Most companies ignore their employees who experience burnout, and it only leads to further disconnect and resentment among the team. Caitlin Donovan joins the People Strategy Forum to discuss what it takes to achieve burnout recovery. She talks about how it starts by facilitating safety and stopping resentment from getting out of control. Caitlin explains why burnout cannot be addressed in a linear fashion, how traumatic childhood experiences can affect a person’s current situation, and the right way to review emotions. They also underline the dangers of not setting the proper boundaries within the workplace, assigning extreme workload to every employee, and rampant corporate paternalism.
Welcome to the People Strategy Forum, where I showed leaders on how to elevate the workforce overall. We believe that people are at the heart of successful organizations and that team member’s well-being rewards career development. They’re all essential. This show discusses the practical and effective leadership strategies for our top executives, senior professionals, and talent managers overall.
I wanted to introduce you to some of our hosts. We were just saying that Sumit just joined. Sumit is from India, and he has a lot of global talent experts. He’s a people strategist. He harnesses over 30 years of experience in multiple different locations and industries. Sumit is power-packed with good information. We also have Char Miller. Char is what I call our serial entrepreneur. In addition to being a senior HR professional, she’s a people strategist who is known for HR with a heart. Thank you, Char, for joining us.
We have Howard Nizewitz. He has over 30 years of experience, a lot with larger organizations. He has a passion for technology, making sure that companies are converting over to those important systems so that they can elevate their game. He’s always trying to influence people to get off of spreadsheets and so forth.
I want to introduce you to our speaker. This is important because I know our audience out there is leading change in the world and business. We have a remarkable guest with a deep level of expertise. She is a true beacon for navigating the challenging waters of professional life. We’re going to talk about a lot of these things.
One thing that is critically important is we’re going to talk about resilience and fighting burnout. She is the host of FRIED – The Burnout Podcast and also the author of Bouncebackability Factor. Caitlin’s insights have touched lives and resonated across platforms such as Forbes, NPR, and New York Post. It’s such a pleasure to have you on. I’m so excited to get into this conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about resentment? Let’s dive into your background first. I promise I’m going to learn a little bit more about you, how we got here, and the people that you help.
What is it about my background that I can share with you? What are you thinking about? What are you wondering now?
What I’m wondering is I feel like there must be a story behind the burnout issue that made you or drove you to help all the people on this topic, specifically.
That’s a good guess. There’s a story. I was lucky to be one of those people that followed my heart. I left high school and got a full scholarship to Boston University as a pre-med student. I was very excited about becoming a doctor. Not only because I thought I could use some level of intelligence that I had proven over the years but also because I liked the idea of having a title that was that high. I grew up in a destitute city in Massachusetts that didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for growth or change. For me, becoming a doctor was almost proving that I could get out of it.
I was two years in when I realized it was not the right path for me. This was my first decision to avoid burnout. I was thinking, “I don’t want to be over 30, finishing school, have a quarter of a million dollars in debt, and be so tired that I can’t even take care of the people that are coming to me because of how grueling the education is and the internships are. I went to one of my teachers at the time. I was doing a graduate-level course. I don’t know why they let me, but they did, in meditation with Livia Kohn, who is the world’s foremost scholar of Daoism.
I said to Livia, “What am I going to do?” She said, “Do Chinese medicine instead.” I said, “What the heck is that?” That started a love affair with Chinese medicine. I moved out to California and did a Master’s degree. I ended up meeting my husband, who’s Polish, on a trip to Argentina before I finished my degree. That led to me moving to Poland and starting my first acupuncture practice after finishing school in Warsaw.
It was incredibly successful and not great at the same time. I had that moment in my life where I was checking off all the boxes. I was 28 and I was paying off American student loans from Poland, which is incredibly difficult because the money doesn’t add up the same way. I was charging the equivalent of around $25 for an acupuncture treatment, and I had to send $1,000 a month back to the States to pay my bill. Do the math. It doesn’t add up fast enough, but I was able to do it.
I was fairly well-known in Poland because of it. I was an American acupuncturist working in Poland and doing fertility. It was a very strange combination of things. I was on TV and in magazines. I was miserable and my health was falling apart. I didn’t know what to do, and I felt distraught because I’m a healthcare practitioner. I should know how to deal with this, and I didn’t.
I told my husband it was Poland’s fault. I blamed the country because that’s reasonable. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t Poland’s fault. My husband got a job offer, so we moved to Prague. Prague was a much easier life, but I didn’t understand that it was burnout that was happening to me until a couple of years later. Burnout wasn’t talked about. This was 2016. There was an article in Harvard Business Review that I read and I was like, “Oh,” then started the recovery process that led to everything that I’m doing now.
What was the core or the source of the burnout? Was it the financial burden that was hitting you? What was it?
That was a piece of it. I did another degree to dig into burnout a little bit further. One of the key pieces of information that I drew away from this degree is the idea of a web of causation. This is used in epidemiology to describe how people develop things like diabetes. There’s this idea that Americans want because Americans love to think that A plus B equals C. I learned Chinese medicine. We think in circles, but Americans love A plus B equals C.
People want to say, “This was the problem. This was the solution, then I fixed it.” What happened is I had some sense of unworthiness and some trauma from my childhood that was unresolved. I had the pressure of learning a new language and functioning in a new country, which uses more energy than normal. I had the financial pressures. There were all of these different elements that had to come together in a perfect storm place. Underneath most of them is a difficulty understanding my own values, which drove a lot of behaviors like overwork, overgiving, and overdoing in order to prove myself.
I love the fact that you have this expertise in Chinese medicine. You were talking about thinking about things in a circular fashion versus a linear. It must give you some insight into how to crack this problem. What are your thoughts there?
One of my favorite things about looking at it through a web of causation and through a more holistic system is that you don’t have to solve all the problems at once. I like to think of it almost like when you have a gold chain, and it gets entangled. The first thing you do is press on the top of it a little bit to flatten it out until you can find the one piece that will get rid of that first knot. It doesn’t unwind the whole thing.
I like to look at burnout recovery through that exact same lens. First, I did some therapy. After I got through some of that stuff, I did coaching instead. Once I had enough energy back, I did some functional medicine, nutrition, and acupuncture. There are a lot of pieces that are necessary to recover from burnout, but you only have to focus on one little knot in the gold chain at a time. You know that feeling when you get that first knot and even insight. There’s an expansion like, “I’m getting there. Something is happening.” It’s that same feeling and sensation. Avoiding this super linear way of looking at things helps us to avoid the disappointment that inevitably comes by saying, “I found a solution,” and then realizing that it’s not the whole solution.There are a lot of pieces to focus on to recover from burnout. You only have to focus on one little knot in the gold chain at a time. Click To Tweet
What’s the first step in that and finding the first piece to unravel there?
In my work, it’s the thing that we’re looking for first if you’re working with someone. From the position of a coach, my initial job is to facilitate safety. That’s the F in FRIED, facilitate safety. We facilitate safety because when you’re burned out, your nervous system is completely activated all the time. You cannot react appropriately, think appropriately, and have appropriate emotions. You are not recovering the way that you’re supposed to. Your sleep isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. You don’t have the same power to exercise because you’re on fire.
The first step is how do we bring you back down a notch, how do we facilitate a feeling of internal safety, and eliminate some external stressors that are impairing your safety. Maybe you have a bully for a boss at work or a micromanager. Maybe there’s Sally from accounting who shoots back every email you sent her with every single mistake you’ve ever made and tells you you’re a dummy. Whatever happens, we can eliminate some of those factors and increase your ability to feel safe within your own body so that we can do some of this work. Without that, we can’t move forward. That’s always step one.
Can that be done on the fly, so to speak, if you’re in the middle of stress?
Absolutely. When you are in a highly anxious state or a very angry state, there’s a lot of information out there that is like, “Just breathe and make it go away.” No. Do ten jumping jacks, please. Use the hormones in your body that are pushing you to be active. I have a mini trampoline. I’m in a cloffice, my guest room in my townhouse. My guest closet is 6 feet by 6 feet. It’s huge and I don’t need a guest that needs a closet that long ever.
I turned it into my office. My office is pretty small. I’m standing currently, but if I need to get up and move, I have a mini trampoline out there. If I get a disruptive email, I go outside into my guest room and I bounce for 30 seconds. We first have to know what we need in a moment. We first have to know what the moment represents. Is this an anxiety moment? Is this a stressful moment? Is this a disappointment? If it’s a heavy disappointment or some grief, which grief is related to the lungs in Chinese medicine, maybe we’re thinking about a breathing exercise in that situation. There’s not one tool that’s ideal for every situation. We have to be responsible about the tools that we choose at particular moments.
That’s so powerful. You mentioned using a trampoline too. I read an article not too long ago about the health benefits of getting back on the trampoline. When I was little and being raised by my parents, they had a trampoline, and I thought it was so cool in the ‘70s.
In the ‘70s, that was super cool.
I’m glad to hear that there’s a comeback and that you can jump on that. The problem is that I had a big trampoline for my kids. They went through five of them because they jumped them into submission. It starts coming apart and they keep jumping, and then it breaks.
It’s because you were stressing the amount too much.
That was probably me for sure. I don’t think so.
I love what you’re saying. I worked with human resources and talent management strategy for ten-plus years. Even though I was moving up the chain as a corporate director and sitting at the executive table, I was being bullied as an executive HR person because everybody hates our HR or most people. A few people like me. They thought I was cool because I’m funny sometimes, but I was a people pleaser. It was hard because I wanted to be loved and for people to like me. It was interesting because I chose HR because it was a people business thing.
I was listening to a podcast and they say that oftentimes, you are influenced by what career to pick because your parents encourage you, “You should get into a government job. You should be an accountant like me. What are you doing? You’re getting into psychology. That’s so stupid. What the heck are you going to do with the psychology degree?” I laugh because I have a minor in Psychology, an undergrad in Communications, and a Master’s in Business Organizational Effectiveness.
I laugh at my dad and say, “Dad, I’m sorry, I am not an accountant. I am not working for the Federal government.” I didn’t follow what my dad said because of the family influence, but I did hit massive burnout, particularly because the culture of the company, the bureaucracy, and the politics were eating me alive. There’s a lack of compassion. There is no compassion, dignity, and respect. I was laid off twice. Quite candidly, “I’ll take the 5 to 6 months’ severance. Keep screwing up. You don’t know HR.”
What’s interesting about what you said is something that comes up a lot. When you look at some of the burnout research, they say companies are 80% at fault for burnout. When I talked to people one-on-one over the past seven years, what I found is it’s closer to 50/50. The problem of being in a company that’s not aligned with your values is a huge one, but that is an issue that exists in the space that is the relationship between you and the company.
There are some people who thrive in those low-compassionate environments because of the way they were raised or because of whatever background comes into play. What I want people to consider is sometimes you don’t mesh well with the company for whatever reason. That doesn’t make you or the company bad. Sometimes, the company is bad. Sometimes there’s a bully like you said. Sometimes that’s true.
What’s happening in this interim space is what we need to figure out. What’s in the relationship? We keep putting these two sides, especially organizational psychologists like, “We have to fix the workplaces.” People are like, “Yay.” If you put a bunch of traumatized people into a well-functioning workplace, there are still going to be traumatized people who people-please, have perfectionism, have feelings of unworthiness, and don’t have good boundaries. We have to work on how these things interact instead of putting them in two separate buckets.
Here’s what I want to say about this. It does take self-awareness to realize that you have accountability for the company that you place yourself in. As you said before, you have accountability for the degrees that you went after and the master’s degrees. You have accountability for living in the town that you decided on and driving an hour to commute. You have accountability for the choices that you made, so I love what you’re saying.
I want to mention one thing because I know that Sam, Sumit, and Howard would love to say a few things too. I did join a Facebook group, and I know we’re not here to promote Facebook groups, but this Facebook group is called Freedom from Corporate. What’s fascinating is I’m one of the very few former HR corporates. I do HR with CompTeam and Talent Management with CompTeam, but more as a consultant. In this Freedom from Corporate group, there’s so much anger.
They don’t like HR. I get that. I’m just so burnt out with their corporate environment. One, they’re either planning to leave corporate or silently quitting as they say. Two, they’ve left corporate and they’re like, “Now what do I do? How do I become an entrepreneur? I can’t do corporate anymore.” your thoughts about that, Cait?
The most important thing that was said there that ties into what we were talking about is they’re all so angry. Earlier we said, “What do we need to do to start somebody’s burnout recovery?” I said, “Facilitate safety.” The R is reviewing emotions. The reason I work with resentment at the beginning of people’s burnout recovery journeys is because it’s the lowest-hanging fruit. People are mad, angry, and resentful. Instead of trying to circumspect that experience of theirs, let’s get right into it. Let’s look at it because we cannot plan a future for you that doesn’t include those same elements unless we know what those elements are.
If we take the time to sit down and say, “What are you most resentful about? What’s hitting you now?” There’s a series of questions called the questions if, the resentment journal that I created. The first question is, “Does the thing that you are resentful about even need to be done? Does the thing you’re mad about even need to exist at all?” If it doesn’t, drop it. Let’s prune that right out of your life.
There’s a good 10% to 20% of things you’re mad about in your life now that you could stop doing immediately and no one would notice. That’s where we go to step number one, then we go through the questions, and we get down to this place where the reason that you’re resentful is because of a boundary violation. The first person who violates those boundaries is you. How many times have you been overtired and said yes anyway?A good 10% to 20% of the things you are mad about can be eliminated in your life immediately and no one would notice. Click To Tweet
I’m a yes person. I took on twelve projects, burnout, and sadly, I miss a lot of my children’s youth because I was the workaholic and their father had more time with the kids. I was very resentful. I hear you.
I disagree that it’s your fault. To me, the question is what were the behavior patterns that you created in childhood? How were they successful that drove you to act this way within the workplace? How can we not demonize those factors because you wouldn’t have repeated them for 40 years if they didn’t work? How can we not demonize those factors but understand what they were trying to do for you and use them still when they’re applicable, but not use them in every single situation because that’s your default?
I’m not anti-perfectionism. I’m not even anti-people-pleasing. Sometimes, people-pleasing is the right choice. Can you imagine if I came on this show and my goal was to piss you all off? That wouldn’t be great. That’s not the point. I do want to please you guys, not because I need you to like me but because I want to provide your audience with something that’s worthwhile.
You bring up my red side, and I’d be my red glasses like you have. Sumit, what do you think about this from an Indian point of view?
I was thinking of it in the line of what you said, Char, about freedom when you started talking. It was our Independence Day and there were countless definitions of freedom or independence going around. I was thinking of it in terms of how I would define it very simply because my daughter asked me what freedom means. What is independence?
My answer to her was the ability to be yourself where you don’t have to pretend. You can just be you. That’s one of the biggest issues at workplaces. It’s not the volume of work. It’s not other pressures and the inability to meet deadlines. It’s the fact that we can’t be ourselves. We have to wear different kinds of masks, depending on who we’re dealing with. As Cait said, safety is step number one. If we can provide people with that psychological safety, as Patrick Lencioni calls it, “The absence of trust.” We fix that. I think we’re halfway or maybe even 80% of the way there.
Inclusion safety is critical. I agree.
We all deal with being put upon, imposed, and unhappy. We have emotions of resentment but what you’re saying is what you do with that? What do you do with those feelings? More often than not, we’re afraid to speak up. Maybe we’re brought up not to push back or to be that people-pleasing person, especially in the HR function.
Resentment is a dangerous emotion. If you grew up with almost any religious background, resentment is a no. You’re not allowed to feel it. You have it, but you don’t even know you have it because you’re not paying attention to it because it’s a no. It builds up and takes up a lot of energy in your body. Think about the one person who as soon as their email hits your inbox, your eyes roll. There’s zero time in between the moment that you see their name. You don’t think anything happens. Your automatic reaction is like, “Oh my God, Susan from accounting.” This is resentment.
We can’t fix that relationship if we can’t move through the resentment, which means we cannot extend inclusion safety to Susan from accounting if we don’t work through this resentment. When we are in a place where we are holding on to that resentment, we are making things unsafe for ourselves and for others at the same time.When you are in a place where you hold on to resentment, you are making things unsafe for yourself and the people around you. Click To Tweet
How do we encourage people to voice their resentment? I would link this to the quiet quitting or the silent critic that Char mentioned. How do we get people to voice their feelings and maybe prevent resentment from building up in the first place? If it’s already there, you express it before it explodes like a volcano.
I don’t recommend expressing it. That’s not the recommendation. The recommendation is to look at it privately in your own time in a way and in a space where you can be objective. Become the observer, pay attention to the situation, and figure out what’s going on. This is why I have a format for it. This is why the question still exists. Do I need to drop this? Does it need to be delegated? If so, then to whom or what? Sometimes, we can delegate to software.
Does it need to be dropped? Does it need to be delegated? Do I need an upgraded tool? One of the things that I realized was getting my goal while I was burnt out. I make eggs every morning. I eat eggs in some sort of extra every day for breakfast. My eggs were sticking to my pan and every day, I was mad about it, “Get a new pan, sister.”
Sometimes, it’s as simple as upgrading the tool that you’re using to whatever you can afford. There might be some financial constraints. If something needs to be done, you are the person who needs to do it. You have the best tool available already, then we have to start looking into the boundaries. Are you doing more than you’re being asked for? Have you volunteered for something you don’t want to do? Is there a conversation that you need to have internally that says, “I won’t say yes next time?” Is there a conversation you need to have externally that says, “I’m not going to do this next time?”
I love your egg pan idea and I need to get a new egg pan. This reminds when all the leaders went to a leadership conference, hundreds of us. Some OD person taught us about crucial conversations, “I’m certified in crucial conversations.” Crucial Confrontations is the other book, but it was interesting because I knew all the chief nursing officers and the chief directors. You can tell I come from healthcare.
I had a huge resentment against the chief nursing officer of that hospital. I don’t know what I was doing wrong because I felt like I needed to be the voice of reason with the chief nursing officer to be able to articulate to half of the leadership team that there was some way underlining resentment and burnout.
I don’t know what I was saying that pissed her off. Sorry for the profanity, Sam, but something pissed her off. She called me to her office. I’ll just call her Jill. Miss Chief Nursing Officer Jill had me come into her office. She had her little paper and said, “Char, we need to improve our working relationship because I feel like you and I are not communicating well.”
She articulated that she felt a lot of resentment coming from me when I was like, “No, I’m trying to express the resentment coming from your team. I’m trying to help you break down the barriers with your team because it’s impacting patient care and patient outcomes.” I found it fascinating that she was so defensive as I was trying to articulate that problem.
I was the people strategist and the HR consultant business partner. I thought that was supposed to be my job to give her that feedback. What you just said is you have some kind of assessment to decide if we should sit down with that person and make that crucial conversation about the behavior. Can you expand? In that scenario, what should I’ve done differently? She resented me more. I must have pissed her off even more.
It’s hard to know what all the factors were. I don’t want to put any thoughts or feelings into Chief Nursing Officer Jill’s brain because I don’t I don’t know her. I’m sure that this is a summarized version of the story. If someone is experiencing a lot of resentment toward them, chances are they also have a lot of resentment going outward. One of the things that they’re likely modeling is an over-giving and overdoing behavior that they then require out of everyone else.
I put all the laundry away at the end of the day like, “Why don’t you do it? When you do the laundry, why don’t you put all the laundry away?” “I do all the charts at the end of the day, so why don’t you do all the charts at the end of the day?” This is a possibility. As I said, I don’t know the scenario. She was likely modeling a behavior that she was disappointed in because not everybody was doing it as well as she was doing it. The people were mad because her expectations were so high.
She wanted them to be doing things that she was modeling and hinting at but maybe not making explicit. There’s a lot of miscommunication there. If she’s feeling resentful that she’s doing all the things that no one else is doing, then you come in and you’re like, “People dislike you.” How is she supposed to react? She’s like, “I’m doing the right things. What do you want from me?”
This is an issue that comes down to if we go through the questions and if we figure out what we’re looking at, and we realize that she’s over-giving, over-doing, and over-performing. We can then work with her one-on-one to say, “Where are these things coming from? Which of these things is necessary? Which of these things can you let go of? How can we then change what you’re modeling so that your people don’t feel so burdened?” This is the leader who emails everybody at midnight and says, “You don’t need to answer me until 8:00 AM.” This is the same thing as, “Why are they mad at me?”
You’re right and I’m probably a little bit more blunt now.
We’re talking about resentment. That’s fine.
I’m a little more raw than I used to be. I was so politically correct. I was so PC. I was shocked that she was resentful of me.
You felt like the same thing that she was doing, “I’m doing all the right things,” so now the resentment is spreading. This is why we work with it because it’s contagious.
I was like, “Why do you hate me? I’m just the messenger? I’m trying to help you. Now you hate me.” That’s why I always say HR is never liked on many levels.
Now you’re resentful at her resentment, and she’s resentful at their resentment. Now we’re all resentful and we’re not talking about the problem.
That was a few decades ago but I still think about it. As you said earlier, I should just let it go.
It’s time. We could do a clearing ceremony at the end.
It’s weird how resentment or things hang on. It can be little things, and they go on forever. I remember some silly things I did as a kid. When I was little, there was this vending machine near our place. I could stick my hand up there and steal a candy bar out of it. I felt so bad about it. I still feel bad about it. It’s crazy.
You’re freaking me out because, Sam, you would never do something like that.
That’s why it bothers me. There are things that come up all the time in the workplace. As a leader, when there are things that are going on, we see one of our people that are burned out. We’re trying to troubleshoot it. We’re saying, “Am I giving them too much work, or is it because they’re having these bad interactions with clients?” You’re trying to troubleshoot, “What can I do?” What can we do? What do you think, Cait?
The first thing is what Sumit already said. We start with psychological safety. If we’re back to this conversation about what’s happening in the relationship between workplace factors and personal factors, what’s happening in there that’s encouraging someone to overdo those personal factors? If someone is naturally a perfectionist, they’re probably going to have issues with overwork, no matter how much work you give them.
I know that you’ve already done an intro to The Burnout Podcast so I won’t go into a huge detail about some of those things, but workload is one of the top six factors that creates burnout in the workplace. If you have workload as one of the top six factors, and the personal factors are ones that I created, the personal factors of perfectionism, people pleasing, and low self-worth are in play, then tell me that no matter what you do, the workload is probably going to be an issue, especially if you have a leader that is modeling over-giving, overdoing, showing up early, staying late, emails on the weekends, never taking a vacation, and having her laptop open in the car while she’s waiting in line to pick up her kids.
We need to create more psychological safety so that people feel safer. That might not change all of their behaviors. As leaders, our job is to model what we want to see. If you don’t want your people picking up extra work all the time and working after hours, then you can’t pick up extra work all the time and work extra hours unless two people are on vacation and one person is on parental leave. Now, we are in this crisis situation with the information that this crisis situation has an end date. We’re not going to let four of you do the job of seven of you for the long term.It is the job of leaders to become the model of what they want to see in their team. If they don’t want people picking up extra work or going beyond working hours, they must be doing it too. Click To Tweet
If there’s an end date, people can manage it but it can’t go on like that forever. Psychological safety is number one, and number two is modeling what we want to see. We can’t necessarily influence all of the personal factors. There’s more research now showing that managers are moving from a place of expertise in their job to expertise in coaching because that’s what people need more now. Managers do better as coaches than the best IT guy on the block moving up to management positions.
If we need these managers as coaches, that still doesn’t mean that they are therapists or healthcare providers. Should we have someone that they could talk to? A lot of times, when I work with a company and do some internal consulting. We do, “This is the beginning of burnout. This is how we deal with resentment. This is what boundaries should look like. We do these series like a speaker series,” then I’m the person they call.
They say, “Somebody is facing this. What can we do to keep them?” I work with that person one-on-one. Should that exist in companies? In most of them, it should because you are not equipped as a leader to manage this situation. You shouldn’t be because then we’re burning you out because we’re giving you jobs that you’re not qualified to do.
Typically, employees don’t trust HR programs like that.
This is not an HR program. I’m an outside person.
That’s what I am too. That’s what I say. I’m an outside HR person and I am not associated with your business either. It’s totally confidential. Your company doesn’t even need to know about me. Is that what you’re saying?
It can be that way but I do find that me being separate from the company and having a very strict confidentiality clause is typically enough. By the time people need me, if they don’t work with me, they’re going to lose their jobs, or they’re going to quit. We’re talking about serious high-risk situations here that people are willing to jump into and fix.
One thing you mentioned is you were talking about boundaries. When we think about boundaries for each one, they’re different for different people. When you’re thinking about a leader respecting people’s boundaries, it’s a custom approach.
It’s a custom approach every single day because if I went to bed too late or I got interrupted in the middle of the night because let’s say my kid was sick, then I had to get up two hours later. I went and did some exercise that I hadn’t recovered enough to do, then I was driving to work. On the way to work, I found out that my mom had fallen and broke her hip. What are my boundaries going to be like that day? What are my needs going to be like that day? It is completely different than yesterday when I had a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast. Everybody is healthy and okay. I’m not worried about anything external.
When we do boundaries in research, there’s this continuum that they talk about boundaries from integration to segmentation. Completely segmented is dangerous because that means you’re trying to keep every single part of your life separate from everything else. That’s not possible and not healthy. Totally integrated is very codependent and unable to stand on your own two feet. We need to find where we can create a little bit more segmentation to keep you safe and healthy and a little bit more integration, which comes in the form of help and support.
Inviting people in is as much a boundary as keeping people out or keeping tasks out. Where do we need to invite in support, open that gate, and get you the things that you need that you don’t have access to right now? This is about understanding that boundaries are constantly moving. There’s always going to be something that adjusts a little bit and ensures that we are modeling working to our current capacity, which means adjusting sometimes. I know we can have everybody working at 60% all the time. If we’re honest, everybody already is.
It’s one thing to understand having self-awareness about how you are doing that day. There are other people that have to be empathetic. What can people do to understand a person’s different changes throughout the day and the stress that they’re experiencing? Are there certain tools that you provide to people?
The tool is curiosity. If your people don’t know you enough and don’t trust you enough to talk to you, then you don’t know what’s going on in their lives and it’s hard to make adjustments. A lot of people like to say, “I don’t talk about things like that at work because it’s not appropriate.” You also want people to grant you grace, and you can’t have it both ways.
As humans, we are not designed to grant each other grace without backstory. You don’t need to give all the details of everything that’s going on in every part of your life, but if there’s no backstory involved, you are unlikely to get the grace, time, and space that you might need in order to manage something. In order for that to happen, we go back to psychological safety. We’re back down to the same thing. People need to know you, trust you, and feel like you’re curious about their lives. Otherwise, they’re not going to tell you and you’re just guessing.
You have those relationships. You need to get to know your people and take an interest in different things. It’s so important when we’re talking about these issues. Five years ago, talking about burnout at work wasn’t even a thing. It’s funny how past events or current events have put things in perspective that things are different. What do you see as the most important theme going on right now that’s emerging in your work that leaders should know?
The most important theme that’s coming up now is the idea that people want to be treated like adults. A lot of our corporate structures are very paternal in nature. I don’t mean paternal like the patriarchy although that is related like paternal from an ethics perspective, where we give people a small bit of information and no access to things. We tell them what we want them to do from the top down and expect them to listen and respond.
We are changing our responses to what they need in order to fit a narrative. When people are saying things like, “I’m burnt out. I need some help.” They’re giving a talk or pulling in a speaker to talk about resilience instead of talking about burnout directly. What I’m finding is when I come in and I’m talking about burnout and resentment directly, companies are hiring me to talk about resentment directly.
The feedback is, “Thank God we’re finally talking about the stuff that’s happening instead of pulling in another happiness expert.” I love a happiness expert. I’m not anti that, but if we’re burnt out, that happiness expert is not going to touch what we’re doing. We need to deal with this first. People tend to be positively surprised when their companies are willing to be honest about the truth of what they’re all talking about anyway.
It’s a big shift.
This has been a great conversation. I’m going to take a quick pause here and let our audience members know that they can send in some questions. We do have a question that I’ll get to in a moment. Before we jump there, I want to point out our sponsor, TMA. We were talking about getting to know your people and understanding where they’re coming from every day, their talents, and their mindset.
The TMA tool is something that can help you understand your people better and have effective conversations. It’s a great way to learn more about each other and understand their communication style and the type of learning style that they have. It’s a wonderful tool that they’re always evolving. It’s very powerful. If anybody would like to learn more about the TMA Method, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to take you through a demo and show you what those assessments look like.
Back to Cait. I’d like to bring up a question that we have from Anna. She says that she’s very skeptical about her manager and other people knowing too much about her personal life. She goes on to say, “I’ve been in leadership positions in the past.” A manager who showed interest in her personal life hurt her, and it didn’t help at all. What do you think about that?
You’re right to be skeptical. I don’t think everyone deserves your story. This is a Brené Brown thing. Not everyone deserves your story. We do have to play with what we’re willing to let go of and how much we need to reveal in order to get the grace that we’re asking for. If you’re not asking for grace or a commendation for anything, then you don’t have to say anything. If you need grace for commendation for something, you will need to share it.We have to learn whether we have to play with what we are willing to let go and how much we need to reveal to get the grace we need. Click To Tweet
Knowing that somebody could abuse that is going back to psychological safety and trust. If somebody did abuse that, then that’s information for you that this is not a good company and it’s time to get out because you are not safe. You can’t find that out unless you’re willing to take the risk. I believe that it’s risky. It’s riskier for some people than others. Let’s be frank that I am coming from a position of a privileged White woman. I understand that is riskier for some people than others, and we’re still back to this layer of trust and psychological safety.
Should someone use your story against you? You should not be working in that space. Again, this is a privileged position because in the US, there’s a decent number of jobs. If you lose one, you’re likely to be able to get another. I had someone from South Africa speak with me and say, “There’s 60% unemployment. I can’t just leave my job.”
If someone disrespects those boundaries, your job is to not give them more information and take what you need almost brutally if you have to because they’ve told you what the rules of engagement are. They’ve shown you what they’re going to do, but there is an inherent risk in sharing that story that we don’t get the things we need without taking any risk, unfortunately. I do think the skepticism is normal.
What about confronting the person who violated the person? Is it a no-go?
It won’t do anything, most likely, because that person doesn’t understand that they violated anything most of the time. Unless it’s coming from someone above them and putting them on some pip for it, it’s unlikely to be going somewhere. That’s riskier than sharing your story in the first place.
I understand where you’re coming from there, but it’s so super important. Some people are clueless. They trample on you and don’t understand. Sometimes you have to say, “This is what happened. This is the way it’s made me feel. Is this what you intended?”
Sometimes that can break things down. That can create a new door for a better relationship. My answer would depend on how the abuse was shown. If it was used against you and it was intentional, that conversation is probably not going to be helpful. If it was by accident, that conversation might be helpful, but then you have to trust yourself enough to judge whether you think that interaction was intentional or not.
What do you think, Sumit? Is there a thought where you’re thinking about when a person abuses your trust? Is there any type of remedy for that?
It depends on what kind of trust the person has breached. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for it, but if it’s something as simple as I trusted a friend to book a movie ticket and they forgot, or they didn’t make a lunch booking, it’s easier to forgive, forget, and move on. If it’s something a little more serious and a little closer to the heart, forgiving somebody and moving on will be tougher. I apply the same logic at the workplace as well, where if a person in my team makes a mistake with relatively lower consequences, I could simply brush it off.
If it makes me look stupid in front of the big boss, it may not be so forgiving and might be difficult to trust not only that individual but all of their peers or other people across saying, “I’ll remember this example more often. My negativity bias will get the best of me, and I can’t trust people anymore.” I don’t know if it answers your question, but there might be more questions than answers in that one.
I’m wondering, is there something to do? Cait, you mentioned the situation of your colleague in Africa who didn’t have options and did not have options. We’re dealing with some of those cases. Somebody who’s making us resent the way that we feel and live, and we don’t have options. What is the best course of action? Is it trying to protect yourself?
You do all the things that you can do to work out your side of the equation as much as you possibly can, and you quite quit. I highly recommend it in that scenario because they don’t deserve you. I know that that’s not a popular thing to say. I get it. Protect yourself. Keep yourself as safe as you can within a dangerous environment and still keep looking even if the chances are low that you’ll be able to get out of there. Look anyway. Keep your eyes peeled. Make sure people know you’re looking for an opportunity. Do everything you can to get out. Nobody should be forced to stay in a place where they’re being abused.Make sure to look for opportunities where you can do everything. Nobody should be forced to stay in a place where they are being abused. Click To Tweet
That’s great advice, in my opinion, because a lot of people were debating and saying, “Why quit quietly? Why not loud quit and make other people aware or spread the word?” It’s not my job. My job is protecting my own mental well-being and interests. It’s not to say things to the world about a particular person.
If you can get away with it and you’re going to get another job and have the energy to do it, go for it. If you don’t and you’re not going to get another job and you need to feed your family next week, then don’t.
I completely agree. In all likelihood, you’re quite quitting because you don’t have the energy to fight it out anymore. You don’t owe it to anyone to warn them off. You owe it to yourself to save yourself.
Cait, you’re right. My face is going all over the place because CompTeam is always about retention, attracting, and retaining good employees. I have been researching how to deal with narcissism and how to work with narcissistic behavior. This is the first time in the People Strategy Forum we’ve ever told people to quit quietly. I am very expressinated. This is the first time we’ve ever said that.
I’m not surprised.
However, even in my own personal development, I hate to use labels like narcissism or a bully. It’s oftentimes how to manage your emotions and not to react to the emotions. Not to yell, scream, instigate, fight, or react to the negative behavior. I do find that fascinating. I am curious what Sam thinks about the quiet quitting topic. What do you think about that, Sam?
We were talking about this in the context of not having options. That’s very important, but the best thing is if you’re in a toxic situation, you have to find a way out.
That is why I highly advocate for everybody, no matter if you’re happy in your job, you need to have your LinkedIn profile and resume up to date. You need to be looking at all times at other options no matter how comfortable you are in your job. If you truly are working in a toxic work environment, always be prepared. I was laid off twice. You just don’t know. I thought I was doing a good job because I had excellent performance.
Sometimes, it’s not about performance.
We are at the top of the hour. We’re running out of time. Cait, as we were talking before the session, this is so interesting. It’s such a wonderful work that you do and the people that you help. It’s so important. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you. It’s very provocative and inspiring. I love it because you spoke the truth. I do appreciate it no matter my facial expressions. You rock. I love your burnout topic. This is awesome.
Do you know that Cait has her own podcast? Can you tell us about that and how we can learn more?
FRIED the Burnout Podcast is the best way to find out about all things burnout and all things me because it’s easy to find any links that you might need there. FRIED has got over 200 episodes now and answers pretty much every question you could think of. If they haven’t answered a question, you’re always welcome to hop into FRIED’s Facebook group and say, “Cait, we need an episode on the answer to this question,” and I will likely make one for you.
It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Take care, everyone, and see you next time on the People Strategy Forum.
Thank you, Cait. Bye.
Caitlin Donovan: A passionate academic who transitioned her ambitions of becoming an MD to pursue a Master’s in Chinese Medicine, inspired by her love for Eastern philosophies and becoming an acupuncturist. Host of “Fried – The Burnout Podcast,” Author of the book “The Bouncebackability Factor”
Having faced burnout twice in her rewarding career, Caitlin harnessed her expertise in Chinese medicine and life coaching to guide others through similar challenges. Now a dedicated advocate for wellness and work-life balance, Caitlin merges her vast knowledge to transform professional burnout into passionate purpose.”
Her creative burnout recovery solutions have been featured on podcasts and online magazines such as “Forbes”, “NPR,” and “The New York Post” and in companies such as The New York Public Library and PepsiCo..