Name Your Burnout — If you are waking up more days than not feeling overwhelmed, burdened, emotionally drained, and that things are unmanageable, then name the burnout. When I experience my own burnout, my turning point toward recovery did not start until I realized and named that I was experiencing burnout. That it was not only stress from my work, my Ph.D. program, and my relationship, but that I was in a full-on burnout state.
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 Dr. Kate Steiner.
Dr. Kate Steiner is a Burnout Recovery expert, consultant, coach, and founder of LIFT Wellness Consulting. She supports professionals who are burdened by burnout to recovery through a guided reflection process. Holding A Master of Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, her practice is grounded in the research-based Steiner Self-Reflective Sustainability and Wellness (SSRSW) model. She has been a researcher in wellness and burnout for over 15 years. Dr. Steiner is the author of the “Burnout: A Guide for Every Professional to Identify, Prepare, and Recover their Joy” and host of the From Burnout to Recovery Show with Dr. Kate. Her mission is to end the burnout cycle for professionals, so they are living happier, healthier lives.
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?
I grew up in Wyoming, which was a beautiful place to spend my childhood. I was lucky to be introduced to the power of nature and we spent a lot of time outside, whether it be on a lake in the summer or on the mountain skiing in the winter. The pace there is a little bit slower, and I think that I have continued to bring that feeling into my life as I feel the pull to hustle, and the need be busy. I grew up with and still have a very supportive family, I am grateful for my cheer squad. The two things from my childhood that best ground me and bring me comfort are time in nature and time with my cheer squad, which has expanded to include my spouse and several faithful friends.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Most often we come into our sense of purpose from a place of struggle. That is certainly true for me. My career in burnout recovery coaching started with my own experience with burnout. I had become the very worst version of myself. I was in denial that what I was experiencing was burnout and instead I blamed my situations instead of taking ownership of my reactions to them. When I named my burnout, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t avoid it or prevent it. Since that time, I have learned that burnout is not something we can prevent or avoid because it is part of the human condition. I now focus my time on helping others identify, prepare, and recover from burn events and burnout. It is important that we reframe the longstanding approach of prevention and avoidance of burnout and instead embrace it as part of the human condition with a focus on recovery practices. Now my main purpose is to ensure that no one experiences the worst version of themselves the way I did.
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?
My parents and family certainly have always encouraged me along the way and for where I am in my career right now, I also have my dissertation chair, Dr. Kara Carnes Holt to thank. When I defended my dissertation, which is where I developed the model, I use to help clients recover from burnout, she very clearly told me to not allow my work to sit on a shelf somewhere. That I needed to take it out into the world so it could help people. Anytime that I am having a hard day in my business I think back to that moment and the pride I felt in my work. I lean into the knowing that I am helping people become their happiest, healthiest selves.
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?
It is not the funniest, but it is certainly one of my strongest memories, my mistake was waiting. Looking back, I wish that I had named and addressed my own burnout sooner. I attributed it to general stress and for too long I aimed to take care of it on my own. I thought that as a researcher and practitioner in wellness and burnout recovery that I had the knowledge to address my recovery on my own. That resistance cost me time, energy, and happiness as I spent over a year feeling overwhelmed, burdened, sad, and confused. I wish, I knew someone doing the work I do now, then. Eventually, I did seek help with a professional counselor, and it was one of the best investments and choices I could have made for myself. Her outside perspective, and ability to name what I was experiencing but could not find the words to describe was the catalyst to my own recovery.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I have a cross-stitch framed in my office, it was made by my grandmother and hung in my mom’s office until her retirement. It says “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow is not looking good either.” I used to think that this was a cheeky way to tell people how busy you are. Over the last year or so, my thoughts on this quote have changed. I now interpret it as the only person I have control over is me, and I am not responsible to please others. This doesn’t mean that I do not help others, I help others every day, but I am not responsible for their emotions, reactions, or thoughts.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I was very excited to launch my podcast and YouTube show The From Burnout to Recovery with Dr. Kate on Transformation Talk Radio in August. On the show I interview different guests about their recovery journey. Every show ends with a Recovery Moment to help listeners take a pause and have a moment of reflection. My hope is that people will hear from others how they recovered from burnout and learn new strategies to incorporate into their own practices. At the very least they will now know that they are not alone in facing their burnout.
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?
Integrity, Tenacity, and Dedication are three of the character traits that have been key to my success. Integrity is being who you say you are, and delivery on the expectations you put out to people. It is important to me that my clients can trust me and the process I use when they enter a keynote, workshop, consulting contract, or coaching program. That means that I am honest with my experience and ability to help them achieve their goals. Tenacity and Dedication go hand and hand when it comes to business building. When I first started my business, I would approach each day without much of a plan, just getting things from the to-do list done. It worked to a point, but I wasn’t finding the kind of success that I wanted. Instead of giving up on my dream I shifted gears stayed with it and created a different way of approaching my workdays. There are some key ways that have helped me be successful in building my business and all of them involve connecting with other humans. Now I theme my days into research, outreach, networking, and sales. Each theme is a different way that I build relationships with people. That consistency with the tenacity to not give up during the slower times and the dedication to my goal of impacting millions of lives keeps me on track, especially during the hard days.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I work with clients to recover from burnout through the development of a wellness plan that addresses all areas of wellness. My work is published in peer-reviewed journals, and my coaching practice is grounded in the Steiner Self-Reflective Sustainability and Wellness (SSRSW) model. As a researcher in wellness and burnout for over 15 years, I have earned a Master of Counseling degree and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision.
My model works through reflection in the phases of observation, preparation, and recovery of burnout and burn events. Recovery is grounded in practices and rituals addressing all aspects of wellness including physical, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, intellectual, and financial. In addition, my work is focused on learning how to identify expected burn events (events that are known to cause feelings of burnout) and how to have a plan during those events and recover immediately from those events.
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 research and model highlights burnout in two different ways. First are Burn Events — these are activities, instances, events, and interaction with other humans that lead you to feel overwhelmed, fatigued, and emotionally drained. These everyday stressors need daily recovery, when we push through our day without recovery moments burn events will compound upon each other and create burnout. Burnout is identified by the long-term experiences specifically, feeling as though work is a burden, feeling that work is unmanageable, and the loss of joy in work or activities. When you are waking up more days of the week with these feelings than not, you are likely in a state of burnout.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
Through my research and work with clients, the opposite of burnout is a sense and experience of balance and feeling fully yourself. In a way your feel so natural that you are not even thinking about your wellness, those are engrained habits, that just happen every day. Clients of mine have described it as losing the feelings of guilt that they used to have when they took time for themselves. I think that is an important indicator that you have found your recovery space from burnout.
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?
Often when people come from that perspective, they do not realize that burnout is more than just a motivation issue. When someone is fully burned out, they no longer have the capacity to “grin and bear it” physical, mentally, or emotionally. When someone is in this state, they may be able to maintain work at a lower level but eventually their body will take over to protect them. When we are in a high stress state our natural instincts for fight, flight, freeze, or flop take over. While we are in this state, we are no longer rational thinkers’ cable of making decisions. Lots of people report an inability to make thoughtful connections when they are in burnout. This can make it very channeling in the workspace. Long-term burnout can impact your heart health, your mental wellbeing, even your hormones. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, it will only make it worse.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
My research has shown that burnout occurs when individuals lack support and connection at work or even sometimes in their life in general. Burnout can also occur when there are changes in the work expectations to include longer hours, more days, or more tasks without additional compensation, title elevation, or recognition. A lack of positive relationships with supervisors or higher-level executives, a lack of connection to the work (not understanding the purpose), and a lack of boundaries between the workspace and personal life can all be contributors to burnout. People want to know that they are making a difference or an impact in the work they do (regardless of profession) and when that is lost humans can quickly slide into a burnout space.
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.)
My model encourages a reflection process through 3 phases: Observation, Preparation, and Recovery. Here are five things you can do within this process to help build your resilience to burnout by creating a plan that addresses your burn events and incorporates recovery consistently.
- Name Your Burnout — If you are waking up more days than not feeling overwhelmed, burdened, emotionally drained, and that things are unmanageable, then name the burnout. When I experience my own burnout, my turning point toward recovery did not start until I realized and named that I was experiencing burnout. That it was not only stress from my work, my Ph.D. program, and my relationship, but that I was in a full-on burnout state.
- Identify Your Burn Events — Look at your last day/week/month and reflect on how each task, meeting, interaction, project, etc. impacted you. Did any of those lead to you feel fatigued, overwhelmed, or emotional drained? Then that was a burn event. Look ahead at your calendar and identify upcoming burn events.
- Create Your Preparation Plan — You want to be prepared for your upcoming burn events. Is that meeting a weekly occurrence? How can you prepare for it differently? Try an amp up song before the meeting starts or take a few deep breaths. Dance parties are my go-to for moments before something that I think will be stressful. Have a plan for your immediate recovery following the burn event, like a body scan, meditation, or walk. Your preparation plan also includes how you incorporate day to day wellness practices. Having solid wellness rituals help you respond differently to unexpected burn events.
- Create Your Recovery Formula — Essentially what experiences equal recovery (the sense of grounding and balance) for you. One simple way to think about this is to rework the acronym RICE which is used for physical injuries (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate). To use is for burnout recovery you want to Rest, Idle, Comfort, and Enjoy. Recovery can only occur when you take a break and allow your body and mind to rest. When you idle it is an intentional way to slow down, be present in the moment, and pause from the hustle of life. Reflect on what you would include on your Comfort List. This is a list of items, food, people, activities, pets, and experiences that bring you immediate comfort, calm, and a sense of peace. I have seasonal comfort lists and mac and cheese is my number one comfort item! Finally, make sure that you include play in your recovery. Play is fun and has an important role in our overall wellness and burnout recovery. Play is a way to increase your enjoyment of any task. (Anyone else dance down the grocery store aisles?)
- Schedule Your Recovery — Look at your calendar and put in recovery time for each day, week, and month. Then plan out what your recovery time will look like. Mine vary from a nap in my hammock, to an afternoon at the pool, to a day trip out of town to try a new to me restaurant.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Some people who are in burnout may not realize that they are in burnout. I know that for myself I spent several months denying my own experience. There have been times when a trusted person in my life has highlight my stress level to me, simply by asking “Are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself.” Burnout can take over our personalities, sometimes we need an outside source to point that out, from a place of care. It is important to remove any blame or judgement, simply check-in with a person and ask them how they are feeling, what is stressing them out, or how is work going? Offering to spend some time with them in a recovery activity can also be helpful. Learn what is on their comfort list and use that to guide you.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
I appreciate that many corporate offices are giving their employees time to recovery by shutting down for a week or a day. However, it is important to keep in mind that burnout did not happen over a week’s time and recovery will take longer too. Time off for mental wellbeing is a good start, employers should also implement day-to-day strategies to reverse and then prepare for burn events and burnout. Conducting assessment is an important part that employers need to learn what engages their employees, what burn events exist that are company-wide, and how do employees define their connection to the company/organization. Operating without this knowledge leads to band-aid solutions that likely won’t be long lasting. Companies also need to offer training to all employees on how to address individual burnout. As humans, employees come into work as a whole being (with needs outside of work) and need to have better tools on how they can observe, prepare, and recover from their own burnout and burn events.
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?
This series is amazing start with so many experts offering their different perspectives on the impact of burnout. Much like removing the stigma of mental health we need to keep talking about burnout and its impact on people and the workspace. This is where employers could offer more training by partnering with experts in the field. High school, trade school, and college students would also benefit from this education before they are in the workforce full-time.
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?
Our society places so much value on busyness and productivity that it creates unsafe environments for people to claim their burnout and move towards recovery. This can be because of their fear of being judged or punished for their burnout. That fear of judgement keeps us in a lonely place often trying to manage out burnout alone. You need support around you when you are making the kind of habit changes that are needed to recover from burnout. To avoid going it alone first share your burn events and burnout experiences with those who are closest to you in your life. That may be your family, partner or spouse, best friends, and close work colleagues. Let them know what you need from them to help you on your recovery journey. Share your plans for recovery, such as “I will be taking 20 minutes to decompress from work when I get home on weekdays, after that I will be ready for conversations and connection with you.” Or “would you be open to being my workout buddy, so I have some extra accountability?” Setting and communicating those expectations help others understand how you want to be treated and how they can best support you. After you have created your support team, consider if you would benefit from professional help. Finding a coach, counselor, therapist, etc. to guide and walk with you on your journey can help you achieve your goals much faster than when you try to go on your journey alone. I have found that by entering into a coaching relationship I am able to achieve so much more, as they help me get out of my own way.
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 to change the way we think about burnout. Previous research has framed it as something we can avoid, by implementing wellness practices. I’ve discovered that burnout and burn events are part of the human experience and when we try to avoid it, it places us in burnout denial. My process integrates wellness and self-care practices to prepare and recover from burnout, embracing it as part of our lives.
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 🙂
Gabby Bernstein — recently, I was struggling with my own mind set, so I went to my bookcase and choose a book at random that had been on the shelf for a while, but I had not read yet. The book I selected was “May Cause Miracles” by Gabby. Then I went to her website and started following her in Instagram. I love her perspective and the help that she is offering to people in the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can find out more about me, my work, my show and how they can work with me at my website at www.liftwellnessconsulting.com. Be sure to take the Feeling Crispy quiz to assess your current level of burnout.
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!