Self Care Sunday – Burnout and Boundaries

Burnout quoteHave you ever experienced professional burn out? I experienced it in the Fall of 2017. It crept up over time as coworkes and leadership kept crossing my boundaries. I was over-tasked while others were under tasked. I started calling out sick more. I started having health issues and ended up taking almost two weeks off from work too. I eventually made the decision that I needed a full completed stop. I needed a break from the Organization I was working in and I took a one-year temporary assignment to give myself some distance. But it wasn’t the first time I burned out. It’s happened numerous times in my past. I seem to go 100mph. I don’t often see the wall before crashing into it.

Crashing into a wall meme

Here’a little background information on me… I have a wide skill set. I am high performer and a high energy girl. When I am performing optimally, I am a dynamo.  I’m not boasting; just stating facts.  I can take a lot on. I can get a lot done but I also had no boundaries in the past.  Whatever I was asked to do, I did. I often did more than I was asked to do. I did more than anyone was asked to do. The problem with operating like this in the workplace is that you condition managers and colleagues to expect this level of performance from you all the time. It’s hard to break that pattern once you established it and made it your norm.

I recall a few years ago, I had a boss who would often remind me when something wasn’t mine to worry about. He would caution me to stay in my lane.  But I continued to take on too much and worry about things that really weren’t mine to worry about.  He saw what I could not see myself. He often told me to knock it off even though his subordinates were encouraging it. When he was promoted, I lost that external checkpoint and I also did not know how to do it for myself at that time.

Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I wanted to be a superstar. Maybe I got some sort of validation and approval in being a super woman. Perhaps my ego got a trophy by being a superstar employee who could do anything – all while risking my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Maybe I was a martyr or perhaps felt I was important and indispensable. My self-awareness back then wasn’t evolved to the point that I understood my motives for that behavior.

Self awareness quote

After spending a year studying to be a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, I can now see the danger of my habit. It’s taken some self-awareness to see this in myself and commit to changing it for my long term wellness. I finally learned how to set boundaries and take care of myself. I finally learned to set limits on how much I am willing to give. But let’s remember – boundaries are meaningless unless you enforce them.

I started a new job on April 1st in the same group that burned me out in the past. It was hard choice to return there. But ultimately I knew I changed. I am not the same employee who left 15 months ago. I now know how to take care of myself. Trust me, there’s lots opportunity for me to go above and beyond on this high profile yet struggling team. Just the perfect situation for me to drive 100mph into the wall 😂😂 The only difference now is – I see the danger this time. I see the wall this time. I know the danger of being everyone’s “go to” for everything. It’s not happening this time around! Nope! Not again! Earlier this week I caught myself dropping into my old habit and I stopped myself. I reminded myself to “STAY IN MY LANE”. I logically brought myself back to center and remembered the task wasn’t my responsibility. So I did what I could do to help and then backed off. If it dropped, it dropped. “Let it happen” was in my head. Yes, this time around – it was clear to all involved – I am staying in my lane and everyone will need to adjust. I will need to check-in with myself on a daily basis to ensure I am enforcing my boundaries. In the three weeks I’ve been back, six people have said the same thing to me, “That team needs someone like you!” 😂 I take that as a compliment but it is also my challenge to be sure I exercise self care and maintain my boundaries.

Boundaries

On Thursday, I had a long conversation with a frustrated team member who was considering other options. My observation was he’s close to burnout so I offered to listen to him. Once I popped the top off, he really opened up. He told me his daughter was born a year ago. He was working from the hospital room 10 minutes after she was born. Well, you know I pulled on that thread. I asked him, “Why did you feel you needed to do that? Knowing your managers I do not think they would have expected that of you. So, what’s your why?” Well, the conversation went on for over an hour. By the end of it, I found out he really doesn’t want to leave but he is getting drained. He feels the bar is higher for him, also a high performer, than it is for other employees. He wants a performance plan that has a path to career progression instead of him being stuck in a position as a “go to” just because he’s good at it. When will folks realize smart people are good at many types of work but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it 😉 Wow, talking to him was like talking to myself 😂 We are very much a like😂 By the end of the meeting my new teammate and I decided to have regular check-in meetings with each other. We are more or less going to be accountability partners to ensure we are both staying in our lanes and not taking on too much. I never told him that I am certified coach. Maybe I should start coaching the whole team – Um, stay in your lane, Linda!😂

My coworker did share with me that he felt UNDERVALUED by managers. He was supposed to meet with three managers to discuss his concerns and only one showed up. (That has since been corrected; He’s had conversations this week). He’s had four bosses in two years because of the managerial shuffles; it doesn’t give him confidence in the strategic planning abilities of leadership. I said, “I bet it doesn’t” 😂 This group of managers especially are really good at talking without ever following up with action. #TRUTH! I especially don’t resonate with the energy around the senior management team. I like and respect my team’s senior manager and our front line manager but I am going to keep my distance from the larger group as much as possible. I am staying in my lane! I will only interact with them, when required.

Listening

Here’s my observation about leadership… Human Relations events, ice cream socials and award ceremonies, are just perceived as photo-ops for management unless they are followed up with real authentic conversations with employees. Managers haven’t realized giving an employee 30 minutes of their time and listening attentively is just as important as any management meeting. Employees are stakeholders too! Stakeholder Engagement should include having real authentic conversations with employees; not just posing in fake (staged) photo-ops with them. I can’t seem to get the point across to them that authentic listening is a learned skills that managers should cultivate if they want to truly connect with their employees. Genuinely caring and showing you value the employee as a person is leading from the heart…People resonant with authenticity.

Lead from the heart

Three weeks into a new job on a high profile yet struggling team and so far I like it. I am enjoying the work. All in all this is a good opportunity for me. I can really do some good on this team but, yes, I do still have another offer hanging out there indefinitely. All I have to do it make a phone call. As of right now, I am not pursuing it. It’s still nice to know I have an exit ramp if I need it 😉 😂As I am observing how this team interacts, I am seeing strategic opportunities to improve processes and communications on the team. But honestly, one of the biggest problems the team has is internal communications between team members with different styles and personalities. One key employee has a communication style and responsive issue that is challenging for the rest of the team. However, I am keeping that observation to myself for now. I don’t need to put anyone under the bus in my first month 😂 I think they need more strategic team building exercises and “coaching” along with technical telecoms…Like start a telcon with “Tell me the biggest challenge you are having on this task? What’s keeping you up this week? Can I help?”

ACTION – Reflect on boundaries and leading from the heart 💙

Boundaries are an essential tool in managing holistic wellness. Learning how to set them and enforce them is a skill that will make you strong and resilient. Folks who were used to taking advantage of you, might get pissed off at first. They will adjust. What boundaries have you set for yourself personally and professionally? Have you been enforcing them?

If you are a leader, can you choose to lead from your heart? Perhaps consider starting your next telecom with heartfelt questions instead of diving into your tactical agenda. Give folks an opportunity to speak and be heard FIRST. Giving folks a forum to express their biggest worry or fear and asking if there’s anything you can do to help shows them you are putting them first. Head’s up – the first time you do this, folks may be hesitant to share. You have to make sure they understand it’s a safe room. As for me, I would be suspicious of folks whitewashing and saying everything is “great” all the time. Well, if it’s all so great, what are you doing all day? 😂

If you want to keep employees, you need to show them authentically they are valued and you care about more than just their productivity as a resources. I would rather have an authentic leader who has true authentic human interactions with employees than receive awards or eat ice cream that only give managers photo-ops to show their bosses.

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May you be loved
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