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In 2019, the World Health Organization included burnout in the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. Employers have been trying to understand and prevent it ever since. Over the past two years, the added stressors COVID-19 created on a global scale have only turned up the heat.
Burnout looks different for every person but it shows up in every profession. Pau Gasol, 2X NBA Champion and CEO of Gasol Foundation, describes his experience of burnout as a feeling of merely going through the motions, doing everything you can just to stay afloat.
Tina Gupta, VP of Talent Management and Employee Experience at WarnerMedia, didn't recognize the experience of burnout. She noticed that she was bothered by things that wouldn't have bothered her before, she was more reactive to things around her and wasn’t thoughtfully responding the way she had previously.
Although each of us experiences burnout differently, we all have been there. No profession is immune. Most importantly, we all can learn from those who have made it through to prevent it.
3 Ways to prevent burnout
Build strong connections
Being vulnerable opens the door to connect with others. Making a practice of being vulnerable allows us to cultivate a support system of close relationships that protect our well-being during challenging times. We are all human beings, we all go through struggles, and we all need a little help from our friends sometimes.
The teams that Pau has been the most successful with were those who bonded beyond the professional activity. Teams where it was not just about the job, it was about something much bigger than that and they shared their lives with each other. In a corporate setting, it can be game-changing to have a few trusted peers who know you deeper than your professional role. They understand your why and remind you of it when you are facing tough challenges.
“I think it is very brave and tough to share your vulnerabilities”
But how do we facilitate those relationships within our teams? At WarnerMedia, managers are encouraged to spend at least one-third of their check-in conversations talking about well-being, connection, and alignment. Beyond that, as a company, they have group coaching on topics related to burnout to share best practices so leaders do not feel alone.
When a leader shares their personal experiences of burnout it makes an impact on their team as well. Breaking the ice and talking about this important topic lets others know they don’t need to, and shouldn’t, hide it.
“Open the door for people to share about how they are feeling”
We have all heard it said, “Wow you have worked so hard you deserve a vacation.” But as Adam Grant recently shared, “Time off isn’t a trophy you win for burning out.” How often do we treat our rest as a reward rather than a necessary ingredient for our success? You might be shocked to hear this but Pau Gasol takes a nap before every game. He doesn’t touch a basketball for a full month after playoffs. And contrary to the “sleep when you’re dead” hustle mentality preached on social media, he is sure to get 8 hours of sleep every night.
Recovery doesn’t always look like getting some shut-eye. It can also be connecting with family and friends, meditating, getting a massage, or giving back to others. Pau sees giving back to the community as a form of recovery because it helps him see beyond his own circumstances and gain perspective.
“Rest is critical to be able to recover and prevent burnout from the stress of those high-pressure moments”.
One way WarnerMedia proactively addresses well-being and provides space to recover is by providing BetterUp coaching to over 2,000 managers. The people analytics dashboard enables leaders to see aggregated data that provides real-time insight into what people collectively are feeling and what they are struggling with so as a company they can respond immediately when signs of burnout start to surface. Encouraging employees to use their time off, even if they weren’t able to go on a real vacation, was one way that they encouraged proactive recovery. Another strategy for them has been to offer flexibility whenever possible with work arrangements so employees feel comfortable taking breaks throughout the day in a way that is restful for them.
“As we start to look at the data at the start of COVID, wellness was the most popular topic in coaching sessions by 20%. Our managers wouldn't have had access to speak to anybody quite naturally or proactively about that without our BetterUp partnership.”
Know your greater purpose
When asked about the coaches that truly made an impact on his ability to perform at elite levels Pau shares that it was coaches such as Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich who provided books, encouraged players to read, talked about social issues, and stressed the importance of impact during team meetings. For Pau, those coaches helped him realize the greater purpose behind his performance and see that he had the ability to make a difference on- and off- the court.
“Coaches who encourage players to get involved in social issues and use their platform for a greater purpose are making an impact on the mental health of athletes”
Peak performance without an emphasis on purpose alignment can lead to burnout. WarnerMedia is working to redefine peak performance for employees at WarnerMedia after they uncovered that many employees saw peak performance as synonymous with hustle culture and overworking.
Tina and her team are encouraging managers to see fostering peak performance as encouraging each person on their team to create a work environment that allows them to perform at their best and feel aligned to the most important company goals and their personal purpose. This means giving employees autonomy because they know what they need and how they do their best work.
“We were able to really find a partner who can help us scale, the way coaching can support leaders and managers, as they think about what they need to be most productive.”
Burnout is insidious. It creeps up in a subtle way with harmful effects. The way we can prevent burnout is also subtle. It is the manager who takes a moment to be present and genuinely asks, “How are you today?” or “Can you share your opinion on this?” The mentor who encourages you to discover your purpose and find more meaning in your daily tasks. Or perhaps the 10-minute blocks you scatter throughout your calendar to remind you to reset and unwind.
We prevent burnout the same way we create it, gradually over time with small choices that have a major impact. It helps to have a coach in your pocket to help you in real-time to make the choices that will lead you in the right direction.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC