Keys for New Leaders


May 17, 2023 Dr. Charles Boyer Episode 33
Keys for New Leaders
Show Notes Transcript

#033 - BEATING BURNOUT.  Burnout isn't a medical diagnosis, but it has been linked to a range of health problems.  It's more than job-related - it's a people-oriented thing.  Burnout affects people who work with other people in all types of situations, both personal and professional.  Join Dr. Charles Boyer for some ways you can Beat Burnout before it beats YOU. 

Hello and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others.  This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s most certainly YOU, my friend.  Welcome!  I’m so glad you’ve joined us for this podcast.  Serving Leaders Serving Others is what we’re all about.  In this series of podcasts, my goal is to serve you, the leader, helping you serve others through sharing ideas, helpful hints, suggestions, inspiration, insights, encouragement and sometimes a laugh or two to lighten the load along the way.  

This is Episode #33, and we’re going to talk about Beating Burnout.  If you don’t know what burnout is, or you haven’t experienced even a little bit of it, you are very lucky indeed.  I want to know where you’ve been hiding!  For the rest of us, though, please keep listening as we talk about some ways to keep the burnout monster at bay.

Burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, but burnout – especially job burnout – has been linked to a range of health problems, from fatigue to heart disease.  It’s not something you can ignore for long, my friend.  Your good health really is at stake.

Burnout has been defined as an occupational syndrome, a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.  So much for the textbook definition.   It makes me tired just to read the definition.  Burnout, though, is much more than an “occupational syndrome.”  Occupational syndrome -- that sounds a bit cold and mechanistic to me.  It’s a people-oriented thing.  Burnout affects people who work with other people in all types of situations, both personal and professional.  People who work with other people – that’s YOU, my friend, a leader who serves others.

Burnout isn’t a new thing.  There have been many writings and studies about work stress and being “worn out” for years.  I first did some research about burnout over 30 years ago and found that it wasn’t a new thing then.  Occupational burnout was first recognized among health care professionals in the 1970s.  Professor Christina Maslach wrote some of the earliest literature on job burnout and also published the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a widely-used assessment tool for measuring burnout.  Since that time, there have been more studies and findings about burnout and how it affects us emotionally, mentally, and physically.  In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as a work-related phenomenon.  More recently, the Covid 19 pandemic has aggravated burnout and related forms of workplace distress. 

But you didn’t come here for a history lesson.  And, I believe, burnout isn’t limited to work-related stress. It may happen at work, but it’s people-related. It can happen to anyone – people who work with other people – and that includes just about all of us.  Over half of doctors surveyed are reported to have suffered from at least one symptom of burnout.  And teachers -- it’s no surprise to me that 73% of teachers surveyed reported extreme levels of stress, and almost half leave in the first five years of teaching.  More recently, a term, “compassion fatigue,” describes the burnout affecting caregivers, those who spend countless hours caring for a loved one.  All people who work with other people.

There are many events, experiences or conditions that can lead to burnout.   Some of the most common ones include:

1.     An excessive workload – simply taking on too much or feeling that you have to do it all.

2.     Together with too much work is working under tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations.

3.     And together with unrealistic are unclear expectations – not having a clear understanding of what’s expected can lead to confusion and frustration

4.     An unsupportive work environment with little or no recognition or appreciation can lead to feelings of isolation

5.     Inadequate compensation – the old expression of being overworked and underpaid comes to mind.  Not being paid enough for the work being done can lead to feelings of frustration and worthlessness.

6.     Stressful workplace relationships – working with difficult people can lead to feelings of resentment and exhaustion

7.     Another form of stressful relationship is the caregiver, one who works (often 24/7) with needy people and whose energy is constantly being drained and not replenished well.

And more.  If left unrecognized and untreated, all of these – and more – can lead to burnout.

Burnout is a common problem for new leaders.  There are many challenges that present themselves to you, and new leaders can easily become overwhelmed.  So can experienced leaders, for that matter.  Another point to keep in mind is that burnout doesn’t come on all at once.  It sneaks up on you, step by step.  So, here are just a few warning signs that appear on the road to burnout.  Watch out if you begin to experience any of these things:

1.     You feel exhausted, even after a good night’s sleep.  Not just a bit tired, but really exhausted.

2.     You have a lack of enthusiasm for work tasks, projects, and team activities that you used to enjoy.

3.     You notice that you feel more negativity by frequently complaining or criticizing things or people

4.     Your work-life balance seems to be a struggle to maintain

5.     You have more difficulty in making decisions, and you are forgetting tasks or deadlines

6.     You experience physical problems such as insomnia, frequent headaches, stress-related illnesses.

These are just a few of many steps along the way to reaching burnout.  And these steps are indicators – warning signals – that something isn’t right.  They’re like the warning lights in your car.  Something needs fixing – and in this case, it’s YOU, my friend.  Pay attention to the signals and do something about them!  Make a commitment to yourself to Beat Burnout before it beats YOU.

The ways to Beat Burnout sound easy, but they aren’t just points to tick off on a checklist.  It takes commitment and determination on your part to follow through and keep following through.  Here are some tips for Beating Burnout:

1.     Make SELF-CARE a part of your everyday routine.  That sounds so easy, but it’s something too many of us overlook or short-change.  Make sure you get enough rest, eat well, and exercise regularly.  Take care of yourself first so you can be in better shape to handle the demands of your job.  Self-care.  The flight attendants always tell you to put on your own mask first, so you can then help others.  Self-care.  Make that your first and most important priority.

2.     As an important part of your daily self-care, take a few breaks during your workday to clear your head and recharge your batteries.  Take a brisk walk up and downstairs if you can’t step outside.  Stand and take a few deep breaths.  Stretch.  Laugh. Do whatever it takes to rest your body and clear your mind.  I finally talked myself into getting one of those smart watches.  It dings at me every hour to get up and walk around.  It may be a bit annoying, but it gets me up off my blessed assurance and moving around if I have been sitting still too long.  And it helps!

3.     Build a support system for yourself.  Everyone needs someone or several someones that you trust to give you good support and advice from time to time -- a mentor, a coach, a trusted colleague, a confidant, perhaps.  Someone who is a good listener as well as a good friend.  Dean Martin used to sing, “Everybody needs somebody sometime…” and that includes YOU.

4.     Set realistic goals, goals that are achievable and have reasonable timelines.  Pie-in-the-sky goals aren’t useful or practical or, for that matter, helpful.  And goals without timelines are just good wishes.  I like to develop SMART goals, ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely or Time-Related.  SMART goals help keep you on track and help you avoid getting overwhelmed and frustrated.

5.     Delegate tasks to help you reach those SMART goals.  You can’t do it all yourself, and you shouldn’t try to.  If you’re a micromanager, you’re inviting the Burnout monster to come calling on you.  Delegate tasks to your team and trust them to complete them effectively.  It will help you keep your focus on the main goal, and it sure will help you Beat Burnout.

6.     Practice Mindfulness, both for self-care and in your job setting.  Focus on your breath flow and be intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment.  In your job setting, face situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.

Now, I don’t mind hard work.  I’ve done lots of it in my years – more stressfully hard than physical, but hard work, nevertheless.  And so have you and, as a servant leader, so will you in the future.  But take some time to stop and smell the coffee.  If someone asks you what you do for fun and you have to stop and think about it, you’re on the road to Burnout, my friend.  Step away from that old grindstone for awhile.

Many years ago, my wife and I saw a poem on a trailside sign in Walnut Canyon, Arizona.  I scribbled it down and saved it for years and have tried to find the source, but all I’ve found is “unknown.” So, thank you, “unknown” for this meaningful verse.  I may be missing a line or two after all these years, but the poem goes something like this:

If you put your nose to the grindstone rough,
 And keep it down there long enough,
 In time you’ll forget there are such things
 As brooks that babble and birds that sing.
 And all too soon, the story goes,
 These will all your world compose:
 Yourself, the grindstone, and your poor old nose.

And now, it’s time for those three questions that I like to ask you toward the end of each episode.  These are open-ended questions, ones that you can’t answer with just a “yes” or “no.”  Think about each one, and answer just for yourself and to yourself.  There are no right or wrong answers, only YOUR answers, ones that are just right for YOU.  And here they are:

1.     What symptoms of burnout have you noticed in you lately?

2.     What one thing will you promise yourself to do – right away - to beat that burnout symptom?

3.     What do you do for fun?

The Special Key for this episode is – well, obviously – the Key of B for Beating.  Maybe it should be a double B for Beating Burnout.  Or maybe just B Natural.  I still remember that old verse that my piano teacher wrote in my autograph book oh, so many years ago:  Don’t B Sharp, Don’t B Flat, Always B Natural.  Just BE, my friend.  Take time just to BE.  Give yourself permission just to BE your wonderful self and enjoy every minute of it.  It will sure go a long way toward Beating Burnout.

I always like to leave you with an idea of what’s coming in the next episode.  It helps you to give a thought or two about what’s coming, and it helps keep me focused on what to work on for the next podcast.  So, our next episode is going to focus on the Challenges of Change.  Change is constant, and change is coming, whether or not you want to admit it, and whether or not you are prepared for it.  We’ll talk about how YOU, one who serves by leading others, can best prepare to meet the Challenges of Change for yourself and for those you serve.

By the way, if you have any comments or suggestions you’d like to pass along, I’m always happy to hear from you.  You are most welcome to send me an email at: 

Thanks for joining me for this episode.  I sincerely hope it has been helpful to you.  Until we meet again, take care and stay safe and well, my friend, and don’t let that old grindstone make mincemeat out of your poor old nose.