Accept it. As a proud person, just accepting that I couldn’t do it all was a hard task in itself. I suffered from burnout in my early 20’s because, at that age, I thought I was limitless. I thought that I could work all hours of the day and still work out, see friends, network, travel, etc. and not feel any negative effects. Don’t make the same mistake I did and ignore your body’s cry for help. Accepting that you’re burnt-out shows that you’re ready to take action towards feeling better instead of just putting your head down and trying to power through a problem that won’t go away on it’s own.
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 Jen Alico.
Jen Alico is a 300hr Certified Meditation Coach and Corporate Wellness Expert, serving hardworking professionals who suffer from burnout. Just 1 year after earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Accounting, Jen found herself burnt-out in the corporate world. During that time she found meditation; which helped her overcome burnout, establish work/life balance, and gain confidence in many aspects of her life. Now she’s using what she’s learned to help both individuals and teams of hardworking professionals overcome stress and burnout through meditation and mindfulness.
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 was born and raised in Buffalo, New York as the youngest of three girls. I come from a very loving and supportive family environment which remains true to this day. I attended Kent State University to study accounting. That was when I started to realize the dream of someday running my own business. After 4 years at Kent, I decided to further my education by attending Case Western Reserve University; where I earned my Master’s of Accountancy degree.
Although I was offered several jobs at different CPA firms post-graduation, I knew that wasn’t the route I wanted to take. So instead I moved to New York City and got a job as the Financial Controller at a startup handbag company. This was when I suffered from an extreme case of burnout. I went through 2 years of chronic illness caused by burnout, traveling to doctors all over NYC and to the Mayo Clinic searching for answers. After countless doctors told me that they didn’t know what was wrong with me, I decided to take matters into my own hands. That’s when I found meditation and it saved my life.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was initially inspired by the people that I surrounded myself with during my freshman year at Kent. I had a tight-knit group of friends in the business program and we always pushed each other to think with an entrepreneurial mindset. As time went on, the urge to create a business grew stronger and I found myself gravitating more towards entrepreneurs, both in jobs and in friends. That’s why I was able to feel confident when pursuing my Meditation Coach certification. With my accounting background and the support system I built, I knew that now was the time to follow my dream of running my own business.
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?
There have been so many people who have helped and encouraged me along the way but nothing compares to the support of my family. Not only have they celebrated every success and win with me, but they have also continued to believe in me and my career even when I couldn’t believe in it myself.
For example, the idea of becoming a Meditation Coach stemmed from a conversation with my sister. I wanted to create a business so badly but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted it to be. I had just two criteria, 1) create a wellness-focused business 2) help other people. As I was explaining this to my sister, for the thousandth time, she said “what about meditation?” Then the lightbulb turned on. Everything that meditation did for my life flashed through my mind like a movie. It taught me how to overcome burnout and create a work-life balance. It healed my body from chronic illness. It brought me out of a depressive episode. It taught me mindfulness. It saved my life. Bonus points, it matched my criteria! That night, I was up late researching meditation certifications until I found one that aligned with my vision. I registered that week and, just like that, I took my first step towards creating a business of my own.
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?
Hands down, the most interesting, and now funny, mistake I made was bringing my work to doctor appointments. While visiting doctors to try to figure out what was wrong with me (A.K.A. when I was suffering from burnout), I always brought my laptop with me. Even if I was going to be out of the office for just an hour. My life was so out of balance and I was so concerned about falling behind at work that I didn’t even consider that the thing that was making me so sick was the thing that I was literally carrying with me to these appointments. Of course, I look back now at how naive I was then and laugh. But in the thick of it, that laptop and what was on it was all I cared about.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is actually from a poem by Edgar Albert Guest:
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
This poem stems from my childhood. At every family dinner and function, my Grandpa would stand up and recite it from memory. When he got to the last line the whole family would say, “and he did it!” together. When I got my first job out of college, I printed out the poem and hung it at my desk so that I could read it to myself whenever I felt discouraged. Not only does the poem bring a smile to my face, it also reminds me to keep working towards my goals.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
In the past, I offered just an 8-week 1:1 coaching program but now I have extended it to welcome three and four-month clients as well. This decision was a very easy one to make because most of my 1:1 clients were extending themselves after the 8-weeks were up. With this new offering, I’m able to dive even deeper with my clients and guide them through challenges they’re facing far beyond burnout while still keeping them accountable in terms of maintaining a work-life balance.
I’m also launching a new 30-minute corporate mindfulness lunch and learn series. These workshops are free, virtual, and open to anyone. During each one, you will learn simple tips and tricks to reduce workplace stress and increase productivity. Previous attendees have said that they leave feeling the most relaxed they’ve ever felt in their life and have proceeded to have one of their most productive days at work. If you want to learn how you can attend these workshops yourself, sign up for my newsletter which can be found on my website.
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?
Independence, the ability to recognize when I need help, and passion. When starting a business on your own, especially a new type of business, there are going to be a lot of people that don’t understand what you’re doing, how you can make money doing it, or why it’s important to you. Being independent has given me the strength to continue to push forward in my business without relying on others for validation. I know that “the ability to recognize when I need help” is a little ironic coming after “independence,” but hear me out. When starting or scaling a business you’re not going to know how to do every single thing that comes with it. If you have the capacity to learn a new skill on your own, that’s wonderful and I highly recommend you do that independently. But, in reality, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the best investment you can make in your business is in other people. I think passion is a given in any business. If I wasn’t passionate about my business, I would’ve stopped a long time ago. Passion is my drive to keep going. It always shows up when you need it, like those times when nothing seems to be going your way.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
For two years, I suffered from an extreme case of burnout myself. I saw countless doctors seeking answers that none could give me. It was through my own meditation practice, research, and dedication that I was able to heal from burnout and continue to work in the corporate world. Then I decided to take things a step further and earn a 300-hour Meditation Coaching certification. That gave me the tools to teach others about how to use meditation and mindfulness to improve their lives. Since starting my business, I’ve not only helped individuals beat burnout through 1:1 sessions but have also helped corporate teams manage burnout, reduce stress, make high-stakes decisions mindfully, and increase productivity.
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?
In simple terms, burnout is unmanaged stress that accumulates in the body over time. Think of it as your body constantly being in fight or flight mode. It’s good if you need a quick adrenaline rush to get out of a scary situation. However, it can be detrimental to your health when you live in this state for too long. Symptoms of burnout can show up differently in each person. Common symptoms include irregular digestion patterns, skin rashes, body aches, constant mental and physical exhaustion, brain fog, irregular sleep patterns, an increase in alcohol and/or drug use, development of irritability and/or impatience, loss of productivity, headaches, migraines, and depression.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
The first words that come to mind when I think about the opposite of burnout are health, productivity, engagement, balance, readiness, energy. It’s waking up each day feeling like you’re mentally and physically prepared for anything that’s to come your way. It’s your body and mind seamlessly working together and at their optimal levels. It’s feeling excited about life, not dreading getting out of bed every day.
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?
I’m a believer in working hard and pushing limits, but there is always a line that can be crossed and that’s when burnout hits. As I explained before, when struggling with burnout, your body is in fight or flight mode. This means that your sympathetic nervous system is pushing out hormones, like adrenaline, so that you can take action. Side-effects of this include an increased heart rate and blood pressure, altered memories, brain fog, muscle tension, and more. Research has shown that the recovery period after a fight or flight response is 20 to 60 minutes. Now imagine yourself experiencing burnout. Your body is waking up in that fight or flight mode every single day. Think about all of the hormones, and side effects that come with, that your nervous system is releasing when this is going on for days, weeks, months, years. It’s going to take a lot longer than 20 to 60 minutes to recover from. This is what causes long-term damage to your health.
In terms of productivity, I encourage you to think about a time when you felt overwhelmed and stressed. Imagine the environment, what kind of foods and drinks you consume, your sleeping habits, and how your body and mind felt. Now, think about those same things, but at a time when you felt the most productive. Now compare the two. Doesn’t it seem like you’re thinking about two completely different people? When we’re operating from a place of unmanaged stress or burnout, productivity plummets. This is because stress causes a lack of focus, energy, and motivation which in turn causes the quality of work to decline, strained relationships, and eventually high rates of staff turnover.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
The majority of burnout cases I see stem from the workplace. However, burnout can also be caused by the death of someone close to you, abuse, financial insecurity, societal pressures and expectations, and trauma. If you’re unable to manage and work through the stress these situations cause, you may experience burnout.
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.)
- Accept it. As a proud person, just accepting that I couldn’t do it all was a hard task in itself. I suffered from burnout in my early 20’s because, at that age, I thought I was limitless. I thought that I could work all hours of the day and still work out, see friends, network, travel, etc. and not feel any negative effects. Don’t make the same mistake I did and ignore your body’s cry for help. Accepting that you’re burnt-out shows that you’re ready to take action towards feeling better instead of just putting your head down and trying to power through a problem that won’t go away on it’s own.
- Talk about it. This is most important in the work setting. I highly encourage you to let your team know that you’re feeling burnt-out. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get that promotion or that you aren’t good at your job. It shows your team that you’ve hit your limit (everyone has one) and that you need to shift your focus temporarily. Communicating your current limits with your team will be heavily favored over leaving them in the dark and appearing to “drop the ball” in projects, meetings, etc. Plus who knows what positive conversations or movements you may spark when being honest about burnout with your colleagues.
- Create a routine. This is typically the first thing I do with my 1:1 clients who are suffering from burnout. Creating a routine gives you purpose and something to look forward to each day. I recommend creating a routine for the morning because it will help set a positive tone for your day. The routine doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to wake up two hours earlier to do it. It can be as simple as waking up, brushing your teeth, making the bed, and meditating for 5 minutes. The only criteria for this routine is just to make sure it feels good to do. I recommend incorporating a mindfulness practice within your routine, which I’ll talk more about in number 5.
- Establish boundaries. This is usually where I get the most push-back. Establishing boundaries seems to scare a lot of people because they think that boundaries are firm and can’t be adjusted. However, creating boundaries is just like creating balance in life. As your life shifts and evolves, so does your idea of balance. You may need to create a boundary today that prioritizes taking a 30-minute lunch away from work. But then maybe next year you have a child that requires you to take a 60-minute lunch away from work in order to tend to their needs. Your priorities, and therefore your boundaries, have shifted. Now think about a boundary you would like to set for yourself and do it!
- Incorporate mindfulness practices into each day. I had to save the best for last. Bringing mindfulness into your day can not only decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout but can also increase productivity, better your sleeping habits, and help you create a work-life balance. Some daily mindfulness practices I recommend are meditation, breathwork, journaling, and movement/exercise. Mindfulness can also be incorporated in small ways throughout your day. For example, being mindful about taking an actual lunch break. Maybe that means eating away from your desk, eating away from all electronics, or going on a short walk around the block. Another small act of mindfulness could be opening the window to let fresh air in. Small shifts like these in your day can create a major positive impact. Remember that consistency is key! You’ll see the greatest results when committing to your mindfulness practice everyday.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
The best thing you can do is ask how they want to be supported. Remember that you are a bystander and that it’s not your responsibility to reverse their burnout for them. Instead, let them know that you are here for them and that you’ve found this article as a resource that you think could help them, if they are willing.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
At the most basic level, employers can encourage open communication with employees. Studies have shown that 80% of workers say they feel stress at work and need help trying to manage it. Create an environment in which your employees feel comfortable sharing honest feedback on current projects, workloads, and expectations. With this, the most important thing you can do is use their feedback to create change.
To further help their staff, employers can hire a corporate wellness expert, like myself, to host workshops and interactive presentations. They can also create strict email hours, dedicate time each week to employee mindfulness practices, provide unlimited mental health days, build colleague support groups, and encourage meditation in the workplace. Taking company time to implement these things will never hurt your business, it will quite literally do the opposite. Research has shown that businesses with workplace meditation programs saw a 120% increase in productivity as well as a 520% profit increase.
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?
Refer back to tip number two and start talking about it. I’m sure you’re not the only one feeling burnt-out from work. Listen to your colleagues’ stories and then when you feel ready, approach your managers together. Most of the time, managers are not fully aware of how each staff member is feeling, but will be happy that you’ve brought it to their attention. Also, don’t be afraid to openly take a mental health day. This in itself will spark thought amongst employers. Lastly, bring the idea of wanting to participate in corporate wellness workshops to your manager. Explain to them that it’s something you and the company will greatly benefit from. The theme of all of these suggestions is to not be afraid to take initiative. Let your employer know what you would like to receive from them while working at their company.
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 is a lack of consistency. Beating burnout requires regular attention. That means standing firm in the boundaries you’ve set for yourself and making your routine and mindfulness practices nonnegotiable every day. Another common mistake that I’ve seen is people just throwing money at the issue. There’s this idea that one weekend retreat or trip to the spa is going to fix everything. Although I’m a big fan of retreats and spa days, they’re not going to magically reverse weeks or months of burnout. In terms of businesses, a lot of employers think that gift baskets, happy hours, and free team lunches will reverse employee burnout. I’m not sure how this became many businesses’ first line of defense, but it needs to stop. These are great perks that I encourage employers to maintain, but if you truly want to help the wellbeing of your employees then you should be encouraging and supporting their work-life balance and daily mindfulness practices.
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 would love to host a global Burnout Prevention Day where companies give their employees the day off to relax, recharge, and reset with a little help. Throughout the day, employees would have access to interactive workshops, meditations, presentations, movement, and support. The purpose of the day is for employees to assess what areas in their life need some extra attention and employers can use this information to update their wellness policies for the year. Employees will end the day feeling incredible and more confident in themselves because of the tools they learned. Employers will be given priceless information about how certain changes to their company’s internal operations can massively increase productivity and profit.
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 🙂
If I could have a private meal with anyone it would be Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble. I immediately thought of her for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she gracefully overcame great conflict at a male dominated company and went on to create her own wildly successful business. As a woman who previously worked in a predominantly male field myself, she is truly inspiring to me. More importantly, she has started a movement towards bettering employee mental health. Bumble recently released that they will be giving all employees a paid week off for their mental health. I would love to talk to her more about this and share with her some additional things Bumble can do to support their employees’ mental health and prevent workplace burnout.
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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!