The 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout
Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout.”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becca Powers
Becca Powers is an award-winning hi-tech sales executive and motivational speaker. With over 20 years of experience, her career boasts Fortune 500 giants such as Dell and Cisco. From growing up with musician parents who flirted with addiction, to dropping out of college and becoming a single parent of two by the age of 28, Becca’s guts-and-grit journey to success reaches beyond business. As a motivational speaker, she empowers women to prioritize themselves for a more fulfilling, joyful life. Learn more at www.beccapowers.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Mychildhood was a bit unique in the sense that my parents were musicians. I grew up surrounded my music and understanding the importance of creative energy and the pursuit of passions. Growing up, my passion was in playing competitive soccer until the age of 19. Although, I loved listening to music and being immersed in the culture of it, I enjoyed a more goal based, competitively fun approach to expressing my creative side. These early lessons are my foundation for really understanding some important elements of success and burnout.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
One word…commission. I was 18 when I got recruited by a neighboring electronic store in the mall. I was an assistant manager of the only mall dollar store at the time, when the owner of the small electronic franchise asked me to come work for him. The owner said he saw something in me and thought I would be good at sales. When I learned I earned additional income in addition to my wage for hitting sales targets, “I remember thinking this is incredible!” I have been in sales ever since.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
The one that comes to mind the most is a former Dell VP of Sales of mine, Markeith Allen. Markeith was a great leader, but it is how handle my resignation that had a huge impact on my life. So much so I wrote a book about it called, Harness Your Inner CEO.
It was late 2013 and I was a Regional Sales Manager for Dell, Inc. I had then and still have now a guiding leadership mantra, “People Before Profits.” That mantra led me to get recruited by a company that I had a very similar company motto. It felt like an exact fit and I would need to leave Dell. During my resignation phone call to Markeith, I was expecting him to guilt me or to shame for leaving. Yes, he wanted me to stay, however, his response was quite the opposite of what I expected. He told me, “Becca, you are the CEO of your life.” That hit me in such a profound way. I remember feeling in awe of just how powerful that message is if you were to fully harness it.
It wouldn’t be until 3 years later after suffering severe burnout in the very job I left Dell for, that I would remember the words of my VP, “you are the CEO of your life.” This power of this message was no longer resting dormant in the back of my brain, it was not front and center in my most weakest moment. There crying powerless on the bathroom floor at 10 o’clock at night, remembering these words changed my life. I went from feeling hopeless to feeling unstoppable. In that moment — which I now refer to as my instant miracle — I rose off the bathroom floor a different woman than the one who fell to her knees.
Without the words coming back to the forefront of my mind, I’m not sure where I would be today. I don’t believe I would have the story of triumphantly rising out of burnout and share a step-by-step process on how to overcome and beat burnout with others.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake I have made was putting a belief before myself. What I mean by that is I put this belief of “People Before Profits” as a higher priority than my own self. Granted, I did this unconsciously and for all great reasons that felt very righteous at the time. What I learned the hard way, is that when we prioritize a job, money, a belief, even our families higher than we prioritize our well-being it is a recipe for burnout.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy” — Tony Robbins
That quote really resonated when I attended Ton’s live event, Unleash the Power Within, this past November in West Palm Beach, FL. Now 5 years post my most epic burnout season of my career — and after much reflection and healing — this quote when he said it really resonated with me. It was then that it crystalized for me that my belief of “People Before Profits” was so important to me and meant so much to me that it destroyed me. I became aware that even in the face of a noble goal or belief, we are still responsible for prioritizing our worth, wellness, and overall well-being before a belief…or anything else for that matter.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
In short, writing. I recently released my first book, Harness Your Inner CEO, which debuted as Amazon best-seller in Women & Business and Personal Success. I share a very raw and real look in to my personal and professional life through the lens of careered mom of a blended family of 4 kids — 2 hers and 2 his. In the book, I share my epic, vulnerable, and ugly cry burnout moment, everything leading up to it, and then my step-by-step rise out of burnout into reclaiming my personal power, reigniting my passions, and relishing in newfound prosperity. The story and the framework within the book are already helped others pull transform themselves from burnout to breakthrough — which is exactly why I sat down to right. I’m very passionate about helping people overcome burnout and reorchestrate their life in away that allows them to thrive personally and professionally.
I have already started the outline for my next book, Breakup with Burnout, How to Reclaim Your Health, Harmony, and Happiness to Live an Extraordinary Life. More to come on that, stay tuned!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- People-Focused — I truly care about people thriving personally and professionally. I want to see people living their best lives with more ease and less stress. When people are fully thriving everything else around them is too — including their children, business, and anything that they set their focus on!
- Goal-Oriented — Growing up playing competitive soccer and spending my all of my adult life in sales, goals are second nature. I have realized over the years that goals provide clarity and direction. Goals also create something for other people to rally behind. An energy is created in the direction of goals as well as sense of accomplishment. Creating macro and micro goals has become a natural extension of my leadership style.
- Purpose-Driven — Being very purpose-drive generally speaking, I try to frame everything that I do to purpose and impact. As I have done this more with the teams and clients, I have worked with in the last several years of my career, I have found that people become very dedicated when they belief in what they are doing, when they believe that you care, and they know where they are going. These 3 elements create positive change and real results!
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I am a 20-year careered Fortune 500 Sales Executive working for companies like Dell, Cisco, and Office depot. In my largest role, I was a Operations Sales Director with a $500 million annual number and a team of 110 people. Throughout my various roles, I have encountered burnout in my employees for various reasons — from overworked to underpaid to overwhelmed to underutilized and everything in between. It’s a very mindful conversation for leaders. However, it wasn’t until I went through burnout myself, as a sales leader, that I really understood the mechanics of it and how/why it happens.
In getting certified in a few psychology rooted programs, I began to understand that burnout at much more intimate level and more importantly how to avoid it and rise up from it.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
My definition of burnout: the complete and utter depletion of energy, resolve, and ability to live life on one’s own terms after endorsing high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time.
Marriam- Webster’s definition of burnout: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress and frustration.
After experiencing burnout myself and what it takes to rise up from it, I am very intimate with what it feels like and how hopeless of a space it is. I add a little more description to my definition of burnout because it’s the not know how to make it stop or not knowing how to rise up out of it that effects the ability to take charge of our lives and get things back on track.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
The opposite of burnout is thriving. Thriving personally and professionally without the need to sacrifice our well-being for the pursuit of success and happiness. It’s living life from the place of personal empowerment, aliveness, and ease.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
I would say for those critics that believe “grin and bear it” is the way to live life, that they have never experienced burnout themselves or that they are so accustomed to stress that they don’t recognize the signs of burnout and how negatively it is impacting their life. Burnout according to a recent study by Deloitte is impacting 77% of working professionals in America.
Burnout has a tremendous impact on our nervous system due to living in a state of chronic stress and survival for a prolonged period of time. The long-term impact on our personal health and well-being is significant and requires multiple approaches to restore our nervous systems back to optimal where we can experience joy, ease, and thriving health.
Untreated burnout results in the following and more: depression, anxiety, stress, body aches and pain, health issues ranging from constantly getting sick to autoimmune disease to cancer and in the extreme, death. It also puts a strain on relationships with partners, kids, parents, friends, colleagues, and the relationship with ourselves. Once all these things start to suffer then other things are impacted like our ability to perceive life with fun, passion, and abundance. In essence, everything in our lives can be impacted.
From this perspective, assuming that recent studies are correct and that 77% of working professionals are feeling burnout on varying degrees, this means that as a society we are ignoring a very tragic situation. Rather than shifting the perspective that burnout is needs to be addressed, we are encouraging people to power through.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
I like to frame it simply so that people can easily identify the outward symptoms of burnout. I call it the overs and the unders — which I will explain. When you have a minimum a symptom from each category plus an addition to a third, burnout is beginning. The more combination of overs and unders that you have the stronger the burnout.
Here are the overs and the unders:
Overs: Overworked, overextended, overstressed, overcommitted, overwhelmed
Unders: Underappreciated, underpaid, undervalued, underutilized, underestimated
What causes burnout is powering through these feelings/symptoms as if they are insignificant or as if they can be dismissed as a just bad day. Burnout is caused by repeated powering through these symptom for weeks, months, and even years. Powering through is dangerous and is byproduct of our culture which still celebrates powering through of signs of strength, resilience, and toughness. There is nothing to celebrate about burnout.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”.
- Honest Self-Assessment: Rate each of the burnout symptoms in the over and under categories on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 not experiencing then up to 5 experiencing at its extreme. At the peak of my burnout my hair was falling out in clumps, and I was overtaken by extreme fatigue. When I look back, I was experiencing all 10 symptoms at levels 4 and 5. I powered through for 3 years. In hindsight, it’s so clear why I was sick!
- Admit It: Admit to yourself and preferable someone else that you are experiencing symptoms of burnout. Admitting breaks the pattern and allows space for new solutions to enter. One of my clients, took a lot of pride in powering through and being a powerful executive female. Admitting she was feeling burnout feltlike weakness. Until one day, when she broke down crying and finally admitted it to me. She immediately felt a weight lifted off her and we were able to create steps for her burnout recovery plan.
- Permission to Prioritize: By this point it’s clear that you have fallen off the priority list of your life and are probably near the bottom of the list, if not at the bottom. Here you want to give yourself permission to prioritize yourself as much as prioritize other things. Ideally, prioritize yourself first. I had another client who six-figure salesperson and a mother of two. Between her sales goal, client demands, and working from home with two little ones, she had fallen to the bottom of the list. The moment she began to reprioritize herself to first on the list, her symptoms diminished. With feeling good again, she received an new job offer that paid her more and supported her well-being in much better way!
- One Big Bad Boundary: Boundaries are truly between you and yourself and not you and other people. Why? Because you cannot control other people. Set one boundary between you and you can look like… if saying yes to taking on another commitment or projecting is going to deplete me rather than fill me up, then I need to say no. This was a game changer for me. As a sales leader, a mom, and friend to many I loved saying yes to everyone. Unfortunately, this was part of my problem that led me to burnout. To beat burnout, I had to start saying no to others so I can say yes to myself.
- Embrace the Power of AND: Many times, we compartmentalize ourselves to make ourselves fit the image that we think others expect from us. For example, if you are working parent, you may feel bad if you need to leave work to take your kid to the doctor during the middle of the work week, and vice versa if you are home and you need to take a work call, you feel bad. What if you embraced the and, allowing yourself to be a great parent and a careered professional. Both exist as truths. Dividing them, divides you. Give them a both a seat at the table removes guilt and shame and ultimately reduce symptoms of burnout. Boundaries at home and at work will help you remain whole.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Support them by helping take things off their plate. It will be greatly appreciated. As well as simply asking them how they are feeling and giving them a listening ear. Many people suffering from burnout are powering through life and business. Allowing them a safe non-judgmental to admit they are overwhelmed or exhausted could really help them shift out of that space.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
Anonymously surveying the overs and the unders would be a good start. Then really doing something with the feedback. If most of majority of employees feel overworked, underpaid, undervalued, and overwhelmed. Employers will know that the work culture you have created is not sustainable and healthy. Awareness is the key to change.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Employees taking charge of their mental state is key. The more that employees are vocalizing what’s acceptable and what is not, the more that employees resign from toxic cultures, the more that employees are transparent on exit interviews will force leaders to take notice that burnout is real. Once corporations really understand that employees are willing to prioritize themselves first, the current sacrifice-it-all mentality of corporations will be forced to prioritize the mental well-being for their employees.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
Trying to change to much at one time is a common mistake which leads to overwhelm again. Recovery is a process and those recovering need to be kind to themselves. It took two years for me to have an 80% recovery. 5 years later, I still need to be mindful of overcommitting and overextending myself for more than a couple days. Once people begin to feel good again, the most common mistake is to take on more. This flairs up all the symptoms again. My advice is to stay mindful and consistent to healing process. This will help you beat burnout.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement would be to create corporate cultures that truly put “People Before Profits” where employees are encouraged to thrive personally and professionally. 12-hour workdays that provide free dry cleaning, free meals, and other services are encouraging their employees to sacrifice their personal life for their work life. This is recipe for burnout and has been a huge factor into what is now been titled “The Great Resignation”. You want employees to love coming to work? Respect them as a human being, pay them their worth, give them freedom to parent and attend to their personal life, encourage them to have interests outside of their job, allow them to create new skills and prioritize themselves without fear of them quitting, truly support them in being an evolving human being. That is truly how you put “People Before Profits” and that is movement.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them.
Right now, I’m really into the work of Adam Grant. He is an organizational psychologist with a few books under his belt including his current best seller called “Think Again”. He is very much in alignment with this message of rethinking corporate culture, and I would love to geek out with him on all the things covered in this article. Especially, making this more of movement! That would just be incredible.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
LinkedIn is my most active platform and I can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. All handles are: @beccapowers1313. Also, you can grab a free chapter of my book Harness Your Inner CEO at BeccaPowers.com which will get you on my mailing list.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!