Building counterforces to burnout

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In the third week of my having joined the Growmotely family, our Founder and CEO Sarah Hawley dropped a message in our ‘Growmotely HQ’ all-team chat – which is a space within our Basecamp software. It was on a Tuesday. “Letting y’all know I’ve decided to take the rest of the week off. I need a break and want to get ahead of any potential burn out. It’s been a big year and I am feeling it. I won’t check Basecamp or emails the rest of the week, but will be back online Monday. Thanks team, I love you all and see you next week. xx” Mic drop.

I immediately recognized this for what it was. An assertion without an apology. An execution of a (probably hard-earned) personal boundary that she was respecting. A display of confidence that the world – and our company – would carry on competently without her. Her leading by example when it came to nipping burnout in the bud.

Burnout – in individuals and in company culture – is a bitch. Most of us can agree on this. Let’s describe it as “a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress.” (Thank you for the definition, WEBMD.com!) It can dwell in individuals; it can dwell in company culture; and it can dwell in the culture of certain countries. But best not to equate its pervasiveness in society with any positive evolutionary qualities. There, really, is nothing healthy or life-giving about it.

David Allen – one of the world’s leading experts on personal and organizational productivity – has long asserted that our ability to be productive is directly correlated to our ability to relax. Given this, insisting on continuing when the first signs of burnout rear their heads ultimately works against an individual’s and a team’s productivity in the long run, although this truth might not be obvious – or even visible – in the short-term. This is surely why Sarah took decisive action in the example above. “I love you all and see you next week.”

Speaking of decisive action, here are some of the things that we have put into place at Growmotely that we see as acting as counterforces against the insidious nature of burnout. Because let’s face it, if you have a team of ambitious individuals, who are working towards ambitious goals, the risk of burnout is going to be a potential reality…a potential reality that should be taken seriously.

⁜ All team members at Growmotely – and all hired professionals on our platform – are hired via contractor status. Technically-speaking, we are all self-employed.

Best to not underestimate the psychological force at play here. Engaging with one’s work as a self-employed person – a person who files and pays her own taxes (both the employer and employee share), who potentially has other income streams, and who can freely change countries without losing her job – feels different in the body than being an employee. Self-employment asks of us as people to grow up in a number of different ways, and because of this, we understand more inherently that it is our responsibility to manage what we let into our worlds and what we say ‘no’ to. Conversely, although not inevitable, it is easier for employees to fall into a parent-child dynamic with their employer, and feel unable to say ‘no’, and therefore ‘fall prey’ more easily to overwhelm and burnout.

⁜ We operate with a ‘no hierarchy‘ model.

One of the causes of burnout is when too much work comes from ‘higher up’ and the recipient of said workload feels out of his power when it comes to saying ‘no’ to this deluge of work – or even out of his power when it comes to having conversations to navigate said work. Ditching a hierarchical company structure goes a long way in ameliorating this problem. If things are delegated sideways, the pressure to accept everything – and not have important conversations around workload – is lessened.

⁜ One of our company values is ‘Transparency and candour‘.

Here at Growmotely, if we say ‘yes’ to being part of the team, we’ve all – either implicitly or explicitly – agreed that we buy-in to the company’s set of five values…’Transparency and candour’ being one of them. What this means in the context of burnout is that we expect people to be honest and forthcoming with anything that is going on with them as it relates to burnout. Additionally, if one of our team members is experiencing burnout, the expectation is that that will be reflected honestly in our monthly culture questions (see the next point) and there is also an expectation that any issues around burnout will not be ‘hidden’ from the people who are affected or those who are in a position to affect the situation in question. The example our CEO set – recounted in the first paragraph of this article – speaks to the candour part of this value. Here it is team. I’m taking the rest of the week off, and here’s why.

⁜ We ask all team members – on a monthly basis – to answer a number of questions related to how aligned and how happy they’re feeling at our company.

As we have all signed-up to embodying the value of transparency and candour, the feeling is there that – as team members – we need to answer these happiness and alignment questions every month as honestly as we can. These team happiness scores are reported at our monthly all-hands meeting, and if you’ve read our CEO’s latest book – Conscious Leadership: A Journey from Ego to Heart – you’ll know that the monthly happiness score is her guidepost to how well she is doing as a leader and how healthy the company she is leading is. It’s, in effect, “The only score that matters.” What’s the ‘So what?‘ about that? Well, feeling burnt out and feeling happy don’t typically go hand in hand, and therefore feelings of burnout will lower these happiness scores and start showing up in our company happiness averages. And because these scores are our leading metric, if they go down – we sit up and pay attention.

⁜ One of our company values is ‘Empowerment and ownership’.

Incidentally, if I feel compelled to choose a score that is anything less than a 10 (on a 1 to 10 scale) on the monthly culture and happiness questions, I then immediately feel compelled to ask myself why that is and what role I am playing in creating this reality. The reason this is my knee-jerk reaction is because of our ‘Empowerment and ownership’ value at Growmotely; this value invites us – every single day – to own the reality we have created for ourselves and are creating for ourselves. If we’re unhappy with something, we have signed on the dotted line that we aren’t going to offload the source of this problem onto someone else. Rather, we can ask ourselves questions such as: How have I been showing up that has led me to feel this way?;What role have I played in creating what is currently true in my life right now?; and With whom do I need to have a conversation so that this reality can shift for the better? Staving off burnout – as individuals and as companies – requires that all parties involved take ownership of their habits, their behaviors and their feelings. We are all creating our reality together. None of us are victims.

⁜ We have an unlimited leave policy at Growmotely.

If any of us start to feel like we might be on the brink of burnout, our Empowerment and Ownership value – paired with our unlimited leave policy – invites us to get organized swiftly and deftly so that we can take the time out that we need in order to fully recover. We have all signed up to this policy; this is how we’re expected to roll. If we don’t see how we can make this happen given our responsibilities, our transparency and candour value kicks in and we kickstart the required conversations to get the ball rolling on this front.

⁜ We work 100% remotely and asynchronously.

This is important because there is no ‘keeping up with the Jones’ when it comes to hours worked. We, quite simply, don’t have this type of visibility when it comes to how many hours our team members are working, nor would we want it. Additionally, if we are feeling exhausted and want to collapse on the couch and take a nap in the middle of the day, we are free to do so – as long as, of course, we aren’t leaving our team members ‘hanging’ on any fronts.

⁜ We actively create opportunities for everyone on our team to grow personally and professionally – and more specifically, to develop skills that assist us in preventing burnout.

Our Bucharest-based Events Manager – Andreea Gătin – consistently cooks up juicy masterclasses for everyone in Growmotely’s ecosystem…our own team members included. ‘Setting Healthy Boundaries’, ‘Somatic Awareness Techniques’ and ‘Alone & Burnt Out‘ are a handful of masterclasses that come to mind that have included (or will include) techniques to identify stress and where it comes from, and techniques to then navigate out of said stress. Similarly, the benefits dollars that we all earn through the Growmotely platform give us an incentive to book – for example – coaching sessions with our platform’s personal development coach, Lisa Stephenson.

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Burnout culture is real – and it can be insidious. But we don’t all have to fall prey to it.

Here at Growmotely, we mindfully move – and build – in a way that creates forces that push back against the threat of burnout – in both individuals and in teams. And many of these ‘tools’ we use are built into our platform for all companies to benefit from.

We see the Future of Work as a place where sustainable ways of working and living reign – and where we consistently have honest conversations around what is true and what we would like to be true on this front.

We would love for you to join us. 💫

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Conscious Leadership: A Journey from Ego to Heart

In her latest book CEO and Founder Sarah Hawley takes you through her personal journey of stepping into a more conscious way of leading, by living a life of integrity, bringing more compassion and love into our lives and our businesses, and empowering those we lead to reach for their highest potential. Sarah’s story will inspire you toward discovering your unique heart-centered existence as an entrepreneur, leader, and human.

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