This week’s solo episode focuses on workload and burnout to continue with Aoife’s exploration of the widespread issue of unhappiness at work.
Did you know that up to 80% of people are currently tackling burnout!? These statistics are shocking but not surprising. This week, Aoife dives into the toll that stress and heavy workloads have on our bodies and shares valuable tips on how to avoid burnout by working smarter. The main points covered in this episode include:
– Listening to your body and being proactive to avoid burnout.
– Setting work boundaries remotely.
– Workvivo study: HR breakdown.
– Ways to master time management at work and avoid unnecessary meetings.
– Understanding the RACI model.
– How to manage a heavy workload.
– Learning when to say no at work.
– How to cope with stressful periods and consistent urgency at work.
– Taking care of yourself when under stress.
– The key to working smarter.
THE LISTENERS SAY:
Do you have any feedback or thoughts on this discussion? If so, please connect with Aoife via the links below and let her know. Aoife would love to hear from you!
Connect with Happier at Work host Aoife O’Brien:
Aoife O’Brien 00:00
Are you looking to improve employee engagement and retention? Do you struggle with decisions on who to hire or who to promote? I have an amazing opportunity for forward thinking purpose-led people first organisations to work with me on the first pilot Happier at Work program for corporates. The program is entirely science backed and you will have tangible outcomes in relation to employee engagement, retention, performance and productivity. The program is aimed at people leaders with responsibility for hiring and promotion decisions. If this sounds like you, please get in touch at Aoife@happieratwork.ie. That’s A O I F E at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re listening to the Happier at work podcast. I’m your host Aoife O’Brien. This is the podcast for leaders who put people first, the podcast covers four broad themes, engagement and belonging, performance and productivity, leadership equity, and the future of work. Everything to do with the Happier at Work podcast relates to employee retention, you can find out more at email@example.com. Welcome back to another solo episode of The Happier at Work Podcast. I’m so delighted that you have joined me today. Today’s topic is quite a popular topic at the moment and it’s the topic of workload and burnout, in keeping with this theme of unhappiness at work, and addressing some of the issues contributing to unhappiness at work, not just promoting happiness at work, but addressing the unhappiness at work issues. That is what I want to talk about today. So looking at things like workload and burnout, so genuinely having too much work to do, having unrealistic workloads, having constant meetings, and everything being urgent. So when I recently put out something on LinkedIn, these were the kinds of things that were coming back in relation to this whole idea of workload and burnout. Now, when it comes to burnout, I’ve never reached that stage where I’ve actually physically burned out, which I understand to be quite a medical thing where you need to go to hospital for weeks or months just to recover from it. So it’s not a case of just taking a rest from it or taking a break. And I suppose for this reason, it’s so important for organisations and leaders to address these types of issues, before they become chronic before they become, you know, something that’s going to impact on everyone at work. And I mean that from the sense of if, if you are working someone so hard that they get to burnout, then you’re going to lose that person, it could be for for months and months at a time. Now, something that has recently happened to me a couple of times, just this week, actually, that people are coming up on holidays, and they’re getting to the stage where they’ve been working really, really hard and they’ve had to cancel meetings with me because and they did explicitly say this, that they are reaching a stage where they are feeling like they’re going to burn out soon. So they were cancelling any non essential meetings that they had, which I think is a really proactive and responsible thing to do. The other thing that I wanted to share in relation to burnout is that I saw recently, some stat that says that 80% of workers are close to burnout, which in some ways is kind of shocking. But in other ways, it kind of doesn’t surprise me, you know, with the pandemic that we’ve just had, and still are kind of going through, although it feels like the pandemic is over, but I know that they’re not going to pay too much attention to the numbers or anything like that, but I know that it’s still kind of ongoing. In some scenarios, people are still wearing masks and things like that. And I will talk about this in a little bit more detail. The idea that technology is you know, it’s a great servant for us, but it’s a poor master. So don’t let technology take over. And just because you are able to access everything all day and all night doesn’t mean that you should. So I think it’s really great that we’re able to work remotely, we’re able to work flexibly, but we don’t necessarily, that doesn’t necessarily have to translate into working all the time and checking all of your, your different devices. What I mean is your different channels of communication that you’re checking in on all of these various different things at various points throughout the day and can lead to that sense of, of burning out because we feel like we’re doing more and more. The other stat that I saw recently was in relation to HR specifically and I know HR in particular have been hugely impacted by the pandemic and all of the challenges that went along with that and that number was closer to 97% of of HR are facing burnout and that was conducted by work vivo. So really, really high stats when you you know, when you put it into context like that, it’s really a really, really huge issue for organisations that does need to be addressed. So I wanted to take a couple of the more pressing ideas or areas in order to identify each one of those, and then provide some solutions around that. So the first one is this idea of meetings. And I think like for me, meetings, and I have talked about this on the podcast before where sometimes it’s the perception of I’m so important, because I’m in so many meetings, I’m so indispensable. And I think when you first started working, certainly for me anyway, the higher number of meetings you have, the more important that you felt. And, and I hope that’s starting to kind of go away that people are seeing that, it’s not just about the the number of meetings that you have, or sometimes the meetings that you’re attending, you don’t necessarily need to be at them. But I suppose the challenge to you is looking at and have a look at your calendar, you know, when you finish listening to this podcast, or if you’re in a position that you can have a look, now have a look at your calendar and see how much time of your week or the last couple of weeks or the last month is actually spent in meetings. And you might be surprised that it’s much higher than what you you taught, you know, consider whether or not this is a good use of your time. So the meetings that you attended, was that something that benefited you? Did that empower you or enable you to do your job better in some way? Was there a very specific reason that you needed to be at that meeting? So having a think of all of these different reasons for it to be a good use of your time versus maybe a bad use of your time. So were there some meetings there, where you just thought, well, that could have been a different type of communication, that could have been an email or that could have been, I didn’t necessarily need to be there because it was more of a decision. And I wasn’t part of the decision making process. And so questioning whether or not you need to be at all of the meetings that you are invited to. And then as a meeting organiser, having a think about who does really need to be at these meetings. And it’s not a case of including people for the sake of wanting them to feel included, but maybe a separate communication to people who weren’t invited to let them know that this meeting is happening. And but you know, this is what you’re talking about. And they’re welcome to send through their thoughts by email in advance, but they don’t need to take part necessarily in the meeting, or that you’ll have a separate meeting with them. I’m always conscious of this idea of making sure people feel included and that they feel heard. But if genuinely, if people don’t need to be at the meeting, if the meeting is going to take 45 minutes to an hour of their time, then, you know, questioning really who needs to be there I think is really, really important. And in building on that, sending through an agenda ahead of time and reducing the time of meetings to be more efficient in the meeting itself. You know, if it’s an hour long meeting, can you reduce it to 45 minutes, and I’ve heard great examples of companies, reducing all meetings to 15 minutes, so that you are really efficient in the use of your time that you can get everything done within that span of time, which sounds like a huge challenge if I’m honest, and I’d love to understand more about how that’s done. But if I think about myself and time management, I’m not great at managing time when it comes to meetings. So if it was me running the meeting, I would always have someone else who is keeping an eye on the time or, you know, following the agenda points and saying around how much time should we be working on this? so that it definitely doesn’t run over time, as well. Think about the type of meeting that it is as well. So is it a discussion and you need a lot of different voices there? Or are you trying to make a decision and should that just be than a one on one meeting that you don’t necessarily need to involve everyone that you can involve people at a later stage but after the decision has been made, so something to think about. Something else as well to consider in relation to that is the RACI model. I don’t know if you have heard of it. It’s something that we used often when I worked in corporate, and that is identifying the different roles that people play, not necessarily in a meeting but it could be on a specific project or within, within you know, a particular piece of work that you’re doing. So the R stands for responsibility. The A stands for accountability, the C stands for communicate, so that person needs to be communicated. And the I stands for inform. So you need to inform that other person. So that first point was all about meetings and how much time meetings take and being really, really realistic about how much time that is and whether or not you really need to be at those meetings and as the organiser whether or not you really need to invite those people. Is there a different way that you can communicate whether it is in a group email, whether it is and you know, in a kind of standoffish, short, get together huddle type of meeting, rather than taking an hour of someone’s time. Now, the next point is about workload itself. So I think if you are struggling with the amount of actual work that you have to do, the first point really is about telling someone what you have on. So letting people know that this is everything. And sometimes, as managers, people might forget that, just how much you’re working on at any given time, and how long each individual thing takes to do as well. So just let someone know, if you feel like you have too much work on, let someone know, I’ve definitely been in that position in the past, when on occasion that has fallen on deaf ears, let’s say where I’ve had much, I could see a much, much higher workload and other people in the team. And because I was working really efficiently, I was being handed more work essentially, which was detrimental to me and my own well being, I can see that now. But at the time, you know, I really struggled with how to speak up for myself and how to address that issue, because I did complain. And I did say that I had too much work on but it kind of like I said fell on deaf ears. The lesson learned from that is find someone who will actually listen to you find someone who will, who will respond positively to that, you know, to share any of that. And I think managers need to be really aware of those kinds of things, especially now, with those kinds of numbers that we saw at the start the stats, you know, up to 80% of people facing burnout at the moment. And another thing to do around workload, I think it’s really important as to finding what good enough looks like. So I think there’s this tendency to keep working on something. So there is this principle where if you have, say, two weeks to work on something, and I fall for this all the time, I much prefer short, tight deadlines. But if you have two weeks to work on something, the time expands, the amount of time that you invest in what it is that you’re working on tends to expand. The other thing in relation to this is that you might spend additional couple of hours perfecting something that doesn’t really need any additional work on it. So that’s taking up time as well. But if you ever really clear definition of what the steps are involved in what it is that you need to do, so that you can address those kinds of, you know, the way I think is in shorter type of deadlines, or the people maybe prefer those longer deadlines, but then also having a really clear definition of well what is good enough actually look like and, and we don’t have to do additional work on this to make it even better. We don’t have to modify anything on it. But we need to send it out as is because it’s it’s good enough as it is. Another thing to bear in mind is saying no constructively. So if someone is giving you additional work, whether that is a client or whether that’s internally from someone else is how to say that you have enough on so it’s about sharing, you know, using the using the kind of techniques here of telling them what this is everything that I have on. So can you help me to reprioritise what I’m working on? And it’s about prioritisation, like what is it that you need to do first? And if you still need to do everything? Are there some deadlines that can be moved out in response to shifting and I’m very aware that that expectations change, that things change all the time, in business. And as a manager, it’s important to communicate and update people on when priorities have changed as well so that they know exactly what it is that they should be working on at any given time. So saying no constructively is about finding ways to manage that workload, whether you’re taking on something new and then deadline for something else gets pushed out to further away. But not just blindly accepting work as it comes through to you if you already feel like you are at maximum capacity. The other area then that I wanted to deal with is this sense of urgency that everything is urgent, everything has to be done immediately. And I fall for this myself and I put pressure on myself to get things done straight away when they don’t necessarily need to be done straightaway. And this sort of ties in with the previous point on, you know, having clear deadlines and pushing deadlines out as priorities change. But being really aware of that. One of my personal bugbears is this idea of ASAP. And I learned something kind of smart when I worked in in the corporate world is ASAP is not a deadline. What ASAP to me means is drop everything you’re doing and do this immediately. Whereas someone else might perceive that as it’s, you know, you can finish what it is that you’re doing now and then I want to be next on your list of things to be done. But the reality is ASAP means different things to different people. And it’s not a realistic deadline. And another thing another trick that I had that I used to use in corporate was this idea of when will that be used by, so it’s not when do you need it for it’s not when do you want it for it’s when will you be using this? So this was particularly great for clients, but I’m sure that works with internal clients as well. So it’s not a case of, you know, I want it for this and this is the deadline, because I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with working really hard on something to a tight deadline, sending it across, and then having questions about it two weeks later, when the client has finally had a chance to actually look at what you’ve sent through, and there’s nothing more frustrating than than doing something like that. So, yeah, really having realistic deadlines on things, and negotiating deadlines as well. So again, shifting priorities, is this something that needs to be done with great urgency? Or is this something that can be shifted, and if there’s something else, if this needs to be done immediately, then what else can be shifted to work on at a later stage? Now the other thing and the other context, I suppose, in this is that it’s about the cycles of tight deadlines. So you know, there are times in business, you know, coming to a quarter end for example, in the sales cycle, and then after the quarter end for accountants and things like that, there are times where there’ll be a huge amount of pressure to meet those short, tight deadlines, and then the rest of the quarter, or the rest of the year maybe is a little less burdensome, it’s a little less tight and a lot more flexibility. So bear in mind that as well, that there are some times when they’re when you have to work to those shorter deadlines, but just bear in mind whether or not if this is something you’re doing on a frequent basis is that all the time? Can you manage that in advance, can you prepare in advance by getting better sleep by looking after yourself by getting exercise by taking breaks, because you know, you need to take breaks when you’re doing this crazy, crazy amount of work. And so really looking after yourself at those times, but then, you know, taking advantage of flexibility, then when you do when you do have that in the other times of the year as well. The final thing I want to leave you with them is this idea of making sure that you’re working on the right things and understanding how you’re currently spending your time. And if I cast my mind back to when I worked in corporate, and we did this kind of time management exercise where we looked at how we were spending our days, you know, whether it was checking emails, whether it was working on a specific type of task, which related to a specific department, and really getting a better understanding. Now, that’s more from an organisational structural perspective. But if you think and it’s a very personal thing, but if you think about how you’re spending your time and whether or not you’re spending time on important things, and how much time you are actually taking to do things. One thing I’ve changed in how I work is I only check my emails twice a day now. So I’ll open my emails in the morning, I’ll open them again in the afternoon. And I have an out of office on that says this is how I manage my workload. Here’s a list of things that you can choose from. So if someone wants to book a meeting with me, for example, they can do that. But I think we’ve become very responsive in relation to emails like that we feel almost this obligation to reply immediately, even if we don’t have an answer. And you know, it’s a huge amount of email traffic, it takes up so much of our time. So back to this idea of understanding how you’re actually spending your time, I think is really, really important. And you don’t necessarily have to share that with anyone but understanding for yourself, where your time is actually being spent and getting that understanding of how much time you’re actually dedicating to what’s really important. And if you don’t know what’s important, what the important things are to be doing to move the dial to meet your objectives, then I would consider taking some time to really think about what those important things are. Whether that is your personal objectives, your team objectives, the company objectives, but what are the things that are moving you forward in that role? I would love to get people’s feedback on this. Is there anything that I’ve left out? I’m sure there’s there’s plenty that you know, there’s plenty of more things that people can say or people can do. But I think it’s a really important issue that needs to be addressed. I’d love for you to get involved in the conversation. Feel free to connect with me through my website Happieratwork.ie, through Instagram @happieratwork.ie or on LinkedIn. Aoife O’Brien that’s A O I F E O’ B R I E N and I would love to hear from you on any one of those channels. That was another episode of the Happier at Work podcast. I am so glad you tuned in today. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, I would love to get your thoughts – head on over to social media to get involved in the conversation. If you enjoy the podcast, I would love if you could rate, review it or share it with a friend. If you want to know more about what I do or how I could help your business head on over to happieratwork.ie