We’ve all felt the lasting impact of the last few years. A study confirmed it, we’ve gotten more stressed and feel a high level of anxiety these days.
In order to keep people engaged and have them stick around, it’s important for you as a leader to be mindful of your team’s stress levels and well-being. While serious treatment for mental health concerns needs to stay with the professionals, there are actions that you can take to help support and care for your team.
Keep a high-touch communication cadence
The saying “Out of sight, out of mind” is certainly true. Think about your personal goals, desires, and best intentions. Without intentionality to keep them in front of you, they end up falling to the wayside and become missed opportunities and disappointments. That’s one of the reasons we recommend whiteboards, apps, and/or smaller physical capture points to catalog your goals, both short and long-term.
Think of your employees in the same way, if they are working remotely or in a different location, they are in danger of being left behind and feeling disconnected from their work and from those that they work with.
I’ve always been a fan of weekly one-on-ones, even when I led remote teams across a large geographical area, I kept a cadence of check-ins with my direct reports. The pandemic pushed me to change my communication style in order to meet changing needs. I no longer have scheduled one-on-ones, but put quite a bit of effort into connecting multiple times a week in both formal and informal settings. This has helped with a list of things not building up and makes the conversation cadence feel like we are in an office setting without actually being in the same space.
High touch doesn’t mean quick and shallow communications. Is it appropriate sometimes? Yes, but include meaningful and deeper conversations as well.
Some prompts to get you started:
How are you feeling about your workload? Do you have enough time to get everything done?
How do you feel at the start and end of your day or week? (Good question to gauge burnout)
How can I support you or your work?
How are you staying connected to others?
Help your people’s well-being by making sure that they feel informed, included, and appreciated.
Cue into the nonverbal and physical clues We know that there is power in non-verbal communication (EP 186). People that are struggling with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty will often show signs of distress, it’s just a matter of you as a leader being attentive enough to pick up on the clues.
Look for changes in behavior that can include:
Wanting to, or outright avoiding group gatherings, both in-person and virtual.
Showing signs of fatigue, aches, pains, and changes in energy level.
Becoming overly passive, or losing and sense of engagement.
Showing nervousness, irritability, and restlessness.
A drop in the level of communication
As a leader, you make it easier for your people to share when you are attentive and engaged with them on a personal level. They see your attentiveness and will open up more to you. On the other hand, they also know when you aren’t paying attention and will volunteer less information and articulate less on issues and struggles.
Allow them time to refocus, decompress and reframe
Overall, I think people are harder on themselves than they should be. I know that I am. I have a tendency to try to push through physical pain, burnout, or setbacks.
Pushing for progress is always a great approach right? Well maybe not. I had years of built of injuries from running because I kept pushing through them all and tried to quickly fix things so I could continue on. I took the pandemic time to try something new…. rest. It took a long time, but my foot, knee, and hip issues all eventually resolved themselves. Even my back started feeling better and survived a big house move.
When you identify that a person needs some time to focus on their well-being, don’t wait for them to ask for time. Be proactive and help them get the time to take care of themself.
Keep track of their vacation cadence. Encourage them to take time off and get away from work.
Help spread their workload to help ease their stress.
Look for efficiencies in work to help them eliminate time wasters.
Partner together for ways that they can delegate some work to others.
Model and demonstrate how you decompress and refocus your life.
Encourage and affirm your people that is ok to take that time needed for them to take care of themselves. Your team shouldn’t foster a culture where an individual considers it a badge of honor when they go long times without taking a break from work. The work will always be there, but the employee won’t if they reach a high level of burnout.
An employee’s well-being is equally owned between themselves and their leader. They should prioritize their own health and mental well-being and the leader should remain committed to supporting their well-being through their experience at work. Be an impactful leader by starting small and having the intentionality to support your team.
Affording yourself self-compassion as a leader is essential for your personal and professional growth. Studies from around the world show self-compassion’s power to lower stress and anxiety while building resilience to successfully weather life’s challenges/.
Understanding your roadblocks to self-compassion
It’s important to have a good sense of what self-compassion is in order to get a firm understanding of how you can identify what’s holding you back. Self-compassion isn’t self-esteem. It’s not simply how you think about yourself, it’s really more about looking at yourself from the same perspective that you look at others.
Here are some of the reasons and roadblocks that you may have in place that keep you from that perspective:
You may feel the need to be harder on yourself in order to lead at the highest level of valued-based leadership.
You may feel like you don’t deserve the same break that you give others.
You may not feel like you need the same compassion and care that you offer others. There may be a deep level of feeling like you are better than the other person without even knowing it.
You may not see the disconnect because you don’t naturally reach out with care and compassion to others, so you don’t do so for yourself either.
Mindfulness and Compassion together for success
Kristen Neff describes mindfulness and compassion as “two wings of a bird” working together to bring you to new heights. I love that visual and it really drives home the point that you can’t have one without the other.
Mindfulness is the reflective focus that you have for yourself. You take in your thoughts and feelings without the extra baggage of judgment or condemnation.
Without having a healthy mindfulness approach to yourself it’s hard to have self-compassion. Think about this; how can you be kind and show care to yourself if you constantly judging and putting yourself down?
Put it into action
Here are some ways that you can apply mindfulness and self-compassion in your life today.
Be realistic with yourself. With all the competing priorities these days, you are going to fail and miss the mark. Understand that it’s ok.
Be a friend to yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be a narcissist. Instead of going to the extreme of making yourself the main character in everyone’s story, be mindful to think about yourself as you would a friend. What advice or guidance would you give them if they were in the same situation?
Take a mindfulness break. My latest smartwatch came with a mindfulness reminder app. At first, I took it as a distraction, but now I do take advantage of those reminders when I can. It’s helpful to refocus during those tough times, and great to be reflective and thankful during the good times.
Self-compassion in leadership is a journey
Early in my leadership, I was extremely hard on myself and how I led others. If my leader came in and gave me some needed criticism and feedback, it would wreck me. The feedback was the right thing, but I would not give myself the same opportunities to learn and grow through missed expectations that I allowed for others. I’m certainly much better about it today. Criticism doesn’t destroy my day like it used to. That doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out or have it totally under control. I still get frustrated with myself when I shouldn’t and I push my body too far instead of giving it the rest it needs.
Nobody’s perfect. Know that your self-compassion is a journey and not a destination. You’ll have off moments and days just like the rest of us. Understand that it’s a part of your growth process and be intentional in mindfulness and self-kindness when you hit those challenging moments.
Your people need and deserve your care and compassion. Give yourself the same level of care that you do others so that you can be and more effective leader, friend, and family member.
Burnout can have a profound impact on your personal and professional life. When I begin to feel burnout, it shows in the things I love most. Projects and passions take a lot more effort and I find myself spinning my wheels instead of using my time to be fully effective. Burnout can happen to everyone, no matter your job, industry, age, or lifestyle.
Last week we talked about the signs of burnout. Now that we know the indicators and causes of burnout, we’ll look at ways to combat it and begin the journey to recovery.
It’s said that the first step in overcoming a problem, is first to admit that you have a problem. That is certainly the case in burnout. If you try to tough it out and lie to yourself that “everything is fine,” you’ll never be able to move to a healthier step.
Acknowledging that you are facing burnout doesn’t make you a bad leader, an insufficient parent, or a poor student. It says you are human…. just like the rest of us. As a leader, it’s also important to step up and share this vulnerability with others on your team. It will help them support you, models healthy behavior, and is a good indicator for others to check their own level of burnout as well.
Share that vulnerability with yourself and with others so that you can begin the recovery process.
Make it a priority
After the acknowledgment, the next step is putting action behind your discovery.
Look at your schedule and prioritize your time based on your recovery goal. What’s currently taking up space that is feeding your burnout? Take it in small steps instead of fully blowing up your week. Find small segments of time so you can invest in yourself, decompress and do something relaxing.
Eat, Sleep and Be Mindful: How are you eating? When I start feeling burnout coming on, I notice that I start eating like garbage; snacking, and grazing all the time. Set a notification on your phone or other reminders to wrap your evening up earlier to get better rest. Finally, use mindfulness apps, websites, or activities that help you focus on breathing and lowering stress.
Step away from the tech: It’s easy to get entangled in our personal technology, especially if you work from home, do hybrid work, or are currently in school. Step away for tech-free breaks throughout the day or take a tech vacation, either partially by stepping away from some social media apps, games, etc or take a full-on tech vacation where you truly unplug and do something for yourself instead.
Include others to help with recovery
While over time, you can recover from burnout alone, you can move through the phase much more quickly by including others in your journey and by clearing the way for others to have a clear path to get back on track as well.
Empower and equip others to have hybrid work arrangements. Lean into flexible work and time off. Accommodate fully in and fully-remote workers if possible.
Beef up (and take advantage of) programs and offerings that encourage people to get out and do something different. Look for volunteering opportunities or other team well-being programs.
Spend more time together that doesn’t have an agenda. Online meetings are very transactional in nature and people need social connections.
Poll the team to discover ideas to refine good work-life rhythm.
Reconnect with close friends and family members that you may have not seen in a while. Do something experiential together.
Prioritize health and happiness for yourself and others that you lead. Doing so will lead to continued joy in their workplace, empowerment to do great things, and a strong sense of purpose.
Burnout is real and can get the best of all of us. No leader is immune to burnout in either the professional or personal life. Years of collectively battling a pandemic have only made this important issue more prevalent and harder to combat. We’ve all spent a lot of time trying to navigate a new reality while trying to do the best at our jobs, and for our families and loved ones.
Before we jump into action to combat burnout, we’ll first need to get a good understanding our ourselves, the signs of burnout, and where it can come from.
Are you lying to yourself?
You may think that you don’t have a problem, but burnout isn’t a short-game issue. It creeps its way into your whole life and by the time you do identify it, it’s already manifested itself in you. It’s not too late, but there is more work to do to get back to a healthy balance in life.
Leaders can lie to themselves about their ability to set boundaries in order to manage stress, workload, and self-care. The multi-year pandemic only increased this by causing a false sense of urgency in many leaders’ workstreams. They felt like they had more to prove in a new remote work environment that they found themselves in and there was no longer a physical barrier between their work and home life. While some of those responses are natural for the increased stress levels that the pandemic created, they can’t be sustained in a healthy way.
I’ve helped leaders that lied to themselves in order to “push through” burnout. They would coach their team on the importance of work-life balance and boundaries but then they would often be found working late into the night and on weekends as well.
Honestly check yourself on your boundaries. Throw “normal” out of the window for this classification; there is no normal these days. Instead, look at “healthy or not” to your workload. I know a lot of leaders that going at 80% is other people 100%. Pull back in small increments and see what difference it makes in your personal and professional life. It’s highly likely that your work won’t be impacted too much negatively, but your personal-care time will see a big improvement.
The signs of burnout
These signs are not all-encompassing. Some people experience one or two as they approach burnout, while others experience all of them. The important thing is to know yourself and your body well and to tune into changes that have and continue to occur.
You lack the energy that you used to have – Early on you may feel more tired than normal and in later stages, you are outright physically, mentally, and/or emotionally exhausted.
You start having physical complications – headaches, stomach issues, etc – Maybe it starts itself out as something small like an eye twitch but can increase to heart palpitations, severe pain, and chest pain. Seek your doctor’s help if you feel yourself experiencing any major physical changes.
Your eating habits have changed – You may begin to stop eating as much or you take it the other way and begin to find yourself snacking more than normal. You may lose your appetite altogether and start dropping weight in later stages or you begin to put on weight as you eat to cope.
Your sleep habits have changed – You find yourself moving to either extreme, perhaps you are getting a lot less sleep or you struggle to get out of bed.
You no longer feel satisfaction in your personal and professional victories – This one can start out small. Maybe you aren’t excited to jump into work or you are ready to leave as soon as possible. From there, you may start avoiding additional work of taking on new projects. This can also extend into your personal life when you lose the drive and excitement that you had before.
You’ve become more cynical and pessimistic – Perhaps you’ve started into more negative self-talk (EP XXX). This one can change your personality altogether. You used to be a joyful and happy person, and now you don’t see yourself or act that way.
You are less productive – Here is one that shows in people you think that they can push through burnout. More time spent on work doesn’t make you more productive, it can, in fact, make you less productive. If you find yourself putting in more hours just to get the same things done that used to take you less time, then you may be experiencing a bit of burnout.
The causes of burnout
Burnout can come from a number of directions and often finds power over you when multiple avenues come together to compound the issue. Here are just a few of the areas to be mindful of for burnout.
Lack of Control
Unclear workplace expectations
Poor leadership from above
Work-life rhythm is off
Lack of support at work
Lack of support at home
The first step in overcoming burnout is to identify and understand that you have a problem. Next, we’ll give you actionable steps that you can take to combat and overcome burnout in yourself and a way to help your team guard themselves against it too.
We have enough challenges out and about in our daily work and personal lives to sabotage ourselves with negative self-talk. Last week we looked at negative self-talk, the 4 main types of talk, and shared some real-world examples that these may play out in.
Today we are going to look at some tips to instill some needed positive self-talk in your life.
Positive Self Talk Tips
Positive self-talk is not about constantly being positive, because that’s not possible at every moment. It’s also not the pursuit of a “good-vibes only” vibe where you push away any negative emotions because failing to acknowledge the negative, or challenges, also is counterproductive.
Dr. Judy Ho describes positive self-talk as, “the study of what makes humans flourish and operate at their best. It’s about leaning into strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses and using our strengths to solve problems in our lives.” Here are some tips as you strengthen your own self-talk:
Ensure that it feels true: Taking the steps towards positive self-talk won’t progress very far if it feels forced, or if it feels like you are lying to yourself. Some days are just hard. Instead of saying “I’m a great leader,” try, “I’m working on becoming a great leader,” or “I will try to be a leader worth following.” Even the best leaders aren’t great all the time. Level set your positive talk in a way that is affirming and realistic for you.
Put the words into action: Saying positive things to yourself is one thing. Putting them into action is what really brings transformation. Ask yourself how you can act on your affirmation. Using the previous example, if your affirmation is to work on becoming a great leader, what daily actions are you taking to progress in a positive way?
Start small: Change can be hard. Going all-in on a massive change can lead to an ambitious failure. Instead of trying to turn your inner voice into a fountain of positive talk and encouragement, start with one area of your life first. Maybe it’s your confidence, health, body positivity, or relationship building. Start with the hardest area and build momentum from there.
Information over judgment: In tough times, or feedback, we sometimes have a bias towards what’s not working. Instead of casting immediate judgment on yourself, take time to gather more information. What’s working well? What was the positive impact or intent? Having more data gives you a more balanced perceptive. It doesn’t change the situation, but it can change how you approach and navigate the situation or circumstance.
Take yourself out of the equation: When things go wrong or plans change, especially in social settings, you may have a tendency to blame yourself. For example, if your group of friends cancels a planned outing, you may think that it has something to do with you, or if you go with a couple of weeks with less than regular communication with a close one, you may feel like you did something wrong. Remember that life happens. It’s highly likely that something has come up in their own lives that has caused the change and has nothing to do with your relationship dynamic. Rest assured they have their own problems to deal with too!
Give yourself permission to change your mind: It’s ok, and actually quite healthy, to give yourself permission to change your mind about topics of discussion, other people, and even yourself. You’ve likely seen people who have had heavy personal consequences because of their lack of willingness to change their minds or opinion. (Maybe you’ve been that person!) The ego can be a huge source of negative talk as it seeks to feed itself. Let go of pride, ego, and a source of negative self-talk by simply allowing yourself the ability to change your mind. You’ll not only help yourself, but you’ll be a better person and friend to others as a result.
Take control of your self-talk. Turn that inner critic into a positive supporter that cheers you on as you make progress. We are worth it!