When you are burnt out, the simplest task can seem like a mountain to scale. Things that used to stir your passions no longer inspire you. A long weekend or a massage isn’t going to make it go away, either, says Executive Well-Being and Burnout Coach Kaitlyn Lyons of Delightful Movement. Kaitlyn knows this because she experienced it firsthand; always a top performer in her career in the corporate world, one day, she just couldn’t muster the interest or enthusiasm she once had in her work. She was low energy, high apathy, and a spa vacation or a good night’s sleep didn’t do anything to change that. After making the appropriate changes in her life, she now enables others to recognize and heal from their own burnout.
Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:
Leaders should be able to recognize what burnout looks like and take appropriate measures to help their team members if they suspect they are headed towards burnout.
Burnout can take six to twelve months to heal from, and there are both emotional and financial costs to it, for both the individual and the team.
Leaders should set policies and model behavior to encourage team members to take care of their own well-being and get ahead of burnout.
Burnout is widespread and Gallup warns that the next global crisis may be a mental health pandemic. I think you’ll find insight and actionable ways to alleviate burnout in yourself and your team in this episode. Enjoy and stay well!
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The Truth Behind Burnout, by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
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Kaitlyn: I think you kind of have this notion in our culture that burnout isn't really a big deal or it's just like, oh, like you could just take a weekend off or go to the spa or like start doing yoga and you'll be fine. And I think the most important thing to understand is that burnout is actually an incredibly serious and severe condition.
Aaron: I'm Aaron Levy. And I have this vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck; where instead your manager is your coach helping you to reach your full potential. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest, and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace to a place where both the company and employee succeeds.
In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high-performing teams and learn from them on what it takes to unlock a team’s potential. Today. I'm lucky to have Kaitlyn Lyons, an Executive Well-Being and Burnout Coach at Delightful Movement Coaching.
Kaitlyn focuses on the topic of burnout at work, and I thought she'd be a perfect guest to share her insights on what to look out for, how to avoid burnout and how to address burnout when it hits a team member. Take a deep listen to this one. There's a lot of really good insights and practices for how we can avoid and deal with burnout.
Kaitlyn. I am so happy to meet you and have a conversation about burnout today. It's something that's super relevant to the needs of a lot of the leaders that we talk to on a daily basis and relevant to me and to our team. And so I, I'm just so excited and grateful to have you on. Thank you for coming.
Kaitlyn: I am so delighted to be here and share everything I can to help the listeners better understand this really, as you put it, a very relevant relevant topic.
Aaron: So, I mean, I guess the place I'd love to start is what made you so interested in burnout? What made you want to become a burnout coach?
Kaitlyn: It's a really great question. I could talk a long time about it, but I think the bottom line is I went through leadership training actually, interestingly, after I burned out in my corporate job and in that training, they said to us your future path, what you're going to create as a leader in the world is probably linked to where you've been most hurt in the past.
And I thought, oh my gosh, this is, this is like my calling it didn't seem obvious to me. And then, and then I thought, oh, actually the thing that I'm supposed to lead in the world is where I maybe experienced the most failure in my own workplace, you know, my own work life in the past. And so that was where it got started.
Aaron: So some coach or trainer said dig in and they dug it and they, they dug into the hurt part and they said, that's where you should go?
Kaitlyn: That's it; look at your wound, look at where you've been wounded. And I thought, okay, that's it. I've got to help people who have experienced work trauma, burnout, just any kind of, you know, really negative experience in the workplace that's impacted their health and wellbeing. That's what I'm here for.
Aaron: And so you talk about, we talk about burnout and being a burnout coach, but I'm curious as what is burnout? Like how do you know, like, how do we actually define it? It's just this phrase where people say like, I'm burnt out. I'm about to be burnt out.
Like, what does that mean?
Kaitlyn: Yeah. So I think probably the simplest way to describe it to people in a way that is they can actually identify it and see it is to break it down into its key components. And this comes directly from Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter’s book, The Truth about Burnout. So they were some of the foremost researchers on burnout. And they said there's three major dimensions to burnout, kind of telltale signs, if you will. And it's these. So I'll just like tick them off and then go a little deeper. So there's exhaustion, there's disengagement and there's ineffectiveness. So that's what you're looking for. And sometimes it's one, two, or all three.
Everybody's different. And so for example, people could be incredibly exhausted in their role, but really engaged and still be burned out. So people can love what they do and be engaged, still be burned out and vice versa. People could be really disengaged, but not exhausted and still be burned out. So it's tricky.
It's really tricky to give a really succinct definition on burnout. Those are the components you're looking for. And so to go a little bit deeper on each of those exhaustion, this isn't just like, I feel tired. it's sort of an event that doesn't resolve from sleep or from taking a week or two of vacation. It's one that just continues over time and that doesn't seem to be getting better with reasonable ways that people try to feel more revived and re-energized. So it's exhaustion, disengaged. For people is where they just don't feel aligned with their work anymore, or they don't feel like they have any control over it.
So this might be like, for me, I'll give myself as an example. I just, in my workplace, was no longer interested in being a strategic advisor. I wanted to be a people developer. And I kept asking my team to do that. And they were like, no, we really want you to do strategic advising and project management, because you're great at that.
And I really believe that contributed to my burnout because I didn't actually truly care about the work I was doing. So that's what disengagement can look like. And then the third one in effectiveness is just like, this is where what you used to be able to accomplish in an hour? It takes you like a whole day.
It just feels like even the simplest tasks feel so incredibly hard to complete for whatever reason. So those are the major dimensions. What do you think hearing that? I'm just curious to get your responses; was that helpful in terms of, wow, Can I spot somebody who's burned out?
Aaron: Yeah, that's where my head went.
I was like, okay. like, if I'm, if it’s helping me think, am I burned out? What I'm curious is like, as a leader of people, what are some ways in which I would notice that or see that, or any tips or clues for how to spot that?
Kaitlyn: Yeah, that's such a good question, Aaron. And actually, as I'm receiving that question, I'm thinking, gosh, I, I think that there's sort of like a precept to this, which is creating and you know, this is the Open, Honest and Direct podcast.
And so I think what leaders and managers need to be doing is actually having open honest conversations about it upfront and actually naming it and talking about it rather than trying to spot it or take care of it. I, I do think it's important to be able to go, Hmm, does this look like burnout, but I think it's equally important to be having conversations with your team and helping individuals know to how to spot it in themselves too. So I think it's working both sides is the most effective way to catch it as it's happening. And the thing about naming it openly and honestly with your team ahead of time, is that it dissolves any sense of shame that people might feel.
And it creates psychological safety around people being able to feel like they can come forward. And say that it's happening without feeling like it has any kind of impact on their worth or success in the organization. And that it's just like anything, something that just needs to be addressed.
Aaron: Yeah, that's so valuable to hear too. I mean, they're, they're huge components, right? Naming it as like just bringing awareness to what it is and, and what it can be. And I think even just the, the three areas that you gave a really good areas for a manager or a leader to think, okay, here are things to look out for team, not me as the manager, looking out for you; Us as a team being aware of. And then I think even just the discussion, as you said, brings one of the most important things. Any team can, any leader can offer is safety. It's psychological safety, so that's so, so valuable. And so important. And what happens when we failed to do that, or when we've done that and somebody on our teams clearly in burnout, Maybe even just go tell me, how did you address it for yourself when you went through burnout? Like how do we address as an individual?
Kaitlyn: That's a great question. And actually I think if I were really honest, I've probably had three distinct, like kind of discrete burnout events in my life thus far, the most significant of which was towards the end of my corporate career.
Yeah, gosh, it's such a good, it's just such an important and big question. So I'll take it into parts. So you asked me what was my own experience? Like how did it show up for me and then what can we actually do to help someone recover if they're already in burnout? Right. This is where it's really helpful to name it ahead of time and give people the safety and the clarity to see it when it's happening. Because for me, in my second major burnout episode, in my corporate career, I didn't know that what was happening to me was burnout. It actually took me going to my medical doctor.
I actually thought something else was wrong. I was like, do I have a thyroid problem? am I like severely depressed? I mean, it turns out I did have some, there was a depression element for me as well, but I just was so confused about what was happening. And I thought that I had failed. I thought that I just wasn't somehow.
I was not trying hard enough or working hard enough. And in fact it was the inverse I was overworking.
And so how it manifested for me was like, just confusion. I didn't know what was happening. All I knew was that for my entire career, I had been a top performer. I had always exceeded results in the workplace delivered.
And suddenly I found myself in a place and I was always really engaged and energized. And like, people could count on me to show up with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and all of a sudden I'm in my role and I, I'm no longer interested in what I'm doing. Right. I'm apathetic. It's taking me forever to get things done.
Right. So there's the ineffectiveness. Right. And I was exhausted. And nothing. I did, like I went to, I took time off. I had really great sleep hygiene. I took myself to the Miraval spa. I'd never been to a spa before. I took myself to Miraval Arizona for five days as like a Hail Mary, nothing was working for me.
And so I ended up going to my doctor and she said, I think you're burned out. And that was news to me. And she said, you need to take time off. And so you can imagine here I am, a high-performer so attached in my identity to work my whole life. And suddenly I can't do the thing. That's given me my sense of worth in the world.
And so that was really hard for me. And then having my doctor tell me, you actually need to take an extended amount of time off sounded heavenly and terrifying all at the same time. So that was what it looked like for me.
Aaron: And first of all, thank you. Thank you for being vulnerable and for sharing your story.
And I know it's, it's never easy to kind of share and go back into those moments. So you meet with your doctor and your doctor kind of gives you that heightened awareness and the naming it, and some of the safety to some extent that you probably wish she is you mentioned you had earlier. What did you do from there?
And kind of like, what were the steps out of? It was like, oh, I took time off and now I'm. I have a feeling it's, I've seen it in others, in myself and feeling that's not the it's not like a cure all, like what, how does that, how does it work? And for those of us who haven't been in or experienced, I think it's good to have empathy to what the experience is like coming out of burnout.
Kaitlyn: For sure.
So yes, to your point, I think the most important thing to know or appreciate about burnout recovery is that burnout is actually, I think you kind of have this notion in our culture that like burnout isn't really a big deal or it's just like, oh, like you could just take a weekend off or go to the spa or like start doing yoga and you'll be fine.
And I think the most important thing to understand is that burnout is actually an incredibly serious and severe condition. And, and the bottom line is the definition of burnout is it's caused by chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed. That's it.
And so really what we're looking to do in helping people recover, part of it is helping people, teaching people how to make sure that they are managing workplace stress and demands in such a way that they don't burn out going forward. So there's sort of a preventative going forward aspect. And then there's a healing and recovery aspect.
And the process that I teach my clients as a, as a coach and consultant is I call it restoration and I take clients through a six month journey and I find most clients, it takes about six to 12 months There are multiple components of it. There's a taking time off, whatever that looks like.
And not everyone is able; I was able to take an unpaid medical. So I feel very fortunate for that. And I do encourage my clients who are severely burned out to do that, if they can or whatever form of recovery time they can most get in. So there's a taking time off, right. Reducing demands.
So I'm always asking my clients what is not necessary. And this is by the way, this is the process I still use for myself. When I notice little bits of burnout creeping in, it's like, okay, what can I say no to; what's essential? So if anyone has read the book, Essentialism, I love Essentialism. And I always send that to my clients because it's really about what's mission critical and what can I let go? As always like step one.
And so for me, I was able to take time off. I was able to take medical leave. So I did, I was like, if I don't have to be working right now, and my doctor's telling me to take time off, I'm going to do that. And that was hugely impactful for my own recovery.
So that's sort of step one; rest, right? And time off, because for me, burnout is, and it's not just resting from the work. That's a key component is removing whatever load or burden is continuing to, to create the space of burnout, but that space that's created? So here's the thing that's really important. At the heart of burnout is self-neglect .
It's real simple. People don't know how to give themselves self attention in a way that makes sure like people aren't tuning in to themselves and their energy state and their mental and emotional state to be able to know, Hey, I'm overloaded. I have to, I have to do something it's like, they just allow things to keep getting dumped on.
And so in that space that gets created, the most important thing people can do is start to develop a deliberate practice of self attention. And I know that you are a fan of deliberate practice and it is so important for people not just to take time off, but to create new habits that serve their wellbeing.
So for some clients, it looks different for people I work with. Some clients - it's as simple as allowing themselves to get sufficient sleep every night, which doesn't sound like much, but that can be profound. For some, a lot of my clients it's spending time alone, just tuning into what matters to them, getting clear on their values.
So that, like, you know, if they're struggling with disengagement, well, what do they really care about? What matters to them and reconnecting with what's fun and joyful outside of work, lot of, a lot of burnout clients, there is no joy, the spark's gone out. So those are some of the things, the ways that I, in my own burnout recovery and in helping others recover, those are some components. That really helped people on the recovery.
Aaron: I think there's a lot here that I want to unpack, and one was, you know, like serve their wellbeing and reconnect with fun and those steps. One of the things I, I personally adhere to and have talked about a little bit before is like, Hey, what are the things that make you at your best?
And how do you do more of those things? And I think that's what I'm hearing through in here. Like, Hey, what are the things that help you be at your best? And that's different for everybody that might be, you know, enjoying a meal with your family while there's no phones out or no TV on, or that may be sitting in silence or walking in nature; everybody's is very, very different. And what you're saying is, Hey, just serve your well-being and be intentional about serving your wellbeing.
Kaitlyn: That's right. And that's often fairly pretty hard work, actually for a lot of people who are used to being very outward, focused and serving the people around them.
Aaron: Yeah. And I, I just, I mean, I'm going back to these things that you said, right? Like one is rest, two is serve your wellbeing. And three is reconnect with the fun.
Those are just like a great, almost like mantra to hold as you think about it. Cause you, you also said this is a habit and these are habits that you have to create or break and loops that you have to create and loops that you have to break. It's kind of a good process to think. And I think for other people listening just don't lose the fact that Kaitlyn said, this can take six to 12 months for the lot of the people that she works with.
And those people are not outliers as my guess is they're, they're probably fall right in, in the middle of the bell curve of people who need to recover. One of the challenges I've had is when I've had people on my team have burnt out and we do things, you know, and I'm like, okay, we're getting them rest, getting them, all the things like, okay, when are you ready?
Like, when are you ready to be back in functioning at your best? How do you, how do you know when it's right to load them back in. How do you, like, how do you best serve while trying to be thoughtful about them as a human?
Not making sure you're sending them back into a burnout tailspin. Like how do you balance that as, as a human being, who has an influence and impact on their work stress?
Kaitlyn: Yeah. It's, it's such a beautiful question and I love your heart and your respect for people's humanity that's behind that question and I think it's really about quality conversation and honest conversation and just staying connected. And I come back to that essentialism and really, I think, and actually it can be a beautiful chance to refocus and get really crisp and clear about what people are about. Like what are they here for? What are they, what are they doing in the workplace?
And so I think burnout can actually offer a really nice chance for a refresh, a fresh start focusing. And so I would say, we'll look at at starting with the most essential piece of their role and what they're there to create or deliver and just be checking in, like, how's it feeling?
And letting them define, like, what do I need? You might ask questions, like, is it about the amount of time you're spending at work? Right. So I think it's digging in and understanding, just asking questions, curious questions of people about what it looks like for them to feel healthy and engaged in their work. And so for some people that might look like, you know, what, I really need to make sure I get a workout in every single day. Right. And I'm just using examples for some people. It might be, I really need to make sure right now in my recovery that I'm not working beyond five or six focus hours a day, for example for some people it might be, I don't want to have multiple projects, right. Like just give me one juicy high-impact thing to be totally focused on so I could see it really taking shape depending on the individual,
Aaron: It sounds like, kind of what you said at the start. We need to have conversations with people. We need to listen to people and learn and understand and be aware.And that's that, that's what I'm taking away from. This is like, don't assume; ask.
Kaitlyn: That's it just be curious, ask. And also, I think the other thing that when I'm coaching people, I'm really paying attention to what, what dimension of burnout is most relevant for them. So I think getting clear on that with them, are you feeling really exhausted?
Are you feeling disengaged? Are you feeling really ineffective? So understanding the dimension can help with the cure, right? My clients who are really exhausted, they have to work on sleep, identifying critical thought patterns that aren't serving them. My clients who are disengaged might need to be looking to redesign their role or looking to move to a different organization, right, where they will be more fulfilled and aligned. And so I think that's another way that you can be really prescriptive and specific with people is understanding which element is most true for them within burnout.
Aaron: Now? I'm wondering is: if you were placed into an organization and they said, Hey, Kaitlyn, we want to make sure that as few people suffer from burnout as possible, do what you need to do to make it happen? What types of mechanisms would you put in place or, said differently, what type of mechanisms can an organization put in place to reduce the likelihood of turnover on their teams?
Kaitlyn: I think it's really helpful to, if they have the means and the resources, to bring someone in to work with their teams and help them in this, deliberate practice, actually, someone who's trained in wellbeing and stress relief and understanding really healthy ways of engaging with work that deliver high performance without burning people out.
That is a great thing to do, just to bring in an expert who can help teams and take them through a learning experience around that. The other thing that I highly recommend that anybody can do. So I heard once, I attended a conference earlier this year. And one of the key ideas I took away from it was one of the speakers.
And I think it was Jen Fisher who's the chief wellbeing officer at Deloitte, which is awesome that they have a chief wellbeing officer. And the question I asked her is, well, what do you do if you don't have a chief wellbeing officer? And she said, well, you just have to pretend like everybody's the chief wellbeing officer, like everybody's responsible for wellbeing in the organization then.
And I thought that was really cool because it reminded me of like this idea that we're out of the era of top-down leadership. We're in this era now in our work world where everyone needs to be a leader and it was sort of a similar vibe. It was like, everybody needs to be tasked with wellbeing in the workplace.
And so what I would recommend is that a leader or a manager who has a team, like sit down with the team and have a conversation about it and encourage each individual on the team to talk about: what does it look like for me to have healthy wellbeing? And it's going to look different for each person and like specifically, what does each person need to do?
And what that does is it create safety for people to say, I need to leave by four o'clock on the dot, Or I need to make sure that I'm taking a break in the middle of my workday and getting a short walk or workout in. or it might be somebody saying, I need to have permission to take a mental health day;
you know, like I'm struggling with anxiety or depression and I just, where maybe grief and then naming that Wellbeing is a valued part of high performance. I think that is so important for leaders to do. And then actually leading by example. So I think leaders need to actually model it.
People need to see them, not for example, engaging in email at all hours or not, not taking PTO, you know, like we need to see leaders actually doing it because that was something I really struggled with. And I did have a few great leaders in my work experience who were like, why are you still here? Leave, take your time off. But I had a lot of leaders who ran themselves into the ground and it's really hard to get people to engage in healthy work habits if they don't see it being modeled by leaders, which sounds like maybe really simplistic and arrogant to say, but it's easier said than done.
Aaron: That's a good point. That brings up something. We have this policy at Raise The Bar and it's, there's unlimited vacations so you can take as many days off as you want, and I've done the research and I kind of don't like the policy and the reason being is people don't actually use it to its fullest extent. They don't take more days off because they don't have days set. And so a couple of months ago, one of our clients said we actually have a minimum vacation policy, which means you have to at least take this many days off. And I know I was like DONE. We're doing that; instituting that. We instituted it at Raise The Bar right away. It's like minimum vacation policy. This is what we're doing. You have to take at least this many days, it forces everybody to do it from a structure and policy. So I kind of love what you're saying of like, we need to have examples and in my mind now what's going, as we also need to have some policies that support that.
And that's just so, so important to have that time. And, you know, we were talking before we started recording on our vacation days, Kaitlyn and I, and, and the vacations we were taking. And it's just, it's so vitally important to, to your health and wellness. And it's something we talk about all the time at Raise The Bar,
Is, would you rather spend a little bit of time now to prepare so that you don't have to put out fires later? Or would you rather not spend any time and then just deal with the fires when they come up? And this is kind of like that same thing of like, Hey, if you're not taking care of yourself now, it could be a big fire that takes you out for six, 12 months.
Kaitlyn: That's right. I've been toying with creating a blog post about the actual literal costs of my burnout. And I'm sure it would be pretty frightening. There's both monetary, right? Like there's both a financial aspect to that as well as a lot of other elements. And it's, it's true. I mean, the long-term costs can be extraordinary.
When you think about that, it's like, does it really matter if somebody takes one more week of vacation in a year? One of the things that I love to tell people is to measure your energy, not your time. And so I'm sure you've heard that. And it's like, it's not about being counting the hours or the days; it's did this person come back from their time off energized, excited.
Are they like, oh my gosh, I can't wait to be back. Right. You know? That's good, and so like, as I'm listening to you, Aaron, I'm thinking, gosh, what if we celebrated? What, you know, what if I think this could be a great practice is just celebrating. And openly celebrating like, wow, look at how well rested, you know, I just came back from Maui a two week holiday in Maui, that was the longest vacation in my life.
And I am a team of one right now. So I'm just going to celebrate for myself like, oh, I feel so energized and light and creative right now. And excited to get back into my business and work with my clients. And. I would celebrate that. Like, if I were on, if I had a team member, if I was a team member on my team, I would be like, Kaitlyn, tell us about your holiday and tell us how you're feeling right now.
And then we would all celebrate like how great I'm feeling, you know, and underline that that's part of great performance.
And so I think being in the celebration and reinforcing, wow, this is a positive example of someone who's taking care of their wellbeing so that they can contribute at their best would be a great practice for people to have.
And I don't know, I never had that. It was always like, I almost felt like embarrassed about taking time off, you know, like, I'm so sorry I left. I'm so sorry. I'm human. And I needed a little time away from here to just recover, but wouldn't it be great if we celebrated it instead.
Aaron: I love that. Just such an amazing thought and celebrating that I'm actually going to call one of my team members and celebrate the time off that she's, that she's taking.
So thank you for the inspiration and thank you for this conversation. Just really thoughtful and useful. And just helps me. And I know it'll help the listeners and our audience of leaders think about how they should approach burnout in their lives and how they should approach burnout with their teams.
And so super grateful for the energy and thought and thoughtfulness you've given to this. Thank you so much, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn: You're so welcome. Thanks for having me.
Aaron: Open, Honest, and Direct is produced by Raise The Bar where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people. you can get in touch with us at raisebar.co
Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.