Preventing Burnout

In this episode of Remote Works, we’re looking beyond the technology, the company culture, and the distributed work models. We’re looking at YOU and how you find balance day to day. With an increase in remote work, there has been more demand among employers and employees for skills related to well-being. Well-being expert Jennifer Moss spent the pandemic researching burnout. She joins us to discuss what can be done to prevent it and what employers and individuals can do to create balance at work.

PODCAST | 25m
January 20, 2021
S2:Ep7

Executive summary

  • Learn how business leaders are taking steps to create a sense of community online and tackle challenges related to digital wellness
  • Listen to experts on preventing burnout and creating balance at work

Featured voices

Jennifer Moss
Author of The Burnout Epidemic

Melanie Green (host):

I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. Over the past season, we’ve taken deep dives into how the world of work has been changing. We took you to a racetrack in Italy, to a trapper’s cabin in the Arctic and to Barbados as we explored how technology has helped people and companies settle into a new world of work - wherever work takes them. Our final episode of the season - is all about you. It’s about the challenges and rewards of work on a personal level. How do you find balance in this sea change that you’re in? What have you learned from working through the pandemic - and how do you prepare to grow and thrive not just professionally but personally in the year ahead? Looking back at the last year -- it's been enough to exhaust all of us. There have been times where I'm just straining to cope. It turns out that I’m not alone. A few months ago, a study from FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that seventy-five percent of workers have experienced burnout. Forty percent of those polled said their burnout was a direct result of the pandemic. And more than a third of those working at home were working longer hours, starting the workday earlier and ending it later. Figuring out how to balance work and home life and just managing the stress around the extraordinary events of the past year, can be overwhelming. All of this upheaval has experts and business leaders looking for answers. A few months ago, a report by the World Economic Forum on the Future of Jobs showed that with a rise in remote work, there's more demand among employers and employees for skills related to wellbeing. There has been more interest in skills such as mindfulness, meditation, gratitude and kindness, for example.  And 34% of leaders in that study said they're taking steps to create a sense of community online and tackle other well-being challenges. Jennifer Moss is an author, speaker and radio columnist who focuses on topics around well-being. She's been interested in burnout for a while. In fact, Jennifer's spent the pandemic researching burnout for a book she's writing. And she says there are signs you might be hitting the wall.

Jennifer Moss:

Most people don't really know, but there are signs. One of them is that you are dreading going into work the next day. That you wake up in the morning and you feel already concerned and stressed and anxious about being at work, that by the end of the day, you feel completely drained by your day or you're exhausted by the work that you've done, you feel demotivated. And then there's also physical signs. You're not sleeping as well. You are starting to deal with other types of responses, stress responses. So your cortisol is up, which makes you also have issues like headaches and gastrointestinal pain. So there are physical signs, but mostly you can identify a feeling of being burned out when you just feel really drained by the end of the day,

Melanie Green (host):

It’s a vicious cycle.  Lack of sleep can cause cortisol - the stress hormone - to increase - which can have a negative impact on physical health. Things like mood swings, high blood pressure and weight gain. When you’re in the middle of that swirl, it can feel incredibly intense. 

Lauren:

It was like entering a tornado. It was, uh, it was terrifying. It was emotional. It was stressful.

Melanie Green (host):

Meet Lauren.  She’s an events manager.  That tornado she’s referring to is her workplace back in in the spring of 2019. Lauren was coming back to work after her maternity leave. But her work environment was nothing like the one she had left a few months before. There had been big layoffs while Lauren was away. She was suddenly expected to do more. And, before she could get settled, she was thrown immediately into a massive project - planning a conference for twenty-five hundred people.

Lauren: I felt a lot of pressure, and not intentionally, from my employer just because it was such a beast of an event. Naturally the pressure comes along with that.

Melanie Green (host):  I could only imagine. Okay. So can you tell me a bit about what happens up to this event and then the event itself and then, afterwards as well?

Lauren: It was a huge hit. It was a fantastic conference and. It really upped the livelihood within the office. After that, we got to, to, to relax a little bit to take a breath.

Melanie Green (host):

But on the heels of that big event - another curveball came barreling over the plate.

Lauren: The event happened in June and in September, my direct manager gave her notice. And with that, I was gifted the team which I was incredibly grateful for.

Melanie Green (host):  You take on this responsibility and this is, correct me if I’m wrong here, September?

Lauren: That's correct.

Melanie Green (host): How does that go?

Lauren: I was shocked. I didn't expect it to come so quickly. And so it shook me. I know it shook the team.  And so um, from that moment forward, everything just kind of happened so quickly. The logistics of a role transfer. And the anxieties and the stressors and the shifting of the team, my colleagues, and now my direct reports. You know, my friends, my colleagues, these people that were hired on around the same time as me, similar job titles, doing the same duties within the organization, are now reporting to me.

Melanie Green (host):  And that's not easy.

Lauren: Oh gosh. It was probably one of the most terrifying things I have done, worse than childbirth, only because I have built such great working relationships with these people, and now I needed to shift the mentality of, of that team.

Melanie Green (host):

Okay, pro tip: if your job feels more difficult than childbirth, there’s an issue. It didn’t stop there for Lauren though. Lauren’s train to burnout town kept gaining speed. Management flipped over and changed. So Lauren and her team were reporting to someone new.

Melanie Green (host): Your scope, it sounds like, is expanding pretty rapidly and you're working to keep up. How do you start feeling during this time?

Lauren: I struggled. I felt what I refer to as like an excessive need to show my worth to the organization. I felt like this role was gifted to me and I didn't necessarily earn it at, which was ridiculous to think. I was totally earned and my manager made that very clear to me, but I'm also a woman in the workplace and that's a struggle on its own. And now I'm a woman in a leadership role within my team. 

Melanie Green (host): Take me through how this continues to sort of roll out for you.

Lauren: I'm a driven person. I love work. I love what I do. I love people. I love great culture. I love, I love to be happy. And so I will put on my happy pants every single day. I sat down with my team during their weekly one-on-ones, and we went through the things that they were struggling with. If they were happy and their day to day was working for them, that's a win for me. I'll take care of my stuff, but my team was the utmost importance, which was a huge factor leading to my eventual burnout.

Melanie Green (host):

With a new child at home and more responsibilities at work, Lauren was feeling the pressure. And as that pressure continued to build and build it led to a place that felt inevitable: Burnout. 

Lauren:

I wouldn't say I noticed it until it was almost too late.  I completely neglected myself. I was so focused on my team and the events that we put on that I wasn't aware as to how my body was reacting, to how my family was reacting and to how my peers were reacting.

Melanie Green (host):

At the time, Lauren didn't know she was burning out. And she felt driven to perform, because you know, she loved her job. This is something that's been happening to people all over the world.  For an example of how a country is making strides to address the root causes, Jennifer Moss says we should look to Sweden.

Jennifer Moss:

No other country has identified burnout in the way that Sweden has and they actually call it social exhaustion disorder, but it mimics burnout. What has happened around burnout in the rest of the world is that it hasn't been considered a medical condition. It hasn't been diagnosable. So what happens is that it doesn't then get treated or get taken seriously. So the World Health Organization has really tried to change that. I know that the work that they're doing is really focused on trying to make it a diagnosable condition so that it can be treated. And it really is incredible how researchers have come to sort of push the conversation around burnout towards making it sort of a diagnosis. Actually the WHO just in 2019, added it to its international classification of diseases, which was a major step. And then they also identified it as a workplace phenomenon.

Melanie Green (host):

The World Health Organization defines Burn-out as follows: “A syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” That's a textbook definition of what Lauren was experiencing. The definition goes on to describe the three dimensions of burnout: “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion” Check! “Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of cynicism related to one's job” Check! “And reduced professional efficacy.” Triple check. Lauren had a one-way ticket to burnout. But she didn’t know that at the time. So when those feelings came up, Lauren decided to work harder.

Lauren: That's when I went into hyperdrive. I'm a young woman working from home with a two-year-old boy, putting in 12 to 15 hours a day, while caring for our son. And I wasn't picking up on cues around me. My focus was work, was getting the job done, making sure my team was okay and essentially neglecting everyone else around me.

Melanie Green (host): And I noticed you didn't mention yourself. How, how were you feeling at that time?

Lauren: I was in a bubble and completely unaware. I felt the pressures of getting my work done in a timely fashion. If everything felt very heavy in the workplace, I was afraid of failure but not recognizing that I was failing at my home life. I was failing at giving my son actual quality time. I was failing at giving my husband quality time. And so my emotional life at home was nonexistent. I was there, but I wasn't present.

Melanie Green (host):

For Jennifer Moss, Lauren’s story sounds very familiar. Jennifer’s not only a burnout expert, she’s experienced those intense emotions herself.

Jennifer Moss:

So when I listened to Lauren's story, I just immediately had a full body sort of reaction to it because I have so much empathy for her. As a person who is passion driven myself, and you know, very focused on the purpose of my work, it sometimes does take a complete collapse before we realize that we have gone too far. The thing that is different between Lauren's and my experience is that I'm my own boss. So I have to manage it myself. Whereas with Lauren, she has people in her orbit that need to be recognizing what is going on. But what happens sometimes in these situations is employers don't realize that that can be taken advantage of, and, or it can be ignored, and the signs, you know, aren't there. What are the expectations that we have as employers to make sure that we don't lose a very talented person.

Melanie Green (host):

So employers and coworkers should be more aware of the signs of burnout. A lack of energy. Irritability. Disillusionment. Struggles with eating or sleeping. Experts say there are a few tell-tale psychological factors that can lead to burnout. Things like a lack of the resources or autonomy to do your job. Unclear job expectations and shifting goal posts. Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. A lack of social support. Or even, a general lack of work-life balance.

Jennifer Moss:

When I put out an ask for people to share their burnout stories, it was remarkable how many people reached out to me. And I learned that people right now are just in general, really feeling burnout because they are chronically stressed from all of the external factors going on. In the research, what I found was that only about 17% of managers, our direct supervisors, had actually gone to their employees and say, “Can you still meet these pre-COVID goals?” Managers were just expecting their employees to continue working at the same levels, despite the fact that they're dealing with grief, not just grief of potential harm to their family or even having lost loved ones. That they're grieving the life that they had before and people are demotivated, they're exhausted. And they're still being asked to work at those same levels. And so burnout has just become so much more exacerbated through COVID-19.

Melanie Green (host):

So more work can be done to understand the impact of the past year on us - and what supports we need from work to get through it. During the pandemic, Lauren’s entire industry moved online and she switched to working from home. And with everything going on in her life, she struggled to have the bandwidth to pivot quickly to virtual work.

Lauren:
It was a space I wasn't familiar with, you know, virtual programming, virtual events, completely out of my realm of knowledge. So it was figuring out what webinar platforms were needed. And then when those didn't work, what networking platforms were needed, what Roundtable platforms, what open conversation platforms were needed.

Melanie Green (host):

In addition to learning how to host events virtually, Lauren had to figure out the new technology she needed for working remotely and how to manage her time on it.  Jennifer Moss says many of us are still dealing with this shift to remote work.

Jennifer Moss:

You’re no longer working from home, you're living at work. There's so much that's just kind of intertwined in your life. And a big part of that is just how much screen time you're actually expected to engage in in a day.

Melanie Green (host):

Jennifer Moss points out that when Covid hit, some employers went overboard with good intentions to connect employees online. Think virtual happy hours. Turns out, that actually added to stress people were feeling about managing their screen time.

Jennifer Moss:

And so that had to quickly change. And you saw companies do that some haven't and we need to go back to just getting on a quick call is okay. We don't need to constantly be seeing each other's faces. That doesn't necessarily make us more connected to someone. It helps if we still have these weekly connections, but always being on Zoom is exhausting, especially for those people that are introverted.

Melanie Green (host):

As Lauren tried to balance work and home life, she started maxing out.  Then, in the midst of trying to find new balance working from home - Lauren was laid off.  The company told her that due to the pandemic they had to rethink their staffing situation.  Lauren wasn’t alone.  She was experiencing what so many have been going through in the past year. As we head into a year of continued uncertainty and possible upheaval in where and how we’ll work - Jennifer Moss says there are steps employers can take - to prevent imminent burnout.

Jennifer Moss:

One of the first things that companies can do is to just be checking in more to make sure that those frontline managers are asking, you know, how people are feeling, what are their goals this week? Can we adjust them? Do you need them adjusted? Are they talking a lot about feeling exhausted? Are they, you know, are they doing things that have changed? If we're checking in more, if we're looking at the small data and, and really deploying those direct managers to find out that information in a way that is authentic, then we can see change over time.

Melanie Green (host):

Observing employees and colleagues - really noticing how they’re doing.  And following up by connecting with them in a meaningful way.  Those are two big takeaways.

Jennifer Moss:

We can see people shifting and their moods changing, and that allows us to have deeper conversations, maybe change things up so that it better protects the person from burning out. One of the things about small data is that what I love so much about it is that, if you get people together and talk about things that are personal, it can be mind opening. You can learn so much about someone. There is a great example of this woman that I interviewed for the book, her name is Martha Bird and she is the chief anthropologist at ADP. She had a whole bunch of people gather together and bring a picture of their childhood selves and they talked, you know, about what that picture meant. And there was this one gentleman that his photo was black and white and she gathered for people from all over the world in this group. And what he said is, in his experience as a child, if you had a color photo, it meant that you were well-off. And so she dug into some of his background, she said, about how he grew up in what he understands of privilege and what is, and not having privilege. And those conversations just sparked a huge conversation around how he felt inside the organization and how he had felt excluded. And there’s so much that can be sparked just by gathering people together and having those conversations.

Melanie Green (host):

One of the industries most affected by burnout is healthcare. They've been sounding the alarm for years. And since the pandemic, Jennifer says they've seen an increase in burnout. She looks to Dr. Edward Ellison as an example of how some healthcare leaders are trying to help those on the frontlines weather the storm.  Dr. Ellison is the CEO of Kaiser Permanente Hospital in California.  

Jennifer Moss:

He’s dealing with things like COVID and major fires. It's a huge issue for him there, just keeping his team safe but he realized that burnout was on the rise and it’s a big issue in healthcare. And so he coached a bunch of the physicians in various hospitals and taught them how to have mental healthcare 101. And he trained them to be a support person. And so in every hospital on every day, there is one physician wearing a purple scrub and it’s supposed to be, you know, symbolic.  It’s also from a positive psychology standpoint. It’s priming people to know that they have support, even just the purple scrub. So people might not have to rely on that person that day, but they know, you know, that they have psychological safety. That they can go to that person at any time they can share how they’re feeling and they’ll have support.

Melanie Green (host):

I like the purple scrub idea.  A way to identify someone you can go to at work to talk to.  Creating psychological safety - and opportunities to connect with a trusted colleague when you really need it. Catching a problem before it grows into something too big to deal with. Those strategies sound attainable - and they make sense.

Jennifer Moss:

I really believe in upstream strategies, so we need to be sort of trying to prevent before we’re looking to cure. But when that person is getting to that place where they are unwell, it’s really important for us to then be able to have the supports already in place. Peer support is one of the biggest and having someone that you can talk to can be really helpful. We also need to get people more aware of what they have accessible to them through their EAPs. Most people don’t use their EAPs. They need to be able to have access to them.  And not just access to them, but knowledge of what is available to them. Making sure that people are well aware of their local supports.

Melanie Green (host):

By the way, EAPs are employee assistance programs.  As workforces around the world are being reshaped by remote work, experts like Jennifer Moss are increasingly focused on wellness strategies for those working from home. In a recent Pulse survey of tech leaders, three quarters of respondents rated digital wellness as a priority in their flexible workforces. Some of the ideas those executives offered were encouraging healthy use of tech, encouraging time off - and time offline, and having mandatory “no meeting” days. Other advice from digital wellness experts include turning off email and work notifications when you’re not at work - and having a dedicated workspace to separate work and personal life. This increased focus on mental health and digital wellness is an indication that when we feel overwhelmed or exhausted, we are not alone in our journey.  For Lauren, as she works on healing from her experience - she’s thinking about raising awareness about burnout. And what needs to be done to recognize and avoid it.

Lauren:

I know we hold ourselves really accountable for ourselves, you know, our own actions. But I think it is so important aside from all of that, that employers need to be ultra-aware as to what is going on within the organization. And that they need to pay attention to the work that is going on, the hours that people are putting in. And if you don't have that set in place within your organization that you need to figure out what you need to do to get that taken care of. And I know that obviously that, that could be bringing in somebody else to assess the organization. That costs money. Yes. Bringing in additional HR support that costs money. Yes. But it's the health of your staff. It's the health of your team. And that is more important than anything else.

Melanie Green (host):

Jennnifer Moss agrees. Both individuals and employers can watch for symptoms of burnout.  For their part - employers can guide employees to where they can find support within an organization.

Jennifer Moss:

When you really analyze the root causes, you know, it's not a person's decision to have excessive workload. It's not their decision to be placed in a role necessarily that's been decided for them and they're not good at. It's often in the organization where they've created sort of bad hygiene.

Melanie Green (host):

But Jennifer says that the knife cuts on both sides. We also need to take care of ourselves -- as much as we possibly can. And she knows this, because she’s experienced it.

Jennifer Moss:

Individuals do have responsibility. I mean, I look at myself, I am an individual contributor. I do find myself burning out because I work to the point of exhaustion when I really care about a project. I mean, I'm writing a book about burnout in a pandemic. Obviously there's going to be some irony there as the person who's the expert in burnout, not following her own rules. So we need to be able to acknowledge that we do play a role. And people that are high performers, that are perfectionists, people that are really focused on high achievement, they do run the risk. So there are parts of our personality that can play into making us more at risk of burnout. But it is definitely, um, a two-way street. And if anything it's employers that really need to be rethinking their role.

Melanie Green (host):

Now that Lauren’s had some space to step back from her experience - I asked her if she could go back and tell herself anything - give herself advice - what that would be.

Lauren:

Yeah, I mean, I would go back and I would tell myself that you are worthy. You are worthy of being mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.

Melanie Green (host):

That is great advice for all of us. Burnout is real. And research shows that a lot of people have experienced it. But we don’t talk about it enough. If anything, we sort of accept that feeling is quote - normal. So as we move into a New Year -- one that for many will be another year of flexible work, maybe fully remote, maybe a hybrid model -- We have to cut ourselves some slack. Let’s stop, take a breath, and remember that we’re all doing our best.  Above all, be kind to yourselves. And others. I’m Melanie Green. Thanks for tuning in this season. You can listen again on your favorite app, learn more about digital wellness strategies - and dive deeper into the future of remote work at Citrix dot com slash remote works.

BÜLTEN

Citrix tarafından Fieldwork’ten en son araştırmaları, içgörüleri ve hikayeleri alın.