Burnout is a common concern these days and many leaders are experiencing it, either in themselves or in their organizations. This week Bridgette and Irvine shine a spotlight on the three main causes of burnout and what we can do to address them.
LISTEN TO PODCAST
Don’t forget to check out my You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.
Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.
Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan Resilient Leadership 2.0.
And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode.
READ THE TRANSCRIPTION
Irvine: Hello, everyone and welcome to the Resilient Leader podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction even in anxious times. My name is Irvine Nugent and I am excited to introduce my co-host today, Bridgette Theurer. Bridgette, how are you doing?
Bridgette: I am doing great Irvine, it’s so nice to be here with you and I am particularly excited to be talking about our topic today, Banishing Burnout because it seems like almost every day, I’m having conversations with people who are approaching burnout, or maybe they’re managing people who are approaching burnout. It’s sort of becoming a bit of an epidemic, shall we say?
Irvine: Yeah, absolutely. There’s lots of studies now coming out on… even before COVID we were dealing with burnout. I not sure about you, but I just know from my coaching conversations, this was such a common topic.
Irvine: And now you add on top of that, this layer of global anxiety that we are going through, and it has just put an accelerator button on the phenomena of burnout. Is that something you’re experiencing?
Absolutely. Yes, going back 5, 6, 7 years ago, I was having conversations about burnout on occasion, and now I think it’s become even more predominant. And what we really want to do in this podcast is share with folks some basic tools, three keys really, that I think lead to greater sustainable, as opposed to what people are doing now, which is sacrificing so much of themselves, their lives, their health, and can’t seem to find a balance.
Irvine: Absolutely. Just to throw out two statistics that popped into my inbox in the last week, one was 72% of Americans experienced daily anxiety that interferes with their personal and professional lives. 72%, and it interferes, they’ve said it it’s interfering with, with their lives. And then 68% of leaders and managers’ report feeling overwhelmed on a weekly basis. And just think about that how overwhelm impacts us and for that to be a weekly phenomenon, the toll of that quickly adds up. And so I’m excited today as well to talk about these three different strategies, and I think some of them will be new for people listening as well, some of the concepts.
Bridgette: Yeah. And the first one we briefly mentioned in our opening podcast, which is this very common reactive pattern that emerges in anxious systems and it’s known as over and under functioning. And boy is that a big, big thing to be paying attention to. The strategy really is to notice it because if you don’t notice it then you’re playing some part in either side of that equation. So Irvine, what is over and under functioning?
Irvine: Yeah. It’s a great question. I know when I bring this term up, people scratch their heads and then when I express it to them, a light bulb goes off and go, oh my God. Yes. And so what we mean by over-functioning under-functioning, which is the opposite effect is, it’s to be able to think and feel and act for another person. And that’s important because so often we think about the doing, but it’s a bigger… it’s actually thinking and feeling for them in a way that really is eroding their capacity so that they can be thoughtful actors themselves. And so there you get the over and the under functioning. So with the over-functioning, if I am thinking or feeling or acting for you, then the opposite of that, then someone is eroding that capacity.
And therefore, the impact is important because why are we talking about this in an episode about burnout? Because the impact on self is burnout. So often we think about burnout, I don’t know about you Bridgette, we think of burnout is doing too much. I’m doing this. But we forget about the mental strain, the emotional strain on a person when we are acting on their behalf, or feeling on their behalf, or thinking on their behalf. And so that is a cause of emotional, mental and physical burnout.
Bridgette: Yeah. I know as I’m listening to you, like, what comes to mind for me is a picture of a backpack that we hoist on our shoulders and in it is filled with boulders, huge rocks. And some of them aren’t ours to carry it but we go through our day with these tremendous weights on top of us and we don’t let them down, we don’t lay them down. In fact, we take on more and to your point, a lot of it is about the emotional side, it’s about feeling responsible for things that aren’t ours to carry. And that is not one sustainable and too scalable. An organization cannot scale on the backs of a few overfunctioners. They try to, but it doesn’t work, right?
Irvine: Yeah. That’s true.
Bridgette: So Irvine, let’s give listeners a feel for what does this look like? What are some examples behaviourally speaking of over and under functioning in the workplace?
Irvine: Well, it’s a great question. I think first of all, there is the doing. So in other words, it’s actually, it shows up somehow people, and you mention it there, very often in organization, who do we give work to? Oh, we give it to the ones that get it done. But in reality, sometimes they’re over-functioning so people who are doing things when really they should be delegating that to someone else. Or someone say who jumps in and offers advice before it’s even asked for, or at times people I’ve seen this as well, taking over people’s jobs without even being asked. So, this is the doing part, but the emotional and the thinking part is also here. So these are people who worry and fret about someone else, or say people this feeling of responsibility that I’m responsible for someone else’s feelings, I’m responsible for what someone else does, I’m responsible for how other people think. This pattern that we’re seeing of someone jumping in and really taking responsibility or doing really where it’s not their place.
And then the opposite of that of course, is the person then who’s under functioning. And what we’re seeing there is they’re not making decision or someone say who’s constantly avoiding decision making by asking for advice, and constantly getting into this. Or just laying down and habitually, letting other people have their way. And so this seesaw effect almost happens. And I think it’s important as well, very often we think of this as I’ve said before off the doing, but then when you think about, oh yeah, I really am worrying and fretting about other people. Why am I doing that? Why is this my responsibility?
Bridgette: I’m carrying the weight of their happiness, for example, or their fulfilment or whatever. And it’s interesting again, it’s always easy to observe this in others and harder to observe in self, but the truth is we’ve all been on both sides of this equation. We’ve all been under functions and overfunctioners, and we can be doing both right in different places. So I’m thinking of a leader I worked with once who was under functioning on her senior team, her boss’s senior team. She was a new member to that and she was really quiet and she just sort of faded into the background. She didn’t really have her voice. And the reason is somebody on that team at one time or another cut her off and made her feel really, I don’t know, embarrassed and so she just retreated. And her boss was not happy about it because she’s like, why do I have you on the team if you’re not going have a voice? But with her own team? Oh, the total opposite. She was over functioning like crazy and telling them what to do, how to do it, checking their work, da, da, da. So she was doing both in different places.
Irvine: There’s another example I had as well about a client. And this shows really well as well that the person above them was under functioning. And really what would happen is that the boss would give up duties to be done and they would kind of wait, wait, wait, wait, eventually they would do it, but they always would wait till the very last minute and my client couldn’t cope with that tension. And so they would jump in and they would want to take over the work or do the work and then there was this resentment that would happen and this building of resentment. And so, the conversation was very interesting. And what was happening was. It wasn’t the actual time that it took to do the work, but it was the emotional toll that what happened then that this resentment that built up about, that I have to do this.
And I was saying, I said to them, well, why do you have to do that? And they said, well, don’t you understand if I don’t, things are going fall apart. [inaudible 09:22]. And I said, and what if they fall apart? Is that not okay? And it was like uh, uh and they couldn’t answer. So this need to absolutely have to control things and this need almost this response responsibility that if I don’t do this, things are going fall apart.
Bridgette: I’m so glad you brought up resentment because that is such an important emotion or mood to pay attention to because it usually tells us we’re over functioning in some way. And so it can be really important as a wakeup call and you yeah, we can over-function for anybody in our relationship system. We can over-function for a weak boss, we can over-function for our children, we can over-function for a friend and the whole point of mentioning this is, it’s just not a sustainable way to live. Now anxiety is what this, so can you talk a little bit about for our listeners, the connection between anxiety and over and under functioning?
Irvine: It’s really… because anxiety really is the fuel that gets to why we’re over and under functioning. And I think what’s important here is the asking of the stories. I think a very interesting question to ask ourselves, what story am I telling myself that I feel that I need to jump in to over function or under function? Because I think that will get to the core and at the very core of most of those stories is behaviour driven by anxiety. So going back to the example, I just mentioned there, the story there was, well, if I don’t intervene, if I don’t do this, it’s going fall apart and bad things are going to happen. And is that story real or is it not real? How much of that story [inaudible 11:07]? So in other words, a great practice is to actually ask what story am I telling myself? And then how is that story true or is that story not?
Bridgette: To be able to access that, we have to do that thing we talked about in the first podcast, which is get on the balcony. We got to step away and step back from the immediacy of the emotion and the anxiety and say, huh, okay. So what if I stopped over functioning? Well, the whole world would fall apart. Okay, Is that really? So blah blah. So for our listeners, that is really a great question. First of all, just thinking about where might you be over functioning because it is an occupational hazard for leaders, and for parents, and with whom and then what is that anxious story you’re telling yourself about? That’s great. So over and under functioning, big, big, big contributor to burnout.
Irvine: And I think the second one then is about, so we’ve kind of made a distinction between over and under functioning and then perhaps overcommitment. So maybe a question then Bridgette would be, what is the difference there? How does overcommitment differ from what we’ve just been talking about with over and under functioning?
Bridgette: I think the main difference is over-functioning is driven by anxiety. It’s really about your relationship with people and the anxiety that’s being traded back and forth. Over commitment is more about how you’re managing your commitments. And are you either… it kind of happens accidentally where you just take on a lot of commitments, and you’re hung along and you’re saying yes, and then all of a sudden you cross this line that you didn’t know was there, you didn’t know where it was and now you have more commitments and your team has more commitments and projects and deadlines and deliverables than they have the resources to handle, than you have the resources to deliver on.
And they’re related, but different phenomenons, because over commitment can happen for lots of different reasons, not just an anxious kind of feeling driving it. So let’s talk about what some of those reasons are that people find themselves over committed. Well, one is you might be working in a company that’s chronically over committed and it’s the culture. How many companies do you work with Irvine, where you think that over committing meaning saying yes to more things than the organization actually has the resources to do? How common is that as a practice and as a culture?
Irvine: It’d be hard to put a statistic. But I would say, I would say at least half of the clients I talked to, and especially now in the midst of what happened was for many companies throughout the present crisis we’re in with COVID is they downsized? And for many it was premature. And so now you have many people who feel just chronically over committed and so yeah, I experience that on a daily basis with my coaching calls.
Bridgette: For sure. And of course, during the pandemic, when businesses were having to shut down and work virtually nobody was going say no to anything. Okay, so we work for an overcommitted organization and it rolls downwards, but I think what we fail to understand is that we’re complicit in that because nobody holds a gun to head and says, you must over commit. We overcommit ourselves. One of the reasons we do I think is because we can get into it because we love our work and we have these tremendous strengths and we want to do it all. And we say, yes because everything is kind of intoxicating. Thinking about a client that I worked with who couple of years ago was enjoying this tremendous growth search in his practice and it was satisfying and rewarding and fulfilling and intoxicating and he kept saying yes. And even though we were talking about, you don’t have capacity for one more client, he would say yes anyways because he loved the work. So that could be another reason we overcommit. I think sometimes we just don’t know how to say no, we’ve never been taught it, we’re not comfortable saying no, we’re not comfortable making counter offers. We feel like if we are going to be successful, the only choice is yes.
Irvine: I agree with that. I love that because I find very often that becomes a coaching conversation with some clients. No is an option. And for many people, it’s not even an option. They just think, well, I can’t, how could I say no? And it’s incredible, the baggage that goes along with that, this inability to say no. And really, that’s doing the company, a service, it’s doing the organization a service and you’re self a service.
Bridgette: Yeah. Because you can’t satisfy your customers, your stakeholders from a chronically over committed place. Okay. So I have to make an admission here. I’m an overfunctioner, no, I’m a recovering overfunctioner and I’m getting so much better. I catch myself now. I’m also guilty of over committing. I love my work, I say yes to lots of things and then I think, oh my gosh, I shouldn’t have said yes to all of those things. So how do we let that muscle to say no, or at least to make counter offers. And I think that we have to look at this assumption, it’s a very pernicious assumption in our society that more work and more doing equals more value. If I’m really busy and if I’m doing a ton of stuff, then I’m really valuable. But actually it’s about impact. Impact equals value. And we don’t have to work ourselves to death to have a profound and meaningful impact. And I just want our listeners to soak that in for a minute. How can you, if in fact you’re an overcommit, how can you begin to look at your work, through the lens of where do I want to make the biggest impact? And how? And that may mean doing less.
Irvine: Yeah. I love that Bridgette, as well about impact because I have to make a confession too. I am also very much an over functioner and I think the genesis of some my over functioning has to do with wanting to please people. And I remember one of the questions I asked myself at times is what’s the impact of my voice not being heard? So at times I may not say things because I don’t want to upset people and maybe in that stage, I’m under functioning. And then at that stage it’s what’s the value, what’s the impact of my voice being lost? And I think that’s just as equally important as well.
Bridgette: Absolutely. So, we get into it from an honest place, we can over function, we can under function, we can over commit as part of an overall culture of over committing and then it’s like, well, how do we get out of them? We’re going to end with a core practice that I think is really helpful, but we have to really define ourselves. Going back to those three building blocks, self and system awareness, self-Regulation, self-definition. The end of the day, we got to define what kind of life we want, we got to define what kind of career we want and nobody will do that for us. And by the way, if we’re not clear about that, you can bet your organization will put demands on you that will require you to overcome commit.
Because they’re not responsible for you deciding where the line is. You are. And then you have to engage in those missing conversations with whomever to say, we need to better manage our capacity here, because if we don’t, we’re not going do the best work we can. We not going to produce excellence. Some things are going fall through the cracks and that’s not what I’m committed to. So you come from the place of wanting to do great work and we can’t do great work from either an over-functioning stance or from having over committed our resources.
Irvine: Yeah, absolutely.
Bridgette: So what else, Irvine? Those are the first two keys. There’s another key to this, what is it?
Irvine: Yeah. And I think what’s important, it’s kind of riffing off those two as well, it’s that at times, because of that self-definition. And part of that is what do I value? What are my core values? What is important to me in life? What kind of work do I want to be doing? And I find very often the clients I work with, they’ve kind of rudimentally thought about that, but they’ve never really dug down deep. And then what we need to ask is, is the work that I’m presently doing in alignment with the values that are important to me? Because very often we get into leadership and it’s an exciting prospect. We’re excited about the impact that we can have and then all of a sudden, we kind of can lose focus. And at times what I find some of the conversations are, I feel I’ve drifted.
This is the language that they used. And I said, what does that mean? Where have you drifted from? And it’s, I kind of drifted from that original energy that I felt. And and then what you find is either boredom or resentment, building up, et cetera, and very often what I try and do, and that is an invitation to revisit, what are your core values? What’s really important? What kind of difference do you want to make and what kind of work do you want to be doing? And I think it’s that revisiting, which becomes very often. And I find out that burnout can happen very often when there is a misalignment between what I am doing and that I’ve drifted away from the passion. And I use energy because energy so often is what keeps us going and if you’re not aligned, there is no energy and if there’s no energy, then what’s going happen is burnout.
Bridgette: Yeah. For sure. Work becomes a grind when we lose our self in it, and that’s what we’re really losing. And make no mistake, there’s always a risk of losing ourself in any of our relationship systems. We can lose ourself as a mother. We can lose ourself as a leader. We have to do the work, as you’re saying of staying connected to what we care deeply about and then figuring out, okay, that’s what I really care deeply about, what do I need to take a stand for here for myself? Because if there is that misalignment that you’re talking about, that’s exhausting. So, so exhausting, the great resignation, which we’re going talk about in next episode, I think one of the reasons that phenomena is happening and we’ll build on this in our next conversation is this, people are waking up to this drift that you’ve talked about. And if we have been approaching burnout or we are burning out, whether it’s because of over-functioning overcommitting or loss of passion and purpose, there is like you said, the energy that just drains out of us, and then we can’t really lead from a depleted place. So we got to find our way back to ourselves.
Irvine: Yeah. And I think what’s very important here is that at times the energy that’s depleted is not just the physical energy. So yes, we can overcommit ourselves, we can work long hours. God knows in this country, we have chronic sleep deprivation. People are not sleeping enough. So there is physical. But along with this, there’s also the mental exhaustion and the emotional exhaustion as well, that comes from drifting away from your core values. This feeling, I remember talking with a client once and they were trying to put language around what they were feeling and the word they used, I thought was so powerful. I feel trapped. Like, whoa. Just think of that, that energy of feeling trapped there. And so I think what’s so important there for as we try to re correct this misalignment is the importance of first of all of rest, and not just physical, a mental, emotional rest.
Because we go to a gym and we work out and, and why do we rest certain muscle groups? Because what happens of course, is we exercise these muscles, these muscles are full of tension, et cetera and so what happens then is we rest them so they have a time to recuperate and we need that in our lives. We need times to rest, we need times to reflect, to ask some of these new questions.
Bridgette: Super important.
Irvine: What, what do I value? And then for others, coaching can be very helpful. I find in this moment in people’s lives to have an outside person, to have someone to bounce ideas off to kind of reflect back to people also can be very power in getting out of this feeling of being trapped. And then just some renewal, what would renew me? What would add some energy to me? I think these are all important things for people to consider.
Bridgette: Oh my gosh. Especially finding a moment or a minute of reflective space in your day. That is something I’m noticing that once we went to virtual work, people started having back to back zoom calls, like really back to back all day. And at least when we worked in the office, we had to walk maybe to a meeting. So we had a few steps to catch our breath and like now we don’t. And it’s interesting. I can’t remember who circulated this research, but it showed the brains of people on zoom calls without any breaks.
Irvine: I saw that. Yeah.
Bridgette: Versus having just five minutes between it, it’s huge. So taking five, take five minutes between your zoom calls to gather yourself, to breathe, to reflect for a minute, it sounds so simple, but it’s elusive for many, many people and day after day of meetings all day will lead to burnout. That’s a fact.
Irvine: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bridgette: And Nobody’s going give you that reflective space, you insist on it for yourself.
Irvine: Absolutely. In fact, there’s a little exercise that I like to do with some of my clients is that, if you had a one minute in your day, if you had five minutes or 10 minutes, what could you do? And just get them to brainstorm. Be it, I could take a quick walk or I could you know catch up, one person loves comedy. I could watch like a little five minutes of comedy to kind of renew themselves, et cetera. So it’s amazing to be creative, but to really think about those moments of space that we need to create in our lives and to create them. I agree with you. I have clients that basically their zoom calls are 9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12, 12 to one, there is no break. Nothing.
Bridgette: No, No. And that’s just no way to live and it’s no way to lead. So I know we have a core practice we want to share with folks, but as we’re talking, I just to share an example that came to my mind of a leader that I worked with who was really experiencing all three of these things. In other words, she was over-functioning and therefore some of her staff was under functioning. She was overcommitted and worked for a chronically overcommitting organization and she had started to lose some of her passion and purpose. And one thing in particular that was very interesting to me is that, you mentioned early on Irvine, that thinking for others is a form of over functioning. So she was telling me about how she couldn’t delegate to some of her staff, because they were so over committed that she didn’t want to break their backs.
I can’t do that. I know they’re over committed, I just can’t do that. And I said, how do you know they’re over committed? Well, I can just tell. And I said, well, what if you’re thinking for them? And what if instead you let them think for themselves? She’s like, well, what does that mean? And I’m like, well, what if you had a conversation with some of your staff and said, I really would love to delegate X to you, and I do want to have a conversation though about your capacity. And I want to hear your thinking about taking this on. What, what do you think? Do you have the capacity? Or what would you need to do to have the capacity? I said, let your staff think for themselves, because if you do, that’s just another boulder in your backpack that you’re carrying.
Irvine: Absolutely. And actually what I love about that Bridgette, it actually opens a conversation, which rarely happens, which is priorities. I think we make assumptions about what we should be doing and with some of that conversation about, well, actually, I think this is more important. But that delegation question is such a beautiful opening into that actually. No, actually I think this is where your time would be best spent.
Bridgette: Yes. Well, so what do you think, Irvine, should we leave them with a core practice?
Irvine: Let’s do it. Yeah. What do you think that would be a good core practice today.
Bridgette: Okay. So let’s call this hitting the pause button.
Bridgette: So we all are very adept at using our remote controls to hit the pause button, but we don’t do it in our own life. And in particular hitting the pause button in this moment where somebody, anybody in your life comes to you with a request or a problem or something, and you feel that pressure to take it on. So instead you hit the pause button, and inside your own head question that you ask yourself is how can I be a resource to this person without taking it on? And the it is either their anxiety, their problem, their life, their happiness, whatever the it is that you might be inclined to take on. Could you show up instead, just as a resource to them? Be curious, ask them questions, help them find their own answers.
And the other thing I would add to that and tuck this in, in your back pocket is use what I call commit to commit. That if somebody makes a request of you and you need to respond, you can respond with a commit to commit. And that looks like this. Well, you know, I’m not sure I don’t want to say yes to what you’re asking right away without asking my team first. Let me chat with them, and I will get back to you by Friday at the latest, and that buys you time to really think your way through this. I love that. I try to, you know, use that myself as much as I can because my first instinct is to say yes. And now I say, well, wait, let me think about that first and talk to so and so. So hitting the pause button.
Irvine: I love that hitting that pause button. I need to remember to do that myself at times. Oh boy. So today we have been looking at this phenomena, burnout and banishing burnout, and we’ve looked at over and under functioning. I know for many of you that will be a new concept and hopefully just like in many of our clients, the light bulb will go off and you’re able to ask yourself, wow. what are some of the patterns I’m noticing about my over or under functioning? And then we’ve talked about overcommitment and chronic overcommitment and perhaps the roots that make us say yes, and the challenge to that knows an option. And then finally, we’ve talked about this drifting from our purpose and our passion and pausing so that we can once again, ask some of those deeper questions of what are my values and how can I restore some of the energy that perhaps I feel that’s being depleted?
And I think a great exercise we finished with today is just hitting that pause button and being able to ask some of these reflective questions and just giving ourselves some of the time that we need. So it’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you, Bridgette today for this great conversation around such a timely topic. Thank you for listening everyone as well. Hopefully you have found it useful. Remember, please spread the word. I am sure if you think in your circle that you have heard people say, I feel I’m burning out or I feel overstressed, I would love for you to say, you know what, there’s a new podcast, and I think there’s an episode that perhaps could be very useful for you and just share the episode. And our next episode is actually going to be another topic that you might have heard going around, which is the great resignation. So people are not only burning out, but they’ve decided, you know what? I’ve had enough, I’m resigning…
Bridgette: I’m out of here.
Irvine; I’m out of here. So what we want to do in our next episode is let’s explore that. Why is there a great resignation going on and what are some of the roots that are happening and what can we learn from that great resignation? So Bridgette, have a great week. Thanks for joining today and look forward to speaking about the great reservation next week.
Bridgette: All right, Irvine, take good care of yourself.
Irvine: Thank you.