Did you know that stress and burnout are on the rise? Of course you know that. Who doesn't?
After a year of living through a world turned upside down - pandemic, financial distress, societal reckoning with systemic racism, and political divisions - we are all feeling stressed and burned out. And, we all know it.
Consider some recent stats, uncovered in a recent survey conducted by Jennifer Moss, author of forthcoming book "The Burnout Epidemic," Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers, and Michael Leiter of Deakin University:
So, who's the biggest culprit when it comes to our failure to adequately address this rising epidemic? The workplace itself.
Sure, there's been lots written about employee burnout, but the solutions are usually directed toward the individual employee. Employees are told - largely through wellness programs - here's what YOU should be doing differently: more yoga, more mindfulness, more subsidized gym memberships. And, while lots of companies say that they care about the issue, they are failing to address the key drivers of employee burnout. They fail to fully reckon with the fact that burnout is less about the individual and more about the workplace itself.
Here are the top drivers of employee stress and burnout, according to Maslach, Jackson and Leiter:
So, how can your company step up to meet the moment to address these root causes?
First, develop policies that start to address these key drivers of stress. Do you have policies in place like paid family leave and are you taking measures to address unsustainable workload levels?
Second, empower your managers to become Multipliers of Well-Being. Give each the encouragement and the tools so that they can carve out an oasis of well-being within their team, through regular practices and rituals such as walking meetings and weekly check-ins with each team member.
Third, stop blaming the individual for "being stressed" and start applying a more systems-based approach toward promoting health and well-being. Just this reality check can serve as a huge relief to every employee.
We've broken it down into 4 levels of influencers:
The World We Live in, The Places We Go,
The People We Know & Me At My Best.
Our programs are designed to tackle each of these 4 levels.
"Nothing happens until something moves."
- Albert Einstein
If ever there’s a time that we need to move, it’s now. It’s one of the best things we can do for our health and our state of being. Period. It is one of THE best coping mechanisms we have.
THE KEY IS MORE “NEAT”
The real question is less about exercise – and more about simply infusing more motion, aka “NEAT,” into our daily lives. As described by researcher James Levine, “EAT,” or exercise activity thermogenesis refers to any kind of intentional workout – going out for a run, going to the gym, going for a swim. “NEAT,” or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, refers to any kind of incidental movement throughout our day – running errands, doing household chores, or getting up from our desk. It’s the NEAT levels we should be focused on the most. We just need to simply move more – and sit less – throughout the day, especially throughout our workday.
So, what can you do so that you can move more at work?
Here are ways that you and your team - even if you're virtually connected - can get in motion.
MOTION INFUSION IN THE OFFICE - START HERE
Set your base:
Set feet apart (need support of legs and torso).
Sit forward on chair and breathe fully.
Hands and wrists:
Z’s – Press palms together, fingers in opposition to create a ‘Z’ shape.
Wrist Rolls – Clasp hands together; roll hands in both directions.
Neck and shoulders:
Side Stretches – Stretch to the side, return to upright position; change sides.
Neck Rolls – Drop head to one side, roll through center, turn chin toward shoulder, nod up and down; reverse direction.
Spinal Extension/Flexion – Arch the back, inhale; round the back, exhale.
Spiral Staircase – Rotate the spine from the sacrum to the top of the head while keeping the feet pressing down and out against the floor; let arms slide naturally.
Seated Hamstring Stretch – Imagine having a seat belt across the waist, extend one leg forward on to floor, foot flexed, lean forward at the waist.
Cross-Over – Calf bone on top of thigh bone, keep foot flexed, drape body over leg; reach arms up and let float out to side as lean forward, let head drop.
Download the first chapter of my book, Workplace Wellness that Works.
"There isn’t any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation."
—Dean Ornish, MD
Social wellbeing is vital to all of us – especially now. The effects of social disconnections - or loneliness - are devastating. One study found that loneliness is as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Meanwhile, trends indicate that rates of loneliness have doubled over the past 40 years, only to be accelerated by the pandemic.
So, what can we do about it? Here are three things you can do:
1. Love is all you need: Remember, that your social wellbeing matters as much - if not more - than your physical wellbeing. Just as you may be tracking your steps (hopefully getting at least 10,000 a day), can you track your time that you’re connected with others? Research shows that the minimum we all need to be socially well is at least 6 hours a day. And, while in person is best, virtually counts as well.
2. Find a friend: Whether it’s getting yourself to exercise or engaged with your work or eat healthy or any other lifestyle change, you’re much better off doing it with a friend, significant other, even your dog! In everything you do, find a friend - and ideally, a best friend. Social wellbeing is good in and of itself, but perhaps most interestingly, it is inextricably intertwined with every other dimension of wellbeing. For example, building a positive mindset is good (through practices like mindfulness), but building a positive mindset in the context of others is even better (through practices like loving kindness meditation). Researcher Barbara Fredrickson with UNC calls this “positivity resonance.”
3. Be the change: If you want to make the world a better place, then invest in social connections. As a former urban public high school teacher, I thought a lot about how we can ensure that every kid has a crack at achieving the American Dream. I thought a lot about the question: Why is it that if you take two kids – with the same circumstances – one is able to rise above and the other never quite makes it? Or, put another way, why is it that some kids are resilient and others are resistant? What is the number one factor that makes the difference between the two? Research shows that the number one differentiator is having a meaningful relationship with an adult. Can you be that adult to make the difference for a young person today?
Download the first chapter of my book, Workplace Wellness that Works.
While leveraging the workplace to promote better health and wellbeing is a really good idea, most of the workplace wellness programs I’ve seen are woefully inadequate. We don’t have to look any further than the trends we see to know that what we’re doing isn’t working. Rates of depression across the US have tripled since June of 2020, obesity rates continue to climb, loneliness levels are higher than ever and hitting young people the hardest, life expectancy is going down and rates of burnout are at record highs.
Meanwhile, companies continue to churn out wellness programs to little avail. So, what are the problems with workplace wellness – and what can we do differently?
Here are the top three problems I’m seeing:
1. We’re using individual solutions to solve organizational problems. Take burnout. The top five sources of employee burnout are rooted in the workplace itself – and have nothing to do with the individual employee. Specifically, the top 5 drivers of employee burnout identified by a Gallup study that surveyed 7500 employees include the following:
Rather than addressing the underlying causes of these drivers of burnout, most companies employ workplace wellness programs which merely serve as band-aid solutions, and if anything, make the problems worse. No amount of yoga or mindfulness or step challenges can make up for a toxic work environment or being asked to do the work of three. What’s required in most cases, are broad policy changes and organizational structural overhaul. Policies like paid family leave or coaching managers to engage in weekly conversations with each of their team members can make a real difference. Yet, another lunch n’ learn on how to develop a positive mindset won’t do much.
2. Companies invest more in rewards than developing programs that are actually meaningful. Today, I delivered a session called “The Power of Love & Connection” and afterwards received the kind of feedback I love most. “I had to thank you for this social session. It started as a path to complete contribution requirements but ended up being so much more. 😊” This kind of a response is one that I hear too often, indicating that the usual experience is one that is check the box. We can do better than that, and the way we can is by humanizing the programs that we deliver. Things like prioritizing stories over statistics, posing good questions that engage participants in thought-provoking discussions and employing adult learning theories can go a long way toward creating worthwhile programs.
3. We're focusing on the wrong people. Most wellness programs are directed toward the frontline workers, when they should be more directed toward those who actually have the political capital within the organization to take action. A better way of delivering workplace wellness would be team by team, with the team leader at the helm. The truth is that every manager is uniquely positioned to either persuade or dissuade their team members to engage with wellbeing – but most are just flat out unaware of the influence they hold. Every manager needs to know that while wellbeing may not be in their job description, they are the ones who are best positioned to make a difference in the quality of life for their team members – for better or worse. Most managers simply don’t know that, for example, they matter more to the health of their team members’ hearts than their doctors do. Moreover, most haven’t been given the guidance on what they can do to make a difference. This is where training can be helpful. And, most don’t know just how much wellbeing has everything to do with building a high-performing team.
If we want workplace wellness to actually work, then companies are going to have to actually do the work. That means taking a hard look at the policies that are in place and re-examining how business is done. It means going beyond "check the box" solutions and looking for, or better yet, building their own programs that are actually meaningful. And, finally, a whole lot more effort needs to go toward engaging the right people. And, the right people are team leaders.
Download the first chapter of my book, Workplace Wellness that Works.
I often ask audience members to consider what ME AT MY BEST® looks like for them.
I offer inspiring stories to get them thinking. Like Klaus Obermeyer, former Olympic skier, who celebrated his 80th birthday by clocking in at 80 miles an hour and now, at the age of 101 is still skiing! I also offer what ME AT MY BEST® looks like for me. As shown above, one of the ways that I manifest ME AT MY BEST® is when I'm doing a handstand! (In celebration of my earlier life as a competitive gymnast.)
ME AT MY BEST® can also be the simpler things in life - like when we are fully present with our partner, solve a challenging problem or have a flash of creative insight. Or, perhaps when we manifest the words of Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to fully thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” This is what life is really about, isn’t it?
Being and becoming our best, however we each define that.
What are strategies you can use to become your version of ME AT MY BEST®? Here are three ideas to get you started.
1) Imagine what’s possible, invoking inspiration from Maya Angelou. Just naming what ME AT MY BEST® looks like for you is a powerful exercise.
2) Reframe well-being as energy. What are those things that restore your batteries? What are those things that deplete them? An extensive Gallup Healthways study that surveyed people in over 150 countries identified five key elements that are the differentiators between those who are struggling and those who are thriving. They are as follows: physical, social, career, community and financial. I also like to call out "emotional" as the sixth key element.
3) Be the change. While investing in our own well-being may feel self-indulgent, it is in fact one of the most giving things we can do. When we engage in self-care, we positively influence others to do the same.
WATCH MY RECENT LINKEDIN LIVE HERE WHERE I DISCUSS THIS TOPIC MORE. (And, while you're there, be sure to follow my page so you can join me live next time.)
I’ll never forget the time that I reached into my mailbox and pulled out a form with big red letters across it: DENIED WITHOUT PAYMENT.
At the time, I was a teacher at a charter high school in San Francisco. Following a routine eye exam, I needed to schedule a scary follow-up appointment with a specialized institute to assess whether or not I was at risk of going blind. The catch was that the latest appointment I could book was at 1 pm, meaning I was going to have to miss some school. I thought through this hard. How could I take care of my health and at the same time make sure that my students wouldn’t be left behind? Yes, there was always the option of calling in sick and getting a sub, but everyone knows that sub equals no work. Plus, a sub equals more money spent, which my underfunded school could ill afford. Therefore, the best plan, I deduced, would be to make the appointment on a Wednesday afternoon, the day that students were dismissed at noon to allow for professional development time for faculty and staff.
Appointment set, I submitted the requisite form requesting time off (a formality, or so I thought), and then didn’t think much of it.
Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash.
Every week, I receive inquiries from people asking me about how to become a paid speaker. They note that they are “passionate” about speaking. Often, they’ve gotten their feet wet with a few engagements – enough to “catch the bug.” Now, they want more – a lot more.
“I’m just starting out,” they tell me, “and I really like it. How can I do more of it?” They often note, “Your work sounds interesting. Can you share how you got started?” What I observe as I unspool all of the threads that have led to where I am now, is that I can literally “see” their eyes glazing over.
The truth is that becoming and sustaining work as a paid speaker is hard work. Period. On top of that, there is no sure path to becoming one, especially a highly sought-after and well-paid one.
That said, here are some things that I’ve learned along the way as I have steadily built up a speaking career over time:
In 2008, I launched Motion Infusion. Since that time, I've had many people reach out to me asking me how to get started.
Here are my top 7 insider tips to launch your workplace wellness business.
1. Go deep. What makes you uniquely qualified to make a dent on lifestyle-driven healthcare crisis, leveraging the workplace? What kinds of stories can you offer? What are unlikely skills and perspectives that you bring, that no one else does? What's your secret sauce? For me, it's my teaching background that has served as the foundation for my unique angle within the field.
2. Get multiple perspectives. The more you can learn from others, the better - both in terms of content but more importantly, in terms of helping you to shape what you are going to actually offer. Here are a couple of good ones coming up:
In her classic hit, Tina Turner asked: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Similarly, you might hear your leaders asking: “What’s Health & Well-Being Got to Do with Safety?”
In case, we forgot, it’s called the “Health and Safety Act” not the “Health or Safety Act.” Or, as my friend and respected colleague Wes Alles, director of the Health Improvement Program at Stanford University noted: “Whether we are talking about safety versus disease, it is the same lifestyle, the same risk factors at work.”
Got a talk coming up? In the era of TED Talks, the ability to deliver presentations with a punch is something that many of us are after.
Having just returned from the awesome WELCOA Summit, I am feeling especially inspired. I was lucky enough to be part of the speaker lineup, alongside thought leaders like John Perkins, Ryan Picarella, Vic Strecher, Andrew Sykes, MJ Shaar, Brian Passon, Rosie Ward, Paul Scialla, Barbara Zabawa, Mitch Martens and many more.
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