In Episode 61, Melinda Briana Epler is joined by an incredible panel of experts and catalysts for anti-burnout in the workplace: Erayna Sargent, Anthony Ware, and Al Dea. They examine the common drivers of burnout, how to spot its symptoms and take action for yourself and your team, and what managers can do to prevent burnout at work. They also share some tips on how to support teams through the emotional impact of an acquisition.
Learn more about Erayna’s work:
- Erayna’s website
- Take the burnout quiz to understand if burnout is impacting your everyday life
- Erayna’s Well+Good Career advice contributions
- Listen to NPR Lifekit Podcast: Burnout Isn’t Just Exhaustion. Here’s How To Deal With It
- Read the book: Burnout, How to Beat the High Cost of Success by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger
- Read the article: Deloitte Workplace Burnout Survey of 1,000 full-time US professionals
- Read the article: Burnout is fueling attrition by the HRdirector.com
- Listen to Balanced Black Girl podcast’s episode with Erayna
- Connect with Erayna on LinkedIn
- Follow Erayna on Twitter
- Follow Erayna on Instagram
Learn more about Anthony’s work:
- Anthony’s website
- Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn
- Follow Anthony on Twitter
- Follow Anthony on Instagram
Learn more about Al’s work:
- Subscribe to Al’s newsletter
- Connect with Al on LinkedIn
- Follow Al on Twitter
This episode is sponsored by First Tech Federal Credit Union, a member-owned financial institution that is powered by a people-before-profit philosophy. Learn more at https://www.firsttechfed.com/.
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com
- Al: “One of the things we can do as ourselves, particularly those of us who are in positions of power, can be more thoughtful and mindful of what’s going on with our people; making sure you’re checking in and developing the sense of trust so that when you do ask your employees ‘how are you doing’, they can feel and be honest with you and open up if they are potentially struggling, whatever that may be.”
- Anthony: “I would want an ally, and it happened, to check on me [when I was feeling burnout]. And when they checked on me, they were present for me, present to hear me, and listen to me. If I asked for things, for solutions, or for help, then they chime up. But they wouldn’t be there to fix me because I wasn’t broken. It’s the human thing, take out all the PR, take out all the constraints, just as an ally, show up human to human.”
- Erayna: “I was very lucky to have a good ally in one of my managers during my experience. And the best thing he did was to have real conversations and reset expectations…. being very real about what needs to get done and how you get it done because as a leader, you still have objectives but you can still be human while managing a team. So, recognizing it and then restructuring how work gets done so that the people who need to breathe can breathe, but you can also keep going in what you are honestly getting paid to do.”
Founder and H.A.B.C (Head anti-burnout champion) at Hooky Wellness
Erayna is a contributing writer for Well+Good and has guest appeared on podcasts including NPR Life Kit, Dribble Overtime, Balanced Black Girl and featured publications for Ozy Media, Hour Detroit, and Architectural Digest. Originally from Detroit, she currently lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and their two cats.
Principal at AWare Catalysts
A latchkey kid from Indianapolis. He and his two younger brothers were raised by his dad. Anthony’s first job was cleaning toilets for his dad’s janitorial business. After going the traditional route of getting a degree and a job, he jumped from the corporate ladder to launch multiple startups. Ignoring his scarcity mentality and trauma from childhood, he broke down mentally in November 2010 after his third startup failed. It was a pivotal moment in his life that shaped the focus on his business and life mission. As a result, he now focuses his business and research on the mental wealth of the global community of underestimated entrepreneurs and business professionals.
Founder of Betterwork Labs
Al is the Founder of Betterwork Labs, an organization focused on helping companies create cultures where their people can thrive. He is an author, speaker, podcast host, and researcher on workplace trends and talent development. Al is passionate about helping individuals and organizations flourish in the changing world of work, and in unlocking individual purpose and potential to achieve organizational performance.
Al researches, writes, and publishes on leadership development, workplace trends, and company culture, and his thinking and insights have been published in outlets such as Business Insider, The World Economic Forum, Inc and Time Magazine. Al previously worked at Salesforce as a Product Marketer, helping launch products and features that touched thousands of customers. He previously worked as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he advised Fortune 500 companies on developing and executing digital transformation.
Al received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Theology from Boston College, and his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill.
MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep, real conversations to build empathy for one another and to take action to be more inclusive and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity Equity and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right. Let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Welcome everyone to Leading With Empathy & Allyship. They are Change Catalyst’s Live Event Series. This is a safe space to learn how to lead the change, build empathy for each other, and understand those tangible actions we can all take to build a better world for our colleagues, friends, neighbors, and ourselves as well.
A special thank you today to First Tech Federal Credit Union for sponsoring this episode. Today we’ll be talking with three incredible guests about addressing burnout in the workplace. We’ll talk about what causes burnout, how to prevent it, and how to support each other through it. And then also what managers and leaders can do to address burnout in the organization.
Here to discuss the subject with me are Erayna, founder and HABC (Head Anti Burnout Champion) at Hooky Wellness, Al Dea, founder of Betterwork Labs, and my friend Anthony Ware, Principal at AWare Catalysts. Welcome, you three.
AL: Thank you.
ERAYNA: Thank you for having us.
ANTHONY: Thank you.
MELINDA: So, would you all just take a few moments to say a little bit about what you do and why addressing burnout is important to you.
AL: I am the founder of Betterwork Labs, which is an organization that works with companies that want to create better workplaces for their people where they can thrive and reach their human potential.
Prior to founding Betterworks Labs, I have worked in large corporations pretty much for my entire career, both first as a management consultant as well as working in an enterprise software company for the last few years.
I’ve seen firsthand the challenges as well as the implications of burnout, particularly on people and particularly for people who are in high-performing or fast-moving environments. I’ve seen this both in terms of being a people manager and leader, as well as experiencing it myself.
I’m certainly happy to talk about that a little bit later, but part of why selfishly I care so deeply about this is just through my own personal experience for myself in trying to navigate burnout, as well as for others around me both in terms of people I manage or coach, as well as friends and colleagues.
I’m really fortunate that I have a good network of people, both past colleagues and professional friends and things like that, and witnessing some of the challenges that they faced, certainly over the past 18 to 20 months. But even before that, particularly in environments that do really demand high performance, I have a really big mission to figure out how I can play a role in helping create better workplaces where people can thrive, but to do so in a healthy way. And so, that’s why I’m really committed to trying to do my best to help solve these challenges.
ERAYNA: I’ll jump in. I’m Erayna Sargent. I’m the founder and CEO, and I will also say the Head Anti-Burnout Champion at Hooky Wellness. Yes, that is like play hooky, which is exactly the vibe that I’m looking to impart.
I’m extremely passionate about doing something about burnout because, in layman’s terms, it’s trash and is extremely common. Before the pandemic, it was affecting over 77% of the professional workforce. It just took for us to go through a pandemic to start talking about it and to stop pointing fingers, and to stop acting as though it will go away on its own.
Similar to Al, I built my career in high-performance environments. I’ve worked in industries including workspace design and office furniture. After getting my MBA at Indiana University, I moved into consumer goods and worked at Nestle, building some of the world’s biggest most favorite brands. And then, I also spent some time in tech working at Intuit on the QuickBooks business.
Throughout that journey, about four years ago, I experienced my biggest battle with burnout. That opened my eyes to how rampant it was yet how far from alone I was. So, within that experience, I recognized how challenging it was to get the support you needed when you needed it most.
Some of that being on the external side of the friction field support systems, and some of that being on the internal. That drove me really to pivot and to do something about it. I am in the process of building Hooky completely focused on burnout relief, providing comprehensive and practical support for those high performers to empower them to be a catalyst for an anti-burnout workplace.
We need all the support that we can have. So, I’m excited to be on this panel and to be with other advocates in this space because the more conversations, the more advocates, the more hands-on in this space, the greater the change we can make. Because they won’t go away on its own. Going back to the office won’t do it. Sorry to tell you.
I’m excited to have a convo. I’m excited to get your questions and to share a little bit about what we’ve been building learning in this space over the past three years.
ANTHONY: I want that – playing Hooky. I’m Anthony Ware, Principal and Founder of AWare Catalysts and lead researcher/publisher for Founder Mental Wealth.
When I really thought about this question, for me, actually, it gets personal down to when I was a teenager. My dad raised my two younger brothers and me. One day I came home from junior high, I think it was, and my dad’s friend is waiting there saying your dad’s in the hospital. It was because of exhaustion. He was working his job and then working his side hustle and not getting any sleep and rest.
And so, it was literally exhaustion and burnout that put him in a hospital, which then meant myself and my two brothers had to go do side hustles to janitorial business. So, when I really think about this, that’s really the seed of why I work around burnout. Actually, for me, I focus on the whole concept of mental wealth and specifically for underestimated, initially entrepreneurs, but the range was expanded thanks to the pandemic to help ERGs in mid to large-sized companies with the concept of mental wealth. We can dig into it, but it’s using that to help address the challenges around burnout.
MELINDA: Thank you for sharing that experience, too. I think each of you has had catalyzing experience with burnout in one way or another. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience of burnout is? And maybe you just take three key signs, or you know what it is? I think a lot of us have a sense of what it is, so if you could kind of distill it to three or so points, that would be awesome.
ERAYNA: Sure. I’ll jump in there. So, technically, burnout is the result of untreated chronic stress. It is not a fluke. It is not something that happens overnight, but it is a progression of things that are untreated and unmanaged.
In my personal experience of burnout, I had many, I would say because this is not necessarily a one and done. I’ve experienced all of the stages. But depending upon which research you read, they can break it down in different ways. I like to use three key stages.
The first one is exhaustion. That’s the earliest warning sign that is a key indicator that something is off. This is more than being tired. This is a matter of chronic exhaustion, where no matter what amount of sleep, or additional naps you’re adding in, you’re still feeling depleted and lacking the energy to do not just your basic tasks but those tasks that typically would bring you joy. So, exhaustion is a very common early warning flag that something is awry.
The next stage that I always like to talk about is the stage where it is based on talking about withdrawal. It’s a matter of pulling away from those things, pulling away from those people that could be very fulfilling in the past but needing to go inside. So, in this space, you often hear people also replacing positive coping mechanisms or methodologies of managing stress with false cures is what they’re called. So doubling down on alcohol, cannabis, those things that can be used recreationally, but you notice it becomes more of a crutch. And you often even recognize that it’s an unhealthy usage of it. So, those are just two of the example, but there are, of course, more.
And then the third stage is where it really turns into a slippery slope. So, this is where it’s defined really as a detachment. So, “you start to feel empty inside” is what people can describe. Things are all for naught. Cynicism is at an all-time high. Everybody’s stupid, and no one can do their job around you is very common. But this is where it can quickly turn into official mental health challenges and issues. So depression, anxiety, and other things are quickly at your door, as well as PTSD-like symptoms can start to arise. I had some of those where my outlook would trigger visceral, physical, and internal reactions to it. There are many, many other symptoms and signs, but those are some of the top ones, very common. So, just those three stages.
And then, last but not least, stress and burnout are not the same things. Being very aware that they are very different. Burnout is what happens when you do not treat stress. And even stress has multiple stages. I’d like to call it out because we’re getting to the space of greenwashing burnout, where all of a sudden, everybody’s dealing with burnout. And we don’t want to discount this very deep, internal feeling that can happen, especially in the third stage, which is around detachment.
MELINDA: Al or Anthony, do you want to add?
ANTHONY: Yes. I know I talked about my father previously, but I’ve had similar phases throughout, especially when I look the last three decades of working in a corporate environment, high pressure in commercial real estate, and then over the last decade, running four or five different companies, running, starting, failing.
I think the thing to realize is that, unless something gets really bad or really off, oftentimes, you don’t realize you’re in burnout. Now, I can look back that is starting to detach from people. And I’m social. That is just me by nature. And actually, fortunately, I had good people around me to point out like, “Hey, we haven’t seen you in a while.” Not like, “Hey, we want to go hang out.” We just haven’t seen you.
And so, I think, when it comes to burnout, I love how the foundation of this conversation is going is that, like, for me, it just was realizing that I had that issue or I had that challenge. And during the pandemic, it’s been much of the same.
AL: I love what both of them already said. But I would also add, I think, for me, the one that really stuck out was just this general feeling of not being myself. And so, as an example of what Anthony had said, I am also a pretty outgoing and social person in general. Generally speaking, I enjoy being around other people. I also am someone who tends to be pretty positive.
I think the big kind of aha moment for me was when I stopped being both of those things. I started not being a positive person. I started being a little bit of a cynic. I started not being upbeat about the work I was doing. I mean, certainly, every now and then, you always kind of complain about work that was a little bit expected, I think for me, but it was to the point where it seems so out of character.
I think to maybe what Anthony said, at first, I didn’t really understand it. It really took other people around me to shine a light back to be able to say, “Hey, not only are you not being yourself, but there might be some reasons for why this is.” And that was kind of the aha moment where I was like, “Oh, okay.” There’s this clinical thing called burnout.
That was what really honestly led me to kind of explore more about it. Once I learned more about it, and once I started talking to more licensed health professionals about it, I started to realize, “Okay. Now, I potentially understand why I’m not the person that I normally am.”
MELINDA: What is the cause? What is the cause of it? How do we start to recognize that?
AL: It’s a great question. I can maybe start with this. I think that, for me, at least, one of the things I started thinking a lot about was just the general work environment that I was in. One of the things as someone who has been, or I’d like to think I’ve been a high performer for all of my career, is that typically, when something has gone wrong, or something maybe didn’t work out the way that I wanted it to, I always kind of thought, “Okay, what could I have done better? What can I learn from this? What could I do differently?”
I think at first, that was kind of the mindset that I took when I was experiencing potential symptoms of what could be considered burnout. Eventually, because, again, of the coaching that I got and the advice that I got, I started to realize that in a lot of cases, burnout isn’t so much about you or what you did or what you didn’t do. But it has a lot to do with the environmental factors that exist. In this case, within the workplace, but certainly, it could also be depending on who you are or what you’re experiencing, other aspects of your life.
And so, once I started looking more at kind of those environmental factors of the space that I was in, that’s when I started realizing, “Okay. This isn’t just about me. This is something that’s bigger than me.”
For me, that was the first step I took towards understanding more deeply what potentially was causing this for me. If I can point to one thing, I’ll give one tactical example, and then I’ll let my other fellow panelists maybe chime in as well. So, over the past year and a half or so in the group that I was in, we went through constant change. There was just a lot of just moving pieces to our business. Certainly, COVID did not help.
I think at one point in time, I counted, we went through maybe six or seven organizational changes, either with a team getting moved in, or a new leader coming in, or someone going away. I think, as I reflect back on it and try to think about how that might have impacted me, I can definitely see the detachment coming into play. Because after maybe about the third or fourth change, I think in my head I started to wonder, “Well, why am I even doing this if someone else is just gonna come in and throw my work out the window and make me work on something new?” And so, that was one example where I could see maybe some of the environmental factors really playing into some of the burnout that I was experiencing.
MELINDA: Erayna or Anthony? Go ahead.
ANTHONY: I want to actually build off of what Erayna was saying, you know, the difference between stress and burnout. There is a difference between stress and burnout. I think fundamentally, when you look at burnout, it’s been because of the culture. If you look at the last hundred in the States and then in Europe and other places, this whole concept of work, be the best, whatever that means is unhealthy. Not unhealthy but the relationship with stress.
There’s a book called The Upside of Stress, which I love because, you know, reframing what stress is. All stress isn’t bad stress. It just depends. Like, they’re stressed to have a baby. They’re stressed for an airplane to take off. But like this whole concept of the culture that we built into this workplace, the workplace, and culture in its broadest sense. And so, getting plugged into that from childhood into birth, and now we have the pandemic, and are coming out of it, and people are trying to go back to normal. Well, normal got us to this point where we have to have this panel.
This panel doesn’t need to exist, but I think fundamentally, the cause of burnout is that we’ve been programmed into the things that make this happen. So, whether it’s performance reviews or not, making mental health as fundamental as physical health and those kinds of things, I think that’s the broader level.
ERAYNA: I’ll add a couple of notes onto that. I completely agree with everything that has been shared. I’m very much an MBA Type A, so I think in things and frameworks. There’s a couple of things that have been known as I was talking about the workplace. The workplace is a very common driver of burnout, but it is not the only driver. But when you think about it, there are six known and proven dimensions of what happens in the workplace that can lead to burnout.
So, that’s things that we all know, workload key. There’s a matter of fairness. There’s a matter of reward. There’s a matter of values, community, perceived control. So, those are data-backed, known as the drivers in the workplace. You can imagine how the changes over the past two years don’t quite line up to favorable conditions in many of those buckets, especially perception of control.
And so, that workplace. But when you think about burnout, it’s bigger than work. Even for those of us who work is a very big part of our identity. For me, life-lifing was a big part of why my burnout happened because I didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the things that normally I was able to handle.
So, for me, my version of life-lifing was a dual-income household moving across the country multiple times within a year, dealing with starting new jobs and careers and aging ailing parents that had cancer and figuring out just life and internal changes of “I don’t like this anymore. This is no longer the path for me.”
But when you think about life, we don’t talk about those transition points like they are normal, but they are normal. We are not. Especially when you look at millennials, we’re not in the mindset of staying in one career path for 60 years. It’s just not what we do. So, what about those shifts?
And so, when you think about life, growth, and changes, changes in internal values, which is another big thing that has been going on over the past year with people as things are coming to light. Those are all things that breed burnout conditions and can layer on top of everyday ongoing stress that just exists in life.
So, what causes burnout? It is a myriad of things, which is why it is such a complex issue and that there is no silver bullet. If anyone ever tries to sell you a silver bullet, go the other way. There are things that can be done. There are things that can lessen the impact. There are things that can improve situations, but it is complex. It is personal. It is systematic, collective, and individual. But there are things that can be done at all levels. Once you start understanding the things that can cause it and breed the conditions, we can start making these much-needed structural changes because also culture is not it. It was never great. There is no badge for burnout so let’s stop wearing it.
MELINDA: Yeah. Okay. So, let’s take each of those starting with the individual. So many of us, I think, are experiencing this. There are some things that each of us can do to address ourselves. Let’s start with solutions at the individual level. Since you are just there, do you want to continue?
ERAYNA: Yeah. There are three things that I like to say. I like to use marketing language or metaphors. Take your vitamins. When we think about burnout, it is not a sickness. It’s not like, “Oh, you have a cold. Go take this.” It is a matter of what you can do to prevent and get ahead of it.
It’s like I have hip issues. If only I did the exercises my physical therapist gave me, then I could avoid the flare-ups. But oh, surprise, here we go, I have to go back. It’s the same type of thing with burnout. I run into this with a lot of clients. They’re like, “I thought I changed this.” It’s like, but were you doing the same behaviors ongoing?
So, taking your vitamins as a matter of practicing those mental wellness tools and behaviors that we know help. It is proven. We know that meditation helps with managing symptoms of anxiety and stress. We know that doing some type of physical activity helps. We know that doing some type of communal and community activities helps. All of those things really matter. It does not have to be the way in which everyone else does it. So, finding your lane and your way into wellness is huge. Think of that as your vitamins.
I call them cheat codes, but that’s a whole nother conversation. Another one is recognizing when life is lifing for you. So, if your bandwidth is not what it normally is, you have to adjust. There’s no badge in being the superhero anymore, especially for those of us of color and especially for Black women. We are known to do it all. That was never sustainable, and it’s really not now. So, there’s no surprise that people of color have higher levels of burnout. There’s no surprise that women have higher levels of burnout because they’re already juggling a lot.
And so, especially recognizing when things are not normal, and your bandwidth has changed, and you need to change those behaviors accordingly, that’s another big thing. And then, giving yourself, I always say, space and grace. All these are easier said than done. The hardest part is giving yourself permission to do things differently. So, bringing a little gravel in your life, play Hooky. Hence, the whole thing about playing Hooky. Give yourself that space to do what you need.
For me, it took my therapist to literally put me on timeout in order for me to start doing that. That is why playing Hooky is the way in. I was on leave, and I was still working. On week one, she was like, “This is not what we’re here for.” And so, she put me on timeout where I could not work during certain periods of the day even though it was on my business.
And so, in that, I found the space to connect with others. I found the space to do those things that were on my list that I always said I was going to do. And those were exactly those things to refill the cup. So, taking your vitamins before you need it in the world of mental wellness, recognizing your bandwidth, and changing accordingly. And then, giving yourself permission to do more of what you’ve actually made.
ANTHONY: I better jump in. One of the things that helped me and have also helped some of my clients, the ones that actually do it, is to Erayna’s point.
MELINDA: Take your vitamins.
ANTHONY: Yes. It’s actually looking at it on a bigger picture and then bringing it back down to your individual level. On the bigger picture, I always talk that we’re living in three contexts or living through. So, there’s pre-pandemic, the pandemic, and then post-pandemic.
Unless you’re over 100 years old, you don’t know anything about living through a pandemic. But when you look back to like the 20s, thinking in terms of there was a pandemic, there was the roaring 20s for a certain amount of people, and then there was the Great Depression.
So, the way I like to frame it is like now we’re in the pandemic. And the rest is kind of an unknown. So, realizing you’re going to be in that unknown. Everything you do in your framework of being is based on that. And then, going back to looking at the things that brought you joy in the past and seeing either if you can do them or do them in a different version of them.
And for me, I look back when I look through back to my childhood. I love drawing. Right now, a lot of these companies are giving you free months of whatever. So, I picked up Skillshare so I could start learning how to draw. I got back into running marathons. Not to pound my chest or post on social but because I enjoy them. They’re the safest way for me to see the majority of what I want to see. So, for example, running in Miami, 26 miles road is closed, I can see the city, and it brings me joy. The training sucks, but it brings me joy.
I think the third piece is nutrition. There are studies out now around like, it really does matter what we put in our bodies. I’m not saying your weight or anything like that, but truly what we eat, just as much as what we consume from media, totally infects us and affects us.
I think the last piece to just keeping it all simple to the point of graves. Wherever you plan, also plan for it all not happening. Are you waking up not feeling it? I didn’t feel like going on a run this morning. I get it. It sucked. I had some good dots. In the end, I feel really good again. I know that’s a mental wealth deposit, as I call it, to build up my bank because I know burnout is going to happen. I’m going to face it in the coming years because there are so many unknowns. In my 46 years, there’s been a lot of unknowns, so there’s gonna be more.
AL: I really love what you said about giving yourself grace. I think particularly coming from someplace where I’ve always been very driven and have been in high-performing environments. I’ve always looked that better, often than not, is to get somewhere faster and quicker.
When I started experiencing burnout this time around, I really had to force myself to be kind to myself and to give myself time to do what I needed to do to get back to being a better version of myself. I think that this time around, making space for myself to be patient and to take my vitamins, but not necessarily putting additional added pressure that I need to get back by this date, or I need to get back by that date. Because ultimately, life’s not a race.
And to your point, even if you thought it was, you don’t have direct control at any given time. There’s a lot of things that can never happen. And so, I think as an individual, just being able to give yourself some grace to do what you need to do, I think is really important.
And then as an individual. Another thing I would add is that if you’re someone who either is around other people who are in environments like this or if you’re a manager or leader, even if you are okay, there’s a decent likelihood that someone you know is potentially in a challenging spot. And so, as an individual, I think one thing that you can do, and I remember, Emily Nagasaki wrote about this in her book, but one of her lines was, “The way to be burnout is to care more deeply.” We as individuals, I think, and part of the reasons why this is so important to me, one of the things we can do as ourselves, particularly those of us who are in positions of power, can be more thoughtful and be more mindful of what’s going on with our people.
And from tactically, just in terms of making sure you’re checking in and developing a sense of trust so that when you do ask your employees how are you doing, they can be honest with you and open up if they are potentially struggling with something, whatever that may be. But certainly not limited. Just the workplace, also your friends, your family members and things like that.
So as an individual, even if you feel like you’re in a decent position, just remember that there’s probably someone you know or close to you who might be experiencing this and to check in on that.
MELINDA: Yeah. And you’re anticipating kind of where I want to go next with the conversation too. I just want to say one thing here that I have found that might be helpful for somebody out there, which is that you really do have to find your own solutions. It’s important to listen to the experts and really understand, in general, what you can do and bring it back to your own life.
I will say that about a month ago, I was really hard on myself because I was working hard. I was thinking I’m not supposed to be doing that because everybody says you’re supposed to take time off. Everybody says you’re supposed to take time off. But when you do that, you’re actually creating more friction to the inner life.
And I found, “Well, okay. At this moment in time, I can’t work less, but what can I do? How can I build in that resilience? What can I do?” So, I started meditating for five minutes in between meetings. I started doing walking meditations from my desk to the kitchen and back and just bringing in little moments of mindfulness that really fundamentally changed my wellness.
And then also, like Anthony said, really thinking about what was going into my body so that I was not treating myself with junk food. I was treating myself with healthy food and making sure that my body felt good. That exercise, again, like taking walks in between meetings or during meetings. So all of these things can make a big difference too. So, I think it’s also important just to find your own path of resilience making and whatever that is for you rather than that potential friction of hearing what you’re supposed to do and then getting hard on yourself for not doing it, which is contributing to the problem, not the solution.
So, let’s talk about solutions at the manager level and at the leadership level. What can people who are managing people do to really notice when their team might be experiencing burnout? And also, I think, working to do what you can so that they don’t experience burnout.
ANTHONY: I want to jump in here because I read some of that this morning that just blew my mind. Not blew my mind. It’s not surprising. There was a study in the UK, and I got to read deeper into it, but it’s like 43% of all sick days in this study were actually attributed to burnout for these individuals. I don’t know the sample size yet, but that’s something that’s frightening on a lot of levels unless there’s gonna be action around it.
And then, in the US, there are all these well-being programs. I think Harvard just did a report or a study on Harvard Business Review that they broke it up between mental well-being, physical, and I think financial. I paid more attention to the mental because that’s what I focused on. But in that study, they were saying like 87% of the people said that there was a well-being program offered, but 23% of people were actually using it.
And so, when you think on an organizational level, and for managers, yes, you try to think of things to prevent, but you’re already spending money on things that can help your employees. You’re really good at understanding the gap between what your customers need and the solutions they will provide. Well, start to look inside and figure out what your employees need.
It’s not going to be a blanket thing. It’s like offering a calm app to everybody isn’t the solution. It is part of I use it. I use it. I mean, but it’s part of, and I think, so as managers and leaders, you need to model what you want. And not to sound corny but do as you say so your employees can do as you do, whether it’s mental well-being or like paid time off.
I’m a fan of unlimited PTO, as long as leaders model it. Like, “Are you taking time off? Are you emailing somebody at 10 in the morning when everyone on the team knows that that person is out on vacation or out on a mental health day or out on sick leave or something? Stop just talking about it and actually be about it.
I think it’s different from a corporate to a midsize company to a startup. I think as a startup, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have back-to-back meetings. Or don’t complain about back-to-back meetings if you’re a leader. If it’s your company, you can make the adjustment. And then, make the time, I think early on, especially startup founders, as you’re building your team, building the systems and processes and mechanisms, some formal and informal, to help you understand the needs of your team, whether it’s a roster kind of thing.
It’s like, “Hey, my favorite food is this. My favorite place to visit is this. Here’s how I like being communicated with.” Those kinds of things, I think, help you understand how to help the person so then when you have the solutions that you want to provide, one, you’re getting proper ROI for your investment, but two, your team is getting the proper things they need to be able to combat/prevent, live a better life of which being employee is part of their life.
MELINDA: Erayna, go ahead.
ERAYNA: Yeah. I’ll add a couple of things. I’ll definitely echo everything Anthony was saying in that. Within the managers, some of the biggest things absolutely illustrating the behavior is huge. It’s actually one of the number one reasons that people don’t use their benefits, and they don’t take their time is they don’t see their leaders doing it, so they don’t think there’s actual support in the organization to do so.
People are dealing with internal conflicts of looking like a slacker even if they feel themselves wilting inside. It’s not that they don’t want to perform. It’s not that they aren’t trying to work hard. If they are dealing with burnout, they literally have no energy to do it. And so, if you can be the difference of your employees taking a day off before they need it, look at it in a good way. You get a day off too. Like, you are taking the benefits. This is part of your compensation package. I harped on this all day.
In 2018, there are 768 million unused vacation days in the US. That is ridiculous. Just plain blank, it is just ridiculous. It was about a third of those just got wiped away and weren’t rolled over. Individuals are literally giving money back to their companies and saying, “You know what, never mind, I don’t need my full compensation pack.”
We are no longer our parents’ generation where it was a brag. I’ve had conversations with my father-in-law, who talked about the years he went without taking vacation days. Snivy Look. Once again, not brag value.
So, by you taking time, by you talking about taking time, not because you’re traveling the world, but because you laid on your couch because you were exhausted. Those are the things that illustrate little small changes that can add up. That was 768 million unused vacation days in 2018. And even last year, we were sitting on a PTO bomb where organizations were scared because people weren’t taking their time off despite the pandemic. So, this is it. This isn’t a fluke.
Another big one is clarification and community. So, a community. Communication, so being transparent. Even as a leader, you don’t have to know it all. And when you fake it, your employees know it. When you’re like, “Oh, we have all the answers.” They know you’re lying. So, if you don’t know but you’re working on it, communicate that. It’s the lack of communication that causes churn that creates the rumor mill that creates unnecessary stress.
We are not in a situation where we need stress added. If you can just say, “Hey, we recognize this. We’re working on it. We will communicate when we have an update.” Those little things make a world of difference. Just think about how that will impact you in your lives.
Being flexible—there’s that wonderful debate about going back into the office. And as someone who works in office furniture and office space design, I’m a little bit conflicted, but we cannot expect people to just go back into the office like all is back to 2018. There’s no new normal. So, instead of worrying about how we can get back, how can we build towards the future in which people are starting to work? It’s not a matter of the future of work. It is what is work.
Now, we are in the midst of building the future of work. So, starting from a blank slate and just creating it from scratch and bringing in the buy-in of your employees in that build is huge. Huge! Every organization is going to be different. So, we just have to recognize, “Hey, we’re starting over. What does that look like?”
And then, last but not least, getting very real, stop rewarding bad managers. Let’s just stop it. Point blank period. It is so frustrating to continually see bad leaders move up the ladder and organizations who are very knowledgeable about what is going on because some people actually have the oomph to say it in their exit interviews. So, you cannot act as though you don’t know these people are adding on additional pressure. The toxicity is actually more costly to your organization than many other things. It is more costly than throwing away unnecessary training. The toxicity is rampant, and it is doing you a disservice. So, stop rewarding bad leaders and managers. Start rewarding your good people with more work.
There is a limit to that. And people are calling your bluff and saying no, so finding that happy balance. It is new. It is uncomfortable, but it will make a world of difference. And people talk about organizations that care about them. Word of mouth is your most powerful tool so let’s build towards that future of work that we are already in and stop trying to act like we can go back in time. So, yeah. I had to drop that one in there because it’s a point of frustration for me, as you can probably feel.
MELINDA: Yeah, no. It makes a huge difference. I will say that what I’m hearing is very similar. I work with management teams a lot on helping them build more inclusive teams. It’s very similar work that just, you know, leading with empathy and really understanding what your team is uniquely going through and doing the work or around that. I love that.
I want to jump into a couple of questions. We have several, actually. Let’s take this one from Katie. “I would love to hear more about burnout and detachment, particularly related to acquisitions and how to best handle that.” In these big transition moments in teams, are there any tips and tricks on keeping people involved when they’re happening? Acquisitions in particular. Does anybody have thoughts? Or just in general, kind of this bigger transition moment.
ERAYNA: I’ll take that one. I’ll share some thoughts. Once again, we all know, I think we’ve all agreed there’s no silver bullet to anything. But acquisition is very much like any major change in an organization. That’s the same as reorg. Same as office closing. It is a major shift.
One of the first things is to recognize it’s a major shift. And so, speaking to it as though it is such, I’m recognizing that there will be some internal anxiety that comes with it is huge. So, how can organizations help? Leaders talking about the impact on them and how they’re managing it goes a long way. It recognizes it and builds empathy at the highest levels. So, that’s huge. Make sure employees understand the tools and resources that are available to them that can help them balance in their personal life.
There is a huge lack of awareness of mental wellness tools and resources in orgs that’s why utilization continues to be extremely low. There is also a lack of trust in said tools. So, covering off on those gaps and just being upfront speaking to the confidentiality of things that are managed by third parties, highlighting where these resources are, and empowering your managers to actually enable their teams to use them, will go a long way.
Acquisitions are long, so let’s not act like it’s all going to be gone away just by someone signing up for their six EAP sessions. What are you doing along the way? What kind of check-ins can be put in where the community can talk? Where can true concerns be highlighted and addressed?
Once again, it doesn’t have to be a perfect answer. Your answer can say, “We don’t know yet.” But just making sure that there’s a way to get that feedback loop going so that people feel heard and that it is actually authentic, and not just PR speak. Your employees know that too. They can tell they’re talking about it when you’re not in the coffee room or on that Slack.
That is a major change. Recognizing it, communicating within it, creating community and support, and then recognizing some people are just not gonna be okay with it, and they’re going to leave. People are going to leave organizations—point blank period. So, don’t make it a toxic experience that makes them talk badly once they leave. Still support them. They’re part of your community and part of your network and will continue to be a part even once their LinkedIn changes. So, those are some. They’re not extremely detailed, but hopefully super helpful.
MELINDA: Yeah. Absolutely.
AL: I think the thing that stands out to me, and I’m going to make the assumption that if you’re asking that question, you care about your people, and you want what’s best for them. But assuming that’s the case, anytime there’s a big change like that, there are things that are going to be within your control. And then, there are going to be things that are going to be out of your control, as an employee and as the manager.
I think the best thing that you can do is to help your employees understand (A) that concept, but (B) to help them kind of get context around what is within their control and then what is outside of their control. I think the best thing in those situations is to help people feel empowered so that they can make the best decisions possible.
To your point, you may not know exactly what’s going to happen, right? These things do take a lot of time. Anytime an acquisition is done, attrition is always baked into the cost of the sale. And so, the company knows that as well. But if you really care about your people and you want what’s best for them, try to help them as best as you can understand the things that are within their control and the things that are outside of it.
To the point you just made, even if they do choose to leave, the way that you help them leave, they’ll remember that. Whether that’s for karma or just for the chance to potentially work with them again, they will remember you for how you left. That was the one thing I will say in my experience that I am incredibly grateful for is that I had a manager and a set of leaders who were very supportive and gave me whatever I needed to make sure I was okay. I will always remember that and will always be very grateful for that.
ERAYNA: I just want to add one thing to that. It can even be as much as communicating what is important to you and your leadership team in this transition. It could be your commitments to your employees. These are the things that we can commit to you, or these are the wise or the things that we want to make sure to keep top of mind.
Even those things help understand the why. When people don’t know the “why,” and they just see stuff happening, that creates angst, and they fill in gaps. Think of it as a personal relationship, and where would the things drive you mad? And then, fill in those gaps for your employees as best as you can. But good luck with that. I think it’s a great thing, so congratulations.
MELINDA: I’ll just say one more thing. Communication is so important through acquisitions too. Going through the unknowns. The less unknowns there are, the better there too.
We’re just about out of time. I do want to ask very quickly from each of you. If you could say just one quick thing about how you would have wanted an ally to show up for you when you were experiencing that burnout. Just one thing fairly quickly.
ANTHONY: I would want an ally to, and it happened, so check on me. And when they checked on me like, however, that communicate. Like, “Hey, let’s meet up for whatever.” They were present for me and present to hear me and listen to me. If I asked for things, for solutions, or for help, then they chime up. But they wouldn’t be there to fix me because I wasn’t broken. I mean, it’s the human thing. I mean, take out all the PR, take out all the constraints, just as an ally, show up human to human if you built that trust, mind you. You got to build that trust first. Otherwise, I’m not going to talk to you.
AL: I would want them to ask how are you and truly mean it and truly want to listen.
ERAYNA: I would add. I was very lucky to have a good ally in one of my managers during my experience. The best thing he did was to have real conversations and reset expectations. And even some of that was a matter of, “Hey, I thought I was going to be in this top box. But the way that life is going, this is what I’m aiming for.” And then, we reorganize responsibilities accordingly.
So, being very real about what needs to get done and how you get it done. Because as a leader, you still have objectives, but you can still be human while managing a team. So, recognizing it, and then restructuring how work gets done so that the people who need to breathe can breathe, but you can also keep going in what you are honestly getting paid to do.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much, all three of you, for this great discussion and for sharing the wisdom that you have today. I really appreciate you.
And to our audience. As many of you know, I asked each time for you to commit to taking action because it’s important that we listen, and we learn, and we take action. So, my question to you is, how will you support a colleague this week? Will you check in with them? We definitely heard that. Will you work to create the structural changes that are needed? How will you support folks either who are experiencing burnout or making sure that they’re not going to experience burnout?
So, thank you all for listening, for your questions. Our next live show is on December 7th on redefining normal in the remote and hybrid workplace. Erayna actually hinted at that subject in this episode today. So, it’s time to redefine normal or what that looks like. So, I hope to see you all there.
Thank you, everyone. And thank you again, Al, Anthony, and Erayna. I really appreciate you.
Thanks again to First Tech Federal Credit Union as well. Bye, everybody.
ERAYNA: Thank you.
AL: Thank you.
ANTHONY: Thank you. Bye.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc
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Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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