Podcast (EB&Flow)

Build a “Happy List” to Prevent Burnout in the Workplace

April 13, 2022

Burnout is something we’ve all had to deal with in some form, but it’s increasingly being discussed as we address the Great Resignation and the workplace in 2022. Building a “happy list” — work you’re passionate about — helps people be fueled by the work they’re doing.

Kelsey Buell, founder of the Burnout Prevention Project, joins the EB & Flow podcast to talk about what burnout is, how organizations can help their employees prevent burnout and how every person can reignite their passions to live a life they love.

Listeners can email Kelsey to get a copy of her “Top 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout” guide.

“We spend so many hours every week and every year at work, it's really important that you love what you do and that it gives you energy instead of sucking the life out of you.”

– Kelsey Buell, The Burnout Prevention Project

Contact us if you have any questions about the topic of this episode or to inquire about any business challenges you are experiencing.

Show Notes and Resources

The Transcript

Clinton Larson: Hello and welcome to EB & Flow, I'm your host Clinton Larson, and today we are talking about burnout. And joining me to talk about that topic is Kelsey Buell, founder of the Burnout Prevention Project. Welcome to the podcast, Kelsey.

Kelsey Buell: Clinton, thank you so much for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Clinton Larson: And can you give our listeners a little bit more about your background in this area?

Kelsey Buell: Absolutely. So I spent a number of years as a corporate recruiter. And so what happened is in my role, I was interviewing, I mean, somewhere between 20 to 30 people a week. And what I found is as I interviewed more and more people, all of the interviews started to sound the same. There would be this point, probably about 30 minutes into each interview, where a candidate would just kind of lean back and they would say, I'm just really burned out in my job or I'm just not connecting well with my team or my job just really isn't meshing with my true gifts and talents.

And so I kind of got into this groove of having conversations with people every single day about their burnout. And I'm a very positive, high energy person. And so what this led me to is this passion and this desire to help more people love their jobs because I think that we spend so many hours every week and every year at work, it's really important that you love what you do and it gives you energy instead of sucking the life out of you. So that's a little bit more around my background and why burnout is a topic that I'm so passionate about.

Clinton Larson: Which it makes you a perfect person to talk about this today. Because this is something that I feel like we're all hearing more about in organizations right now. Employee burnout. And I'd like to start with just a simple definition of what we mean when we say burnout, like what are we actually describing?

Kelsey Buell: Absolutely. So it's a great thing to touch on because it's important to understand what burnout is and what burnout isn't. And I would say the actual definition of burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. So some of the words I like to use when describing it is feeling depleted or feeling that sense of apathy about what you're doing. But burnout doesn't just happen overnight. Burnout actually happens by prolonged stressors. Now these stressors could be in your personal life or your professional life.

And if someone is experiencing a stressor or something that is giving them stress over too long of a period of time, that is what might lead to burnout. And so, you know, there are many signs and symptoms that you could be experiencing burnout, such as maybe getting to work and just feeling drained the whole day or maybe even having trouble sleeping or having headaches, or even feeling just a sense of emptiness and pulling away from others or just kind of constantly feeling maybe more cynical.

And so there are so many different symptoms, and I also like to share with people that it's important to not think of burnout as an end state. I like to think of it more as a continuum. And what I mean by that is every day we have an opportunity to either do things throughout our day that will help us move away from being burned out or that will cause us to move towards being burned out. And so if we can find ways to avoid prolonged stressors or ways to again continue to not be under pressure every single minute of our day, over time, that can really help us to continue to move away from burnout. So that's all in a nutshell I really describe burnout is just that concept of being depleted, but also not something that happens overnight. It's something that happens when we have just continued stress.

Clinton Larson: You know, some of the things you described there, you know, the feeling drained, the lack of sleep, which I'm feeling very much right now, I have a three year old and a seven month old at home, so that's very much part of my life. But to that point, these are things that, you know, aren't new. So to say in terms of like, you know, the, you know, just the grind of work and things like that. Why is burnout in the spotlight right now? Why is this something that we keep hearing about and it keeps coming up?

Kelsey Buell: Well, it's a great question. I think we're all asking that question. I don't have a perfect answer for you on that. But what I do know is as life has gotten busier and busier and as you know, we've become more, I'll say, giving air quotes connected over things like social media, email, all of the different ways that we can be connected. This overstimulation and this need to constantly be busy has really led us to this culture of feeling like we always need to be on and go, go, go. Otherwise, we are not successful.

And so I think what's actually happened in the last couple of years is there's really again, you've probably heard this term, we're in the middle of what they're calling the Great Resignation, where a lot of people are quitting their jobs and a lot of studies are attributing it to burnout. But what I really think is happening is a lot of people have been on that that pattern of go, go, go. Constantly feeling like they need to be busy, but not necessarily being productive. And people are reevaluating their lives and recognizing that they're not going to deal with it anymore.

And so I think we've hit this peak where all of a sudden everyone is recognizing what they do want for their life and what they don't want for their life. And many people are finding that what they thought they want was which was maybe to climb the ladder. And to have this executive level job and be highly successful in that way is actually maybe not resonating as much because I know that there is a lot of even stuff going on right now with the they're calling it kind of the Gig Phenomenon where people are really looking for more gig type work, where they can work, when they want to work and not work when they don't want to work.

And so there is really we're in the midst of a huge change. There is a documentary and I can actually share this link, Clinton after we're done. But there's a documentary called Work is on Trial. It's about 20 minutes long, and it talks about how employee is now more than ever are recognizing that they're not willing to put up with the stress and the pressure anymore. And so it's really interesting because what we're finding is organizations who were doing a good job with their culture before the pandemic are actually attracting more and more employees where organizations who are maybe doing an average job are not so great job of engaging their employees and creating a good environment, they're actually losing more and more people.

So it's kind of this story of the rich getting richer and the poor are getting poorer when it comes to business and work. And so there's so much again, I kind of just took us down a little rabbit hole here, but there is so much to be said around even just this burnout piece. But I really think that a lot of it is stemming from people just having a lot of time to reflect on what they truly want in life.

Clinton Larson: That's fascinating. And it's something that we've talked about in the podcast here, too, about the Great Resignation and how businesses are adapting to not just, you know, the coming out of the pandemic, but adapting to this new idea of what work is even for their offices and for their people. So maybe let's start with that because I feel like there's two sides of this. There's the organizational side, there's sort of the business leaders side. And then there's also the, you know, the employee side, the personal side of this.

Let's maybe start with the organizational side. If you are if you're one of these businesses that say, you know, like you said, maybe wasn't doing the best job with culture or maybe wasn't, you know, taking, you know, putting a focus on their staff as they probably should have. What are some of the things that they can do to help their employees avoid burnout or deal with the burnout that they have and just make sure that they're building a culture that people want to be a part of?

Kelsey Buell: Absolutely. Well, one of the organizations that I partner with the Predictive Index, they've just put out a document called the 2022 State of Talent Optimization Guide, and they surveyed all of these CEOs and asked them what one of the questions they ask is what was the number one driver of people leaving? And the number one reason why the statistic is one out of five people left their jobs in the last six months. The number one driver is inflexibility. And so inflexibility, referring to work options and work hours.

And so what's really interesting about that, and I've had a conversation with a number of leaders about this is I'm not certain that we know or that most leaders exactly know what to do when it comes to giving their employees flexibility. And I think the only way that leaders can start to figure out what that truly looks like for their employees is by asking them, You know, when you hear flexibility and you think about job flexibility, what does that mean to you would be one way. And another way would be to give multiple options because I think employees really feel a sense of power when they have choices.

So if there are ways to say, Hey, we want to create a flexible work environment for you, would you prefer Option A or would you prefer Option B.? And so what you're doing is you're maintaining control while still giving some options when it comes to flexibility with hours and kind of work style. And I know that there are some organizations that they just truly have to have people at the office. And then there are other organizations that they could all go remote if they wanted to. And so each company and each leader is going to have to take this, this component of flexibility in a different way. But I think it has to start with asking your employees what they need and what they want.

Clinton Larson: Right, and I think that's just I think that's an important message we've been hearing a lot about in terms of just, you know, the hybrid workplace is coming in and then coming out of the pandemic is this idea of like it's a mutual sort of decision at this point now, like we have to sort of talk about this together. And I wanted to talk to about you. You know, you mentioned that, you know, when we're talking about defining burnout, it's this idea of the constant stressors or consistent stressors and you know, that sort of wear you down over time. So what are some of the ways that an organization can identify those stressors that they might not be able to even see that are affecting their employees?

Kelsey Buell: Yeah. Well, one thing I recommend leaders do with each of their employees and then you can do this with a team is to truly do job audits. And I call it a job audit because what that means is you have a conversation with an employee around what are the things that you're doing that they light your fire. They get you excited. You absolutely love doing them. Then how can we get you to continue doing more of what you love? And then you can have the opposite conversation of in a perfect world, if there were one or two things that you could delegate or shift away from your plate, what would those things be? What are those things that you maybe don't enjoy as much?

And sometimes we all have things that we have to do in our jobs that we don't love. So sometimes it's just tough luck you'll have to keep doing those. But if we can help make that a little bit less painful, let us know how. Whereas in other situations, I find that in the leaders and their individuals on their team go through this exercise and then they do it as a team where they talk about kind of what each person loves. And then some of those things that people don't love as much. And what actually ends up happening is things that you love to do, I might not enjoy, but some of the things that you don't enjoy doing, I might love doing.

And so within a team, I have seen teams actually transform who is doing what. Just from a delegation standpoint based solely on strengths and opportunities. So I think a job audit is really important because another thing I didn't mention earlier about burnout that I think is crucial is burnout doesn't necessarily always happen from doing too much. Sometimes burnout happens from doing too much of the wrong things. So what I mean by that is if an employee is going to work every day and they're constantly having to do things that are way outside of their strength zone, they might end up really getting burned out even though they're doing things that maybe they're good at. And I have this conversation with individuals all the time around, their boss saying, Oh my gosh, you are so, so good at Excel spreadsheets. Let's keep having you make Excel spreadsheets and the employee is sitting there like. But like Excel spreadsheets,

Clinton Larson: That's like my worst nightmare right there, for sure.

Kelsey Buell: Yes. Mine too. So anyways, again, that's very into a rabbit hole, a little bit there. But I just think that's the first thing that comes to mind, Clinton is just really auditing what is everyone doing? How can we make sure that people are continuing to grow, stretch and do more of what they love? And if we can offload some of those things that maybe aren't in their strong suits, that's going to help retain my talent and keep them around longer.

Clinton Larson: That's great. That's really interesting. And I think it's a great way for organizations to approach, you know, a complicated topic like this is just, you know, going directly to their staff and saying, OK, you know, like you said, what are the things you love or are things you don't.

In terms of the staff themselves, you know, if you're experiencing burnout, you know, okay, well, let me start with maybe. If you're an employee at an organization and they come to you with questions like this. You know, if you're experiencing burnout, you might not have a good idea of where you're at anymore. So like if on a personal level, if you're experiencing burnout, if you know and you're having these conversations, what are some of the ways that you can sort of refocus what you want out of your career and refocus what, what drives you and what maybe your passions are?

Kelsey Buell: Yeah, well, one of the first ones in this actually might weave both the employer side with the employee side together a little bit. But one of the things that was also in that report I mentioned was that leaders are having more conversations with their employees around purpose. And so I think from an employee standpoint, understanding what is your why? Like, why are you showing up every day? Because oftentimes we start a job with a certain why, and as time goes on, our why might change.

And so, you know, for me, I might just be going to work and working because I want to support my family. So my family really drives my purpose and that's why I work. Whereas other people might go to work and just really be passionate about the mission and vision of their company. And that could potentially fade over time. But I think that purpose side is really, really important to make sure that people are connected with a strong why.

And then another thing I would say is just having people on your team that you know, you can ask for help. As humans, we're all really, really bad at asking for help, but I think really constantly encouraging employees it's OK to ask for help. And also continuing to train them that if someone else does your task to maybe 80 or 90 percent of the level that you would typically do it at, is that still better than you doing it on your own.

And so training people that when they delegate, they're letting go of perfectionism a little bit. But the value in giving someone else an opportunity to take on a task is so, so fantastic. So I guess those are two things that come to mind right off the top of my head is making sure the employees are connecting to their purpose and why are they coming to work? And then second, really creating an environment that allows people to ask for help.

Clinton Larson: Wonderful and in terms of that purpose, you know, what are some of the ways that people can, you know, because I think about people who maybe are in a spot where they're just like, you know, if they have these constant stressors, if they are feeling this burnout, they might be like you said they may have they maybe they were at work and they did their job because they had a purpose when they started. And now maybe that's gone and they're maybe they're just punching a clock at this point. So what are some of the ways that people can? What are some of the questions people can ask themselves? What are some of the evaluations they can have in their life and in their career to redefine that purpose?

Kelsey Buell: That's a great question, and I don't have a silver bullet answer, but some of the questions that I recommend asking is one is if you could do anything for free, what would it be? Because when you start thinking about that, like sometimes people realize, Oh, I just love mentoring other people and pouring into someone else. And so cool if that's something that you're so passionate about, are there additional ways that we could give you that type of leadership opportunity within the team or an opportunity to mentor someone else? Or what did you want to be when you grew up?

For me, I wanted to be a I wanted to be a movie star or a singer. I like to sing and I'm not a movie star or a professional singer now, but one of the things that that entails is being in front of people. And so oftentimes in my job, I channel that passion through podcast interviews or speaking engagements that still give me similar energy. And so I think it's just about starting to ask yourself, like, what was my dream as a child? What do I love to do so much that I would do it for free?

And then, you know, really, I say, why don't you create a happy list? Just create a list of all of the things that give you joy and think about are there any of these things that I can incorporate into my work? Or if not, how can I use my work as a means to get to my dream? Like, for example, I know someone his dream is to own this big farm and really do kind of decorate and make this farmhouse like his dream home that he lives in eventually. And so he does a lot of like revenue generating things on the side, and he puts all of that money into a budget for when he can go and live on this farm and really fix up this home. And so he has a lot of passion around what he's doing for work because he knows that he's seeing it as a means to get to where he wants to go in life.

So I think I think the tables have really turned where a lot of us are earning a living so that we can live the life we love. And if employers can support that. I think, you know, I think of a company that I know who they have a dream manager and their company has nothing to do with writing books, but one of the employees their dream is to write a book. And so the company is coaching and encouraging this employee to figure out how to write a book. So I think there's lots of ways that organizations can still encourage and invest in their people from a personal standpoint as well, so that then they will, in return, be happier at work.

Clinton Larson: Happy lists and dream managers. I love it.

Kelsey Buell: Yes. Happy lists and dream managers.

Clinton Larson: Yeah, I guess I got a new dream job myself now. But in terms of, you know, in terms of the idea of these constant stressors and the unknown burnout and you know, these are great tips on terms of how to deal with burnout if you're experiencing right now. Are there also ways that you can prevent burnout? Is there ways that you can sort of identify these constant stressors before they maybe become constant stressors and take precautions in order to just, you know, to not have to deal with, you know, the other side of burnout?

Kelsey Buell: Absolutely. Well, I think from an identifying it standpoint, I always start with talking about you have a crazy person that lives in your attic. I like to joke. So for you, it's probably a crazy man. And for me, it's a crazy woman who lives in my attic and so she always is comparing me to so who I really am in comparison to the pressures that I think I should live up to in this world. And so I think a lot of the time, the first step is to check in with yourself and to make sure that inside your own head, you're not lying to yourself about things. Because, for example, I always have this pressure of being the perfect friend and the perfect sister and the perfect wife and the most successful business person. And so I have to be everything to everyone. And if one of those things is falling short, like if my sister sends me a text messages at nine a.m. in the morning and it's four p.m. and I still haven't gotten back to her that stress and that pressure of not having gotten back to her that my crazy woman in my attic tells me, you're a bad sister because you're not getting back to her in time.

And so a lot of times the voice inside our head is actually lying to us about things that we think are negative. And then, you know, for example, after this podcast, I might even get off this call and think of all these things I should have said or should have said differently or, oh, I shouldn't have messed up there. And so we often really our mindset in itself can really be a hindrance on creating stress.

And then the second thing that I always go to is making sure that you know what your definition of success is. And so, for example, I always tell the story of I, my wedding dress for my wedding never showed up. So it was about two weeks before my wedding and I had pictured myself walking down the aisle in this dress. I had pictured what the photos would look like in this dress. I had pictured what it would feel like kissing my husband for the first time in this dress and my entire vision of my wedding day, I equated success to being in this one particular dress. Now, long story longer, I ended up getting a different dress that was more beautiful and about 10 percent of the cost of the original dress. And it turned out to be this wonderful day, and all that mattered was being with my friends and family. But my initial definition of success was skewed.

And so I think a lot of times we get caught up in one definition of success that isn't true to our reality. And so just making sure that you, you really are constantly evaluating what does success look like in this situation is really important. So the mindset thing is important. Tame that crazy person in your attic who's often lying to you.

And then the second thing is redefining what success looks like to make sure it's not about lowering your standards, but it's more about just making sure that you're not setting an unrealistic bar for yourself that doesn't actually matter.

Clinton Larson: This makes me think a lot about what business leaders are going through when they are, you know, putting these sort of demands on themselves, you know, and because, like you said, a lot of business owners, they want to kind of do it all. They want to be successful and they know what they need to devote themselves, you know, oftentimes wholly to that pursuit.

You know, so when you are a business leader who is, you know, not only thinking about that for yourself and your own drive, but also trying to manage employees, how do you make sure that you don't, you know, how do you make sure you set an example that is healthy and that, you know, is pointed in the direction that you want the company to go, but also not, you know, unknowingly adding more stress to your employees in terms of this drive to be, you know, the ultimate employee or the best business?

Kelsey Buell: You know, this makes me think of actually a podcast interview that we did on our podcast, I can't remember what episode it was, but it was one of our first very first episodes we interviewed. His name is Mike Zani. He is the CEO of the Predictive Index, which was that company I mentioned earlier that released that report. But he talked about what's on the back of your T-shirt. And this concept of we walk around the office and we know in general what people think of us and kind of our reputation and how people are feeling. But it's really important to be open enough to understand like what do people say when you're not in the room? What are those things that are on the back of your T-shirt that you might not know about yourself?

And so I think as a leader, it's crucial to be constantly understanding who you are and how you impact others, because some leaders are very self-aware, whereas other leaders don't realize that their determination and drive for success is actually driving their team into the ground. It's so easy for leaders to have such a tunnel vision and focus on the goal, that they forget to take care of their people. And at the end of the day, if your people are taken care of, they will take care of you and the business. And if you have happy employees, you'll have happy customers.

Clinton Larson: Right and happy customers and happy employees, that is always the goal of any business, I would say, you know, the big picture that is always the goal. So and you mentioned before that you're not a singer, but you do host a podcast. You do get to talk to people that way and your podcast is called Work Redefined. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, you know, in case people want to, you know, dove even deeper into this topic?

Kelsey Buell: Absolutely, yes. So I'm thinking based on the demographic of this audience, people listening in right now would really love our Season One of our Work Redefined podcast. Myself and another individual named Grace Lange we started it we were interviewing business leaders on just the new world of work that we live in and how things have really changed and shifted. And so any business leaders looking to grow, this is a great podcast.

We're now in the midst of our second season, which is more geared towards women in the workplace and balancing all of the things. And so any female leaders, you would probably really appreciate our second season as well. And men can listen in too. I just know that a lot of our interviews now this second season are geared towards women. So that's a great way to get connected.

Also, you can find me on LinkedIn, Kelsey Buell. B U E L L is how you spell my last name. I would say LinkedIn is probably the best way to get in touch with me. And then based on our conversation today, I also would love to offer a complimentary Top 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout Guide that people can access by sending me an email. So Clinton, I'm hoping we can maybe include my email in the show notes. If that works for you. Awesome.

Clinton Larson: Yep and I'm sure there's lots of great information in there based on just our topic today and everything you've been working on throughout this burnout prevention project. So really appreciate you being on the podcast today, Kelsey, this has been an awesome show.

Kelsey Buell: Thank you so much for having me. I've really enjoyed the time.