4 Lessons That Burnout Can Teach Us About Productivity

Jack Seeds @Unsplash

Have you ever considered stepping away from something you love? A task that you previously enjoyed — but in the present not as much? A team? A role? An organization?

I realize the question may seem counter-intuitive. Why would we consider doing that? Yet, this is precisely what may need to happen.

Most of us deliver value to our clients or customers because we love our work and are committed to progress. However, loving an element of your work life is not synonymous with a vaccine against burnout. In fact, it may leave you vulnerable. (Writing always checked this box on my side. But that process no longer fed my work life core, as it once had. Looking back on the impasse, I hovered near “burnout” for quite some time before scaling back.)

What does burnout look like? How does it present? It’s not as if it sends a note, letting you know of its arrival — and crossing into that territory is often undetected. Yet, there are clear signs that we’ve arrived: Apathy, where there was once passion. Anxiety, where there was previously anticipation. Exhaustion. Dread.

Stepping away or slowing down may be needed.
This will serve you longer-term — helping you to re-engage more productively with your work.

What I’ve learned:

1. When to stop isn’t discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. How to do more — deliver more in less time — be more. But, there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should walk away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest.

2. Don’t wait for a savoir. Know this: It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are doing, you seem mentally exhausted.” You must be the governor of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.

3. Restructure/re-imagine your work. Becoming inflexible concerning how you contribute can become a player. When we pigeon-hole our contribution into one form — we can become very, very weary. We fail to explore modifications that might support our energy level.

4. We cannot ignore evolution. When people do something reasonably well — we naturally assume we should continue. We also assume that we will remain motivated indefinitely. That’s not always the case. As contributors, our needs and motivation can subtly shift.

We cannot always step away completely from important aspects of our work. Yet, we can acknowledge how we feel about them. I encourage you take a step back and take the temperature. Explore the options. Talk with someone about how you feel — and brainstorm solutions.

Is there is an aspect of your work life that you no longer enjoy, in the way you once had?

Note: Sharing articles from this site without the express permission of the author is forbidden.

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 the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Art of Management, The Strength Gap & a Litmus Test


Quotes of the Week

“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.” – Agha Hasan Abedi

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.”Paul Hawken.

Thought of the Week

We measure many things regarding work life. Engagement and workplace culture come to mind. We may tire of the topics, but the problem isn’t that we measure these things. The problem is that we measure these things — and do little with the information.

Strengths fall into this category.

We practice a somewhat lazy view of strengths.

That is never our intention, yet this is often the outcome. We spend considerable time and money identifying/measuring strengths, but then we essentially ignore the information. Life gets busy. Deadlines need to be met. Yet the practice of exploring — then ignoring strengths — can bring a certain frustration.

Why did we bother? It is a questionable strategy that makes little sense. People have a inherent drive to be their best selves and do great work. If we’ve got the keys to potential success, why not use them?

Yet, we proceed to throw challenging work at individual contributors who cannot possibly excel — or we under-utilize high performers with work that cannot possibly energize them. We’ve either broken the spirit of a less established employee or de-motivated the high performer who could spend their time in a more valuable way.

The bottom line is that the work needs to be completed. But at what cost? It is important to consider the psychological resources of the team while doing so. These resources provide internal stability within your team. Resources the team will need to utilize during times of stress or challenge. Resources that provide energy.

The Strategy: Value Litmus Test

Take the time to as ask the following 2 questions:

1. Where would the skills and abilities of X, bring the most value to the team?
2. Would X, find that assignment meaningful or fulfilling?


The Core File is a brief, weekly post about work & organizations. It is designed to offer food for thought for your work week.

To ensure you don’t miss an installment — subscribe by email on the right sidebar.

The Core File: Thoreau, Innovation & Obstacles


“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

The problem with “innovation” as a leading organizational goal isn’t only semantics. Indeed, many are weary of the mention and what that word now brings to mind. We should also consider dialing the pressure down — and redirecting the emphasis toward ideas vs. innovation. Taking the time to create language that helps innovation feel  more approachable, seems a wise idea. (Read that discussion here.)

However, there is more much more to this.

Innovation can be unachievable because the chemistry isn’t fully developed. More specifically, we ignore the psychological foundations necessary to support innovation. For example, innovation self-limits if psychological safety isn’t present. All the ingredients must be present.

You can explore this ingredient within your own team.

How does your team really feel about risk-taking? Sharing an idea before it is perfected?

These are good indicators of your team’s chances to innovate.

The Strategy: Goal + Obstacle Method.

  • Know that self-efficacy is built by doing.
  • Know that self-efficacy is also built by moving toward goals + solving obstacles.
  • Yes, you should focus on your goal.
  • But, also acknowledge your most pressing distraction or obstacle.
  • Complete one action a day to address both.
  • So — gather two opinions. Read two articles. One for each.
  • Adjust your actions accordingly.


The Core File is a brief, weekly post about work & organizations. It is designed to offer food for thought for your work week.

To ensure you don’t miss an installment — subscribe by email on the right sidebar.




How Not to Manage a High Performer

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Note: I originally posted this piece at LinkedIn.

I’ve observed high performers drowning within their own work environments.

Their days are consumed with tasks that drag them far from where they would bring the most value. They are overworked — but vastly underutilized. They can feel stuck and frustrated. They often spend their days putting out their colleagues’ “fires” and must literally hide to secure uninterrupted periods of focused work.

In some ways, they are punished for being well-versed in “how things get done”.

This is wrong on so many levels.

If these practices are commonly occurring within your organization, you should proceed with caution. At the very least, you are tempting the “workplace fates” — and the fates may not be kind.

Research has indicated that your least engaged employees,  may actually be your high performers. This flies in the face of conventional lore and contiguously sets up a dangerous, high risk scenario. The practice of your high performers picking up the slack for under-performers for example, can drone on for a time. However, this will likely create a whole new set of problems. At some point, the “gig” is up. You’ll look up one morning to find your high performer, standing in front of your desk, giving notice.

“Why”, you ask in complete and utter shock.

The most frustrating element in this dynamic? We can do something to prevent their exit. You’ll be left at a loss — but they may feel as if they have narrowly escaped a hostile environment.

Here are a few things to avoid where your top performers are concerned:

  • Punish them for competence. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it one thousand times. Often competent, established employees become responsible for each and every problem employee or departmental snafu. In essence, they have two sets of challenges — those of the entire group — and their own.
  • Fail to challenge them. When things are the busiest and work simply needs to get out the door, you rely on your top performers to keep things flowing. However, this doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like the opportunity to tackle a “stretch assignment” that utilizes their skills and strengths, when things calm down.
  • Fail to consult them when key changes are considered. We don’t always need a hired consultant to guide decisions affecting the business. Consult your established staff. Tapping their knowledge base helps us see the bigger picture for what it really is.
  • Fail to share what they know. It is critical to share their depth of experience with others (not just those in trouble). Set up a master series — and let your high performers lead the way for your less established employees.

Have you had this experience?
How do you recognize your committed, high performers? Share your strategies.

Ready to work with Dr. Gottschalk?  Schedule s strategy session here.

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 the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

I’m Worried About a Belief in Manifesting. Here Are the Reasons Why.


Strategies that may help us move forward can be worth their weight in gold.

However rest assured, I’ll put that strategy through its paces before I apply it to my own life. I’ve often wondered about manifesting and the LOA (Law of Attraction). But, to tell the truth — not enough to take up its practice. I thought I would finally jot down my thoughts concerning why this is the case.

We should always take a closer look at the advice we are offered. You should break things down and explore how the steps might really work. Where manifesting is concerned, it starts off on the right foot — but then veers off in a worrisome direction. It is easy to understand its allure. (In a sea of self-care trends it does appear to embrace positivity.) But, while it purports to offer help when life or work become challenging — it falls woefully short in the efficacy department.

That is a serious problem.

Here are my specific concerns with the idea manifesting. You may or may not agree with my reasoning. (You can read more on the topic here.)

Problem #1. For an idea to hold water, “the proof” so to speak, “lies in the pudding.” To improve our lives I believe that “doing” — actual behavioral change — is necessary. Indeed, thoughts are the starting point of change. Yet, thoughts are never the complete story when we desire progress. We cannot simply wish for things to develop. We have to act. Without a behavioral plan of action, false hope can follow.

We must act to change our lives. Only our behaviors can truly accomplish this.

Problem #2. Let’s consider the underlying premise of manifesting. When our thoughts are unleashed into the universe, they somehow create more of the same energy. Logically, this leads me to ask questions such as: “Will my negative thoughts concerning my difficult client, bring more of the same toward me?” or “Did a new client prospect ghost me because my vibrational energy was low and broadcasted my concerns?” Essentially, this line of reasoning implies that whatever you put out there thought-wise, the universe magically (and inexplicably) slaps it back into your face. That shifts the power away from us.

Manifesting shifts power into the great unknown. It professes to offer control, but actually hands off that control to an entity outside of ourselves.

Problem #3. Let’s consider, what all of this implies about emotions that are not positive. Are we also saying that negative feelings are worthless? That they should be stomped out and ignored? I hold the firm belief that all emotions tell us something vital. That our nagging “inner-speak” is alerting us to the work that needs to be done — and this work might bring our work lives into alignment.

We can acknowledge what is wrong, yet challenge its impact upon our future.

Weighing in on the side of manifesting, I do know that hope matters. Hope leads us to try again and again, to reach for the goals that matter to us.

However, while we might fulfill the much needed “hope criterion” with manifesting, we must also take things one step further and build self-efficacy through deliberate action. That builds confidence. Which hopefully leads us to act in a way that supports our goals.

Manifest that.

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 the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

A Kinder Take on Goals (and Resolutions) Using Positive Psychology


Author’s Note: I believe this strategy can help us as we deal with rapid change during the current crisis. Work life is different now. Our view of progress must also adjust.

We all engage in goal setting. Historically, it’s simply what we do.

Yet, goals can either help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize. New Year’s resolutions can suffer the same outcome. They are essentially goals, wrapped in a loaded, time-stamped, end-of-the-year package. As a work life strategist, I’ve advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Resolutions can also let us down and often fail to direct us in a meaningful way.

I’m wondering if we can craft work-focused resolutions that are better for us?

One strategy, is to apply what we already know about positive psychology. With its roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Resolutions could stand a re-framing. So let’s follow this thread.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-frame resolutions with a nod toward what is right, and not wrong with  work life. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has worked during the previous year. (Sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge the good.)

Taking the time to remind ourselves of what we already have already accomplished, can provide the fuel that we need to build both energy and resilience. So — ask yourself: What brought you a feeling of accomplishment recently? A sense of meaning? Joy?

First, carefully consider what you have already achieved, by drafting a list of your steps already taken in the right direction. (Remember, no step is too small to acknowledge.) Celebrate the successes and take something constructive from failures or disappointments. Secondly, craft a few behaviorally-defined steps for the future, which build upon progress. Try to avoid broad, overwhelming resolutions such as “Find a better job.” Be specific, yet supportive, of your on-going journey.

Integrate what you have learned from both the highs and lows of 2019.

Then think of yourself actively completing these goals.
What are you actually doing?
What are the specific steps you will take?

Here’s how this might look regarding one of my 2020 resolutions: To identify opportunities for collaboration regarding my work in core stability. Please note: I did not identify the right collaboration opportunity during 2019. There were stumbling blocks, yet there was modest progress. And acknowledging the latter is important.

Progress in 2019:

  • Continued to refine concept message.
  • Engaged in many useful conversations (virtually and IRL) regarding core stability as applied to both people & organizations.
  • Wrote & published the concept’s “origin story” and guiding principles.
  • Began identifying HR/HR Tech micro-influencers whose work aligns with my own.

What’s Next in 2020:

  • Hone list of possible HR/HR Tech contacts.
  • Reach out on social media, where possible.
  • Write an email a week regarding potential collaborations.
  • Schedule one conversation per week regarding possible collaborations.
  • Continue to define research possibilities: subjects, scope, funding.

Let me know if this process brings you any “resolution” success.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her Core Coaching Series — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Have You Ignored Your Work Life Non-Negotiables?

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

In a world where we are inundated by messages concerning work & career, it can be difficult to connect with our own needs. Clarity is vital to achieve work life alignment — and if you are struggling in some way (feeling disconnected, exhausted or frustrated), something foundational may have been overlooked.

As a work life strategist, I’ve learned that clients often have a sense of why things feel off-track, but they may fight or even ignore their instincts. We each have a work life blueprint, comprised of the elements that we require to become engaged and productive. Yet, over the course of time we can lose touch with our personal set of non-negotiables. We might relegate these elements as “nice to haves” or they have become somewhat of a “moving target”.

This can create a host of issues.

The longer we fail to acknowledge what we truly require to excel — the greater the potential to feel frustrated, disengaged or disconnected from our work lives.

Carving out the time to focus on these elements is critical. In many cases, we over-extend ourselves and mortgage our work life future, without completing this exploration. Above all, it is essential to answer this question: What do I personally require to succeed?

To explore your work life non-negotiables — complete the following exercise from The Core Masterclass. Begin by reflecting upon general work life topics, such as focal industry, working solo vs. within an organization, on-site vs. remote work and ideal supervisory style. Then move to consider more specific topics, such as needed rest, pace of learning/development or opportunities for creativity.

Remember the list of identified elements is uniquely your own.

Be honest. Be specific.

Craft a vision of the elements that you require to excel.

Follow these this prompt to help you: Broadly considering the roles, events and conversations that were remarkable in some way or have had a significant impact upon your work life.

  • What stands out about these experiences? What was happening at the time in life and at work? What elements played a role in your reaction to these experiences?
  • Overall, what elements seem to consistently energize you?
  • Overall, what elements leave you feeling frustrated, exhausted or unmotivated?
  • Were there elements that caused you to leave (or consider leaving) a role or organization?
  • Were there specific elements that caused you to remain longer than you would have in another similar situation?
  • What elements draw you toward a a role or organization?

Remember to take notes. Try to record 5-10 elements. You can refine your list as you process further.

Respect your list and attempt to integrate as many of your non-negotiables as reasonably possible over the longer-term. (Adjustments will take time). Remember this is a challenge. You may find that it takes time and considerable reflection to identify/align your list with your work life.

However, the potential benefits are worth the trouble.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her training series The Core — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.



The Culture Gap

Photo by Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

If you work within an organization or team, you may immediately identify with the following dynamic and have an inkling that you’ve lived this. At the very least, you may have found the experience frustrating. At its worst, this may have been reason enough to end your relationship a team or organization.

In 2016, I began to explore the existence of an organization’s culture core. Theoretically, the core would provide a foundation that would support not only support its people, but also the work to be done. Of late, I’ve been exploring a set of stability-enhancing constructs that may contribute to a strong, stable core. However, the potential of these constructs to have a positive impact, is not ensured.

Declared vs. Operating Culture

Stability-enhancing constructs cannot help us improve culture if there are silent obstacles blocking the path. This is not uncommon. A state where the declared culture — where what is intended or valued — is not reflected in what is actually occurring on a daily basis. Interestingly, we don’t often consider the gap between declared culture and real-time operating culture. However, the frustration that develops when a gap exists can not only affect individual contributors and teams, but the ability of the larger organization as well. In many cases, the right intention appears present, but things remain the same. The proof, so to speak, is not in the pudding. Add even a modest level of distrust, and even known obstacles are not discussed.

In a recent training delivery, we were deep in the process of exploring possible limiting factors — it became clear how these undercurrents can obstruct positive cultural intentions. Righting the course demands that we pay close attention to the cultural environment and expose its reality. If not, we are forced to function within cultures that carry along silent, negative pressure. This can be detected, in a variety of ways. We might invest in training — yet nothing seems to change. We might re-communicate the organization’s mission & values, but somehow behavior remain out of alignment. In some cases, the issues have been detected or accepted as “the way things are”, and those working within the culture may not feel empowered to share what they observe.

Identify the Undercurrent

Understanding what may stand in the way of progress is vital. This demands that we listen intently to the environments in which we work — and to those who are immersed within it. In my work with high-performance teams, this has become a key diagnostic exercise. The process is rooted in my early exposure to the auto industry and later on, to the Toyota Production System. Tantamount to Toyota’s system is the philosophy of Jidoka — where production could be stopped at any moment, if an employee detected an issue that affects quality (More here.) Jidoka is built on a deep respect for human wisdom within manufacturing environments. It supports “listening” intently to that environment. To those who understand it best.

To improve culture, we must mind the gap and listen closely.

Then we must respect what we hear.

Have you found yourself in an environment where the operating culture did not live up to the the declared culture? How did you proceed?

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 the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Ready to work with Dr. Gottschalk? Schedule s strategy session here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life and core stability have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Saving a Valued Employee With One Foot Out the Door

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s rarely good news when a valued team member expresses serious thoughts of leaving. In some cases there may have been signs of disconnect, yet those signs were not interpreted as evidence of a deeper problem. In other cases, we’ve recognized that an employee’s experience has not been ideal, but failed to address the fallout. Ultimately,  managers are caught completely off-guard — and a response in the moment is difficult to construct. Yet, timely decisive action is necessary to avoid a one-way pass into the “departure lounge”.

One option to direct this response, is to apply the notion of core stability and the psychological constructs that contribute. This may help a manager understand where things fell apart and offer clues to a possible resolution.

Consider the case of Michael, a research analyst who had been recently promoted. His new role focused on the development of a new insight survey, which would hopefully become a strong revenue center for the organization. Michael jumped into the development phase excited and good faith, preparing the necessary business plans with supporting numbers. But, the process inexplicably stalled in upper management with no direction toward a resolution. His manager failed to notice that while Michael appeared to persevere, repeated revisions of his plan had drained his psychological resources. With his former duties re-assigned, he felt he could no longer contribute in a meaningful way. After repeated attempts to right the ship, he gave notice.

Unfortunately, becoming attuned to an employee’s level psychological capital (Hope, self-efficacy, resilience, optimism) is not as commonplace as it should be. Furthermore, breaches of the psychological contract are common and are often left undetected.

What can a manager do in these situations?

  1. Assess the damage. Sit down with your employee for a candid heart to heart. Explore the situation and inquire about the events that have created the most stress or exhaustion. Apply the construct of the psychological contract, to determine if there has been a breach of the employer-employee exchange relationship. In the case of Michael, he felt that a promise had been made to invest in his expertise, yet he was repeatedly rebuffed. On some level, he felt the organization had misled him down a dead-end path with little support.
  2. Own up. If possible, intervene. Acknowledge that you should have been more aware. If you suspect that a breach has indeed occurred, inquire what you might do to rectify the situation. For Michael, offering to serve as an advocate and exploring the obstacles standing in the way of an accepted business plan would be in order. A timely, targeted resolution to restore faith is vital. It is possible that the individual’s psychological resources can be bolstered.
  3. Ask for time. Ultimately, time is necessary to put a course of action into motion. Clarify that course and ask for time (breathing room) so they might reconsider their thoughts of leaving. In some cases, a breach of the psychological contract can be mended — but the associated emotions require time (and forward progress) to settle. In Michael’s case, the project stall couldn’t be rectified. That offered him the information needed to make an informed decision.

Sadly, not all situations can be saved. However, acting once a problem is revealed may help your employee see his or her relationship with the organization in a better light. If not, lay the groundwork for a possible return in the future.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? Were you the manager or the employee? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

When Starting a New Role, Mind the Vernacular


Landing in the whirl of a new work environment can be an overwhelming experience. With a quick influx of people, projects and information — it may feel as if you are trying to gain balance while the ground shifts beneath you. Regaining some measure of stability and establishing a “new normal” is important for newcomers, as they can quickly lose their way. Managers can support them by staying close at the outset, and remaining attuned to their work life needs/goals longer-term. Newcomers should doggedly seek clarity to help them move forward. This includes the finer points of their new environment.

As we all know, teams are essentially micro-cultures with developed mores and operating principles. The simple notion of “How the work gets done around here” can be filled with nuance and confusion for newcomers. One area to consider carefully, is the vernacular used to communicate vital information about the work.

As many of us have learned when entering an established group, understanding what is being said — and what lives between the lines — is vital.

What to do as a newcomer:

  • Look around. Consider if you have landed in a group of individuals that are similar to you, or if you are from a dissimilar industry or background. Do you bring a novel area of expertise? Do you come from an industry/organization where the culture might be vastly different from your new environment? Answering these questions may alert you to the potential for a language disconnect.
  • Explore the language. People have a way of “talking, but not talking”. They may express one thing, attempting to appear one way (such as flexible and forgiving) — yet their behavior might reveal something else. Consider the case of deadlines for example. Be sure to clarify what specific phrases such as “Get to it when you can”  or “This is a priority” truly mean to this group.
  • Watch for cultural cues. The operating “language” of a group can also dictate how they communicate when facing problems. For example, environments can vary in both their “directness” and speed to correct a misstep. This ultimately affects your feedback loop. Some cultures will be quick to address a problem. Yet, others may let you languish.
  • Set the tone. What you personally require communication-wise to remain effective is also important. If language seems to be getting in the way, take steps toward clarification. While you may not be able to change the vernacular, it may help you personally to bring clarity and avoid stressful situations down the road.

Have you ever misunderstood the vernacular in a new role? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.