What You’re Feeling is Burnout

Winter Approaching. M. Gottschalk

I felt it was time to speak about burnout.

Considering the year that we have all muddled through, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my developing burnout saga. First let me say, the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is possible that the roots may have already been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake. It is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a consultant, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. But, no one is immune. We seem to experience burnout as individuals — so its particular course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and possibly leave us unprepared.

Know that burnout will not look the same across contributors, and should be addressed when it is likely a factor. (See my targeted session here.)

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested like a storm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course. As a rule, I believe we opt to compensate and press on.

We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives.

We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our work lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from our responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when approaching burnout.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We have broken psychological agreements about work life with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability, is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to your well-being as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations a build stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

Managing a Team? Turn the Small Changes Into Small Wins

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I’m a huge fan of small wins when it comes to organizational change. (I believe Kotter is as well. Read his iconic article here). I’ve watched small wins reignite hope and forge forward progress.

I’m also a fan of Seth Godin. (If you know me well, this isn’t a much of a secret.) Not a professor of organization theory, or a psychologist — he has an uncanny ability to distill a semester’s worth of readings concerning organizational topics into a few profound paragraphs. I suspect he has an innate sense that allows him to fully understand human beings.

Here is an except from a recent blog post:

Chronic
The worst kind of problem is precisely the kind of problem we’re not spending time worrying about. It’s not the cataclysmic disaster, the urgent emergency or the five-alarm fire. No, the worst kinds of problems are chronic. They grow slowly over time and are more and more difficult to solve if we wait…Seth Godin

You see it is the small things — those micro-events that repeat over and over again — that define an organization. It is the small things that speak volumes about a brand, to clients, customers and employees. Conversely, it is the small things that can become chronic points of contention. They are the overlooked bad habits of your team or organization. The less than stellar experiences that leave your organization weakened.

It is also the small things that offer us a tremendous opportunity to build trust and devotion among our customers & clients. These seemingly small events, can offer the possibility of growth and connection. They allow an organization to build a more worthy foundation. A stronger future.

My opinion concerning the smalls things isn’t random. It developed after years of observing the repeated ineffectiveness of top-down organizational change efforts. There are clear reasons that 70% of transformation efforts fail. Deeply connecting people to change is one looming abyss that we must consider. Why should they invest — if they feel they aren’t a part of the solution?

The small things are not a detached, heavily engineered project that must be monitored, poked and prodded, to affect change. They are simple. They are owned by your team. Those that know the work.

These small things are a gift.

These small things — can become the small wins that matter.

The wins that drive positive change.

I challenge you (your team, your department) to identify 5 “small things” that would make a huge difference to your customers, your employees, your patients. Find a way to transact these opportunities into a re-imagined reality.

Build that new habit, which changes the entire game.

You see, the small things — really aren’t small at all.

Have you applied this technique? Share your experience with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

What You Need to Know About Yourself to Help You With (Workplace) Change

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The wind of change, whatever it is, blows most freely through an open mind. — Katharine Whitehorn

I’ve been told more than once, that I’m not the best role model concerning change. (To be candid, I agree with the characterization.) I balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t ever come to pass.

Then adjusting my course will not be necessary.

Honestly, this can become a problem.

As you may have read in this post, I’ve struggled with even the smallest of changes, muddling along until the “new normal” finally appears. Until that moment, I feel somewhat annoyed and completely out of sync. For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to keep my world frozen, until I can carefully consider every aspect of the situation. Unfortunately, holding time at bay usually isn’t often an option. (This also irks me. Why can’t things go at my pace?)

Regardless, I firmly acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. However, knowing ourselves is likely the very first place to look when building this skill set. I believe that we all have a leading predisposition when faced with change at work (and life in general)  — representing both our collected experiences and temperament. Of course, this influences our leading strategy when reacting to change, as well.

That’s where things get tricky. (If you manage others, just reflect on what this means for your team.) We need to come to an understanding of our own tendencies and recognize how this might affect our response.

This realization, is a crucial step.

As a consultant who advocates for change for a living — here are a few of the predispositions I’ve observed over the years:

  • Piners or Grievers. These individuals often lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or completely necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and a good measure of sadness.
  • Researchers. An unbridled penchant to gather information is the leading response for this group — as looking at the issue from all angles often helps them move on. Unfortunately, a leading by-product of this view is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I do pine at the start.)
  • Supporters or Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not be a primary driver of change, yet are happy to see the possibilities, are optimistic — and help things move forward.
  • Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors, that could negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
  • Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept a change. (I would add there is a very mild level of complacency operating). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
  • Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change eventually is perceived as untenable.
  • Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.

After I drafted these, I searched for other frameworks that capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.

Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. She is a Consulting Psychologist at Allied Talent. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum

It’s the End of American Idol: I Won’t Downplay Its Impact

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They’ve recently marked the end of the long-running show American Idol.

It was time.

However, it was more than the run-of-the-mill reality show. Its format augmented talent discovery by engaging us in the discovery process. A modern version of an old story we love to enjoy — the show allowed us to play a role in offering contestants the chance to change their lives and the face of music.

Some did.

How remarkable.

Whether you are still watching Idol today really isn’t important. (To be honest, I’ve opted to watch The Voice the last couple of years). It is the mechanism of talent identification that American Idol employed that mattered.

We have been exposed to artists (and genres of music) that we would have likely never experienced. At certain points during the show’s run,  I even became emotionally engaged with the process. (I stopped watching Season 3 after Jennifer Hudson was eliminated. Glad to see that she went on to meet her destiny.)

Yes, the process was far from perfect. However, we can learn from it. Moreover, I can’t help but think of how many talented contributors that function just under our radar, within our own organizations. How do we find them? How do we nurture their talent and align their gifts with organizational goals? How do we play an active role in that process?

The onus is upon us to do so.

I fear that much of what our contributors can bring, remains undiscovered. This because we haven’t developed the proper mechanisms to unlock their potential. That must change.

They deserve their moment.

How many moments are we missing?

Here is exactly to what I am referring. We might have missed this. Enough said.

_______________________________

What are you doing within your organization to identify and nurture talent? Share your strategies here.

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.

Kick-Start Your Work Day

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I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limit and working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you, as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your day? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

oath-980x505We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

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Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

When we lose ourselves in a stressful moment — a workplace situation can quickly go from challenging to a potential disaster.

Job interviews are a common trigger of a host of powerful emotion-filled responses; anticipation, excitement, fear. If you’ve ever sat in the interview chair, you are acutely aware of the critical struggle to remain calm and focused. As much as we attempt to stay calm — our minds can race out of control — not unlike a runaway train.

“Managing yourself” through this stressful dynamic is key.

Could the practice of mindfulness help us through an interview?

Recent research tells us that yes, it can.

Tough workplace scenarios can cause our “fight of flight” response to kick in — and job interviews certainly qualify. Labeled an “Amygdala Hijacks”, by psychologist Daniel Goleman, these moments are characterized by neurological processes where our “rational brain” (Neo-cortex) becomes overpowered by our emotional brain. This renders places us in a weakened position to deal with these situations effectively.

Mindfulness — defined as “The psychological state where you focus on the events of the present moment” — allows us to observe the events of our lives from a safer distance, without necessarily reacting in that moment. One element, is the notion of equanimity, or “non-reactivity” to the events happening around us. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention and acknowledge both one’s inner experience and the outer world, without reacting.

Discussed at length concerning its impact on both our psychological and physical well-being (See here and here), mindfulness can help us remain balanced in many situations that might normally derail us. Interestingly, one recent study links mindfulness to effective workplace behavior. The research reveals that mindfulness may help with roles that require a series of decisions in quick succession, not unlike the multiple decisions/responses we face during a job interview. Managing our automatic responses, (such as becoming nervous or flustered) and re-focusing that energy toward staying composed is key.

How might mindfulness help us in a job interview? Above all, you want to accurately represent your skills and experience. Regrets concerning what you may have forgotten to mention, (or did mention and shouldn’t have) can prove critical. During an interview we can become overwhelmed and “lose our heads” so to speak — losing focus on the actual goals of the current conversation. (You might find yourself either rushing ahead or reviewing your last answer.) If you are unable to remain fully present, you may miss important conversational cues that will help you present yourself well.

We needn’t wait for your next interview to develop techniques to become more mindful. Weaving techniques into our every day lives can prove worthy.

Try these techniques:

  • Practice the art of “micro-meditation. These are 1-3 minute periods of time to stop (perhaps when you feel most distracted) and breathe. While you are waiting for an interview to begin (seems these are always delayed), utilize the following acronym taught at Google: S.B.N.R.R. — Stop. Breathe. Notice. Reflect. Respond.
  • Tame the “inner voice”. Don’t let an inner monologue take over. (For many of us it is a panicked conversation.) Be aware of a “less than supportive” inner dialogue, that might rear it ugly head. Consciously interrupt it and replace it with a more positive message.
  • Refocus on your ultimate goal. Remind yourself of the purpose of the interview: to accurately portray yourself as a contributor. We all have triggers that cause us to lose focus and react with fear or anger. Monitor these (certain topics, etc.) and remind yourself to stay ahead of an emotional response pattern.
  • Breathe. While, we can’t halt the interview — we can silently “tap ourselves on the shoulder” to stay focused. When you feel your mind racing, mentally pause and “tap”. Collect yourself and return to the moment.
  • Bring along a mental list. Enter the interview with 3 or 4 critical points about yourself, that you want to leave with the interviewer. Use a reminder to circle back and inject these points into the conversation (try wearing your watch upside down or a green rubber band on your wrist).

How do you stay calm and focused during an interview? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a Senior Consultant at Allied Talent. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Monday Motivation: The TED Talks — Susan Colantuono — The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Leadership skills should be developed at every level. Unfortunately, the advice we are given to move ahead, is often incomplete. (Women should pay particular attention to the message posed in this fantastic presentation.)

Want to Launch Your Career? Try These Strategies

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Photo by William on Unsplash

With all that is written about how organizations are evolving to engage today’s employees, I can’t help but think about the opportunities that we have as contributors to transform those very same organizations. Our own actions shape our careers, and the fact remains that workplaces are built upon a two-way partnership — where both employers and employees contribute to eventual success.

I would venture to say, that the dynamic between the two becomes more vital with each passing day. Yes, the door swings both ways.

To consider this, we should examine the unspoken “organizational contract” that we make with our employers. What should we (as employees) do to maximize our contribution? I’ve talked to supervising managers (from sales to consulting) to get a handle on the attributes they often see in their high potential contributors.

Here’s a list based upon that feedback:

  • Strive to be industry savvy. If your are not keeping up with the current  “hot buttons” in your industry, you are probably letting yourself and your employer down. The internet offers endless possibilities to tackle industry specific topics. (You can have a brief chat with an in-house expert as well.) Get up to speed as quickly as you can.
  • Bolster your level of business acumen. Not sure how your role affects the bottom line? What your boss really does? Do you understand exactly how your organization makes and loses money? Devote an hour a week to develop this business “muscle”.
  • Take a broader view of your work. When completing an assigned project, try not to simply just check off tasks on your “to do” list.  Always focus on the end-user — whether it is an outside client or someone within the organization. How can you craft your work so it becomes more valuable to them?
  • Work with a sense of urgency. High potential employees see the necessity to build a clear road map and stay on task. As one Senior Vice President described, “They get up in the morning, have a plan, and want to accomplish their goals”.
  • Ask about company initiatives. Be as concerned about your organization as you would like them to be about you. Inquire about current challenges and initiatives. Offer help where appropriate — you’ll be the better for it.
  • Know your fellow team members. Are you assigned to a team? Being a team member is an art form — and an important part of work life today. So, do your research. You’ll be more invested in your team if you know the backgrounds of your fellow team members. If you have a tendency to “turn off” opposing opinions, you may look at things quite differently, when you know a little more about the source.
  • Don’t play the career comparison game. Career progress is an individual process. It may be frustrating when a fellow employee climbs the career ladder more quickly than you — but there may be a perfectly good reason. Don’t “abandon ship”. Trust in your value, and have confidence that you will also excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.