Video: The Juggling Leader: Teetering on the Verge of Burnout

Speaker: LaJuanda Bonham

My name is Dr. LaJuanda Bonham and I'd like to welcome you to this presentation on "The Juggling Leader: Teetering on the Verge of Burnout." The purpose of this seminar is to bring awareness to the very important issue of burnout and to identify some strategies to help reduce its presence and impact. I'd also like for this to be somewhat of an interactive session -- therefore, have a pencil and paper close by to jot down your reflections.

Projects, deadlines, presentations, staff issues, limited resources -- our fast-paced workplace demands that we stay plugged in, remain innovative, respond appropriately to a multiplicity of personalities and needs, and be proactive in solving the challenges that arise. The leader is asked to wear a myriad of hats and, if not managed well, it can lead to burnout. Today's talk will focus on the following. Using the definition of burnout, we'll look at the five stages of burnout and the data surrounding the topic. Next, we will identify the signs of burnout and conclude the presentation with some strategies to help ameliorate the condition. Freudenberger is the pioneer of the topic "burnout." As a clinical psychologist, he found himself in a place of exhaustion. Chronicling and analyzing his journey, he identified three things from the experience.

And these things make up the definition of burnout. Freudenberger defines burnout as emotional exhaustion, the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long, depersonalization which is the depletion of empathy, caring, or compassion, and finally a decreased sense of accomplishment. A feeling that nothing you do makes any difference. Capitalizing off of Freudenberger's work, Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson conducted empirical studies to validate the syndrome. In 2019, the World Health Organization listed burnout as an occupational phenomenon which means that burnout is the result of long-term professional stress due to mental fatigue. The distinction is important because it suggests that the issue of burnout is not a problem of the employee but, rather, it's a problem with the organization's culture and leadership. Therefore, the responsibility for managing burnout is on the organization, not the individual. There are five stages of burnout: the honeymoon phase; the onset of stress; acute or chronic stress; burnout; and habitual burnout. So, let's look at them in a little more detail. The honeymoon phase is when we undertake a new task. In this phase, job satisfaction is high. We are excited to come to work early and stay late. Our creative juices are flowing and we're very energetic.

In the second stage of burnout, you'll notice a decline in energy. Job satisfaction begins to wane. Some days are more difficult to come to work than others. You begin to see an increase in stress levels. We talk a lot about stress in a negative manner but, really, stress can be good for you. It is our fight or flight response to danger. For example, it's the stress hormones that cause you to stop abruptly to avoid hitting another car or to flee from a dangerous situation. Normally, once the danger has subsided the stress hormones revert to normal levels in the body. It is when the stress situation remains high for extended periods that chronic stress or stage 3 occurs. Acute or chronic stress causes high levels of the glucocorticoid hormones, or better known as the cortisol hormones, to remain in the body. Some symptoms of this stage include inflammation in the body, chronic fatigue, lack of motivation, increase in absenteeism, and missed deadlines. Stage 4 is the burnout stage. In this stage, you've missed the body's previous cries for help, so it often makes a hard stop. Illness such as depression, feelings of emptiness, social isolation, and self-doubt are common complaints of individuals in this stage. Once burnout is experienced, the individual is no longer to continue as normal. The fifth stage is known as "habitual burnout." And in this stage, physical or emotional problems such as chronic mental illness, sadness, fatigue, or depression are likely to ensue. So, remember I told you in the beginning of the presentation that this would be somewhat of an interactive session? So, let's take a Juggling Leader Break. Let's take 15 seconds to reflect on the information discussed. Jot down any words or phrases to summarize which stage you could relate to and why. The clock will appear when the time is up.

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Speaker: LaJuanda Bonham

The clock should be coming up. One second left. Okay. So hopefully you were able to define the aspects of burnout, or maybe you were able to name the five stages of burnout and perhaps identify a symptom or two. Hopefully you are -- you were able to identify where you fall in the different stages. And hopefully you're at the one or two stage. So, let's dig a little bit deeper. A Gallup poll, 2020, surveyed 13,000 workers. And in their findings, they learned that 24% were currently experiencing burnout, and 76% have experienced burnout at some point. Further analysis revealed that employee burnout is linked to increased workload, job ambiguity, lack of support from leadership, unrealistic deadlines or unrealistic results expectations, and consistently working long hours or on weekends -- factors that are controlled by the manager. Employees who encounter burnout are more likely to be dissatisfied with work and experience a decline in work performance. A strain on organizational resources will also be encountered due to an increase in healthcare costs, higher employee turnover rate, and an increase in resources needed to train new staff. I should also mention that when employees experience burnout, they are two times more likely to pursue other employment opportunities.

A view of some of the research on burnout indicated that family abuse, substance abuse, and isolation are common in individuals at the burnout stage. In Maslach and Jackson's 1980 research, they found that women are more likely to encounter emotional exhaustion, whereas males and younger adults were more likely to withdraw and lack appropriate levels of empathy and caring, which are characteristics of the depersonalization stage. Geronimus et al and his team, in a 2006 study, found similar notable results. First, the outcomes revealed that blacks were more likely to experience acute or chronic stress than their white counterparts. And black women were more likely to encounter chronic or acute stress and early health deterioration than white people -- white women, white men, and black men alike. Some of the findings were linked to the social, economic, and racial disparities that already plague this ethnic group. In my last reference study on chronic stress, Scheffler et al's 2014 finding revealed that as stress levels increased for Anglo men and Anglo women, so did cognitive errors. And the converse was also true.

These are just a few of the studies that confirm the negative financial and emotional cost of burnout in the workplace. If we monetize the data, burnout costs organizations approximately $550 billion a year. And 550 million workdays are lost in productivity. Employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit an emergency room for burnout symptoms. So, as you can see, the cost of burnout is astronomical and far-reaching. I want to pause here and tell you that burnout is preventable, but awareness and intentionality are going to be key to reducing its impact. For most employees, work is no longer physical but, rather, mental with occasional physical manifestations such as exhaustion, fibromyalgia, and burnout. The research suggests that to combat burnout it is incumbent on the leader/staff relationship as well as the staff/leadership relationship. It -- it goes both ways. This is a picture of the Q'eswachaka Bridge in Peru. It is made of natural fibers -- grass -- weaved into cables. It is important because the bridge connects communities. And due to the short life of the material used, it has to be replaced each year.

So, the communities work together to replace it. Members of each community begin replacing the structure of the bridge at their own end and meet in the middle to finish it out. Once it's complete, a big celebration takes place. Therefore, to proactively address the issue of burnout will require effort on the part of the employer and the employee. A leader must take the initiative. He or she should be aware of his or her -- her own psychological state so that, if necessary, help can be sought out and the team can continue to be led effectively. Likewise, the employee should protect his or her own mental and physical wellbeing through awareness and preventative care. Let's review some strategies for leaders to engage in to avoid personal burnout and staff burnout. As leaders, ask questions and show appreciation. Ask your team what they need from you to be effective in the completion of their work. Also celebrate them by showing sincere appreciation for their efforts. This can be done by celebrating birthdays or other special occasions. Writing a note to acknowledge gratitude for something that was done well is also a nice way to demonstrate appreciation.

Next, stay connected with your team. Walk around the organization. Talk to the people. Experience their experience. While visiting with the secretary in the Dean's office in the final stages of my doctoral degree, she said, "LaJuanda, you are going to meet the graduation requirements and do well in your profession. The only thing that I ask is that, when you accomplish this task, continue to stay in touch with the people you lead." And I've tried to consistently apply that wisdom. It's not done through perfection, but constant awareness and intentionality. The next one is simple, but sometimes difficult. Listen and take action when appropriate. Put away electronic devices. Give eye contact. Restate comments for clarity. These steps also allow the person to know that what they say to you is important. Engage in professional development. Programs like CLARA -- the Consortium Leadership and Renewal Academy -- and Dallas College's own Emerging Leaders program help empower leaders to be effective in building and inspiring teams to reach a common goal. You wouldn't want someone to operate on you just because they want to be a surgeon. Right? Likewise, every leader, current or expiring, should continuously engage in training for constant development. All right. We are at our next Juggling Leader Break. If we are going to combat burnout, we will have to do it from the perspective of controlling stress. To this end, I want you to think about those you lead and, from that perspective, how would you describe the stress level of the office environment? And then, how would your team describe the stress level of the office environment? Again, the clock is going to appear when the time is up.

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Speaker: LaJuanda Bonham

Okay. Time's up. In an ideal situation, the response to these two questions will be congruent. And if it is not, review the strategies for leaders. Identify and apply a strategy that would help to reduce your stress level and the stress level of your team. If you refer back to the story of the Q'eswachaka Bridge in Peru, it took both communities to build a strong bridge. Organizations have a part to play and so do we. So, let's look at some of the ways you can help keep your stress at healthy levels. It is important to build your cognitive reserve and you can do this through education, good eating habits and nutrition, intellectual stimulation like doing puzzles and Sudoku, and then engaging in social activities. Likewise, we are already aware of some familiar stress reducing activities like exercise, which is good for us and it only takes 20 minutes a day to help shake off a difficult workday. Another familiar one is meditation, which helps regulate emotion and attention. It decreases cortisol levels and heart rate, and it increases the IQ and cognitive functioning. And then journaling, which I had you to engage in during this presentation, is another familiar stress buster.

But let's discuss some additional activities that you can incorporate into your daily routine. They are kid-friendly and actually they are much more fun when you include them. The first is laughing yoga. This is a twist on the laughing bag toy that our family had when I was a little girl. Everyone sits on the floor, then someone says a phrase or short story, and everyone bursts into laughter for ten seconds. This should be a no-judgment activity; therefore, everyone laughs even if the phrase or story is not funny. Remember that laughter causes the body to release what I call the happy hormones. So, keep laughing. Rock breathing is another stress buster, where you lie on the floor on your back, place a small rock or other light item on your stomach, breathe in deeply and exhale completely so as to see the rock rise and fall. Another is to have a good old-fashioned dance party. Turn on some music and dance. This is another no-judgment zone. Watch family videos. These days, our phones are filled with videos of happy family memories. Share them on the TV screen and enjoy. Well, we are at our last Juggling Leader Break. So, I'm going to ask you to list as many employee strategies as you can remember from our talk today. Then I want you to circle one strategy that you will immediately add to your daily routine. Once again, the clock will appear when the time is up.

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Speaker: LaJuanda Bonham

Time is showing. Okay. So, on this last one, although we are operating in a remote format, we can still share our strategy. So, on the count of three, call out -- say out loud -- the one strategy that you will immediately add to your daily routine. Here we go! One, two, three! Yes! In this seminar, we looked at the definition of burnout, the five stages of burnout, signs of burnout, and some of the data. We concluded the presentation with some stress-reducing strategies. Be reminded that the purpose of this presentation was to bring awareness to the very important issue of burnout, especially in this season where we have had to endure months of a deadly pandemic. From job loss, to health challenges, to excessive debt, to a constant influx of change, and to our own intimate experience with our company's reorganization challenges, no one has been left untouched.

Remember that at the crux of burnout is mental fatigue. If we are to truly become a student-centered organization, burnout awareness must be coupled with intentional action, both professionally and personally, so that as an organization we can continue to move forward in a positive manner. In addition to continued leadership development, be aware of your company's wellness resources. Be proactive and share them with your team. If your organization does not have a wellness program, jot down some things you would like to see as part of your company's wellness plan and take action to get it started. Thank you for attending this presentation. My information is provided if you would like to contact me. I also ask that you share your feedback regarding this seminar via the survey link that will be provided following this symposium. Thank you again for your participation.

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