The WealthAbility Show #128: Is burnout a problem in your workplace? Are your colleagues feeling the effects of a post-pandemic work environment? In this episode, Jennifer Moss joins Tom to discuss how the pandemic accelerated burnout in the workplace, and how the burnout epidemic is not an individual issue but an organizational issue.
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Book: The Burnout Epidemic
00:00 – Intro
02:28 – The Root Causes of Burnout
05:10 – How Lack of Control Contributes to Burnout
06:56 – Remote Workforce vs. In-Person Workforce
08:00 – Has Remote Work Played into Burnout?
11:00 – Four Things Employers Should Think About
15:02 – What Can Managers Do to Give Back Control?
17:09 – Regaining Self-Determination, Inspiration, and the Vision
21:10 – Bringing Back the Spark by Giving More Control
24:06 – How Managers and Employers Can Let Go of Control
26:26 – Failing Forward vs. “The Culture of Try”
This is The WealthAbility® Show with Tom Wheelwright. Way more money, way less taxes.
Welcome to the WealthAbility Show, where we're always discovering how to make way more money and way less tax. So one of the issues going on in the workforce right now since the pandemic really is burnout in the workplace, quiet, quitting, all of these things that affect the productivity of our employees and our team members. And so how do you actually do something about it? How do you help your employees? How do you help yourself, make sure you're not burning out? How do you help your employees? What can we do to build a better organization and do those things? And those are things we're going to learn today. So stay tuned. I think this is a really important podcast. We have an expert, Jennifer Moss, on here who is one of the world renowned experts on handling burnout and handling it particularly from an organizational standpoint. So Jennifer, thank you so much for being with us. And would you give a little of your background and why you're talking about this?
Yeah. I started in this space around workplace culture and wellbeing, I don't know, quite a while ago, maybe 15 years ago, and started to look at psychological fitness and happiness at work, and came to understand that that's helpful if we are in a place of optimization, if we're feeling good already, we're neutral, we're open to being more optimized, more self-care, more, again, psychological fitness, and focusing on social, emotional intelligence, all those things I was really, really geared up to try to bring to workplaces.
And then suddenly I realized all of that is ice cream for people that need water. I mean, when you are really stressed out and you're dealing with chronic stresses, and the root causes of burnout are things that you can't control, then we need to tackle that first before all of this sort of wellbeing perk. And these tactics are not helping. So we need to actually make them help by working in that first phase a little bit earlier. And that sort of brought me to where I am now, where I joke I was the happiness expert, now I'm the unhappiness expert, but it's all part of the overall goal, I think.
That's awesome. That's awesome. Okay, so we'll go to that. So you talk about root cause. So what do you see as the root cause of what's going on? Because this is, like we were talking before, earlier, this quiet quitting, which to me is a form of burnout, right? It's just response. It's like, I'm not engaged anymore, so I'm going to do the least amount possible while keeping my job, because I still need the paycheck, but I don't really want to do what I'm doing and I'm not really motivated to get a different job because there I might actually have to work. And so what's the root cause here? What are you seeing?
I think you've articulated it perfectly. I mean, we are sort of blaming the individual for quiet quitting, like that they're just some bad actor that doesn't want to show up to work or they're being lazy. And yet when you look at the data, the workforce is extremely burned out. They're so exhausted. This has been an unsustainable environment for them to work in. The fact that we're working 30% more to hit those same pre-pandemic goals, but then we're still in growth mode. Innovate or die sort of mentality hasn't left the building, even though we are working at a pace that we can't work at. We haven't had time to recover.
So really when you look at the root cause of burnout, the leading cause of burnout already, and this was defined in 2019 when the World Health Organization actually identified burnout as an occupational phenomena and added it to their international classification of diseases… So that happened and there's six root causes, but overwork is always the leading cause. And so it makes sense that after having unsustainable workloads, people are saying, “I'm burned out. I need to remove some sort of… Or create some sort of boundary so that I can remove this pressure to continue to be working at this pace that I just can't actually survive at this pace anymore.” And so it just becomes a tool in the toolbox that employees are using to prevent their own kind of hitting the wall.
Interesting. So I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day that was about the goal should not be doing more. It should be for employees actually doing less. And one of my questions I have there is how much of this… So I got so many questions, but first one is, how much of this do you think is a feeling of lack of control over situations? Because we know people that get depressed, and particularly those that go to the step of thinking about taking their lives, they feel completely out of control. There is no other option. So that clearly is feeling a lack of control. How does lack of control fit into the whole burnout discussion?
Well, I mean, you have obviously been well-read in the literature and research around burnout because lack of agency is actually another one of the root causes of burnout. And that lack of agency skyrocketed inside of the pandemic because all of a sudden for managers, for example, who are really chronically stressed and burnout, they're the ones sandwiched between objectives and also their team. They're in that role where they have no choice. They just have to keep pushing their team even if they don't want to. And we also see that they used to have, especially Gen Xers, that group, who tend to be also middle management, used to have management by walking around, just bumping into someone and being able to talk to them. And that's completely gone. So they're feeling like they have no kind of control over the way that they used to lead.
And then employees themselves, they're in vertical learning curves. All of a sudden they have to learn technology and maybe the organization has not really been brought up to speed to have a remote environment. Look at teachers, for example, just all of a sudden had to learn these new skills that they weren't prepared for. They didn't feel effective. And being asked to answer emails, even, at 11:00 at night with the expectation of having something back to your boss by 8:00 that next morning, all of this feels like there's no control and the hours just keep moving and we're not seeing rewards or recognition for that effort. And then now people just say, okay, I'm going to just get some control back, and get some agency back, and I'm going to start quietly quitting, or I'm going to quit entirely.
So you brought something up which is real hotspot for the employer side of this, and that is this remote workforce versus in-person workforce. And you hit on something that it's easier to manage by walking. It is so much easier to manage when you're in an office than when you're remote. I mean, you have to be so intentional. We had this summer, and I had my partner in my CPA firm who typically runs the show was out on maternity leave. And so I'm thrown into running the show, and I run the show differently than she does.
I'm very much about holding people accountable and then letting them do their job. And so I found that we had to be much more intentional about reporting. We had much more intention about communication and so forth. And to me, if I were a manager, which I would hate being a manager. I'm terrible at that. I would hate the remote. I personally would hate working remote as a manager, as a people manager. How much is that whole remote workforce and this desire, they say, well, we don't want to come back to the office, but which is really a convenience thing I think more than anything. How much do you think the remote work actually has played into the burnout?
Extraordinarily high impact on the connectedness, on the ability to lead, on morale, on culture, is this strange way that we're doing RTO, like, remote work. The problem isn't necessarily that people are working remote. The problem is that we have the wrong idea of what the post-pandemic office experience looks like. And so we think that hybrid is some sort of formula that's been defined now as two days in and three days out, whatever that looks like. The thing is that hybrid is whatever we make of that. Hybrid means a mix of different ways of working and different modes and different spaces. And so we need to reimagine what the office of the future looks like. And that means, okay, maybe in some organizations that I've spoken to, OpenText is an example of this in some of their teams that can be working remote, instead they have them come in once a quarter for, say, four or five days to have really good bonding and connection, and then they go off and work on projects that can be individually led.
And then it's more about creating what works for a certain team. One call center had people come in when they were onboarded. They would do a one-month straight of just collaborating, working together, learning from each other, doing the work together., And then going off again, and then updating their collaboration every single quarter once a year. And then some people do come into the office and they're looking at this differently, where they come in and it's about work sprints. It's about team building when they're there. It's less about coming into the office just to be on Zoom again for the whole day, where they are commuting now to come into work and they're feeling angry about that, and they're still just as isolated.
So I think we need to look at this as what is work in person? How is it different because of the pandemic? How is it different because now employees have a frame of reference and they like the flexibility? Can it be core hours? I mean there's a million different solutions, but right now we're sort of focused on just jamming the toothpaste back in the tube and people are saying, “That's not what I want.” And the reporting piece, we're just making people work in their pajamas. They're in these pajama hours that we're creating by having more reporting, more one-on-ones for managers because they have to see individuals for these periods of time. All of this is just not really working. It's a failed experiment. What I suggest is let's figure out a new path around this whole idea of the remote work strategy.
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All right, so I'm going to challenge you on this one. Okay, so give us three, four things that the owners, particularly the employers, should be looking at when they contemplate this return to work, when they contemplate this, whether it's some people working away, some people in, when are they in. What should we be looking at?
I think we also need to separate different groups. Some people just… I mean, we're not going to tell teachers that they're able to have this kind of work remote or-
… certain individuals, certain sectors don't have that capacity. But most knowledge-base companies, where you could be in person and you could be remote, that's where you start to think of which groups need to be in person and when, and then when they're remote. But I think the goal is that this idea of so much flexibility, where people can choose when they come into work when they're working, I actually don't think that that's the best strategy. I think we need to say you're coming in at the same time, for a certain amount of time per week. We leave our meetings that are collaborative meetings to those days where we actually can see each other in person instead of having meetings that are virtual meetings.
They're not working. People are tired. They're exhausted from being online. So make that the time that we are connecting. Make it so that if people do want to have the ability to have their own individual work done, that there is space for that. There are offices where people can go into, but there's a lot more shared space. Make it so that there's core hours. You don't need to be there in that heavy commute time. Think about having people come in from that 10 to four. They can work at home until they come in where we can be together. Why force someone into this time, these box times where everyone's on the road? I mean, that's not healthy. And then start thinking about using outdoor space more. I keep saying, we're inside of these spaces so much in our home.
Hewlett-Packard is a great example, where they've built so many more meeting spaces to be used in their outdoor environment. I guess, in Minnesota in February, that's not going to necessarily be great, but we can create more environments where we're meeting outside, where we're connecting outside, where we're doing walk-and-talks instead of sitting. I mean, there's so many different ways that we can be thinking about how to use the office differently. Also, Hewlett-Packard is sending people home with food. Instead of having chefs on site where it's not life onsite on campus, instead of having chefs there, they have these takeaway kits for them to either make with their family, or cook for their family. I mean, these are kind of neat ways of thinking of how we've changed. Let's meet people where they're at now after facing our mortality for the last two and a half years.
That's a lot to unpack there. That's a lot to unpack. Okay, so return a little bit about this idea of control, okay, because I kind of hear this as one of the fundamental things. I'll give you an example. So my personal assistant, who's amazing, and she's been with me for many, many, many years, she came to me five years ago, she says, “I'm thinking about looking for another job.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, I'm like on call 24 hours a day.” And I said, “Well, what if we change that? What if we said, look, during business hours, you're available. During non-business hours, if I have something that just comes on my mind, but I don't need urgency, I'll just send an email and please do not be looking at email during off business hours. But if I really do have something urgent, I'm in Kazakhstan and I've got a problem and it's two in the morning, I really do need help, I'm going to text.”
And that actually solved it for us. So now she felt like, okay, I'm in control of my life outside of the eight to five hours or my regular workday. I just have to get my work done during that time. And then the rest of the time, yes, I'm on call, but I'm not going to be on call very often. So what are some things like that that people can do, and especially managers and employers can do, so that they give their people more control and that people don't feel like they have to be working all the time?
Well, I think just what you're doing right now is modeling the behavior. I would even say go one step further and use the send later. And not just even the email because you feel cortisol going through your body these days when you hear pings and alerts. And unless you've turned off your phone, sending later then just means, okay, she'll get it the next morning. She won't even get it. So she'll get a bunch of emails maybe the next morning. But that helps you to be able to then remove the sense that… Because she's still having to monitor her phone because you could be texting her, but those pings. I really ask for people to set bedtime apps, use out of office every day, set the out of office reminder to go on at six, saying I can get back to you within work hours. I'm off between these hours if you need to create those conditions.
But leaders, and what you're doing, you're modeling the behavior, that is so critical because employees can't be what they can't see. If everyone is doing it and leaders are saying, “It's okay. I can do this, but I don't want you to do this thing. I'm not going to care about attending meetings or answering emails on vacation, but don't worry, I really want you to feel like you can.” There's no way that employees don't feel those invisible pressures. So leaders really have to walk the talk. They have to do it. And that is so hard for people like us, really busy, high performing. We enjoy our work so much, it gives us so much passion that it's what we want to do all the time, but not everyone feels that way. So it has to be that we're thinking, okay, we're going to do this to create the conditions that other people can then feel like they are allowed to take that time away and have agency and have autonomy.
Got it. So let's talk about that control during those business hours then. So does that play into it, that people feel like I'm doing stuff I don't care about, I'm doing stuff that isn't meaningful to me. How do we give employees, and I've got my ideas, but what do you think we should be doing for employees to give them more of a sense of self-determination, basically, in what they're doing and what they're trying to accomplish to further the mission of the company?
I love what you're saying because intrinsic motivation is the one most important, I think, skill that needs to be developed. And it's the hardest thing to have control over. I mean, it's essentially, I mean, it's not extrinsic, it's intrinsic. We need to be believing in this ourselves before we're motivated to actually achieve the goals and align with the mission. And one of the things that happens when we're burned out is we start to feel emotional distance from our work. We feel a lack of efficacy. We feel even like we're not good at our jobs anymore. So that plays a role because we're thinking we're not even good at this, so why bother? And that is where we need to first, I guess, get at the root. Address burnout. How are we managing workload? Are people feeling that there's a fairness? Do they feel some agency?
So managing those things kind of right upstream, we need to be managing that. But then secondly, it's about giving people that autonomy to come to their drivers. What makes them passionate? What makes them feel good about their job? Reinspiring that part of them that made them want to do this job in the first place, or went to school to study to be in this career. What is that thing that gives them that spark? And start to slowly build that back up. Having inspiration meetings help. And that sounds sort of like a kind of trite, but really, it's about getting people together and talking about what inhibits their motivation, what is holding them back from feeling inspired, and sharing stories about how they're jobs actually impact other people, from stapling a document that says here we're giving you the keys and the ownership of a brand new home for first time home buyers.
And you think, I don't have that role to play. Or being on the line of a factory and not realizing that little things that you do are helping to build wheelchairs that give people mobility. I mean, we need to get to the big goal of how we impact our communities, how we impact the people around us, and then understanding that we play a role in that. We've lost sight of what we are doing to participate in our communities within our groups right now, within society. We're feeling really kind of low right now and feeling like what we're doing isn't making any difference. We need to build that back up, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get there.
Yeah, I agree. It's interesting to me. I was just having this conversation. I was on somebody else's podcast and we were talking about this idea of making money and doing good being mutually exclusive, because I don't think they are. I actually think making money is a byproduct of doing good. I've never seen money as the driver. It's never been my driver. And it is for some people. It's not for me. But the mission is, and the money is a byproduct of serving more people, is what it is. So one of the things I wonder about control, though, is one of the things I'm proud of is I probably launched 100 CPA firms because I have people that they come and I give them so much control that then they go, well, I can go do this on my own. And so they leave, and they go and do it on their own.
And literally, I'll bet over the last 25 years, I've launched 100 CPA firms that way. And I'm proud of that. I think that's good, although I think a lot of my CPA owner friends would go, well, wait a minute, you keep losing people. I'm going, what I'm doing is I'm letting them go off and do higher and better use than being an employee. So what do you think about the idea of giving people more control over how they do their job? They've got a job to do and they need to know what the job is, but how do you give them more control and how does that impact burnout?
I love that that is your mission and that is your goal. It's kind of like, as a parent, I have three kids. My goal is to make it so that they can be independent people and not have to ask me to take care of them, and that they're going to be flourishing in their lives. The only way you do that is to kind of set them free, to be able to figure out what is the thing that makes them spark. What is exciting to me? How do I connect to this goal differently than maybe I would? And so that intrinsic motivation plays really well into this way of thinking around the people that we're leading. And a lot of that is not focusing on process as much as it is, okay, here are our goals. You can get there any way you want. I mean, we're all running this sort of marathon here right now.
And who cares if you're kind of sprinting over the finish line, or crossing the finish line because you're walking? It's just about the goal, and we feel just as satisfied making it to that finish line in any capacity that we can get there. But what's happening is we're getting stuck as leaders and managers in the minutia, in the day-to-day operations, in the process of how you're doing it, and think our process is better than their process. And you can't connect to the goal if you're being told all the way through how to do it. You don't feel as connected. And so it's around job crafting, giving people this ability to change the way that they think about the goal, what their five-year strategy is, what is this going to do for them, and what they see this job as is could be totally different than someone else on the same team.
So figuring out what makes people tick and what their final goal is, and working towards that all in different ways, but inevitably, getting to that same mission. It's harder for leaders and managers to manage that way because it's nuanced, it's personalized, and it takes a lot of active listening and figuring out what makes people spark. But in the long run, it's actually more effective and efficient because you just have to do more front-end work of getting to know people better and then they will actually work harder, faster, be more productive, be more engaged, more likely to stay if you do that front end work. So then that kind of gives you that bandwidth to be more creative and get that time back as a leader and a manager that actually, if you don't get, you burn out, too, because micromanaging and managing process is one of the leading causes of burnout for middle managers.
Interesting. So my final question for you is how do you get comfortable giving up that control of that micromanagement? Because I think that's really hard for people. I see it in some of my managers. It's easy for me because I don't want to do it anyway. So I'm just lazy, and so I'm going, I just want you to do it and that it's okay to fail. So it's okay for me if you fall on your face because that's how a one-year-old learns how to walk. Three-year-olds learn how to speak, two, three-year-olds learn how to speak because we can't understand them, but they're just trying and they keep making mistakes. Human nature says that the more mistakes I make, the more progress I make. So how do managers and employers, how do we get out of that mindset that we need to control? Because actually, I find a lot of freedom in not controlling and letting them do their job. So how do you get there? How do you get people there?
I love that you're saying that because managers, what I keep hearing anecdotally and just through our research, is that they feel like because it's on their shoulders to show these metrics or these goals of accountability, they don't want to risk other people within their management making those mistakes. So then they are on the hook. And that is something that we need to be thinking about because you hear this all the time.
Cover your ass is something that's been around for a really long time. And a lot of that is because people are feeling like they're responsible for failures. And even though they want to give that kind of leeway to their team, then they're worried about the repercussions of that. So it has to be culturally where we all say, okay, here is how we're going to be flexible within your objectives, and being transparent and open, saying there's some people on my team that just need to have the ability to try and fail, and I want to give them that space. So that might mean that this is going to be what happens within this project, and I need to make sure that I create space around that, time.
Do I have to hit a goal by a certain amount of time? Well, can we have some space in there to have some trial and error? And that is how we have to do it. Again, I always talk about burnout as a ecosystem problem to solve, but it's the same way with anything within culture. Things can't just happen at one layer. It needs to be that every layer is putting in the space for people to have what I call as a culture of try, because I don't like that term failing forward. It's about a culture of try, and you can't have a culture of try, which is essentially innovation and innovative thinking, if you don't give people the ability to fall, and that means everyone is protected in that culture of try.
Yeah. One of our core values is break it.
Break it. I love that idea.
I want people to break… I want things to break because they only get better if we break it.
And that's kind of who we are. We're trying to break an entire profession. So I love what you're doing. If we want more information on this, where would we go to find more from you, Jennifer?
Well, just to the website. There's a bunch of other stuff on there, blogs and articles and stuff. But it's jennifer-moss.com.
Excellent. Jennifer-moss.com. It was great being with you and-
… thank you so much. Just remember, everyone, that we're building a business, whether building a real estate investing business, whether we're building an online business, whatever kind of business we're building, we do have to recognize that the more our employees feel like they have control over their life, the more that we can let them be successful, we're going to make way more money. And in the end, we're going to make way more money, pay way less tax. Everything works well. Thanks, everybody. Thank you, Jennifer. We'll see you all next time.
You've been listening to the WealthAbility Show with Tom Wheelwright. Way more money. Way less taxes. To learn more, go to wealthability.com.