Blog Index
The journal that this archive was targeting has been deleted. Please update your configuration.

Entries in burnout (7)


Ask The Ringmaster-Please!

A frequent comment in our training programs is that people are uncomfortable asking their ringmaster (boss or immediate supervisor) for help when they are juggling elephants. Specifically, they just don't see how they can get the things done (or done well) that are assigned to them. The reason most often given is that they don't want to appear weak.

First, if someone is afraid to talk to their supervisor about the situation, it probably hints of a deeper issue. Trust could be lacking or the relationship has not been grown in a positive way. Also, the person in leadership may not be very "approachable." Some managers understand the value of being available to their people and working through issues, but others use the Nike slogan-Just Do It!

If you are struggling trying to figure out how to get your current workload completed and the elephants keep coming, here are a few suggestions:

  • Think of the needs of your boss or supervisor. How will their help in helping you prioritize assist them in accomplishing what is most important to them?
  • Have an initial solution in mind. Managers don't want employees who simply throw themselves down and scream, "I just can't do it all!" When seeking help, have some ideas in mind of how you could shift your work to accomodate these new responsibilities. Then they can offer advice or suggestions.
  • Use the right language. Use phrases like, "Help me understand..." or "I want to make sure I'm spending my time where it's most important to our team, etc."

Ultimately, you need to seek their support and collaboration. In an era of ever-increasing workloads, it's only a matter of time until an elephant comes crashing down on you-and then you WILL have a talk with your manager or supervisor that won't be nearly as pleasant or productive.


Go Scoop Some Poop!!!

Ever had one of those days when you wish all you had to do was scoop the poop of the elephants from the circus? Think about the virtues of the job. Very little need for mental engagement (no disrespect to those who do the job) and you never take your work home with you (well, maybe some on your boots or your work clothes.) No mental stress, no long meetings... just you, a shovel, and the smell of poop.

I have days where I would love to be a pooper scooper. I need the mental release and the physical activity. Since I don't have a circus close by I normally chop wood, pick up sticks in the yard, rake leaves, work in the garden or flower bed or any number of other things. If I am in the office I might stand up and rearrange the books in my bookcase or just take a quick walk. The requirement is that the activity can not require a large amount of mental focus. What I am actually doing in those moments is taking a "mental intermission." Today's knowledge workers need these types of intermissions more than ever. Failure to have some "poop scooping" moments just adds to the stress overload.

What's on your "poop scooping" list that helps you recharge your mental energy?


Formula For Creating The Juggling Elephants Routine

While reading the Game On! sports column in the USA Today last week, I found an interesting formula. Reid Cherner, one of the columnists, made the following statement: I don't know how many more boats the golf gods can send before [Tiger] Woods realizes he needs to climb in before he drowns. This is simple math. Family concerns + health concerns + poor play - Haney [swing coach] = time off. He needs to unplug, go acoustic and then reboot.

His comments got me to thinking... what is my formula that creates a juggling elephants scenario? What are the "perfect storm" of interruptions, life situations or poor choices that render me ineffective or unproductive? And how could I work to prevent them from adding up and "crushing" me. Tiger failed to take action on improving any of his situations and the results are obvious. While our challenges may not be as large or dire or even immoral, they still represent a dangerous mix when they start adding up-and we take no action. Especially if we take no intermission, to, as Cherner states, reboot.


Even Mini Shifts Need An Intermission

Sue Shellenbarger with the Wall Street Journal has a telling article about an outgrowth of the recession: Mini Shifts. In the article, Recession Tactic: The Mini-Shift, these shifts are usually taken by people out of steady work and who choose to work 3-5 "mini-shifts" of 90 minutes to three hours in length. While they do offer the opportunity for income, the article highlights the challenges associated with these multiple shifts and breakneck pace:

  • So much task switching can result in a kind of cognitive stall out Julie Morgenstern calls "mental gear-stripping."
  • It creates a lack of "clear edges" between work and personal time which can gradually erode R&R until your life gets out of balance in a very significant way.
  • It reduces output. Russell Poldrack, an authority on multi-tasking writes, "Almost any time we switch between doing different tasks, we will be less efficient than if we focused on a single task.

So, in an era where people will have to continue to work mini-shifts to keep food on the table and make ends meet, what is someone to do? Those interviewed in the article said they "pull back and recharge" or "fill gaps with well-planned out activities that re-charge you." Simply put, they plan AND take an intermission. Bravo!

What have you planned today to help you recharge when your circus begins running you?


The Ringmaster and Compassion Fatigue

We had an interesting conference call last week with a chief medical officer of a health care system. While discussing the "elephants" they were juggling, he mentioned compassion fatigue. While the term has been around since the 1950's, it was new to our vocabulary. The CMO described it as a condition that occurs in certain health care workers. It's different from burnout because people enjoy what they do and find meaning in it-they are just so drained from the compassion required in these unique positions.

Wikipedia gives this description of the symptoms:

Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.
Using a Juggling Elephants perspective, the ringmaster is just drained-and needs frequent intermissions to maintain their mental and physical energy. Or they may need to spend some time in their other rings to be "refreshed and renewed." Spending a large amount of time in one ring-especially if it's intense-is draining. The parent with an uncooperative newborn, a caregiver who is with their sick loved one 24/7.
If you are suffering from some form of compassion fatigue, determine some ways to quickly replenish what drives you. If you know someone who is suffering from compassion fatigue, see if there are ways you can offer relief.