Leading With Nice Interview Series

Preventing Burnout with Janice Litvin

April 20, 2021 Janice Litvin Season 1 Episode 22
Leading With Nice Interview Series
Preventing Burnout with Janice Litvin
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Leading With Nice Interview Series
Preventing Burnout with Janice Litvin
Apr 20, 2021 Season 1 Episode 22
Janice Litvin

Burnout carries with it a huge cost for not only the person experiencing it, but also the colleagues and family of that person and the organization they work for.  Janice Litvin — expert speaker, author and trainer specializing in burnout prevention —  joins us for today’s episode to discuss how you can recognize and prevent burnout before it happens. Learn more about Janice at janicelitvin.com.



Show Notes Transcript

Burnout carries with it a huge cost for not only the person experiencing it, but also the colleagues and family of that person and the organization they work for.  Janice Litvin — expert speaker, author and trainer specializing in burnout prevention —  joins us for today’s episode to discuss how you can recognize and prevent burnout before it happens. Learn more about Janice at janicelitvin.com.



Janice Litvin:
We're humans. Humans are not little machines. We don't come to work and make widgets. We'd come to work and think passionately and creatively. And if someone has a problem and you're not taking the whole person into account, they cannot be as creative and productive as they would normally be.

Mathieu Yuill:
Good day and welcome to the Leading With Nice Interview Series Podcast, where we want to help you inspire others, build loyalty and get results. Today we're joined by Janice Litvin and I am super excited because you've been following along with what we've been doing at Leading With Nice, we've been talking to a lot of leaders about burnout especially this past year. I don't need to tell you what's been going on. And we've just been hearing from people, everything from the extreme where they're like, "I'm done. I want to tap out right now" through what we just talked about recently, hearing leaders say things like "I am all in right now, but after we're out of this, I have maybe six months and I'll have to look for something new."

Mathieu Yuill:
And there's a whole range of what could be causing that. But what we want to talk to Janice about is she's actually an expert in burnout and she's written a book, she speaks on it and her credentials are top notch. So Janice, welcome to the show.

Janice Litvin:
Thank you so much for having me. I'm so happy to be here.

Mathieu Yuill:
So as I mentioned and for those of you that you want to check out her website, we'll put those in the description below. Janice's credentials are second to none in terms of this arena, she's been in the field for a long time. And I'm just curious about your personal journey and how that has impacted your life and mission to prevent burnout. What was it about the life you've lived? Can you just tell me a bit about how your experience in changing your own behavior and incorporating health and fitness into your life has informed your professional life?

Janice Litvin:
Wow, I could talk about that for 30 minutes, but I will try to be concise. So as you mentioned, I've been involved with human resources and technology recruiting for many years and then came the recession. So I had to figure out something to do. And when in doubt, go to the gym I always say and I had gotten sedentary, and I wanted to get back in shape. So I went to the gym, found Zumba Fitness, became a Zumba instructor, which I loved and still do to this day on Zoom. And then after a couple of years I thought, "I love teaching Zumba, but I still want a mental challenge."

Janice Litvin:
So I did some research and found the world of corporate workplace wellness. And of course, wellness applies to everybody, but it's especially an issue in the corporate world because until that time, corporations were not focused on it. And so I began to speak about fitness because that was my background. And then one day a client called and said, "We want you to talk about stress, but we don't want the typical mindfulness program. We want you to go deep." And I'm like, "Wow, that's amazing. I'd be happy to go deep." I went deep into my own psyche in the '80s and did therapy and thought, "Oh, I can go deep."

Janice Litvin:
Meanwhile, I had read some books about cognitive behavior therapy. So I created this program, by the way, I had three weeks notice, created this program that I called the Banish Burnout, which basically teaches people how to dig in and figure out what their behavior is and then how to change it.

Mathieu Yuill:
Was it then about this that made you so passionate about helping people prevent burnout? And before delving into that, perhaps you could outline why is it that the workplace in many workplaces struggle with this problem? How come this seems to be a thing that no matter where you go or who you talk to this is an issue?

Janice Litvin:
Well, the typical answer that I'll start with is most managers, I don't have a stat, but most managers are promoted for technical skills. Until recently, nobody worried about emotional intelligence. If a manager had the technical background, then fine, they knew how to manage. That had nothing to do with human interaction, making sure people were okay with what the team involvement, as well as their own technical work. And so that became obvious because people were job hopping. And so then people started to pay attention.

Mathieu Yuill:
You mentioned it. So like the technical experience on the other, the flip side of that coin, I suppose, is people management and emotional intelligence. Yes?

Janice Litvin:
Right. Absolutely.

Mathieu Yuill:
I love working in emotional intelligence. There's so much to learn in that arena, but it's kind of like a corporate buzzword. I almost feel like, "Okay, everybody, we're going to synergize over some emotional intelligence while we take it offline."

Janice Litvin:
Yes, right.

Mathieu Yuill:
I feel like it's a movie trope almost now, but how can companies, managers and employees use emotional intelligence and awareness of it to prevent burnout?

Janice Litvin:
First, I'm going to answer that question, but as you were talking I was reminded by a little vignette. I remember many years ago, I started out as a computer programmer with a degree in math and I'll never forget one day I was very upset about something and I called my parents. Maybe I was one year out of college and my father, I'll never forget this. My father said to me, "There's no place for emotions at work. So you go to work and do your job, collect your paycheck and you be quiet." And that was where a lot of people and companies from. Now, everything has changed completely. And the reason is, well, let me put it like this.

Janice Litvin:
We're humans. Humans are not little machines. We don't come to work and make widgets. We come to work and think passionately and creatively. And if someone has a problem, let's say, God forbid, someone in their family is sick with COVID or anything else and you're not taking the whole person into account, they cannot be as creative and productive as they would normally be.

Mathieu Yuill:
As I'm hearing you talk, I'm like, "Oh man, how do we move people into a place where they even can recognize that this might be something they want to start paying attention to?"

Janice Litvin:
Well, it always starts at the top doesn't it? It starts at the top and a few companies, Prudential and EY are starting to pay attention to mental health in the workplace. And one thing they're doing is they're role modeling vulnerable behavior, because we want to get rid of the stigma. As long as you keep things swept under the carpet they're not going to get dealt with.

Janice Litvin:
If somebody comes to work and they're not themselves and their work is suffering, it's really incumbent upon the manager to pull them aside privately and say, "Hey, Sue, I see that you're not yourself lately. What's going on? Is someone at home sick? Do you need some help? What resources do you need? Do you need time off?" You have to show that you're a human being because you don't want your people to burnout. And I truly believe that no one wants their people to burnout.

Mathieu Yuill:
I don't think there's probably many workplaces where there's nothing going on to alleviate stress and emotional wellbeing and burnout. But if you're listening and you're a leader right now, what are some things you can do or ask yourself to kind of gut check if you're doing the right stuff?

Janice Litvin:
Right. Well, interestingly because I'm ensconced in this world of workplace wellness, I'm always shocked when I hear certain kinds of stories. For example, at a workshop recently, someone asked the question, "What should I do because my boss is expecting me to be on call all weekend?" And I was shocked and saddened to hear that some bosses expect corporate 9:00 to 5:00 workers to be on call on Sunday. People need to rest.

Janice Litvin:
The more they rest during their off time, the more productive and creative they're going to be Monday through Friday. So I can't imagine unless you're an on-call doctor or nurse, why you would demand someone be on call unless they're involved with computer operations.

Mathieu Yuill:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So are you suggesting don't have people on call or what's the flip side of that? What is the answer to that?

Janice Litvin:
If there's not a real business reason to have someone on call on Sunday, then don't have them on call on Sunday. As a matter of fact, spend some time during the week, especially it's one year now that we're into COVID working from home. Maybe we're now beginning to talk about re-entry into the workplace, but we're not there yet. And so what I'm seeing is that people are having some personal get togethers on company time. Show people that you care. Have book club, have game club, have a game day.

Janice Litvin:
Once a week for an hour, get people talking about stuff that's personal. For example, what's the best thing that happened to you yesterday while you were working? Get people celebrating their successes. Little successes can generate happiness chemicals.

Mathieu Yuill:
And when you're talking about having these chemicals, you're talking about like endorphins and-

Janice Litvin:
Dopamine.

Mathieu Yuill:
Yes, exactly. Okay. I love talking about the way our brain naturally kind of pumps us up as well. So when you talk about having a game night for example or an afternoon of a book club, what I don't think people recognize that does so much is it actually helps build trust a sense of community, a sense of belonging in the organization, which can then go a long way. Because people they say the best cure for depression is connection.

Janice Litvin:
Absolutely.

Mathieu Yuill:
Is it fair to say that burnout, I don't want to say it's like a form of depression, but it definitely would be in that same arena?

Janice Litvin:
Well, certainly it's in that arena and I break depression into two schools. One is people who have a physiological situation in the brain where they have what I call clinical depression. Another kind of person is a person who normally is a business-like person. They're happy, they're proud of their work and yet they're working 10, 12 hours a day, especially during COVID where mothers are going back to work until midnight because in the middle of the day they were helping their children.

Janice Litvin:
And so repeated chronic stress that goes unabated is what leads to burnout according to the World Health Organization. And so when someone says, "Oh, I feel so depressed." You've got to pay attention because you don't want them to burnout. They're going to quit the job, which then costs between 50 and 200% of salary to replace them. Moreover, though, we care about them. We don't want them to burnout and have to go on disability.

Mathieu Yuill:
So my company is called Leading With Nice. And there are people that will tell me, "Oh that's nice" like they get that, "Oh, you want to make the world a better place. So that's lovely, but we need to make money and be profitable here." And my response is typically, "Well, I don't know, does employee turnover cost you money?"

Janice Litvin:
Exactly. Not only that, Mathieu, there's research that shows that the stock price is impacted by having a wellness program.

Mathieu Yuill:
Yes, you're 100% right. There's lots of data that shows that by implementing some really simple techniques and policies at work can increase your stock price, can help decrease employee absenteeism, can decrease employee turnover. And so what really attracted me to you and your work is your book, Banish Burnout Toolkit. It's basically like you've done all the work for everybody already. You said here's how you do it. So can you just give us like a high level overview of what they can expect out of your book, what they'll find, what they'll get?

Janice Litvin:
Well at a high level, one thing they'll learn is how to interrupt negative thoughts. Now the average person, the brain looks for things that are out of place. And so a lot of us tend to be kind of critical. How about learning how to turn that around, create a growth mindset and look at things from a more of a positive point of view. That's part one.

Janice Litvin:
Part two is when things happen, someone is rude to you in a team meeting or someone doesn't disagree with you, what do you do? Do you argue? Do you get into a fight? No, you sit quietly. Your body will tell you if you're paying attention that you're upset. So there's the physical reaction and then there's the emotional and the verbal reaction, but it starts with the thoughts. And so if you can interrupt those negative thoughts and twist your mind around into a positive mindset, that is the beginning of the healing and the growth.

Mathieu Yuill:
And this might be meshing my own bias, but I want you to reinforce that. When you talk about like healing and repair, you're not talking about everyone sitting in a circle in a drum circle or in a meditation circle singing kumbaya. You're talking about legitimate, real, good business practice.

Janice Litvin:
Absolutely. I'm talking about people getting intimate with themselves so that they can understand and this ties into the emotional intelligence piece. So they can understand the impact of their thoughts on themselves and the impact of their behavior on their teams.

Mathieu Yuill:
That's another hard part. So one of the other things I run into and I'm sure you run into as well is I start talking about, "Okay, here's some simple exercises you can do." So for example, when I'm working with leaders that say, "Oh, I want to increase my empathy" or they have said, "I want my people to work harder." And I'm like, "Well, maybe you should work on yourself first and increase your empathy." And I'm just in the conversation. They're like, "Oh, well, how can I do that?" And I say, "Well, listen, this is not the be-all and end-all, but there's actually scientific proof that when you daydream, intentionally you actually increase your ability to empathize."

Mathieu Yuill:
And they're like, "... "You're full of poppycock or some other 1920s phrase." So not everyone wants to take stock of their own behavior. And you put it in one of your videos that I watched. It's simple, but not easy. So what would you say to a team working on preventing burnout to help them overcome this paradigm of it like, "I'm too good for that. I don't want any part of that or I'm too proud to do that?"

Janice Litvin:
Ask them to show empathy to other people. In other words, ask other people, how are you doing rather than talking about yourself. We all come to a meeting and we want to talk about ourselves. Come to a meeting and share something that somebody else did for you or something you heard about for a customer or user. Compliment other people. Start sharing about other people and also start sharing about how you yourself could help, things that you can offer other people. Start spreading positivity.

Mathieu Yuill:
I'm going to start calling you West Coast Matt Yuill because I love everything you're saying. I actually wrote a blog post, I think back in 2013 because I worked in education at the time and cell phones were just starting to become pretty popular like the iPhone 3 was out I think or iPhone 4, somewhere around there. And selfies were all the rage, right?

Janice Litvin:
Right.

Mathieu Yuill:
And I remember talking to my students, I worked in the communications office, but I hired a lot of students in our office and we were meeting and they're all taking selfies and posting it on Facebook back then. And I said, "Oh, stop taking so many selfies. Start taking yousies. That's what communications is all about." And they laughed at me and I think some of them message me once in a while to mock that phrase. But the ethos is turn the focus around, look outward.

Mathieu Yuill:
I was on LinkedIn and this person in HR that I follow that I have a lot of respect for said, "They hate the phrase how can I help you or if there's anything I can do for you, please let me know." Because she said that is like a cop-out. You don't actually want to help that person. But my response is like, "Well, if somebody says that to me, they better mean it because I will ask." What's your take on that? I don't know. What would you say in response to that?

Janice Litvin:
I've gotten the same feedback. I just wrote that the other day. If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me know. Even though I haven't done recruiting for 20 years, if I hear of a young person looking for a job, I will write to them if they're a friend of a friend or whatever and say, "What can I do to help you? How can I help you? Maybe I know someone for you or maybe I can review your resume. What can I do to help you?" How else are you supposed to get the word out there that you want to help someone?

Mathieu Yuill:
Exactly, exactly. Okay, so you're the expert. So what have missed as we've been talking about burnout and about smart ways to be emotionally intelligent in the workplace? What have I missed that I've not asked you about that you is a really important piece we should be sharing?

Janice Litvin:
The only thing I can think of right off the top of my head is if you notice that someone has an overreaction, a very strange overreaction to something mundane, that's a clue that they're carrying around some emotional baggage. Now it's tricky how to deal with it. But the first thing to do is take them aside and say, "Hey, the other day, when we were trying to change the air conditioning and you got mad at me for I'm telling you not to bang on the buttons. It seemed a little out of character for you because you're so smart and you're so productive, and I really liked working with you. Can we have a little chat about that? Maybe you're taking things too personally." Some people are still carrying around some baggage that they might need to unpack.

Mathieu Yuill:
My sister actually, I was talking to her about this. I've volunteered at an organization and we had to do our annual general meeting. And I had asked all the chairs to just do like a three-minute video updating what had happened this past year how they pivoted in their programs, what they look forward to doing this year and how you could help. And I got a phone call like the day before it was due from a very intelligent woman that is on our board. And she tore into me about how videos are stupid and nobody wants to watch them and this and that. And I was like, "Whoa." I listened, but really it caught me off guard.

Mathieu Yuill:
And to be honest, I was pretty ticked off after. And I was telling my sister about this experience. She said, "Mathieu, some people are just done. They don't have capacity."

Janice Litvin:
Yes, they're burned out.

Mathieu Yuill:
Yeah, to watch for those cues. I like that. I'm going to give people a tip then. Here's a way you can practice this. Go on your local neighborhood Facebook Group and just read some of the posts. And instead of responding in disgust and anger at how some people are, respond with empathy and suggest to yourself you don't know what that person's going.

Janice Litvin:
Right, exactly. You don't know what that person's going through. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they have somebody sick. Maybe they just found out they have some illness. Maybe their child is struggling in school. You just don't know what's going on with another person.

Mathieu Yuill:
So if an organization is listening to this and they're like, "Hey, I don't want more Janice in our life." What would somebody hire you to do? What kind of thing would you want to do with an organization? Can you just kind of describe what your perfect client relationship would look like?

Janice Litvin:
I do workshops for small and large groups. I've been doing them on Zoom even before the pandemic. And I also have a free book club I do once a month and any number of people show up. We talk about anything anybody wants to talk. So I like to do group workshops primarily.

Mathieu Yuill:
Give us some topics of that they might bring you in for.

Janice Litvin:
I break down the Banish Burnout Program and then we also do breakout exercises. I tell humorous stories to make my business points. And then we actually do breakout exercises. And you would be shocked at all the kinds of things that come out of that because we break down the exercise and then we come back as a group, and talk about them and all kinds of issues come up. It's amazing.

Mathieu Yuill:
If you're listening and you haven't experienced these kind of things, I'll share one thing that we do in workshops that I run that people love. And so usually one of the first things we do is I just ask people three or four questions, we go around and share. But one of them is what is your birth order? I cannot get over how often people will be like, "You have seven siblings?" Or like "I'm the oldest too." And yet I imagine yours or you have similar types of interactions.

Janice Litvin:
Absolutely. You remind me of a popular public radio therapist that was on for a while in the '80s. I cannot remember the name of his book, but he talked a lot about the family and the birth order because it sets up relationships and it sets up patterns of behavior.

Mathieu Yuill:
Well I actually asked that question because I did a master's in leadership and management. In one of my studies I always wanted to find the data behind what I kind of inherently knew to be true like that; expounding, gratitude, empathy, trust, honesty, service, and generosity. That it wasn't just a nice to have. It was actually data showed that it was legitimately good business practice. And so I found this study out of, I believe it was at the University of West Virginia or the University of Pennsylvania, somewhere on the East Coast or that way. And basically what they did is they measured brain activity as certain questions were asked individually and in group.

Mathieu Yuill:
And they found that there is a handful of questions that when asked in a group and shared, it actually increased dopamine in the brain, which makes it easier to build bonds. And one of the questions that I thought was so simple because the simplest one was sharing your birth order. It leads to better connectivity. Now, if you share it, are you all of a sudden best friends? No, but nothing in the work we do, Janice, you would say this too I imagine. None of it's like, "Oh, here's the one answer and boom, everything's solved." It builds on each other.

Janice Litvin:
Right, right. And interestingly when thinking about families, you can have four or five or however many children come from the same family and each child is completely different, which illustrates my point about relationships from parent to child and sibling to sibling and which one is the favorite child and, "Oh, you didn't make all A's. Your brother made A's." All kinds of things come out.

Mathieu Yuill:
Yeah. When I do that exercise, I do it with this one group. It's a social change agency. They do employment programs and oftentimes in that program, not all the time, but often the participants come from blended families. And so it's amazing these participants have been in the program for usually a couple of weeks together, but I make them share these questions and some people say, "Well, my mom has this many and my dad has this many. So I'm kind of like on this one, I'm the oldest. This one, I'm the middle."

Mathieu Yuill:
And it's amazing that these people that think that often I find they think they're the only ones that come from a family that's not as clear cut as another family. And that alone, all of a sudden these participants in the group it causes real bonding. So I used to be towards the end of that program, but now the facilitator has me come in earlier in the program because it really accelerates the relationship building.

Janice Litvin:
Absolutely. I can't imagine trying to blend with another, if you're from a large family and blending with another large family.

Mathieu Yuill:
Oh yeah. Yeah, well, it's funny because one of the questions I ask as well is what did you like to do as a kid? And so it's funny these families, kids who come from like big families, when they talk about loving sports, they're like, "Well, we had kind of a whole team built in. And I'm like, "Oh, that's great. That works well." Not a football team, but maybe a hockey team.

Janice Litvin:
Right. That's funny.

Mathieu Yuill:
So I know people want to know more about you now. So where can they go to find out more about you and your book, and how to get it and all of that?

Janice Litvin:
Thank you for asking. My website is janicelitvin.com. There's a book page. There's videos. There's testimonials. Everything you need is right there.

Mathieu Yuill:
And if somebody is like they're itching to get ahold of you and chat, what information can they come with that would really helpful to you to get a conversation going quickly?

Janice Litvin:
What are the issues your employees are facing? What's going on and what do they need?

Mathieu Yuill:
Okay. Honestly, the last time I looked at my clock, we had been recording for five minutes and now we're past 30. Man, it flew by. That was awesome. Before we get going, I just have to say thank you to a handful of people. Kerry Cotton is our account manager at Leading With Nice and she makes sure the business keeps on running while I sit here and chat. Naomi Grossman is our EA. She helps write these questions and do the research. Jamie Hunter is our content manager. If you heard about this podcast or you saw it on social, if you read the blog post, you can thank him. He puts it all together and promotes it.

Mathieu Yuill:
Cindy Craig does all our booking. She made sure that Janice and I both showed up on the right website to record this. And Austin Pomeroy is our audio technician, audio editor. He makes it all sound great. And I sometimes forget Sam. I'm sorry, Sam, I forgot you last time, but Sam does all the graphic design. So the social posts you saw with the graphic, that was all Sam. So I just want to say to all of them because without them, this doesn't happen. And man, I'm all pumped up for the rest of this now, Janice, thank you so much.

Janice Litvin:
So Am I, Mathieu. Thank you.

Mathieu Yuill:
For more on this topic, visit leadingwithnice.com. Janice's website is in the description. Check out her book for sure. Thanks so much for listening. Have a great day.