecurity professionals to really look at what their stressors are, because there's very high turnover in the CISO jobs. Very high. I think the average tenure is only about 18 months, and then they leave.

So we were going through all of this, and it's a funny story, because I'm a qualitative researcher, and Frank is more of a geek, let's face it, so he's quantitative. So he was sharing his screen, and we're looking at the Excel spreadsheets, but I tend to be really good at spotting trends. 

So we're going through all this, and they didn't mind the working 60 hours a week, they felt a passion for their job, but when they started talking about the stress, and we did these pivot tables, what came up glaringly, was what tips people—from I'm just stressed to I'm burned—is poor leadership.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

That was the tipping point. And it was so funny, because we're on the Zoom call and sharing screens, and we're both just hooping and hollering like, "Oh my God, that's what it is. It's the leadership." And I think now in particular with COVID, people are frightened.

 They're either doing the ostrich with their head in the sand, that this isn't real, or it's, I'm terrified to go out. And many people started working from home, and sadly, many organizations were not set up and did not have a culture of trust that really supported working remotely and working more autonomously.

And I think this is where leadership becomes critical. Business as usual is gone. We are not going back to the way things used to be. There's a new normal coming. And organizations have a unique opportunity to create that normal. And if they engage in participative management, and they really communicate with two-way dialogue with their employees and engage them in the process, they can create a new normal for their workplace that will transcend everything they did in the past. But it's scary. But it's scary.

Beth Almes:

So let's talk a little bit about leaders. I mean, there's clearly a lot that leaders have control over for their teams in how to prevent burnout, and I do want to talk about that too, but I want to talk a little bit about the experience for leaders themselves too, and how they experience burnout. 

In a lot of our research with leaders and everything like that, leaders are, they just don't know. You're doing the best that you can, and then there's the additional burden of your own stress, but also the stress of your entire team. So I was curious if leaders experience burnout differently than others do, or whether it seems to be more common in your research?

Geri Puleo:

Well, that's interesting, because in my original research, I wanted to know how long it took before someone burned out. And so I divided my participants into the change leaders who had some degree of control over what the changes would be and how it would be implemented, versus the change targets that were basically told, "This is what's going to change, and this is what you have to do." 

The change targets...Now, this was not based on job title, because I had some managers that were really change targets, because senior leadership just put down the edict that this is what you have to do. Change targets burned out in...You ready for this? Six months.

Beth Almes:

Oh my gosh.

Geri Puleo:

Six.

Beth Almes:

That's not long.

Geri Puleo:

No. It's not long at all. The change leaders tended to take one to two years to burn out. And I think it's because they felt that they had more control over that situation. The other thing I'm finding with some of this new research, and mind you, I've just been interviewing the women at this point, is that women almost have a split personality at work when they're in a leadership role. Let me explain to you what I mean by that. Nearly unanimously, the women stated that they had to wear armor, a coat of armor when they were working with their superiors. They had to.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

Because that was the only way that they could fit in, cope, et cetera. However, when they had a team to manage, that's where the nurturing qualities came out. And many of these women would throw themselves on their swords to prevent their teams from realizing what's really going on and potentially burning out. So there was that...You want a leader who's going to really care about their team. In fact, a lack of perceived organizational caring was number two on that top 10 list of workplace stressors.

But it kind of creates a schism for these women. And some of them experienced a great deal of guilt when they ended up leaving the companies, because they felt that their teams were thrown to the wolves at that point. In terms of other ways that managers burn out differently than their employees, I think that a lot of people in managerial or organizational leadership roles define and identify themselves from their jobs. 

So they're very ingrained and enmeshed with their job and how they're performing. And think about it. If it's taking longer for them to get things done because they're stressed out, if they feel a little bit spacey, if they lose creativity and problem solving abilities, that is going to upset them intensely, because that's not who they are.

I'm not saying that line workers or people in non-managerial positions don't care as much, but it appears that a job is put more into perspective for them, that they don't keep their whole identity wrapped up in their jobs. And right now, I need to be researching this a little bit more, but that does seem to be a pattern. And the sad part is, when the leaders start burning out, people are smart, so their peers and their subordinates know something is wrong. But there's a great deal of denial in burnout, a great deal of denial. And as I said, a lot of times they don't even see it.

Beth Almes:

Wow. And I think that really resonates, I think, for a lot of leaders out there who are really trying. And we see it all the time, too. It's high achievers who often are in leadership roles, and really struggle then when things start to become much more difficult to handle. That's a real challenge.

Geri Puleo:

As I've started this research, I've been interviewing for a few months now on women and burnout, and nearly across the board, they identify themselves as two things. Overachievers. Not a high achiever. A high achiever knows when it's excellent. An overachiever is striving for something beyond excellent. A little bit of perfectionism goes with that. But in addition to self-identifying as an overachiever, they also admitted they were people pleasers.

Beth Almes:

Oh, interesting.

Geri Puleo:

Yeah. And I thought it was going to be overachiever and perfectionist, that that was going to be the mix. But it's overachievers and people pleasers. Now, what I haven't figured out yet, and it's going to take a little bit of time to reach the point of saturation with this research where I can definitively identify it, but I'm not sure if it's a people pleasing overachiever or an overachieving people pleaser. I'm not quite sure, but I think that depending on what your base motivation is, I think that might impact not only what contributes to your burnout, but how you experience the burnout and how you recover from it.

Beth Almes:

Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. And we frequently see in our research, we do leadership assessments as well, and we often see that the reasons people were promoted are not necessarily always because of their great leadership skills, but often because of those two things. They're overachievers, so they got results, and they get promoted, or that they are well-connected, people like them, the likability factor.

So if you're likable, you get promoted for those reasons, so that makes a lot of sense. Now, you mentioned recovery, and I had watched your TED Talk about burnout, and you had related it to PTSD as well and talked a little bit about recovery. And you had mentioned residual burnout that can last a long time. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Geri Puleo:

Yeah, residual burnout was one of the interesting findings in my preliminary research. Basically, residual burnout is a boomerang effect. Now, if you think about what's going on in the modern workplace, HR professionals and leaders are screaming that, "My employees aren't engaged. My employees aren't committed. They don't seem to care. How do I motivate them?" Well, the B-DOC Model, and I think I had mentioned to you, I have a whitepaper on this B-DOC Model. If any of your listeners would like it, we can include the link.

Beth Almes:

Yeah. 

Geri Puleo:

It's basically a reverse bell curve. So I found that most people, before they burnout, they have high hope. They really care. These are the people that organizations want. They're willing to put forth the effort, they're energetic, they're passionate, all that kind of stuff. But then, depending on what's going on in the organization, or those 10 workplace stressors, they start deteriorating into first frustration, then they get into anger, then they're apathetic. They just don't care anymore. And I believe the apathy is a self-protective mechanism.

But then they go into this full-blown burnout, where there's psychological, emotional, mental health...I don't want to say issues, but they're not who they were before. Also, there's the physical stuff. Once you get down to the bottom of this inverted bell curve with burnout, then the recovery process is through psychological or physical separation from the stressor. 

As I said, over 90% of them left their jobs or changed careers. So many times, it's either voluntarily or involuntary termination. It can also be escapist practices into what are called false cures. Alcoholism. I was reading some articles that the amount of alcohol sales have increased substantially since COVID hit.

And it's often a very poor choice for recovery. And then after that, there's a period of self-reflection and self-acceptance. And after you get through that, then you go into recovery. Now, on this inverted bell curve, the recovery of a revised psychological contract with work, which is nothing more than, this is what I'm going to give to work, and this is what I expect in return. That revised psychological contract or recovery is at a lower level than the feelings of hope that they had before.

Beth Almes:

Oh wow.

Geri Puleo:

Now, during the recovery, and this is what's scary. What I found in the initial research was, it takes about two years to recover from a burnout.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

Two years. And during that time, when you're going through the recovery but you haven't made it to the full recovery yet, things can happen at work that can literally trigger you the way certain experiences trigger someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

And when these things are triggered, the residual burnout is that boomerang effect that can take that person directly into burnout all over again, or any of the three preliminary stages, frustration, anger, and apathy, leading up to that burnout. And this is something that's really difficult to deal with. In some of my current interviews, I have women who burned out five years ago, and they still don't feel like they've recovered.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

And think what it's doing in an organization. Someone is not acting the way they used to, but the leader, or their boss or manager, "I don't know what to do to help them. I don't know what to do." And there, you get into that trust factor. Does the leader have a trusting relationship with the individual so that they can help him or her move through the recovery process so that they do experience a revised psychological contract with work? And then of course, you have to make sure that the company is going to be aligned with what that individual wants.

Beth Almes:

So I'm really curious, Geri. You talked about how much people don't talk about this. And the more you're talking about it, it's clear just how serious burnout is. I mean, taking two to five years to recover. Hopefully we're all better now by 2022, 2023.

Geri Puleo:

Yeah. God willing.

Beth Almes:

I'm curious, how frequent do you think burnout is really happening? When you're saying a lot of people aren't talking about it, do they feel like this is just me this is happening to?

Geri Puleo:

Yeah.

Beth Almes:

Do you see this happening largely throughout organizations, or many people in pockets of organizations? Just how common does it feel like this is?

Geri Puleo:

Honestly, I think it's an epidemic.

Beth Almes:

Wow.

Geri Puleo:

I think it's an epidemic. As I said, Europe has been much more progressive. If you burnout, many European nations offer rehabilitation, paid leave, things to help the individual recover. If you're familiar with Japanese workplaces, there is a concept called karoshi, which literally means death by overwork. 

And if someone in the US has a heart attack at their desk, you say, "That's such a shame that he had a heart attack?" Okay? If you have a heart attack at your desk in Japan, they look at how many hours you were working. And what they discovered is if you work an additional 80 hours per month...

Now, consider a 40-hour work week, average of four weeks per month. That's a 60-hour work week, and that's common for a lot of people. In fact, there are some people out there 70 and 80 hours a week. But if you're working that kind of overtime, and you have a heart attack and die at your desk, in Japan it's listed as karoshi. 

So I think it's an epidemic. I think that what's going on now with the pandemic, because we're still in the midst of it as we're recording this podcast, a lot of people are questioning. And I think the good thing is that it's going to change things. We are going to be creating a new normal.

We're going to have to, because we're not going back to business as usual. And hopefully, the US will get on board and be progressive to stop this rise of workplace burnout, and take it seriously. I mean, think about it. If you have all these health problems, and cardiac events, or cancer, or gastrointestinal problems, or any other type of a malaise, look at what it's doing to your health insurance premiums and your utilization rate. I mean, there are financial repercussions of a burned out workforce. But a lot of times, it's one of those intangible soft things that can be very difficult to correlate.

Causal factors versus something that is a correlation, there's a big difference between the two. Yeah. But I think it's extremely widespread. And the problem is, if you've got burned out senior leaders, remember, they have to walk the talk, and they're role models. So whatever they're doing, for employees who want to succeed, they're going to emulate those behaviors.

Beth Almes:

Yeah. So if you're a senior leader working 70 hours a week, that's going to be, your direct reports assume that they need to work 70 hours a week, and so on down the chain.

Geri Puleo:

And what's a shame is that workaholism is, believe it or not, a false cure for burnout. Because cognitively, you're impaired, you can't get things done as quickly, the quality isn't as good, so what do you do? Put in more hours. Work harder, then get more frustrated when the results aren't any better. So it's just self-perpetuating.

Beth Almes:

So I'm going to wrap us up with two questions around what we're going to do, the positive side of what we do from here. So the first part of it is, what do you do for yourself? If you start to sense some of those things, you feel like you're burning out, you're starting to have those sleepless nights, it's constant, what do you start to do for yourself if you feel burnout coming on?

Geri Puleo:

Well, the first thing you can't do is stress out when you can't fall asleep. And hey, we've all done it, right?

Beth Almes:

Yeah.

Geri Puleo:

Wake up in the middle of the night, I'm going to sleep, I'm going to sleep, I'm relaxing, I'm counting sheep, it's not working. 

Beth Almes:

I have five hours until I have to wake up, I have four hours until I have to wake up, three hours until I have to wake up. Maybe that's just me...

Geri Puleo:

Well, no. No, it's true. And that's what a lot of people are saying. I call it the witching hour, because it seems that when people start waking up in the middle of the night, it's around two or three o'clock in the morning. I'm not sure what's going on. I think there's something that has to do with biorhythms, but it's two or three o'clock in the morning. And you know you're burned out when you say, "Maybe I should just get up. I mean, it's three o'clock in the morning. I don't have to be at work until 8:30, but gee, if I get up now, I can get more work done."

Or if you're working from home, "Gee, I can go online." So one of the things that an organization can do, or if the organization won't do it, then put this boundary up yourself, is no emails after a certain time at night. Simple as that. Simple, but not necessarily easy. 

The other thing that people can do is, I'm a big believer in meditation and mindful practices. It can be challenging depending on what's going on in your life, especially if you have other personal relationships or situations that are also stressful.

Meditation can work even if it's five minutes, because I think what it allows you to do is to observe what's going on in your mind and what's going on in your thought processes. Buddhist teaching talks about monkey mind, where your thoughts are just all over the place. 

And we've all had that. It's just like, I'm thinking about this, and I should do this at work, and oh, what's going to happen for dinner? Oh, my kid has to go here, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Meditation, because you can observe that and just let it go, is important.

Also exercise. But everybody knows this stuff, right? Exercise releases endorphins, it feels better. But what I'm finding in this current research that I think is going to be... I don't know, a little bit groundbreaking, is I'm finding that the people who have recovered went on two different tracks. 

They either went into the meditation and self-reflection to start it off, and once they got to a certain point, then they started taking better care physically with the exercise, eating better, things like that. The other group did the exact opposite. To sit under a tree and meditate and say, "Om," was just too much. They couldn't do it.

For them, the exercise was much better. It got the endorphins. Then when they got to a certain point, then they could go more into the self-reflection and the quietness. But what I'm hearing is the most important thing for recovering from burnout, is to recognize that you can and you do have the right to create boundaries. People who burnout seem to not have any boundaries. No is a dirty word.

You're not allowed to say no. I feel good because I'm a busy person. If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.

Beth Almes:

Right.

Geri Puleo:

But then they get overwhelmed with it. Being able to have those kind of boundaries, being able to say, "No. No, I can't do that." That seems to be probably one of the most important things. I wish I could have a silver bullet that I could tell everybody out there, "If you just do this, you're not going to burn out." 

But I don't think it exists, because each one of us is unique. We've had different experiences. We have different relationships. I mean, for example, having a strong support network seems to be really, really helpful in limiting how severe the burnout is, and also helping the individual to recover from it and avoid residual burnout.

But what if you don't have a good support network? If someone's telling you, "Go find a good support network," you're just going to beat yourself up because you don't have that. So this is where I think the self-awareness that comes from self-reflection and self-acceptance...None of us is perfect. We all have stuff that goes on in our life. We've all done things we're not exactly proud of. But instead of beating yourself up with that, accepting it. Because I firmly believe that each one of us has a very unique gift to give.

And this is not artsy fartsy stuff. This is just...I mean, it's true. But what do many companies do? We're going to focus on your weaknesses to make you better. Well, that can be fine, but wouldn't it be better to focus and enhance somebody's strengths? And especially if it's something they enjoy doing. 

I think that's another thing, is finding out what you enjoy. Finding out where work fits in your life. Is it your calling and it's your passion? Well, that gets into Maslow's hierarchy. If you're self-actualizing, you can kind of let go of the lower level needs and not suffer any deleterious effects.

Or is work basically a way to fund your lifestyle? That's perfectly fine, too. But it's that self-knowledge, and then finding opportunities that are aligned with that. It's going to take some work. It's going to be kind of scary. But it's all going back to knowing who you are and what type of an environment you excel in.

Beth Almes:

Geri, that is so helpful. I mean, you've made me feel better in this conversation.

Geri Puleo:

Oh, good.

Beth Almes:

And hopefully other listeners, too, but I feel a lot better.

Geri Puleo:

Good. Oh, one other thing you can do, watch a funny movie. No. You know what's crazy about this? Is when you're burned out, you lose your sense of humor. Or your humor becomes very snarky and sarcastic.

Beth Almes:

Oh, but I'm good at that.

Geri Puleo:

I have to admit, I do like snarky humor, even though I'm not burned out. But you'll notice when you get really, really stressed, it gets much more biting. And so if you can laugh...Think about what happens when you laugh. You have to let go. If you can't see something funny and go...It just doesn't work. But when you laugh, you let go and release. In fact, there is something called laughing yoga, where it's a class and you learn how to laugh.

And you're breathing deeper, you've got diaphragmatic support, you're breathing from your diaphragm, but you can let go, and you can release it. And that, I think, is also part of the thing with burnout, is letting go and having better acceptance, and knowing that whatever happens, you'll be able to deal with it. And you have a choice. You have a choice.

Beth Almes:

So for our leaders, I'm really glad we're doing this in this order because I think it's important to take care of yourself first, right? They always say...

Geri Puleo:

Yep.

Beth Almes:

...put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others.

Geri Puleo:

Absolutely.

Beth Almes:

But then as we wrap up, part two of that question is then, what do leaders do to avoid creating a culture that's conducive to burnout? How do they protect their teams from...Make sure they're recognizing it on their teams, and making sure that it's not happening on their team?

Geri Puleo:

Well, the first thing is to be authentic and open and vulnerable, because that's how you're going to build trust. Do what you say you're going to do. Don't make excuses. It goes back to the 10 workplace stressors, that if you flip them, it tells you how organizations can avoid burnout and build resiliency. 

Leaders need to have a vision or direction, and they need to be able to articulate that vision. The problem is, many organizations develop a vision by taking their senior leaders offsite, and they talk about what the company's going to do, and then they come back and say, "Hey, guess what we're going to do now?"

Participative management, where you ask your employees, "What do you think would help?" Employees have great ideas if you just ask them. And then act upon the ones that are aligned with your business model. Participative management is much better to build vision, and you're going to get better buy in. 

Because if I believe that my idea was listened to and it was incorporated in the strategy, I'm much more likely to commit to it and not resist. Secondly, if you see any unethical or illegal things going on in the workplace, you need to have a zero tolerance for ethical violations.

Far too often, employees see someone who is kissing up or is doing things that aren't on the up and up, and guess what? That person's getting promoted. You have to have a zero tolerance. And a code of ethics is not just something that we checked off a list. A code of ethics is something to live by. 

The next thing, communication is not one way. Sending something out in an e-newsletter is not communicating with employees. Communication is a two-way dialogue. And aggressive listening is important. In fact, the best leaders know how to listen, and then they ask smart questions.

I had taught in undergrad in graduate programs for many years, and I could tell if the student understood what I was teaching based on their questions. Do the same thing at work. Listen and ask questions. The other thing is, watch workloads. If you see someone who's consistently working 60 hours or more, and I know that budgets can be tight, look at how you can streamline the process and the operations. 

There's way too much redundancy in processes in organizations. And if you see someone who's always working 60 hours a week, or who's logging in at 2:00 in the morning, you need to help them gain control over their schedule, and to put some boundaries in, and to help them, and ask them for what they need.

The other thing is, don't overemphasize return on investment, that everything comes down to a financial metric. That's the problem with HR, because a lot of what is done in HR, and a lot of the ways to measure leadership, are kind of soft numbers. It's where the idea of a balanced scorecard comes into place. If you keep focusing on just bottom line, bottom line, employees believe that you don't care about them. It's the idea of, if Tom keels over dead on the assembly line, move the dead body, put Bob in his place, and everything just keeps on going.

Employees will not give their best if they don't believe you care about them. The other thing is lack of resources. I know budgets are tight, but be honest with employees. You can't say, "We can't afford to bring someone else on board," and then give a six-figure bonus to somebody in the C-suite. Employees get very frustrated by that. So ask. Again, there's that communication, and strive to provide what the employees really believe they need to do their job well.

Also, watch the politics and the sabotage. If you really want to know what's going on, and you're a leader, ask the coworkers of certain employees what they're really like. It's the old adage, when we were in the workplace, that Beth comes in at six o'clock in the morning, and she doesn't leave until 10 o'clock at night, which senior leaders think that Beth is a great employee, because look how committed she is. 

But Beth's colleagues know that she takes a nap in the afternoon, and she takes a nap in the morning. So you need to really strive that politics and sabotage are not part of the process for promotions or for any type of new processes. You're going for honesty, fairness, and equitable treatment for all.

The other thing is, sometimes if it has been a poor culture, you're going to have negative coworkers. And it's the old Hawthorne effect, that someone comes in and they're all excited, and, "We're going to make this great," and all of the old employees go, "Yeah. Go ahead and do that. I'm not going to do it." 

So you have to look at that, but it takes more than just, "Let's go out and have pizza for lunch." And you know a lot of companies do that. I remember, there was one company I heard of that really was hyping up that they were going to give all the employees a present because they really appreciated what they did. You want to know what the present was? A branded key chain.

Beth Almes:

Oh. I was afraid to ask. Oh gosh.

Geri Puleo:

Yeah, a branded key chain. And the employees, I mean, it totally backfired, because they were like, "This is what you think of us?" So the goal is to be collaborative and have positive teams, and also to be very specific with what you're expecting. What does good teamwork look like? And that can be difficult. And the bit with the key chain, it showed a lack of organizational caring. So you have to provide tangible proof for your employees about the fact that you do care, and you are going to support them.

Talk's cheap. Actions speak a lot louder than words. What are you doing? Not what you said. If you want to know somebody's priority, look at what they do, not what they say. And then finally, identify what good leadership means in your organization. And I would advocate more of a servant leadership that builds trust and autonomy. 

We're all adults in the workplace. It's not this autocratic, I tell you to jump, and you say, "How high?" Especially with everything that's going on in the new move to the new normal, you need collaboration. You need autonomy. You need trust, because that's how organizations are not only going to get through this, but it's also one of the best ways to avoid burnout.

Beth Almes:

Geri, this conversation was so helpful today.

Geri Puleo:

Oh, thank you.

Beth Almes:

And I think for a lot of our leaders out there, they will have appreciated your word so much. I think there was a lot to learn here about setting boundaries for yourself as a leader, making sure you are then equipped to support your team, and how important that is, because the effects of burnout can really stay with us a long time. So it's more important to address it now than to let it go too long. So thank you for joining us, Geri.

Geri Puleo:

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it.

Beth Almes:

Absolutely. And thank you to all of our listeners for spending part of your 480 minutes with us today. This is Beth Almes, reminding you to make every moment of leadership count.

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