Managers: take responsibility for employee burnout
No manager wants a stressed-out team. And while employees have some responsibility to monitor their stress levels, leaders need to play a critical role in preventing and remedying burnout. Start with curiosity. Ask yourself: What is making my staff so unhealthy? How can I help them flourish? Then, gather data by asking your team what causes them to feel motivated or frustrated. Employees may not have a silver-bullet solution, but they can most certainly tell you what isn’t working, and that is often very helpful data. Then, ask your team what they need. Think about small changes, for example, asking: If we had this much budget and could spend it on X many items in our department, what would be the first priority? Have the team vote anonymously, and then share the data with everyone. Discuss what was prioritised and why, and then start working down the list, performing small pilots and assessing what works. The good news is that burnout is preventable, and these low-risk and inexpensive experiments will give you useful information about what you need to change in your work environment.
(This tip is adapted from “Burnout Is About Your Workplace, Not Your People,” by Jennifer Moss.)
Should you disagree in a job interview?
When you express your honest opinion during an interview, you present yourself as you are, not as who you think the employer wants you to be. But disagreeing with an interviewer isn’t always easy because of the imbalance of power. Navigate the potential downsides by doing a few things before and during the interview. First, research the company. Is the culture one where people are receptive to new ideas? Are the organisation and its founders known for inclusion and open-mindedness, or do they have a slow-moving, legacy mindset? During the meeting, if the interviewer asks a question that gives you pause, resist the urge to answer immediately. Take time to formulate a thoughtful response. And ask for permission to provide a different viewpoint. Say something like: “I see this differently. May I share my perspective with you?” Of course, follow your gut. If you think disagreeing won’t be well received, then bite your tongue. If the interviewer made you uncomfortable — if you felt dismissed or unheard — trust your instincts. When expressing differing opinions isn’t welcomed in an interview, it probably won’t be encouraged once you’re part of the company.
(This tip is adapted from “How to Tactfully Disagree in a Job Interview,” by Caroline Stokes.)
Use curiosity to break a bad habit
Why is breaking a habit so difficult? It’s because habits are made up of three components: a trigger (for example, feeling stressed), a behaviour (browsing the Internet), and a reward (feeling sated). Each time you reinforce the reward, you become more likely to repeat the behaviour. The key to breaking this cycle is to become more aware of the “reward” reinforcing your behaviour. First, figure out your triggers. If the habit is procrastination, for example, pay attention to the circumstances surrounding you when you put things off. Do you have a big project you’re trying to avoid? Do you have too much on your plate? Then, try to identify the behaviours you engage in when you procrastinate. Do you check social media instead of working? Do you take on unimportant tasks instead of what you should be doing? The next step is to clearly link action to outcome. Ask yourself what you get from surfing the internet for pictures of cute puppies. How rewarding is it in the moment, especially when you realise that it isn’t helping you get your work done? Lastly, replace the reward with curiosity. Being curious helps you acknowledge the sensations you’re feeling — boredom, distraction — without acting on them.
(This tip is adapted from “How to Break Up with Your Bad Habits,” by Judson Brewer.)
Move beyond your ego with meditation
Ego can stand in the way of good leadership. When our egos are threatened, we hold on to past decisions for too long, we react defensively to negative feedback, and we get emotional when we need to be rational. Fortunately, mindfulness meditation can serve as an antidote, allowing you to see things more objectively and to form deeper relationships. Commit to meditating for a short time each day. Find a quiet place, sit comfortably on a chair or cushion, and set a timer for anywhere between five and 25 minutes. Then simply start observing your breath. Allow the mind to detach from your thoughts and to experience a sense of openness. Then use what you gain from this practice throughout your workday. You might quiet your mind with a few conscious breaths before you enter a meeting or open your email.
(This tip is adapted from “What Meditation Can Do for Your Leadership,” by Matthias Birk.)
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 20th, 2020