Unplug to recharge: Just like our electronics need to be fully powered down from time to time to work better, so do we. We live in a culture of go, go, go, where we feel we must respond to all emails and texts instantaneously. This leaves us thinking that we can never disconnect for fear we’ll miss something or get in trouble at work. Whether you put an out of office on or communicate with others when you unplug so they don’t disturb you, find a way to completely disconnect. Your body and mind will thank you.
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 Shannon Talbot. Shannon is the Founder and CEO of Path to Presence, a Wellness Coaching Company based in Toronto, Canada. Shannon works with busy professionals who are burnt out from trying to juggle it all. She helps them learn to prioritize their well-being so they can have more energy and patience to do the things they love while still being successful, personally and professionally. Shannon does this through individual and group coaching, keynote speeches and writes a weekly wellness blog that can be found at pathtopresence.ca.
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?
Instead of wearing a pretty floral dress like other girls, I was that girl who chose to wear a skirt suit and a hat to a wedding. I envisioned working in a tall office building in a big city where I could wear fancy suits and have a meaningful title. So, when grade six hit and I was deemed unpopular by the cool kids, I turned my focus to school and earning money. I learned to balance getting good grades with working, and I loved it. I worked from age 12 through to university, and even while on exchange in Peru for school, I started a jewelry export business. The busier I was, the better I performed.
Upon graduating, I landed my dream job in Toronto, working for Canada’s largest international bank. At age 24, I traveled all over the Caribbean and Latin America for work, wearing the business suit I’d always dreamt of and working my way up the corporate ranks.
Then it came time for my husband and me to start a family, and a shift happened. I felt torn between being a good mom and wife and my career. I didn’t want to work as long of hours or spend so much time away from home but, I also wanted to move up the corporate ranks and with that came more hours and more responsibility. My husband and I went through fertility treatments and later were lucky enough to adopt two incredible sons. Once a mom, my stress, anxiety and guilt levels rose. And yet, I hid it from my colleagues.
I found myself switching jobs and companies, hoping it would be different in the next place. Each new role had me excited initially and eventually back to where I was, feeling unfulfilled and resentful at work. I knew something had to change. I was exhausted all the time and felt stuck.
I wanted to find a way to be successful personally and professionally while not burning out. I worked with a career coach, a therapist and a life coach and created a path that would lead me to my end goal — helping women to live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. And here I am today, living my dream as a full-time entrepreneur fulfilling my goal.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
A few years ago, my son spent a total of 31-days at Sick Kids Hospital for a perforated appendix. While he’s healthy now, it was quite the rollercoaster ride.
During this time, I was looking for books to read, and a friend I’d met at the fertility clinic told me about Michelle Obama’s book Becoming Michelle. Michelle shares her fertility struggles, and my friend found it very relatable for what she and I went through.
Little did I know what I would relate most to in the book was Michelle’s career journey. Michelle didn’t feel fulfilled as a lawyer, even though she was making really good money. I had been feeling stuck in my career for a while but told myself I was too old or inexperienced to pursue another path. I’d be crazy to give up a well-paying job that I was pretty darn good at to follow my heart and potentially make less money.
Sitting in the stillness of the hospital room at night, I realized how important our health, happiness and fulfillment are and how I ranked low across all of them. My goal was born.
I switched to a more fulfilling role in a completely different industry, advertising, while I figured out how to make my dreams come true. Then while on vacation, my phone fell in the lake and I completely unplugged for the first time in a long time. Upon getting home, I opened my laptop and saw an ad to become a Health Coach. A profession I hadn’t previously heard of yet checked all the boxes of what I was looking for. By the time my husband got home from the park with the kids, I had my business plan drafted to share with him, and two weeks later, I was on my way to becoming a Health and Life Coach.
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?
I’d have to say, my husband. He is both my cheerleader and my accountability partner (something we all need). While I’d say both of us are pretty practical, he’s more of a realist while I’m more of a dreamer, so we balance each other out.
The day my husband came home from the park, I was nervous about sharing my business plan with him. I expected him to think I was crazy for leaving such a stable, well-paying job when we counted on both of our salaries equally. To my surprise, he said, “this is exactly what you’ve been wanting,” and told me to go for it. Now, of course, I couldn’t quit my corporate job until we had a complete plan in place, savings put aside, and I had tested that my business would work. I set goals for what a successful test would look like and how much savings would make us feel comfortable.
Nine months later, I gave my boss six weeks’ notice and was on my way to becoming a full-time entrepreneur.
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?
Oh, I’ve made many mistakes along the way as I think all people should — it’s how we learn. The most significant theme for my mistakes is not being prepared for the elevator chat (literally). In my first job, I ran into the division’s president in the elevator and decided to introduce myself. He asked what I was working on and when I told him, his next question was, how’s it going? The thing is, it wasn’t going very well due to some unforeseen external challenges, so I gave a pretty generic answer. Upon telling my colleagues, they told me to always be ready to answer in situations like that. Fast forward to the early days of my new business, and someone asked me what a Health Coach was. Upon sharing my description, the woman looked like a deer in headlights, so I realized it was time to figure out my elevator pitch and practice, practice, practice.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness” (Anonymous).
For years I used the excuse of not having time for my wellness. I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t have time to prepare healthy foods. I didn’t have time to meditate or journal. I also didn’t fully believe things like meditation helped our well-being. I even saw my mom survive breast cancer twice, and yet, my health was never a priority.
It took me burning out, losing all motivation and my best friend getting breast cancer in her early 40s to realize things had to change. I had to find the time to look after myself, not only for me but for my sons. I joined the 5 a.m. club where I meditate, practice gratitude, journal, exercise and study to start my day off focusing on my well-being. I have never felt so focused, motivated and energized and have seen first-hand how focusing on our wellness positively impacts the other areas of our life. Plus, I’m setting the example for my kids who see that our wellness should be a priority in life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
When I first started coaching, I worked with clients who wanted to create healthier long-lasting habits. We worked on ways to eat, sleep, exercise, and manage their stress better, and set 90-day goals.
As my business grew, I shared more on social media and the next thing I knew, people were coming to me for career coaching. They felt stuck and wanted my help. At first, I was hesitant as I didn’t want to confuse my clients by offering both health and career coaching, so I called my business coach. She asked me to repeat what I offer clients, so I did. I shared that “I work with busy professionals who are burnt out from trying to juggle it all. I help them learn to prioritize their well-being so they can have more energy and patience to do the things they love, while still being successful, personally and professionally.”
By saying my offering aloud, I immediately clued in that career is an integral piece for many people who want more balance in their lives. It’s not a departure from wellness — it’s part of the whole picture we need to look at.
I now appreciate just how much health, happiness and fulfillment are all intertwined. We can’t improve everything at once, but improving one area at a time will positively impact the others. And feeling fulfilled and energized by our careers is a cornerstone to being healthy and happy.
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?
- Authenticity. It took my son reminding me as he was wheeled away for surgery to “always be brave and be yourself.” He was five at the time and wiser than I. You see, I’d been acting how I thought I should for a very long time to move up the ranks. Hiding my true self and my struggles. Becoming a mom changed me, and although it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me, I did lose myself for a while there in the process. I felt societal pressures to leave home at home, and it took a long time to realize I operate at my best when I’m my true self, unapologetically. And it’s a heck of a lot less exhausting. It also attracts clients to me — they feel they can relate to my story and know they can be themselves with me without judgment.
- Empathy. Ugh, I have been told so many times, “you’re too nice” and “how can you be a leader when you’re so nice”? Here’s the thing, you can still be nice and tough at the same time. But doesn’t everyone deserve respect and empathy? You never know what someone is going through outside of what we see, so I’d rather lead with compassion to build a relationship and trust and keep the lines of communication open.
- Problem-solving. There is always a solution to a problem — it just may take time and some creative thinking to find it. I like to do this by stepping back and looking at the actual goal to be achieved. Was the goal appropriately framed, or is it too narrow? Is it actually what the person or company wants, or is there another way of looking at it? For years I dreamt of being pregnant but was that my ultimate goal? Nope. My ultimate goal was to be a mom, and I achieved it through adoption. Sometimes we need to make sure we’re asking ourselves the tough questions around what we really want for other solutions to appear.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
There are two reasons:
1. It took burning myself out for me to realize I needed to lead a healthier, more balanced life professionally and personally. I was stressed and anxious all the time, and it was taking a toll on my family and me. One year my sons even asked if they could give me a new year’s goal — to be less angry all the time. My heart sank. But I knew they were right, and I set the goal.
2. I became a Certified Health Coach to help companies and working professionals recognize the signs of burnout and what to do to reduce them.
People view burnout as a badge of honor and something to be rewarded for in today’s world, and I hope to reverse that trend.
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?
By the actual definition, burnout is emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. However, I best like to describe it as thinking of your body as a car with the low fuel light on. It’s not entirely out of gas, but it’s getting close, and if you don’t stop to take the time to refuel it, it will no longer function, and you will be stuck.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
Thriving is the opposite of burnout to me. Waking up with energy and actually looking forward to the day ahead. Not dreading Sundays knowing the weekend is almost over. Having the ability to think clearly and focus on tasks. Really just feeling strong, mentally, physically and emotionally.
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?
According to a Forbes article from April 27th, 2021, “employee burnout is at historic levels. More than 70% of employees reported being burnt out and feeling that their employers aren’t doing enough to address workplace burnout.”
If not reversed, burnout can have severe health impacts, psychologically and physically, such as depression and chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Burnout is also being linked to “The Great Resignation” that’s currently underway, whereby 41% of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year (Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index). People feel so burnt out that they see quitting their jobs, even without another one to replace them, as their only option. Burnout also decreases productivity, so we’re actually less productive by working longer hours and not taking the time to recharge.
In summary, burnout is impacting employee health, turnover, unemployment, productivity and healthcare costs. It is also a key reason why I offer my services to companies to help them reverse these stats.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Burnout can be caused by external factors linked to stress (work/home environment) and internal factors related to anxiety (personality characteristics) when experienced for prolonged periods. Through my research, I’ve found burnout to be caused by one or more of the following:
- Having unrealistic work goals and workload
- Carrying a lot of guilt
- Feeling underappreciated
- Striving for perfection
- Lack of control
- Lack of access to support and resources
- Being surrounded by others who are burnt out
- Constantly caring for others (aging parents, children) without a break
- Lack of setting boundaries
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?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
Starting in grade five, I had neck problems. My neck would just get stuck, and not only did it hurt a lot, I felt silly having to turn my whole body to see someone or something. I also suffered from stomach issues, especially leading up to a new situation. It took me until well into my 30’s to realize these were signs of anxiety and stress. And while certain levels of stress and anxiety are OK and can actually fuel creativity, too much causes burnout. Once I finally prioritized my well-being and started following the advice I’ll share in a minute, I have not had my neck freeze, and I now know if my stomach or neck are acting up, I need to pay attention to what that’s telling me.
The first step of addressing burnout is knowing the signs. What have you noticed changes in your body, physically, mentally and emotionally, when you’re under chronic stress or anxiety? What patterns do you see repeating?
The second step is to reduce burnout — here are five ways to do so:
- Set up a bedtime routine.
There is a reason babies and children do well on a routine, and adults are no different. There is also a reason sleep deprivation is used as torture. We need a good night’s sleep regularly. That means getting 7–9 hours of sleep every night. One way to maximize your sleep quality is to power down one hour before bed. This means no electronics or other stimulants during this hour. Try a bubble bath, writing or reading. This will signal to your brain it’s time to wind down, and you’re more likely to get a better sleep.
2. Eat a well-balanced diet.
For years I lived off processed foods, coffee and sugar, and it wasn’t until I started eating healthy regularly that I saw the difference it made. The thing is, while these foods make us feel good and energized at the time, they put us on a blood sugar rollercoaster that has us going up and down. And when we’re down, we start the cycle all over again by grabbing that coffee or chocolate. By eating a well-balanced diet, we’ll stabilize our blood sugar and have more consistent energy as a result. Plus, we’ll sleep better as our blood sugar won’t crash in the middle of the night, waking us up.
This can be in the form of asking for help or even just sharing that you’re feeling burnt out with your family, friends or colleagues. Sometimes just acknowledging it aloud helps us recognize how we’re feeling, and chances are, others are feeling the same way. By opening up and sharing, you can get help or even just more ideas for reducing burnout.
4. Make time for physical activities and ones that you enjoy.
At age 38, I started running and wish I’d done it ten years sooner. Not only do I feel more physically stronger than I have in years, but it also helps me clear my head and increases my focus and productivity. The key is to try activities until you find one that you enjoy, so it’s something you look forward to. I also enjoy cranking my music and dancing, especially with my kids, and going for a brisk walk while listening to a good podcast.
5. Unplug to recharge.
Just like our electronics need to be fully powered down from time to time to work better, so do we. We live in a culture of go, go, go, where we feel we must respond to all emails and texts instantaneously. This leaves us thinking that we can never disconnect for fear we’ll miss something or get in trouble at work. Whether you put an out of office on or communicate with others when you unplug so they don’t disturb you, find a way to completely disconnect. Your body and mind will thank you.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
The best thing you can do is talk about it. Acknowledge it and offer your support. It may not be accepted right away but keep trying. Many people who are burnt out don’t like asking for help, so it will be hard for them to take it.
You can also refer them to a professional. A coach like myself who specializes in burnout, a therapist or a doctor. Most professionals are equipped to discuss burnout, and if we don’t feel qualified, we will refer them to someone who is.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
Create a culture where completely unplugging is OK. Especially in a work-from-home environment where everyone’s phones and computers are an arm’s length’s away, ensure employees know they are not expected to be on call 24/7. If emergencies do pop up, have a plan in place like you’ll call someone if needed, so employees don’t feel they need to constantly check their work email, especially after hours.
Employers should also set boundaries with their partners and clients, internal and external, and define what counts as an after-hours emergency and what can wait until the next business day. Service level agreements are in place for a reason so that everyone understands the expectations and they can be met.
We’ve become a culture that values immediacy, and that’s taking a toll on our well-being. We need to stop treating everything as a life or death situation unless it actually is.
Lastly, employers can remind their teams of the tools and resources they offer for employee well-being. They can also bring in a wellness expert or coach to work with their teams one-on-one or in groups.
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?
Leaders need to open up more about their own struggles and let employees know that making mistakes is OK. I saw it in my past workplaces, and I see it in my clients; people are scared to make mistakes for fear of not getting promoted, losing their bonus or worse, losing their jobs.
Actions speak louder than words, so the more we see leaders leading by example, the more employees will follow suit. If leaders go on vacation and unplug from work, it’s more likely their employees will feel they can do the same. If leaders share stories of their mistakes and lessons learned, more employees will believe they don’t have to be perfect to succeed.
I also think employees need to share their thoughts and concerns more. I still remember finally telling one of my bosses that my husband and I were trying to adopt a baby. This meant that I could have just a few days’ notice that I would be a mom or that it could take years. I wanted to let her know so we could have a plan in place, yet I also wanted to ensure I wasn’t penalized for it and treated as if I was already on my way out. My boss looked at me and said, “Shannon, you could walk in here tomorrow and give your two weeks’ notice, and it would be the same — why would I ever give you fewer opportunities while you’re here?” I had so much anxiety leading up to that conversation, yet my fear completely subsided by opening up to my boss, and I could go back to focusing on my work. Sure, the conversation could have gone differently, but I would have dealt with it by looking for another job in a more supportive culture.
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?
One question I ask my clients a lot is, “when you’re so busy looking after everyone else in your life (family, co-workers, clients), who’s looking after you?” The answer I usually get is “no one.” So, then I ask, “what happens when you get sick and can’t look after anyone else? What good are you to the others in your life when you’re so run down, you can’t get out of bed or worse?” These are tough conversations to have, but conversations we need to have. Conversations leaders need to start having as well.
I’ve seen so many people tell themselves, “I can just power through. Once I’m done this project, I’ll rest.” But when we work in such a productivity-centered, fast-paced society, another project will always come along, and taking time to rest will rarely happen. Others get ill when they are burnt out from weakened immune systems due to stress. And what do you need most when you’re ill? Rest. But again, they tell themselves they will get better once the project completes and, in doing so, can make themselves sicker, sometimes even landing themselves in the hospital.
What these people should do is ask for help. Asking for help is really hard, and unfortunately, it is viewed too often as a weakness. However, when we’re burnt out, our brains are foggy, so a lot of the time, we need help to get out of the fog or at least to get a lightened workload until we can reverse our burnout. After asking for help, they should then follow the five steps listed above, especially the sleep!
Employee well-being is a crucial statistic that should be measured quarterly and tracked the same as all other metrics as it directly impacts productivity and thus revenue.
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.
I want the day to come when people can openly share their mental health struggles without the stigma. When feeling anxious or depressed is viewed the same as a broken bone, and no one is judged for taking time off to address it. When things like withdrawing from the Olympics for mental health concerns are looked upon the same as if someone withdrew for a physical injury. Or seeing a therapist for a regular check-up is equal to going to the doctor or dentist.
Earlier this year, I openly admitted to my LinkedIn community that I suffer from anticipatory anxiety. Suffering I hid, thinking it would keep me from getting ahead in the corporate world. By sharing my struggles, I opened up the doors to more honest communication, and for the first time in a long time, I felt fully seen and heard. People reached out to let me know that my story helped them feel better about their own anxiety; that they weren’t alone. Unfortunately, many also said that they weren’t yet ready to share their struggles with their employer or network for the same fears.
This diagnosis of anxiety from a psychologist came fifteen years into my career, and I was shocked. I’d always thought I was just stressed. Turns out I’d never really learned the difference between anxiety and stress and how anxiety is based on internal factors, and stress is from external aspects. With this diagnosis came anger. Anger that I’d never openly heard a colleague or manager share their struggles with anxiety and that no one once mentioned I should talk to someone. But with anger also came a drive to share my story and encourage others to do the same.
Sharing our personal struggles more openly and without shame will only help normalize these conversations.
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 🙂
In addition to Michelle Obama, I would say, Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer-turned best-selling author and happiness subject matter expert.
I’d read Gretchen’s book the Happiness Project years ago and loved it, but the most impactful moment came from her being interviewed by Jay Shetty for his podcast. Just a few minutes into it, a line she said had me stop in my tracks and simultaneously bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Tears of joy and frustration and of relating to something so profound it hurt. The line was this: “I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” Wow. Finally, I had words for these feelings I’d been carrying around for so long. I, too, would rather fail as a coach/entrepreneur than succeed in a corporation. I had finally found what got me excited to jump out of bed in the morning and no longer dread Sunday evenings, and if it meant me earning less money, it was worth it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
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!