Burnout in the Workplace: Causes, Recovery, and Prevention
Tune in to learn about what causes burnout, what habits and behaviours we do that contribute to burnout, how to overcome burnout, and how to support your team during high-stress situations at work. This episode features experts on the topic, their personal stories, and advice.
Victoria Smith: I felt like everyone else was able to cope and I wasn't because that's what we present in the workplace, right? People present that they've got it all together. And very rarely do we say, "Oh, this is a bit much" because we don't want to seem weak. We don't want to seem like we can't hack it.
Morgan Berna: You're listening to the Small Business Mastermind, a podcast created by Olympia Benefits to help small businesses juggle business, finance, health, and wellness. I'm your host, Morgan Berna.
[fade out/fade back in]
Morgan: Can you relate to this feeling? You're exhausted emotionally, physically, mentally, you can't get yourself motivated. The overwhelming stress of your job has you feeling like you're unable to meet the constant demands, and every day is turning into a bad day. When someone asks how you're doing your default answer is busy.
Victoria Smith: I wouldn't have called it burnout, I would have just said I was busy.
Morgan: And as you pile more onto yourself, sleeping in, eating well, and exercise become luxuries you can no longer afford.
Dr. Michelle Hagel ND: Their, you know, chief concern is that they're tired all the time.
Morgan: The scenario happens to a lot of us. And it isn't because we're lazy, unmotivated, or bad at our jobs. It's because we're completely burned out. On this episode will speak with Dr. Michelle Hagel, and Victoria Smith, about burnout. We'll explore what causes burnout, how serious it can be, and what you can do to get your life back and prevent getting burned out in the future.
Morgan: Our conversation begins with Dr. Michelle Hagel. Thank you so much for being here with us today, Dr. Hagel.
Dr. Hagel: Thank you for having me.
Morgan: Dr. Michelle Hagel, ND graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario. Prior to this, she completed a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in neuroscience from Bishop's University, where her interest in the mind-body connection grew. She believes that understanding and treating the root cause of illness is key to healing. And that optimal health is feeling your best in all areas of your life, not just being free of illness. Let's kick off today's episode with simply what is burnout?
Dr. Hagel: Great question. Burnout is when the body has been exposed to a lot of stress, and it's no longer able to cope. So, there's a physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, a lot of people complain of a reduced sense of accomplishment, and a loss of personal identity. So that is one of the best ways to define burnout. From a more scientific approach, what happens is when we are experienced prolonged stress, these are specifically our adrenal glands in our body, release stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, adrenaline, in response to stressful situations. When these stress hormones are released, this engages kind of a fight or flight sense. Now, when those happen, we're meant to fight or flight out of that situation. But what's happening is, people are often experiencing this for a prolonged period of time, leading us to burn out because the body is not meant to experience it for a length of time. It's supposed to fight or flight out of that situation, and then go back to a relaxed state.
Morgan: So, it is essentially then this chronic stress is throwing our hormones and our neurotransmitters out of balance?
Dr. Hagel: Yeah, absolutely.
Morgan: And then it's, we're just not going back to a baseline, we're staying at the elevated state.
Dr. Hagel: We're staying at that elevated state. So this can, I mean, a lot of people will find that you know, they might have trouble waking up in the morning, in the afternoon, they have that lull, where they need that second cup of coffee or third cup of coffee. And then right as they're going to bed, they experience this tired and wired sensation. So they're exhausted, they've been tired all day, but they just can't go to sleep. That is very common. That's the stress hormones just kind of continuing to brew through our bodies. The other thing is that it can actually manifest in the middle of the night. So just all of a sudden, 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning, we just wake up, and we can't fall asleep and we're up for hours. That's just the imbalance of our stress hormones, so very common with burnout.
Morgan: So it affects our sleep patterns as well then?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. Sleep disruption can be one of the biggest symptoms of burnout. And unfortunately, this will kind of create negative feedback in our health because sleep is one of the most beneficial things for our bodies to recharge.
Morgan: What would be the stages of burnout?
Dr. Hagel: Great question. So that afternoon lull I was telling you about in kind of low energy, a little bit low motivation, those can be some of the early signs of burnout. And then just those symptoms continuing to get worse and worse. So our energy levels decreasing. Even some like personality changes, feeling overwhelmed by the smallest trigger. Having to pack lunches just kind of puts you over the edge or having to do laundry. It's just, it's too much, and it's all adding up. So that's kind of that gentle progression and then full-on burnout or more extreme burnout, we get to this point where we're experiencing brain fog, we can't concentrate, nothing feels like-- we don't feel like our self. Our personality changes, our accomplishments in the workplace, or even at home, just aren't to par where we used to be. And then sometimes it can even manifest where we can't even get out of bed. We're just completely burnt out. If you're engaging in a lot of exercise, inability to exercise, running out of breath, yeah, all of those fun symptoms.
Morgan: So many areas of life and so it sounds like it can be emotional, physical, mental, all of the above?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. There's a ton of links. And that's, that's the tricky thing with identifying it. Because, you know, each individual may manifest symptoms differently. So it can in one individual be more physical symptoms, like headaches, stomach-aches, muscle tension; in another person, they may sway towards anxiety, depression, outbursts, that type of thing.
Morgan: Is it dangerous?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. It was interesting. A couple of years ago, I read a study, and it showed that burnout in women can actually be as dangerous or have as dramatic of an impact as obesity and smoking. So that was one study that kind of shocked me and has still stuck with me. Some other areas linked with that sleep deprivation. When you know, we're not getting that seven to nine hours of sleep, there's actually been shown studies that our prefrontal cortex will start shrinking, so this is an area of the brain. It's very important in planning, executing, planning, our personality. So those areas that I talked about in their symptoms, it's actually having a physical manifestation on our brain. Very dangerous. And I mean, it may be that it doesn't come up on any lab work, like, you go to your doctor, you have that complaint, doctor runs lab work, everything looks good. So in that way, it doesn't look dangerous but definitely having an impact.
Another pretty significant fact is those stress hormones that I mentioned earlier, they're one of the most potent immune suppressors. So when we're constantly releasing those stress hormones, our immune system is going to be depleted. And we're not going to be able to fight off things. Oftentimes, people are complaining, you know, after Christmas time or a significantly stressful time, they get sick after. Well, it's because that immune system has been suppressed. And, you know, whatever viruses, bacteria, anything that we've been exposed to, we can't fight it off any longer.
Morgan: So our nice vacation trip down to the beach might not be so fun? [chuckles]
Dr. Hagel: Exactly, that's when it's just finally going to hit us. And then actually, even more so, now this is a pretty extreme, but in the long run over a long period of time, we've even seen a link with a lot of autoimmune conditions. And that's the same thing, right? Just something affecting the immune system for so long.
Morgan: It sounds like it manifests in so many different ways that someone probably doesn't know that they're experiencing burnout. What are some of the main symptoms someone will come into you mentioning before you kind of give them that diagnosis?
Dr. Hagel: I would say one of the biggest things I see is fatigue. So they're, you know, chief concern is that they're tired all the time. They have had lab work, it's all good. They can't figure out why they're so tired. And then you know, once we start talking, "Oh, yeah, my sleep has been affected." So, you know, and then leading to further questions asking about their stress. "Oh, yeah, my stress is an 8 out of 10." And it has been for the last five years. So I would say that's a pretty, pretty common thing that I see. In terms of symptoms. I mean, they can come in with prolonged digestive issues. We're also seeing a lot of links between IBS, things like that, and chronic stress. So it can be digestively linked, it can affect our hormones. Those stress hormones are going to affect our neuroendocrine system, which can affect the thyroid, adrenal health, our sex hormones. So that's always an area that I look into. Long story short, there's a lot of symptoms that can lead me to exploring if burnout is the case.
Morgan: Do you find people are pretty good at recognizing their stress?
Dr. Hagel: No, they're not. One of the questions I ask every single person that walks in my office is, you know, how is your stress? And most people answer "Oh, you know, I have stress." And unfortunately, stress is a common factor in our lives. And then I'll say, "Okay, well, on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your stress?" And that person that came in and was like, "Oh, my stress isn't bad." They'll rate it at 8 out of 10. And that's always kind of shocking for them to see like," Oh, yeah, it is pretty high." So yeah, they're not very good at identifying it.
Morgan: Are you noticing more people are coming in with these stress symptoms in sort of the more recent years where we've had, you know, more social media, more technology, that culture of being busy all the time?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. Yes, I am seeing more people come in. And unfortunately, I'm actually seeing a lot more kids come in. So a lot more children coming in with anxiety. I don't want to say depression, but low mood, social anxiety. And then I mean, with economic changes, that will also affect people. So it seems like a lot of people, their job requirements have increased. So they're just working a ton, working long hours. You know, there's individuals in the industry that have been laid off, then that comes on to their plate if they're still employed.
Morgan: Yeah, I was going to ask if you're seeing it in younger people, and that's a newer trend?
Dr. Hagel: I am. So our practice, our clinic is a pretty general practice. And we do see a lot of children. And I would say, yeah there's a lot of kids out there that, unfortunately, are having a lot more mental health issues concerns, whether or not that's related to more awareness around it, or that it is increasing, maybe because the media technology, social media, yeah.
Morgan: Our great ability to turn off?
Dr. Hagel: Exactly.
Morgan: I read all the books that tell me to stop using my phone half an hour before bed, I still do it.
Dr. Hagel: Putting that into practice is a different thing, right?
Morgan: Yes, absolutely. So on that note, are there certain people, you see certain personality types that are more likely to experience burnout, that a listener could kind of identify, "Oh, maybe I'm a little bit like that?"
Dr. Hagel: That sounds like me. Yes. So I would say, you know, that perfectionist attitude. The person that has trouble saying no, so that yes man. Those individuals generally are the more common individuals. You know, I have a fairly general family practice and I see a lot of moms, so hard-working, moms that are trying to work and you know, cook for their children and be there for all their soccer games and dance lessons. And just that, yeah, that individual that is always there, and heart of gold. But not only are they always there, but they have that perfectionist attitude where everything I do has to be perfect, and I can't just let things go.
[fade out/fade in]
Morgan: In fact, it was these exact risk factors that lead Victoria Smith of Stress Less Ladies to have her own experience with burnout.
Morgan: Hello Victoria.
Victoria: Hi, thank you for having me.
Morgan: Great. Thank you so much for being here today.
Morgan: Stress Reduction coach Victoria Smith is on a mission to help people reduce their stress, so they can actually enjoy their daily lives. Having experienced a major burnout and shingles twice before the age of 30, Victoria went on her own journey to recovery; has since become a certified coach, and now supports people internationally in their journey to decrease their stress. She believes that life isn't stressless but that you can stress less, you can find her on Instagram @stresslessladies.
Morgan: You mention in that introduction there that you had shingles twice before 30. Could you tell us a little bit about your personal experience with burnout?
Victoria: Yeah, do you know it's one of those things that I didn't know. I wouldn't have called it burnout, I would have just said I was busy. I would have just said work was pretty intense. You know, I had a corporate job straight out of university. And I think like a lot of young folks coming into the workplace, you want to prove yourself, you want to climb that ladder. And so I ended up working like 60-hour weeks, not because anyone necessarily told me to but because I wanted to progress, progress, progress. And the first time I got shingles, I didn't know what it was. Like I didn't recognize that I needed to go to the doctor for it. I have eczema anyways, so I just thought it was a different kind of rash. Maybe my detergent was a little odd. And then the like the nerve pain started. And that was like I was off work for a solid, I would say I was off work for two weeks. And yet, because I was in that cycle, I was like working on my laptop from home when I should have been resting. And then no surprise, I didn't let myself heal properly. And then about a year and a half later, a bunch of very stressful scenarios sort of converged in my life, my parents were getting divorced, I was pregnant with my first kid, work was doing layoffs. And I got shingles again while pregnant, which kind of sucks, but I was able to catch it earlier. So that was really the wake-up call that I didn't clue it into the first time.
Morgan: Did you realize that you were experiencing chronic stress? Or did it just kind of feel like it was just the way your life was at the time?
Victoria: I felt like everyone else was able to cope and I wasn't because that's what we present in the workplace, right? People present that they've got it all together. And very rarely do we say, "Oh, this is a bit much" because we don't want to seem weak. We don't want to seem like we can't hack it. And so I very much just thought I was not able to cope with what everyone else was able to, so wouldn't have called it burnout. I would have just said, I'm not hacking life, like yeah.
Morgan: Yeah. Looking back, did you notice the time where the day to day stress had started to become constant when you look back on that experience?
Victoria: Yeah, 100%. When I look back, like I would cancel plans with friends all the time, because I was just so exhausted at the end of the workday, I would skip breaks, I definitely increased my caffeine consumption during that time, I got less exercise because I was again just so drained at the end of every day. And I noticed the tipping point when I kind of started to think, "Oh, I'll just stay at this job for another year until the bonus comes through." and then the bonus comes through; I'll just stay at this until x happens. And I just kept making these sorts of false targets to reach to kind of prolong the experience because I just wanted that next thing. And instead of just saying, "Hey, I'm not happy, I'm not feeling good, I'm stressed out with the way I am right now." Maybe that's a sign to cool things down.
Morgan: Were you feeling then it sounds like a pressure to stay there, something to prove?
Victoria: I think most people do, right? Like I was younger at the time and just newly married and didn't have like a house or anything to pay for. But when you're older than you've got kids and day home to pay for. Like we all have these different pressures and reasons to stay at different points in our lives. So I think it's important to realize that those will never go away. So you have to kind of make a decision for yourself, "Am I going to reduce my stress?" Because there's never going to be like a good time to calm down like, you know.
Morgan: So you noticed you got shingles eventually leading up to that were you noticing a lot of things going on with you, with your body, with your mind, leading up?
Victoria: Oh, yeah, like I cried a lot more than normal. I definitely was sick a lot more like I would just catch the common cold, like anything that was going around the office, I would catch it. But I would work from home on my laptop instead of just resting. I definitely just didn't have the same kind of joy and like effervescence for life that I normally do. Like I was a huge traveler before like all that kind of excitement just diminished a little bit, so yeah.
Morgan: Yeah. And you said that you stopped making plans with friends? Do you feel like the people around you were noticing how you were acting different?
Victoria: I think probably initially, they were just irritated that I was canceling on plans all the time. But I think I also wasn't sharing with them how stressful my work was because they all had, you know, pretty decent jobs as well. And they didn't talk even with your friends, you don't always talk about how stressful things are. And so I just didn't want to feel less then and so I didn't share the same way. Like I think the first time I properly, properly shared was with a co-worker who I really trusted, who then encouraged me to go to counseling, and that was like the game-changer for everything. Because I mean, shingles, you can take the antiviral medication, you can take some rest, but if you don't actually fix what's going on inside, like, that's why it happened the second time, so yeah.
Morgan: I've seen some quotes online where people say, "Busy has become our new sort of buzzword," instead of when someone asks you how you're doing, instead of now saying, "Oh, I'm good." We all go now, "I'm busy." Were you doing some of that?
Victoria: 100% and I had, I had a job during event management as well, which is fairly chaotic because it's one of those areas of a company, whoever's planning the employee events, that anything can go wrong. And it's usually something outside of your control. It's another vendor. And so that just added to my daily stress, right?
Morgan: Absolutely. And so you went through this burnout period and then how did you get into the stress reduction coaching?
Victoria: I really took my maternity leave seriously, the first time with my son. Like I said, my parents have been getting divorced after like 30 some years together. And I had that the layoffs at work, the shingles, and I knew that I wanted having come out the other side of it through a lot of counseling, changes to my own health experience and habits that I had every day, I knew I wanted to have a career that was my own that I could control to some degree, as most entrepreneurs know, you can't control everything. But I also wanted to do something where I was giving people the same relief that I had experienced. And not everyone's comfortable going to see a counselor. But coach is something that people kind of feel a little bit more in control of.
Coaching is more about giving you those actual tangible tools and skills. It's action-oriented, whereas counseling is more reflection oriented. There's always a bit of reflection in coaching. But I find this much more accessible for the average person in that regard. And that's, yeah, so I started doing my training on that first mat leave. I loved it. I, you know, was just doing it part-time when I went back to a different job between babies. And then on my second mat leave, I really just was like, I think this is going to be a full-time thing. I just love it so much.
Morgan: Yeah. And you mentioned a feeling of relief. What was that like for you?
Victoria: I think it was just realizing that I didn't have to keep doing what I was doing. Because in the moment, if you're in a chronic state of stress, it feels like that's the way it will always be. And you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. So when you finally do you're like, "Oh, this is what life can be like." You're never going to get away from having stressors in your life. That's why I say, Life isn't stressless but you can stress less." It's having the ability to manage each moment and each experience to make it less stressful for you. And so yeah, that's been my experience. Yeah.
Morgan: Yeah. And you mentioned with some people, they don't notice these symptoms. I noticed for some people, it almost becomes part of their personality, they think they're just tired, or they think they're just a grumpy person. Do you see that a lot with clients where--
Victoria: Oh, yeah.
Morgan: --they're having these symptoms and they just, they would never turn to burnout as the answer? They think it's just them.
Victoria: No, I have clients that say like, "I am just chronically a busy person, that's what I am. I'm just a multitasker." And multitasking is not actually a real thing. We think it's a real thing. But if you look at our brain chemistry, it's not. We can't do multiple things at once successfully. So what it is, is us telling ourselves that we're being more productive, when in reality we're not. Yeah, so definitely, you know, I see people saying that they just don't have time to take breaks. They have difficulty focusing at work. They're just, you know, people will just say, "Oh, I'm just like, foggy brained." Like that's just the way I've always been, or I'm just, you know, that kind of thing. And definitely the email addicts is the thing and social media. If you think of eight years ago, eight plus-ish years ago, we didn't have our phones in our pockets constant like they weren't smartphones.
Victoria: We didn't have this constant connection. And so, you know, I see people who like 10 years ago, like you know, my dad or anything like that, who would have been busy people. And now at any moment of boredom or break, we pull out our phones to check something for that dopamine hit. And it's become, yeah, it's become part of our personality, you would say that there are people that just can't put their phone down.
Morgan: Do you see common habits and behaviors besides the social media phone use among the people that you're coaching?
Victoria: Yeah, I mean, definitely. I think when I start with a lot of people, they have gotten out of the habit of taking breaks. I don't know many people anymore, that take a proper lunch break away from their desk, or that they're not like doing something else at the same time, right like or using your lunch break to work out. And that's totally fine. But you also need these moments of solitude and reflection, like, it's actually something that our brain requires as downtime. And we're not getting that anymore. You also see in terms of habits, like people not prioritizing self-care, just across the board, going to bed late, you know, like I did, you know, using way more caffeine than is probably necessary or helpful or making poor nutrition choices just because it's easy and convenient. And negative self-talk is definitely another one. When you're in a stress state of mind, you often think like is that it's just you or you think you can't hack it, you're not good enough, everyone else seems to be able to do it and you don't actually recognize that a lot of it is external pressures and stuff being put on you, but you have the power to change a lot of things. So that's what I really love about this work, is it's, you can empower the individual which is great.
Morgan: And one of the things I came across in my research was the importance of letting ourselves be bored.
Victoria: Yes, yes. It's like I said, we've gotten so used to filling those gaps. And I'm reading this really great book right now called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, have you read it?
Morgan: No, I haven't
Victoria: Everyone needs to read it, or listen to it or whatever. And he talks about how we were built to have solitude. That's how we do our deep thinking. That's how we do our deep work. That's how we actually are able to process what is happening in our lives. So right now with our phones, and with emails and internet and everything, we are just getting this constant stream of data and information. Whereas if we actually take moments to be bored, even if it's like-- I know it sounds dumb, it's like, well, it's only two minutes waiting in line. Well, that two minutes can just be taking some deep breaths, thinking about what's happened today, processing it, your brain is a computer basically, like it needs that time to process and so if you're constantly putting data in like, think of a computer that like overheats. You need to let the fans start-up you need to let things cool down. If you don't take those moments you're going to burn out. Yeah.
Morgan: And especially for small business owners for the creativity, if you're not taking that moment to let yourself be bored and let your mind wander, I imagine it can be difficult to then innovate with your business and come up with refreshing new ideas.
Victoria: Yeah. Because then you go into reactive versus proactive mode and that in your business, in your life in everywhere. So I think a lot of small business owners who are feeling that burnout, they're focusing on what a, you know, client inquiries that are coming in. They're focusing on dealing with their employees, they're focusing on revenue like day to day, to day. Not that that stuff's not important; I'm an entrepreneur, I totally understand that. But where's the strategy? Where's the forward-thinking? Where's the keeping top of mind where you want to go instead of fighting fires on a daily basis. It's-- There are periods for all of us, right? Where it's just like, "This is my busy month like this is where I just have to be reactive." But then you have to be able to switch back into that somewhat balanced approach, right? There's got to be a bit of Yin and Yang to it.
Morgan: With most people you coach, do they recognize that it's their work, bringing this stress into their life? Or do a lot of them see it as, you know, there's family, there's the cost of living, there's all these different factors. Do people sort of navigate toward one as being the cause?
Victoria: There's always a bit of everything right? Like we all have our own-- I always say that like my experience with stress is not-- like I'm not special, because most of us experienced that. But other people are experiencing, you know, traumas of divorce, loss of a family member, sick kids, financial struggles, plus work. We all kind of have our own little mix and it changes as we grow, as we age. And so everyone comes to me with a little, you know, I've dealt with 23-year-olds, I've also worked with 72-year-olds, who are dealing a different-- with a different kind of stressor of like, what's that next slash last phase of their life going to look like? And how do they make that the most productive, like, not productive, but the most fulfilling that they can possibly do? So it's everything in between.
Morgan: I'm curious what’s the biggest barrier you encounter with people in helping them shift their thinking?
Victoria: Yeah, I would say, getting them to the point where they realize that they're in the driver's seat. I think a lot of people hear that and think-- On paper, yeah, that makes sense. But until they actually start taking responsibility for the things that they can control, that's when the switch happens. Because people often come in saying, "Well, if my job was different if my partner was different if so it was different. We can't change anyone else. We can only change ourselves. So when people come to that realization and then start taking action, that's the biggest shift by far.
[fade out/fade in]
Morgan: Despite our best efforts recovering from burnout can be more difficult than we assumed. A common solution a lot of us take is that one to two weeks vacation, but this approach may be more of a band-aid than a solution.
Let's move a little bit into recovery, then. How long would it typically take for someone to recover from burnout when they reach sort of that-- the mid-stage, let's say?
Dr. Hagel: So, I would say be patient with your body. I tell this to every single person. You know, this has taken years to manifest, so you can't expect to heal overnight. For those lucky individuals, after a couple of weeks, maybe they'll see some changes. So that low in the afternoon, maybe that gets better. Their-- Overreactions to certain situations, or even outbursts, those become better in the first few weeks, their energy might be a little slightly better and sleep starts improving. But it would definitely be months depending on, you know, how committed the individual is, how many things they're doing, and in saying that, you know, throwing the kitchen sink at someone doesn't necessarily have the best outcome. So, yeah, to be safe, I would say from weeks to months, but you will gradually notice those changes over time.
Morgan: For someone who plans their two-week vacation, this is their time to recover--
Dr. Hagel: Yeah
Morgan: --maybe that's not realistic?
Dr. Hagel: It's a great start. It is a very good start. You know, and that's a great example, right? Like if you could take two weeks to yourself and shut off your cell phone and turn off your email and just focus on healing yourself, you're going to heal faster, absolutely. But maybe not in complete 100% recovery. It's important that you know, you maintain that attitude when you get back. But vacations are so important.
Morgan: When you're working with a patient. How difficult is it for them to sort of get past that first hurdle of getting into recovery? Do you find people are quite defensive about their lifestyle or kind of unwilling to shift how they're operating?
Dr. Hagel: That's a great question. So I would say some people can be a little defensive, as you said, and unwilling to you know, make those lifestyle changes. Other people, especially if they've reached burnout, like true burnout, they're willing to do anything. Because they-- That's become their priority, right? They don't feel like themselves, and they're 100% committed to the plan.
Morgan: When someone is starting their recovery, what sort of resources might you refer someone to, in order to help them besides just seeing you?
Dr. Hagel: Yeah, absolutely. So, acupuncture. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Naturopathic doctors also do acupuncture, but I do refer to a lot of acupuncturists. Aside from those, you know, lifestyle recommendations that I make, different exercise classes like yoga, tai chi. A psychologist might be a really good tool or counselor to whatever degree sometimes if it's a physical manifestation, we can even get into like a chiropractor.
Morgan: Online, we touched on this a little bit, but we see a lot of mention of, “you need to eat right, you’ve got exercise, you need to sleep the right amount.” And like you're saying it's throwing the whole kitchen sink at someone.
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely
Morgan: So when you're working with someone, do you recommend starting small and adding in these behaviors? Do you give them a big list and sort of say go for it?
Dr. Hagel: It depends on the person. So that person that is, you know, zero out of 10 energy. Yeah, it's not realistic to give them a huge list and be like, "Okay, start this tomorrow." But individuals that are highly motivated, and they're like, "I want to do everything." Yeah, we can give them a huge list and say, "Okay, here are our priorities. But, you know, maybe in a couple weeks, we can get all 10 of these suggestions going." But yet, the last thing you want to do with someone that is in burnout is to create more stress in their life. And if that, you know, if restricting their diet or having them take, you know, a bunch of supplements is a stressor, then it's not going to work for that individual.
Morgan: In that case, are there certain recovery strategies you'd rank as more important? So, if someone is, say, a little more severe are there certain things where you'd say we need to start here before we get into other recovery areas?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. So I would say, you know, one of the biggest things is sleep. If we can tackle sleep and improve someone's sleep, then we're going to make leaps and bounds. Sleep, and you know, time blocking, ensuring that individuals have that time allotted for themselves for you know, whatever restorative activity that may be, whether it's some you know, meditation, spending time with family, reading, relaxing, those are a great place to start.
Morgan: And I imagine for a lot of people sleep is one of the first things they give up--
Dr. Hagel: Exactly.
Morgan: --to do other things.
Dr. Hagel: Because they don't have time to sleep. Right and that's a tough thing trying to convince people that they need to prioritize. Sleep has to be number one.
Morgan: What are some things people should stay away from while they're recovering from burnout?
Dr. Hagel: So, trying to avoid, you know, stressful situations. I know that's easier said than done. But if there are known stressful triggers, that is a really good thing to try to steer clear of for that period of time, right. With diet, going to that sugar, that processed food; those are unfortunately going to decrease our healing and caffeine and alcohol on that diet too. So caffeine is one of the unfortunate things that we normally turn to when we're in burnout. But it can be one of the worst things because what it's going to do is that it's going to tax our adrenal glands even further. So, I've heard it-- One of the best reference I've heard, caffeine is that it is a high-interest loan on your adrenal glands. In the short term, yeah, it's fantastic. It's going to give you that energy, and even sometimes that concentration and focus that you need, but over time that's further taxing you.
Morgan: You know, once someone has-- they've gone through their recovery, it's been several months, they made changes in their life-- How likely is it that someone could relapse back to burnout, knowing that it is related to your brain and your hormones and all that?
Dr. Hagel: Absolutely. So, it is likely, people are definitely more body aware, after going through that committed three months or however many months of recovery. Generally that relapse, you know, they'll come in and they'll be like, "I fell off the wagon and, you know, I started-- I stopped exercising and I started eating this, and I'm up to a pot of coffee a day and--" And as long as you know, they're able to identify it quicker, then their recovery is much faster. It's not months. It's much quicker, they have the tools, they just sort of need someone to push them in the right direction and, reaffirm what they went through and how, you know, we've supported their health through that process.
Morgan: In the context of someone who's a busy professional, they're at work, I know we talked about sleep as being one of the most important, but in the context of work, is there something you'd recommend someone start doing with their day that they might not be?
Dr. Hagel: Yeah, so taking five minutes, that's all it has to be; five minutes to do some meditation. If you're not a fan of meditation, or you can't really get into it - generally, that means you need it more, but going for a walk, you know, chatting with someone and having a good laugh. But it-- people feel like you know, this is such a burden, and I don't have time for this, but it just has to start with five minutes. Taking that time for themselves, I always, always, always recommend being mindful while you're eating. This idea of us scarfing down our food while we're at our desk and reading through emails, it's not a very healthy way. That's not allowing our system to get into that parasympathetic system; so that we're able to rest and digest. It's just going to further contribute to that stress because our body is viewing it in sort of a survival situation and that can lead to a lot of digestive issues; indigestion specifically. So that is a really great tool. The other thing I would say is you know, leaving work at work, if at all possible. Shut off your email, shut off your cell phone, don't, you know, take work home with you really use that time to be you know, recovering, recharging, not constantly bombarded with day to day things.
[fade out/fade in]
Morgan: But even if you are armed with all the recovery strategies in the world, if our workplaces aren't accommodating our burnout recovery is going to be a challenge.
Even with all these strategies, recovery for employees can be inhibited if workplaces are unable to adapt to their needs.
Morgan: When you are experiencing burnout at your corporate job, did you feel comfortable approaching your employer about how you were feeling?
Victoria: I was there five years, I would say I did towards the end. And that was just the specific supervisor that I had was more receptive to it. My previous supervisors and managers, no like shade to them. They were fabulous human beings, but they're also like men 60 plus. Right. And so they'd had a whole different experience. And-- And I don't think I was on my own journey to recovery in a point that I could have said-- that I could have recognized that it wasn't just me at that point. So I think there's a really important thing for workplaces, whether you're a small business or whether you're a big corporation to talk about mental health to talk about burnout to make it okay. And not just make it a checklist, "Yes, we had our mental health Day this year." Make it a thing. Make it a thing that you incorporate into your daily conversation and maybe just maybe have your leaders be visible about what they are struggling with themselves. Because it's great to have a mental health day. But if your president or your leader is presenting themselves as this superhuman, you don't feel okay to talk about any challenges that you've got going on. You just don't.
Morgan: Yeah. Do you think there's signs employers themselves should be looking for in their employees to know when it might be time to have a conversation?
Victoria: Yeah, I think when you see people like when if you don't notice-- okay, so I'm going to backtrack a bit, it comes back to the breaks for the most part, I would say. We as employees, often have this idea that taking a break is a bad thing. So employers should be very proactive in saying, "Take your breaks, I want you to take your breaks, if you're not taking your breaks will have a problem." Like that should be a thing. Make vacations non-negotiable and not vacations where you're like, "Hey, I'll check email every couple of days." Like, have the employer say like employers should just say vacations are non-negotiable. You take that time or like-- we're telling you to go home if you don't take that time.
Victoria: Everyone-- and leaders need to set an example. So I mean, I know we probably heard this all before but don't email people after hours. I heard this really great quote by Gary Vee the other day so if you're an entrepreneur, Gary Vee is like the thing. And he said he doesn't expect his employees to work as hard as he does. Because it's not their business. So what he meant by that was not, "Come in and slack" like that's not what he's saying. He's saying, "Come in, whatever your hours are, work hard during those hours and go home and be the human being that you are."
Victoria: If we as small to be Medium Business sized business owners are expecting our employees to-- our employees, to be checking emails, after hours to be doing projects at home to be doing a lot of overtime without compensation, then we're instigating the burnout. We are the cause of that. So instead of trying and be as proactive in creating a comfortable work environment; a place where people are open and able to tell you about these things. And you model that behavior. Right?
Morgan: So you suggested having discussions about mental health, taking breaks, are there any other suggestions you'd have for employers on fostering a better work environment?
Victoria: I would also say, maybe it's at your weekly team meeting or whatever it is, but ask your employees what they need help with. Because they often don't feel that they're able to ask, and it might be something as simple as, "Hey, I just need help getting this-- I need a connection to help me do this project." That would be amazing. And, and that would get their work done 10 times faster, or "Hey, I just need to work from home today because I've got so much going on. And I-- If I could get through with this project would be golden." Ask your employees what they need. And maybe it's like their chair sucks. So they're in a lot of physical distress at their workplace, like, it can be really simple things. But if you don't ask, you're not going to know you're going to make assumptions. And if you don't ask, your employees are not necessarily going to feel comfortable telling you.
Victoria: So create an open environment that's authentic. Not like, "I checked off the list. We're an authentic company. It's on our values", right?
Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. Now, and what about maybe revisiting expectations with employees that you're noticing have gone past where you needed them to perform and they're checking email at home. They're not taking breaks, these sorts of things?
Victoria: I would sit them down one to one and have that conversation with them. I had a supervisor do that with me once saying, "I noticed you're saying you're busy all the time."
Victoria: And she's like, "I feel like what you mean is you're stressed. So say that." And if that's the case, let's talk about it because she was saying, she didn't want to hear us say any of us on the team say we were busy all the time. Because that feeds-- if you say you're busy, the other person feels they need to be busy subconsciously.
And it just becomes this busy environment. So definitely try and have people say what they mean, and not what they think needs to be said.
Morgan: And as the employee in that conversation, do you have any tips on letting your employer know that you are stressed? You are a little overwhelmed? Without it sounding like, you know, no one wants to sound like they're complaining or not doing their job, right. But I feel like there's a healthy way to have that conversation.
Victoria: Absolutely. So if you're not comfortable having that conversation from the outset, I would say, first of all, look at your benefits packages, like do they include counseling?
Victoria: Do they include some sort of therapy? That can be a game-changer because then you're, you're getting it all out with someone who's not your boss, with someone who's not your partner, or whatever the challenges you're going through. I would look at that first because it can make a big, big difference. And that will maybe just let you get some of the like that upper level of stress off so that when you have that conversation, it's more productive. I would also say when you're thinking about-- If you are thinking about having that conversation with your manager, think about what it is that you need. Because your manager is not a therapist, right? That's not their job. But have them-- like come to the table thinking, "Okay, I'm really stressed what I perhaps need is, I need to finish it this time every day", or "I need to check my email list", or "I need to not be on slack" or "I need a mental health day." Whatever it is come to the table, solution-oriented right? Don't come to the table expecting your manager to have a skill set that they're not trained to. They're not meant to be counselors.
Morgan: Um-hum. And even I imagine within your position, if you're feeling as an employee a little unsatisfied in your position - it's causing stress, having that conversation as well on what you would like to see with your position, where you'd like to see it go--
Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. Is there a project like you really want to sink your teeth into, because sometimes the stress comes from like being given work that we're not enjoying?
Victoria: And maybe we're really good at it, but we don't enjoy it. So ask for what it again it comes back to the asking, right, ask for what you need. And maybe you don't know exactly what that is, but you're-- Maybe it is, "I just need a different project", have that conversation with your manager, they might have something in their back pocket that they thought you were too busy to handle or that they didn't think you were interested in, come to the table.
Morgan: Absolutely. What is one thing you'd like our listeners to do for themselves today?
Victoria: To do for themselves today? Oh, it's so funny. There are so many things. I want you to take a 10-minute walk outside, without your phone.
Morgan: That's a good one--
Victoria: Not playing any music, not listening to a podcast, just walk on your own. You can still be running through the ideas of like what's been going on today. But just take 10 minutes of solitude because that's what we actually need more of.
Dr. Hagel: One of my biggest recommendations for people is to try to meditate. You know, like I said, whether it's five minutes, 20 minutes, an hour-- If they can take that time and be mindful. It's incredible the effect that that can have.
Morgan: I want to thank both our guests for joining us today and sharing their expertise. And I want to thank you for tuning into The Small Business Mastermind, created by Olympia Benefits. For more information on burnout, you can visit our blog at olympiabenefits.com/blog. There you'll find several articles we've written covering the topic, as well as a free eBook available for you to download. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate and review this podcast. And again, thanks for listening. I'll talk to you on our next episode.