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Expert Interview: Faun Zarge

October 01 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Faun Zarge discuss employee burnout and resilience in the workplace and what employers can do to support their workforce. Faun Zarge

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Well-being Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee well-being. My guest today is Faun Zarge.

Faun is an employee burnout and resilience expert who teaches clients how to reduce burnout and build a culture where their employees are pumped to go to work every day. With 20+ years of work life field experience, Faun works with a diversity of organizations and sectors such as nonprofit to Fortune 500 companies, and has extensive experience developing women and employees new to leadership. She is a high-energy speaker, trainer, and coach who brings an exceptional understanding of personal dynamics and expertise in the critical skills needed to minimize burnout. She holds a BA in psychology from the University of Connecticut and an MA in counseling psychology from Boston College. You may have seen Faun quoted in the New York Times and Fast Company. She has been featured in numerous media outlets.

Faun, I’m so excited to have you here today.

Faun Zarge: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Mari Ryan: Today’s topic is burnout. We live in a world where we are always on. Technology keeps us tethered and connected to our work, when we’re at home, and we’re connected with our family while we’re at work. We are often being asked to do more and push harder and do whatever it takes to get the job done, whether that’s at home or at work. But there must be a cost to all of this and it’s called burnout. So, in today’s conversation we’re going to explore burnout with Faun and understand a little bit about what this is and the impact this has on both the individuals who are dealing with this and what happens in the workplace.

So Faun, let’s start our conversation by defining burnout.

Faun Zarge: It’s a really good question because it a lot of us think we’re all talking about the same thing, and we’re not. Everybody has a bit of a different burnout profile. So, when burnout presents itself, it can present itself as exhaustion. This is when you often have physical symptoms, you’re not sleeping well, you have headaches, you’re a very stressed-out employee. For some of us it turns into cynicism. We suddenly have been very engaged in our work and now we are starting to detach. We’re feeling a bit more distant.

Then, it also manifests itself in eventually being ineffective. You give up trying. This is the employee in a lot of ways who has checked out and not everybody presents the same way, not everybody has all three symptoms in all three areas. That’s why it’s really important for managers to understand what it looks like so they can keep an eye out for these sort of symptoms in their employees and it’s really important for an individual to know what it looks like because they’ve got to be watching for how it’s manifesting to themselves and therefore where they need support and help.

Mari Ryan: You talked about a few of these symptoms; I’m wondering, does the person who really is suffering from burnout understand that this is burnout, that these symptoms that they might not realize they are being cynical or critical.

Faun Zarge: Not always, no. It’s a good point, it is hard to recognize and I think sometimes people think they are burnt out because they have worked for, on a project, maybe, for four months. Lot of hours and they are exhausted. That’s not really burnout. That may be exhaustion. You could be potentially heading towards burnout, but burnout isn’t really the result of a stressor or a couple of stressors. It is the result of chronic, ongoing stress, that unrelenting, unsustainable way that we are functioning. As you mentioned, this is always on culture. I think that because everybody around us is functioning that way, sometimes we think that that’s actually how it’s supposed to be, and it’s not.

One of the reasons why as individuals we need to be aware of what it looks like, but certainly in our workplaces, we need to be looking out for one another so that we can recognize that if someone doesn’t recognize it for themselves.

Mari Ryan: Why should employers care about burnout?

Faun Zarge: Yeah, they should, shouldn’t they? There are a number of reasons and before I even answer that, I think … I’m glad you’re asking the question because I think that what is helpful and we’re starting to see now is that organizations are recognizing that they do need to care about it and that solving this problem is a shared responsibility between employer and employee. It’s not all about encouraging employees to take care of themselves, to take walks. All of those things are incredibly important but there is a culture that is sometimes really exacerbating these sorts of problems. And so we use that shared responsibility.

In terms of why they should care about it, one is even with all of our advances in technology for the most part, our organizations are still run by human being and if you take good care of your people everything you do is going to be infinitely better. Every business objection that you need to meet, you are going to meet more effectively. So, that’s the very first reason.

The other reason, and I think a lot of organizations are starting to recognize this, is that it’s a really expensive problem. If you are spending a lot of money, you’re investing in recruiting, hiring, and training someone, and then you burn them out and have to replace them, that is very, very costly.

That’s the more obvious cost of burnout, but another cost that a lot of folks don’t always recognize is something called presenteeism, and these are all the people who are on your payroll right now, they’re sitting at their desk, but maybe not as productive, as creative, as engaged as they used to be and as you need them to be. So that in and of itself is very expensive.

The other reason that it’s super important is that employers don’t always recognize that burn out actually takes down their very best people. Because those folks were most engaged, most motivated, willing to step up to the plate and they are just going, and going, and going, and they don’t recognize that those folks are getting burnt out and potentially resentful until they are sitting in front of them giving notice. That’s another reason why it’s great that employers are starting to sit up and take notice of what’s going on.

Mari Ryan: It’s so interesting in talking about this from the perspective of the culture of the workplace. The culture, you think about this, right? Big accounting firm or big consulting firm or law firms, these industries where they are on the clock, billable hours, there’s that push to always go. Yet, it doesn’t seem that cultures in some of those are the ones that happen to come to mind but you could think about a lot of industries where this is prevalent, and yet it seems as though some of those organizations aren’t making any changes in their culture. What would they need to do to change their culture to start to be able to address this issue?

Faun Zarge: I think it’s a great question. I think that where organizations will get the biggest bang for the buck and to be able to really move the needle on the culture is to invest in their managers, and try to help support that. I see it all the time. There are a lot of managers out there who are well-intentioned, they are trying so hard to do their jobs under tremendous pressure themselves and support their teams and they are overwhelmed. Many of them don’t have the training to support what they need in order to do this. If those managers, who every day have opportunities to interact with their team members, they can either interact in a way that either positively impacts how they experience the day, or it can be detrimental. So, we have to make sure that our managers are well-equipped to -- whether it’s give meaningful feedback, which makes a really big difference in an employee’s experience, or develop a culture of trust or collaboration. Figure out how’s an employee’s experience in a day, checking in with employees. A lot of managers just haven’t received that sort of support and training, and that’s going to make a very big difference. So that’s one thing I would say and probably the most important place where organizations should start.

A couple of other pieces, and it’s interesting because there was an article about remote working this morning in the Boston Globe, and so even though remote working isn’t the answer for everyone, it’s so helpful when organizations try to find ways to give employees as much flexibility and autonomy as possible. There are just reams of data that demonstrate when employees can make decisions about how and where and when they work best, the outcomes are infinitely better. Even though not all organizations can do this as easily and not all roles can make this work all the time, where they can they will see a big difference.

When you think about all the personal things that many of us have going on in our lives, we don’t check our lives, our personal lives at the door when we go to work. And so, if we can give people the ability to manage those pieces of our lives and still be engaged in work that we find meaningful and do it in a way that works better for us that’s a win for everybody.

Two other quick things that I would say that I think are important points to make about this; one, and this is sometimes overlooked and that is that individuals, when they go to work, they really do better and are going to be more engaged if they are doing the work that aligns best with what they are good at and why they were hired and their strengths. What happens over time is that that changes. Sometimes it’s referred to as “role creep.” It’s not unlike when you and I were in middle school. Maybe we were put on a science project with a bunch of kids we didn’t know well and we all had to work together to get a grade. We wanted an A or maybe you wanted the A. Then you start to realize not everybody is going to pull their weight. So, you step up and you take on additional parts of the project because you want to have a good outcome.

Well the same thing happens in the workplace, particularly again, with your highly motivated top performers. They take on additional responsibilities and then what happens is over time 50-60 percent of your time is spent on things that are not well aligned with what they do or whether they add the most value.

It’s interesting because Gallup did a study on this and they determined that when people are able to work in that range where their work is best aligned with their strengths they are 57 percent less likely to be burnt out. That’s a big number. So that’s one thing to look at.

And the last thing I would say that is sometimes overlooked but I don’t think because organizations don’t care about this -- we’re just busy -- is that we aren’t demonstrating that we appreciate our employees enough. Study after study shows that people want that every day. They want some sort of acknowledgment and not just for the big wins because sometimes you can work months until you get the big win, or maybe you don’t even get it, but they want to be acknowledged for their efforts for keeping the team motivated for going the extra mile – those sorts of things – so we have to make sure that companies and managers are paying attention to that as well.

Mari Ryan: That’s great. All really good points. I’m curious what your thoughts are on what can an individual do. We talked a little bit about what can be done with the organizational viewpoint but what can an individual do to prevent burnout?

Faun Zarge: Usually when I talk to individuals about how to prevent burnout in themselves, if everything were to stay the same in their organization, because as you alluded to there are some organizations and sectors where the nature of it isn’t really going to change a whole lot, at least, not in the short term. So what can they do to sustain themselves? I encourage them to think of themselves like a bank. All day long, all week long, people are making withdrawals. Your colleagues, your boss needs something, and maybe a parent needs something, children, and those aren’t bad things. It’s actually what makes our lives rich and interesting, but the problem is if people are constantly withdrawing from your bank and you’re not making any deposits or enough deposits, you’re going to have a problem. So really what you have to do is figure out how to sort of strengthen your core and the best way to do that, and I know people can’t stand hearing this because they don’t want to make these changes, but they need to get enough sleep and they need to exercise.

There’s an article that Deloitte wrote a few months ago and I thought it was so well said, and they said sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer. It’s true. We all know how we feel when we go into the workplace, we go into a stressful situation and we have either rested well the night before or we haven’t. Unfortunately in our culture everyone treats sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. I pulled an all-nighter, sleepless for wins. Actually, that’s really quite the opposite. So we need to make that a priority because everything, and again your business objections are going to be better met, you’re going to be a better professional, you’re going to be available to everyone in your life personally and professionally much better if you are well rested.

In terms of exercise, I will not belabor the point because I know everyone’s heard it a thousand times, but in addition to all the health benefits it really does counter the stressors that caused this chronic and relentless exhaustion that we feel from this always-on environment. I think one of the reasons that people don’t do this is because they feel like there’s a certain way to do it well. I really don’t have time to get to the gym. That’s okay, you don’t have to go to a CrossFit gym. You can if you want to. You don’t have to be an American ninja warrior. You can find three times during the day where you can go and take a 10-minute walk. You can join a kickball league in your town. Myself, I walk on the same 16-year-old treadmill that I’ve been walking on ever since I realized I had no time to get to the gym and I do it in front of a television because that is the only way I’m going to stick with it.

The idea is for everyone to find something that they will stick with. So those are two things that people can do in their personal life. And their work life I will say it’s very important that folks continually take an audit what’s working and what’s not working for them. Even if they have a fantastic manager who is meeting with them regularly, it really is only ourselves who can tell ourselves what is it that’s working, what’s not working, are we getting the feedback that we need, are we feeling like we’re being challenged, have we been developed enough, either gaps in my skill set that I need to take a class to bolster? So we have to be honest with ourselves about that.

Then the other thing that I’ll say is, unfortunately we are always trying to find ways to optimize our time and instead we go into the workday, and it’s very, very important that we focus more on how we utilize our energy in the course of our day because the time is finite. We still have to look at our habits and make very good decisions about how we’re using our prime time of day. Are we using it to tick off the easy things on our to do list, or are we tackling the bigger priorities, the things that require more of our cognitive thinking and need our fresh time of day? If you’re not doing that then what happens is you get to the end of the day you realize you still have deliverables and that’s when you wind up logging in again at night working at night and that leads to a lot of stress and can eventually lead to burnout.

Mari Ryan: Thank you for sharing all of those important points, and I hope the audience take those to heart because it’s the things that will actually keep us sane and energized and productive in all aspects of our lives. If our audience wants to learn more about you and the work you are doing where can they find you?

Faun Zarge: People can reach out to me directly by email at Faun@Zarge.com and they can learn more about the work that I do on my website at Zarge.com.

Mari Ryan: Great. Thanks so much for being here today, Faun. Really appreciate your insights on how to address and understand the impact of burnout.

Faun Zarge: Thank you for having me and thank you for addressing this really important issue.

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, vacation policies, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee engagement, employee well-being, human resources, employee burnout, resilience

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.