Episode 92

May 3, 2023

Beth Brown on workplace burnout

Beth Brown, Health & Well-Being Program Manager at ComPsych, discusses the signs of workplace burnout and small steps that companies and employees can take to combat it.

Steve Peacher: Hi everybody. It's Steve Peacher at SLC Management, and this is our next episode of “Three in Five,” and I'm really excited today to be joined by Beth Brown. And Beth is a well-being program manager at ComPsych, and ComPsych is the leading global provider of EAP, which is employee assistance programs. And Beth and I were did an internal a program recently at SLC and we thought it'd be some great fodder for one of our “Three in Five” podcasts. So Beth, thanks for taking a few minutes today.

Beth Brown: You got it, Steve. It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Steve Peacher: So we're talking about burnout, and I think that's a topic that is, you know, getting a lot of discussion on the back of you know the pandemic and it's an area where you have a lot of expertise, and I think, I know our internal webinar really generated a lot of interest. So let me throw some questions at you. The first is, you know, we think of burnout in the workplace and within organizations. So, how does an organization go about preventing burnout among its employees?

Beth Brown: So presenting and preventing and addressing burnout truly is a shared responsibility between both the individual and the organization. So, the American Psychological Association found that last year three in five employees reported experiencing workplace burnout. So, gone are the days when we used to be able to compartmentalize work and our personal lives. And that's a really great thing. So, as we're now encouraged to be our full selves at work, organizations can start to take a look at a few key things to ensure they are supporting employees, mental and emotional health. So, first creating a psychologically safe environment, so that's an environment where employees can be their full selves. We spend one third of our lives in our work environments. So if we're forced to pretend every day, it's only a matter of time before we become fatigued and feel isolated. We really can't work on or prevent burnout if we're in environments where it's not being openly and empathetically identified. And two, dedicating time, resources and continued attention to employe well being programs that focus on mental and emotional well being. So, this can look like access to things to like coaching, counseling, maybe digital self care tools, but also things like encouraging boundaries, encouraging PTO and workplace environments that aren't ‘always on’ and ensuring leaders are modeling this behavior, which in turn helps to create that culture a well being integrated within every aspect, right? From the hiring stage all the way through to tenured leadership. And then this encourages employee engagement, and that's really important here too, Steve. Organizations can provide tools and support, but employees also need to invest in themselves through engagement and commitment to their own well being

Steve Peacher: So, burnout can creep up on people. You know it doesn't happen overnight. It's cumulative. So, what are the signs of burnout that we can use to recognize burnout in ourselves or in our colleagues?

Beth Brown: That's very true. There are a couple of things we can begin to look out for when it comes to burnout. First, burnout makes us feel incredibly fatigued and demotivated. It often also results in an increase cynical or just a negative outlook on one's work life, and also just life in general. And over time with burnout it starts to bring on feelings of self doubt, failure, and then a sense of lack of accomplishment from a work perspective in yourself or others, you might start to see decreased performance. You also might see increased procrastination, poor immune function. So, someone might be getting sick very frequently. Headaches, lack of concentration. Maybe you're seeing a decreased sleep, or problems with sleep. So, it's really important before we jump to any conclusions and judgments about another person's behavior in the workplace, especially if you've seen a change in someone. The very best thing we can do is to stay curious and create a really safe environment to talk about it. It's important when we notice the change in behaviors that we care about the person, the human behind the employee.

Steve Peacher: So, now I guess for the punchline, which is if somebody recognizes these symptoms in themselves, maybe in in a colleague, what do what do you do about it? How can somebody deal with it if they see it or maybe help prevent it from happening in the first place?

Beth Brown: Yes, that's the key question. So, if you're feeling burnt out right now, you would need in the moment solutions. So, first and foremost, you want to take care of your basic needs. And I know we all know this but sometimes we need permission or a gentle reminder that it's more than okay, it's absolutely necessary. So, we see with research a very direct correlation between burnout and nonrestorative sleep. So sleep is critical. How can you get more sleep and more restorative sleep? Second, you want to take a look at what you're fueling yourself with – hydration, solid nutrition. They not only help our physical body stay healthy and well, but they also feed our mental health, making time for meals, no matter how busy you are, is important. It's a need to have, never a nice to have. And lastly movement, and I’m not talking about full workout routine that's going to feel daunting in the moment when you're burnt out, but simply moving your body on a daily basis. You can think of it as what I like to call movement snacks, so sustainable, enjoyable movement that helps move energy and reset your central nervous system. But longer term and what is really key to preventing burnout is developing resiliency. And you can do this through regular time and attention to your self care routine. This isn't just a trip to the spa, although it can look like that. This typically, it looks like determining your core values as a guide system, putting boundaries on your time, maintaining an exercise regimen, practicing mindfulness, engaging in hobbies, and making time for social connection and celebrating small wins. These are all examples of things that over time contribute to developing our resiliency muscle and making it so we're better prepared to combat feelings of burnout. The more you know and understand yourself, your values, and your priorities, the better you'll be able to navigate through challenging situations that can lead to burnout down the road.

Steve Peacher: So one more question, you know I know you're really busy working mom. I think you're working toward a doctorate degree. You've got a family. So, what do you do to maintain balance in your life given you have all these things going on?

Beth Brown: First, Steve, I’ll say it takes very intentional thought for me to stay balanced. Second, I’d say that I also recognize there is never going to be this even distribution of my time between all things. And that's okay. But it's important for me to make sure over time that one part of my life isn't tipping the balance scale for too long. One very practical thing I do every single day that’s simple, although not always easy, is I take one minute five times a day, and during that 1 minute I shut my eyes and I focus on taking deep breaths into my belly. Like you'd see happen naturally with an infant. Many of us, myself included, become chest breathers as we mature. We're exposed to more stress over time. But this quickens our heart rate. It continues that cycle of feeling anxious and that lack of control. So, by taking those deep breaths exactly where I am, so no app needed, no particular position I need to be in or music playing. It's just me and my breath, wherever I am, I help reset my central nervous system. I find my center. I feel a little bit more in control by practicing that pause and I'm also able to gain some perspective around my situation that I might not have if I’m so in it. I don't need 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes breaks to make an impact, and realistically I don't have it. But one minute five times a day wherever I am, wherever I can do it. It's been a game changer for me.

Steve Peacher: All right. Well, that's a great suggestion, for by listening you guys heard it here. One minute, five times a day. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and reset yourself. So I love that. So, Beth tanks a lot for taking the time. This is a topic again we could, we could spend an hour talking about, because there's so much you could dive into, but I think there are a lot of good tips here for all of our listeners. So, thank you, and thanks to everybody for listening to this episode of “Three in Five.”


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