Mindfulness: it sounds simple, but meditation has many benefits. People who meditate regularly find it easier to give up life-damaging habits like smoking, drinking, and drugs.7 Even a brief pause and meditation allow you to take a step back and stop ruminating from the pressures of your day. It allows you to develop healthy habits and measure where your stress is coming from.
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 Brea Giffin, Head of Sales at Sprout Wellness Solutions.
Brea Giffin has spent years working with companies all over the world to help them implement leading employee wellbeing programs and use them to solve complex and costly business problems. Brea holds multiple degrees across various areas of human health, including a BSc in Neuroscience and graduate certificates in Health Promotion and Workplace Wellbeing.
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? What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My father was the main person who inspired me to pursue my career. Growing up, I always wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor just like my father. He recognized my skill set, where I excelled and where I could improve, and guided and supported me towards business and entrepreneurship.
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 have had so many people help me out along the way but I’d have to say one of the people I’m most grateful for is Sprout’s Chairman, Tom Blake. When I first started with Sprout, Tom was our CEO. He was the person who hired me and gave me a shot. He epitomizes what a leader should be. He’s someone who will push you professionally and be there for you personally — coaching you with anecdotes along the way. There are many stories I could share about Tom but, as a woman in a male dominated technology sales industry (a study by Fenwick & West LLP found that women held only 11.7% of the senior sales executive roles among Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies), I’ll always remember a story he told me about a young female sales rep he worked with decades ago. She was in a sales call with her manager (Tom, at the time) and the client hit on her — touching her thigh in the middle of the meeting. Tom immediately ended the meeting, scolded the client, and left the room with the female rep in tow — and lost a major deal because of it. Upon telling me that story, he made it clear that we would never do business with someone who behaved inappropriately with myself (or any other employee). It was a powerful way of calling out a pervasive issue that wasn’t openly discussed at the time (before #metoo). By him doing that, he made me feel safe and supported by the company. He made it clear that it was people before profits.
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?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the course of my career is that your people are your most important asset. When we were in our infancy as a company, we tried to grow the team without the support of HR people or recruiters, and ended up hiring people who were not a good fit for the role. We hired a lot of people who looked good on paper or came recommended by a friend of the company with many of those individuals transitioning out soon after. The revolving door of employees made growth nearly impossible. It’s also rare to find employees who have the appropriate skills to start a company, build a company and scale a company. Those life stages require people with different strengths and characteristics. Make sure to look at the intangibles a person brings to the team and seriously ask yourself if they are the right fit for where your company is today.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
As many of us in the tech space have heard once before, my father always used to tell me that “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. While this has been attributed to everyone from Confucius to Bill Gates, it’s so true, especially in the context of a start-up or scale-up business.
That saying resonates with me both personally and professionally. It’s made me conscious of embracing environments where I am challenged and am learning new things from people with diverse opinions and backgrounds. Never being afraid of hiring a “Rockstar” and always learning from others with a perspective that is different from yours makes you a better business person because it challenges you to think differently.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The pandemic served as the perfect time to strategize and launch a product that serves more than just the workplace. Taking our learnings from our corporate wellness solution, Sprout at Work, and years of market tested experience, we launched the Sprout Open Health API which already serves millions of customers globally who will benefit from understanding their health data and can make healthier lifestyle choices. The API brings together research and data science with cognitive behavioral science, game theory and behavioral economics to bring health and wellness to the masses through an industry-agnostic API.
Why was this necessary to launch? In 2020, brands and marketers across many different industries were forced to think about customer experience differently. Digital transformation accelerated and businesses needed to deliver value beyond the transaction and look for ways to engage customers and deliver tangible value in place of uninspired and generic offers and promotions. The Sprout Open Health API allows brands across any industry to quickly and easily add valuable new features to their new and existing apps, and safely and securely collect customer data. This enables brands to deliver more personalized experiences through relevant content, offers and even rewards to customers. In today’s market you need to really understand what is important to your customer and reward them based on their individual needs, wants, and behaviors — that’s what the API enables. Launching the Open Health API is a project I’m really passionate about and proud that, together with a strong team, we were able to test and bring this incredible product to market despite the challenges of a global pandemic.
Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Resilience — when growing a company, more things will go wrong than right. If you can’t dust yourself off and get back on your feet, your company will be doomed from the start.
A Sense of Humor — things don’t always work out when you’re trying to scale a company. Sometimes the easiest way to bounce back is to make a joke. Laughter makes the sting of losing an account or missing a target easier to deal with.
Friendliness — a lot of our early wins came from friends, family and business contacts who were happy to help open a door. You build a lot of relationships throughout your lifetime and your reputation as a friendly person can go a long way when you’re in a tight spot. Don’t burn any bridges.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I have a degree in neuroscience and have helped global companies implement wellness programs into their corporate culture for nearly a decade. As Head of Sales for Sprout, I have helped this company grow into a global leader in the corporate wellness industry and led our company’s growth, resulting in an 86% Year-over-Year growth rate since the launch of the Sprout Open Health API.
I have seen the effects of burnout across multiple industries and its effects on work productivity. It’s not something that should be ignored by employers. In 2021, burnout increased by 33%.
It’s undeniable that the workforce is fatigued and burnt out from the effects of the pandemic, stress of longer hours and the blurring of lines between work and life.
According to a study by Stanford University, women are disproportionately impacted and report higher levels of fatigue associated with Zoom calls than men, due in part to ‘mirror anxiety,’ feeling physically trapped, and the cognitive load from producing and interpreting nonverbal cues. Good bosses should assume burnout is already happening and address it while they can. Watch for signs of burnout and actively participate in the wellbeing of your organization by leading by healthy example — take your breaks, your PTO, encourage your staff to be open and vocal about their paint points and stressors, and encourage participation.
The benefits of prioritizing wellness in the workplace are clear. Employee stress costs employers in the U.S. 300 billion dollars annually. However, for every dollar invested in wellbeing, companies are seeing 3.27 dollars in savings. Even as employees adjust back from working remotely, it’s imperative employers take measures towards their health and wellness.
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?
Burnout goes beyond “feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted.” The World Health Organization even called burnout an occupational phenomenon in its International Classification of Diseases.
Academic experts and the World Health Organization outline three components of burnout:
- Exhaustion: Feeling depleted and fatigue
- Cynicism: Feeling more irritable. Small things might make you feel hostile and angry. You feel detached from your work and start cutting corners
- Negative emotions: Beginning to feel down about yourself; which may result in declining mental health
Millennials have higher rates of depression than any other generation. Longer work hours and stagnant wages for millennials means a higher rate of burnout, with many quitting their jobs for mental health reasons. 40% of workers say they’ve dealt with burnout during the pandemic specifically. Employers should continue to question the effort they’re putting into recognizing the signs of burnout, the systems they have in place to manage employees experiencing burnout, and how they will mitigate the influencing factors that are ultimately costing their business productivity loss.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
- When you wake up, you feel joy, excitement or passion for the work that has to get done.
- You’re creative, innovative and passionate about what you’re working on.
- Creative ideas come naturally to you and you’re able to connect the dots on projects.
- You’re able to shut down and disconnect — it doesn’t take a while to shut your mind off.
- Resentment doesn’t control your emotions.
- You don’t feel overwhelmed when you’re asked to take on another project or additional idea.
- You can delegate efficiently.
- You don’t get agitated or aggravated easily with colleagues or friends.
- You experience joy and feel relaxed while having dinner with friends, and can enjoy a Netflix binge without constant stress or worry in the background.
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?
A prolonged state of such agitation can cause physical damage to every part of the body. It can cause unhealthy patterns in your relationships leading to bitterness and fights which only add to your stress and burnout.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Gallup’s latest State of the Workplace report determined that U.S. and Canadian workers experienced the highest daily levels of stress during the pandemic, surpassing any other country in the world. Gallup estimates that low employee engagement costs the global economy 8.1 trillion dollars. The shock and uncertainty of the pandemic mixed with work from home stress caused 41% of workers to experience worry throughout most of the day, according to Gallup.
- Burnout is a real problem for everyone — prolonged stress and mental fatigue contribute to burnout.
- A toxic work environment where you don’t feel empowered to speak up or say no to additional workload and feel unsupported by your boss leads to burnout.
- Lack of social support, incentives and rewards.
- Lack of work-life balance or integration and having the expectation to work longer hours.
- Inability to feel like you are in control of your work and environment causes extreme stress and, ultimately, fatigue.
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.)
- The most critical thing is to become aware of your symptoms (agitation, lack of energy and focus) and take a step back. Reach out for help and tell colleagues and loved ones that you are struggling. It’s okay to need time off. It’s okay to recharge in a way that suits you. Prioritize yourself and your health.
- Talk with a trusted friend or reach out to a professional for counsel.
- Mindfulness: it sounds simple, but meditation has many benefits. People who meditate regularly find it easier to give up life-damaging habits like smoking, drinking, and drugs.7 Even a brief pause and meditation allow you to take a step back and stop ruminating from the pressures of your day. It allows you to develop healthy habits and measure where your stress is coming from.
- Divide up your to-do list in small sections: The to-do list is one of the biggest sources of stress as we look at a never ending list of things. So, one strategy I like to deploy is to divide items into even smaller portions so that they become easier to deal with. Eventually, bit by bit, that to-do list gets taken care of at your own pace and becomes more manageable.
- Put it into writing: When your mind won’t stop racing, write it down. You’ll find patterns in your thoughts and be able to identify root causes to pressures. Journaling consistently helps to guide you towards solutions and release some of the tension in your mind.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
The most important thing to do is to create an environment where it’s okay to talk about your feelings and come up with solutions. Secondly, understand your weaknesses. What are you not good at doing or working on? What is holding you back? Identify that, learn from it, and come up with a solution to either delegate that to someone else or to give it up entirely.
In conclusion — prioritize, delegate and be vocal about your needs.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
It starts with leadership: Leadership Drives Change — great companies are built on the backs of great leaders. Great leaders are never too senior to go on the coffee run because that’s an opportunity to take care of their employees. Great leaders make time to get to know people at all levels of their organization because they know that every individual is critical to the success of their company. These things seem simple but if they’re practiced every day, they will produce a more loyal employee base who works harder to move your company towards its goals.
- Leaders need to create an environment where employees are encouraged to take care of their mental health, and taking time off is a normalized part of the workplace.
- Communication from leadership and management lets employees know that their wellbeing is of utmost importance.
- Share examples from team leaders of how they are staying healthy and taking care of their mental wellbeing. Your company is in this all together and personal examples go a long way.
- Send reminders to your workforce to take their breaks, lunchtimes, and to make time for family and connecting virtually with friends during non-working hours.
- Provide resources and tips on how to build healthy habits and promote self care.
- Create company-wide wellness goals. Use your company’s communications channels to share updates and/or for employees to post about their own healthy living!
What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Company leaders and managers can play a pivotal role in raising awareness and supporting employee mental health, and it starts with modelling behavior. When we listen to others and share our own experiences we are showing respect and openness. By modelling this behavior for our employees we are letting them know that we are here to support them, that this is a safe place and that they are part of a community that will work together for everyone’s wellbeing.
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?
The most common mistake I see from founders is that they think they can do everything. Yes, you’re entrepreneurial but there are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t learn to be a CFO, Developer or any other specialized role overnight. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to identify as early as possible when you need help — and then find partners who buy into your vision and excel in the areas where you are weakest. Don’t wait too long to find your community.
Ok, we are nearly done. 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.
If I had the answer to that question right now, I’d be out there doing it! I don’t know exactly what that movement would be, but I know it would be in the area of preventative health. Perhaps something along the lines of getting a course on nutrition approved as a curriculum for elementary school students in our public school system (and then something that will help provide that nutritious food for underprivileged youth). I think teaching kids how to eat properly and healthy when they’re young will help with preventative disease rates in the future.
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 🙂
Peter Diamandis would be the person I would love to have a private lunch with! I’ve read all of his books multiples times and his easy to understand explanations of how converging technology trends are going to change the world have not only informed a lot of our business strategy and some of the “moonshot” ideas we have on our product roadmap, but have also informed my own personal investing strategy. His insight and passion make me excited to be part of the technology industry. I wish he would write another book on how the pandemic and its long term effects will change technology trends and generally how we live our life in the future. Peter, give me a call, let’s do lunch 😉
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.