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Connection Is Protection From Job Burnout

Monday, December 19, 2016
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Job burnout has become a problem in most organizations. Annual research by the American Psychological Association shows that the majority of Americans are feeling stressed from work or financial pressures. These stressors are draining people’s energy and enthusiasm, and they are acting as a drag on employee engagement, productivity, and overall performance.

Even leading organizations are struggling with job burnout. A 2015 Mayo Clinic survey showed that 40 percent of its physicians reported at least one sign of burnout.

To reduce burnout, the Mayo Clinic has experimented with a variety of solutions. The most recent program is named “COMPASS” (Colleagues Meeting to Promote and Sustain Satisfaction). COMPASS brings self-formed groups of six to eight physicians together for meals every two weeks and provides $20 to each participant to cover the cost of the meal. The terms of COMPASS require participants to begin the time together with a 15-minute discussion on assigned issues related to the physician experience, such as work-life balance, medical mistakes, meaning at work, and resiliency.

After studying a control group of 61 physicians and comparing it with the results of an intervention group of 64 physicians, the study’s authors concluded that study participants experienced statistically significant improvements in multiple domains of well-being and satisfaction. One study author recently shared with me that 1,100 of Mayo Clinic’s 3,700 physicians and staff scientists participate in COMPASS. He said 97 percent of participating respondents have indicated that COMPASS is valuable.

The Primary Cause of Job Burnout

The gold standard job burnout assessment is the 22-question Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) by Stanford University psychology professor Christina Maslach. The MBI surveys three areas: exhaustion, depersonalization, and professional efficacy. According to Dr. Maslach, people often think the demands of their jobs are the primary contributors to burnout. Interestingly, she has found that poor relationships in the workplace—incivility, passive aggressive behavior, and bullying—are often the real culprit.

In other words, people have a misconception when it comes to burnout; they think it’s caused by work demands when more often it’s attributable to a poor state of relationships or what I call a lack of connection. Matthew Lieberman, a social neuroscientist at UCLA, has noticed this blind spot, too, and he refers to it as “our kryptonite.” In his TED Talk, “The Social Brain and Its Superpowers,” Lieberman calls connection a superpower, and says that this lack of appreciation of our social superpowers keeps us from becoming smarter, happier, and more productive (similar to how kryptonite prevented Superman from exercising his superpowers of flight and X-ray vision).

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3 Practices to Protect Yourself

Burnout is often the result of spending too much time on activities that consume energy and insufficient time on activities that energize. Here are three practices that can boost connection and emotional energy to help protect you from burnout.

1. Connect Yourself

Schedule time for self-care. I know one person who literally schedules time in his calendar and guards it as he would an appointment with a client. Self-care will make you emotionally sturdier and more resilient.

At one time in my life, my habit was to run hard until I collapsed, take time to recover—and repeat the cycle. It wasn’t until a client of mine had me complete the Hartman Value Profile that I was even aware of this unhealthy pattern. It was a wake-up call that resulted in changing my attitude and behavior. Today I have several safeguards in place. Each week, I take at least one 24-hour period off from thinking about work and chipping away at my to-do list, and do things that are life-giving and recharge my batteries. I also exercise on a regular basis and spend time on most days for self-reflection (praying and recording entries in the Gratitude 365 app, for example).

2. Connect With Others Outside of Work

America is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness (read excellent articles about it in Slate and The Atlantic). I can relate. When the demands of work and commute crowded out time for family and friends, I began to suffer from loneliness. I didn't feel well, but wasn’t aware that loneliness fueled by stress was behind how I was feeling physically

No one ever told me that people are hardwired for connection and that we don’t function well when our need for connection goes unmet. If you’re not convinced that you need connection to thrive in life, read the “Science of Connection” chapter in Connection Culture, in which I present the scientific evidence. Now I’m intentional about spending time with my wife and going to my men’s Bible study on Saturday mornings. You should be intentional about investing time connecting, too.

3. Connect With Colleagues and Customers

Over the course of my career I have worked in cultures that energized me and cultures that drained my energy. Mind you, I hadn’t changed. I’ve come to see that it was the differences in attitudes and uses of language and behaviors that affected me. Workplace cultures control people, are indifferent to people (because everyone is so busy they don't take time to connect), or connect people. It’s connection cultures that help people thrive, individually and collectively.

To establish and sustain a healthy workplace culture, it’s necessary to have a common vocabulary that defines what culture is, a framework to create a healthy culture, and examples of how others have done it. Rather than trying to assemble this on your own, I recommend taking time to get your team together to read my latest book, Connection Culture. As a companion piece, download free copies of the 28-page 100 Ways to Connect e-book. You and your team can use these practical resources to develop a shared language and approach to team culture and then identify individual and collective actions for implementation.

The bottom line? Connection is protection from burnout. I sincerely hope you will begin connecting and watch what happens. I promise that over time, you will see that connection affects much more than the financial bottom line. As you experience greater levels of productivity, prosperity, and joy that come from having an abundance of connection in your life, you will discover wealth of even greater value.

About the Author
Michael Lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and consulting firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut. He speaks and teaches at a wide variety of organizations, including Foote, Cone & Belding; Google; Johnson & Johnson; MD Anderson Cancer Center; NASA; and Scotiabank. Michael is the primary author of the book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity and the forthcoming book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding . He writes the CEO Advisor column for FoxBusiness.com and is a regular contributor to SmartBrief. Articles about his work have appeared in leadership periodicals worldwide. He is a faculty member of the Institute for Management Studies and Executive Development Partners. Prior to founding E Pluribus Partners, Michael was chief marketing officer for Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab. Earlier in his career, he worked as an executive at Barclays and Texas Instruments. Michael has a BS in marketing from Illinois State University, an MBA from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, and a JD from DePaul University College of Law.
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