Take a vacation. Everyone needs a break. If you’re feeling burned out at work, you may just need to have some time away to recharge and gain a fresh perspective. When you experience a lot of pressure at work, you may think the company won’t be able to survive without you and you just can’t get away. But you need to. You’ll be missed, for sure, but if you come back refreshed and with a new perspective on your work, you’ll start to realize the importance of taking breaks.
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 Melanie Musson.
Melanie Musson is a wellness expert with LifeInsurancePost.com. As a team leader, she finds getting to know her team and what makes them tick very rewarding. She, her husband and their five children live in the mountains of Montana and strive to take advantage of the vast outdoor opportunities that surround them.
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’m the eldest of three children, and I have the stereotypical first-child personality. I like to be in charge, and to this day, I don’t understand when my siblings don’t want to do what I tell them to.
I had a lot of fun with my siblings growing up. We were always making up games to play outside, and some of my favorite games we would play while we were swimming in lakes. I play those same games with my own kids.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In college, I had a favorite professor and he made me want to do my best work. After working diligently and carefully on a paper for his class, I received my graded paper on which he had written, “This is one of the best papers I have ever read.”
Receiving the praise of someone I respected so much stuck with me. I had poured my heart into the project and my work was rewarded. It’s also the first time I realized I could be an excellent communicator if I pursued it.
While many people have inspired and encouraged me, this experience stands out as one of the most meaningful.
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 grandparents were farmers and my grandma could get more done in a day than I could ever hope to. I used to spend summers on the farm and my grandma’s work ethic was inspiring. I always wanted to be just like her. But she wasn’t just interested in being industrious all by herself. Rather, she included me in her daily efforts. I loved to help pull onions and hang them, mow the huge yard with her, and feed the chickens.
She taught me that hard work was something to be proud of, and finishing a job brought great satisfaction.
On top of her work ethic, she also encouraged me with her pride in me. She loved to know what I was working on in school. She and my grandpa would share my term papers with others. My grandpa kept a stack of my papers ready to give to anyone he thought should read them. I’m sure all their friends groaned, but it sure boosted my confidence to know they were so proud of me.
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?
I’m not naturally tech-savvy, and when it comes to learning a new program, or even something as simple as a new password to access a familiar program, I’m almost always bound to encounter trouble.
I used to ask for help the first time my attempt was unsuccessful. And then, usually, before I even received a response, I’d figure it out on my own. So now, no matter how desperate I feel, and how sure I am that I won’t be able to figure it out, I force myself to try three times before asking for help.
I almost never have to ask for help anymore because I usually get It right by the third try.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. -Jane Austen in Emma
I love this because I have experienced its truth. I strive to know people so that I can understand why they do the things they do. I have friends with very different philosophies of life, but we have a deep heart connection anyway because I try to know their hearts.
The more I understand a person, the more I accept them naturally without even trying.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I love music! In fact, I have a bachelor’s degree in music. I am working on a project where I give piano lessons for free or deeply discounted to families that want to learn but struggle to afford private lessons.
I want all kids to have access to music lessons because I believe that studying music helps people to develop strength in just about every facet of life. Studying music helps kids in school, it helps them deal with depression, it gives them confidence, it teaches eye-hand coordination, and so much more.
I have five children, so I understand how unattainable private lessons can seem for large families. It’s just too expensive.
I am thrilled to share my passion with children and watch them blossom.
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?
I’m competitive. I want to be better than everyone, including myself, so I push myself to keep learning and keep improving.
I can read people’s emotions very well, even when they try to hide it. This enables me to be sensitive. People tend to be comfortable around me and willing to share their hearts with me. I love to learn from others and how they think. Understanding what drives people helps me become more tolerant of different personalities and styles.
I’m analytical. I can think through situations without allowing my emotions to control me. I like to understand why people do the things they do and feel how they do. That helps me
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I’m a leader in my business and part of my job is to monitor burnout of those working on my team. I’ve experienced burnout, and I’ve seen others deal with it.
By being sensitive to the signs of burnout, I’ve been able to help my team members navigate through the struggle to find a place of fulfillment.
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?
Burnout is the apathy that sets in when someone finds no enjoyment or fulfillment in their work or responsibilities.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
Fulfillment and satisfaction in your work and responsibilities are excellent motivators. When you’re happy and fulfilled by your contributions to the world, you’ll be motivated to continue, grow, and strengthen yourself.
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?
Your mental health is tied to your physical health and your work productivity. If you’re feeling burnout, it will be impossible to reach your potential. Burnout will weigh on your physical health and it will distract you from your work.
Individuals who are passionate about their work are also innovative. Their excitement helps them think of better strategies and ideas. That excitement also bleeds over to their coworkers and builds team spirit and productivity in others.
Some people are able to just push through and keep doing their job adequately, but they and their families and coworkers are missing out on the fullness that an individual attains when they love what they’re doing.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Feeling overwhelmed — Sometimes that feeling comes from your job. If you have too much on your plate and you fall behind, you may start to think you’ll never get caught up and you’ve failed.
No meaning in your job — Clocking in and putting in hours to earn a paycheck isn’t enough for most people to feel satisfied. They want to feel like they’re improving the world, helping others, making life easier, or doing something that has a deeper purpose than making money.
Stress — Stress that leads to burnout can be from your job, but it can also be from other areas in your life. If your home life is stressful, it can be difficult to get your heart into your job.
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.)
- If you’re experiencing burnout at work, one of the most important things you can do is talk about it. Don’t complain to your coworkers, but instead approach your supervisor and honestly explain your situation. Chances are, a good manager will have already picked up on your feelings. When you talk about your struggles with your manager, you may be able to come up with a plan to beat the burnout. Sometimes a change in responsibilities will provide you with a better fit and renewed satisfaction in your work. Just the act of voicing your feelings can help you feel better. Burnout can weigh heavy on your spirit, but talking about it often helps you feel freer.
- Take a vacation. Everyone needs a break. If you’re feeling burned out at work, you may just need to have some time away to recharge and gain a fresh perspective. When you experience a lot of pressure at work, you may think the company won’t be able to survive without you and you just can’t get away. But you need to. You’ll be missed, for sure, but if you come back refreshed and with a new perspective on your work, you’ll start to realize the importance of taking breaks.
- Try a new outdoor activity, or at least just get outside. Spending time in nature has a positive impact on mental health. I love to pick berries. I could spend days on end in the mountains picking berries and foraging for mushrooms. The most recent time I was out, I realized it’s not just the berries I love. I love the experience of being alone in nature. It’s quiet, I can hear the birds, smell the trees, catch a glimpse of a deer, and all those things bring me an incredible peace. Even though I’ve read studies of how nature impacts mental health, taking note of the experience myself made me even more of a believer.
- Make goals for yourself. If you’re overwhelmed, you may not feel like you’ve accomplished anything unless you can get caught up on everything. If you want to hike to the top of a mountain, the best way isn’t to just go straight up. You take switchbacks where you transverse the mountain, turn sharply and transverse the mountain the other direction. Switchbacks make it possible to climb to the top. Stop looking at the mountain and start breaking it down into switchbacks. And give yourself rewards for each switchback you arrive at. Set goals and give yourself a prize for reaching them.
- Talk to your friends about how you’re feeling. Talking to your boss can be an effective strategy, but it’s also important to talk to your friends because they’re your support. They may be able to help you see a different perspective, or they may encourage you to try a new approach, or they may just listen and care. All of those responses can help you work through your struggles.
Keeping burnout a secret will eat away at you. Talking about it can help you heal the problem.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
If your friend or colleague that you suspect is feeling burned out hasn’t shared their struggle with you, bring it up directly. Say that you’ve noticed they’re not happy with what they’re doing and you’re wondering what’s going on. Then, just listen. Hear them out. If they ask for your opinion, take a minute to process and then share your perspective.
You may need to help them see the value in what they do. Maybe they’ve lost sight of their contributions to the greater good, but you can reinforce that what they’re doing matters.
Each situation will require a different response, but listening will help you understand their situation and what your next step should be to help them.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
If you suspect burnout is happening with your staff, ask them about it directly. Tell them how much you value them and how you’re concerned. Let them talk about their struggles.
Think outside the box and try to come up with a strategy that will address the root of their burnout. Maybe they need less on their plate. Maybe they need to work with different people. Maybe they need a change of pace and a different department to work in. It’s worth your effort to get to the bottom of their burnout and develop a plan because if they renew their passion for their work, they’ll be a far more valuable employee.
One of the best ways an employer can help reverse burnout on their team is to know their team. If an employee doesn’t personally know their staff, they’ll miss a lot of the signs of burnout. Through personal relationships, employees will be more in tune with the needs of those they work with.
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?
Every workplace should have training on mental health and how it impacts the whole person. You can do online workshops or company retreats with special speakers. There are an endless number of ways you can accomplish mental health awareness training, but it’s something every place of employment should invest in.
Employers should schedule fun days for employees and families, such as a team picnic, a whitewater rafting afternoon, a holiday party, or any day designed for the purpose of having fun.
Employers need to work to make themselves approachable. That way, their team will look to them as a source of help instead of as someone to fear.
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?
Anytime someone dismisses another’s feelings is a mistake. If your employee comes to you and expresses their dissatisfaction with what they’re doing and you say, “You’re doing great. Keep it up,” you’ve just indicated that you don’t’ care how they’re feeling and you really don’t want to deal with it.
Instead, employers need to listen to the struggle, acknowledge the hardship, and commit to working with their burned out employee to find a resolution. It’s worth the effort.
Another major mistake is ignoring problems. Your staff will not just start feeling more fulfilled in their job if you ignore that there is a problem. Deal with the hard stuff. You’re in charge because you should be able to handle it.
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 develop a program to make music lessons attainable for every family. I don’t want finances to stand in the way of kids who want to learn an instrument. Music is good for the soul, and people who have learned to play an instrument have music to help them get through hard times.
When I was growing up, the children’s librarian from the library at the end of my block was my dear friend. I adored her. She would call me up when they got new books she thought I might like. We’d talk every time I visited the library, which was about every other day. She was a dear friend. After she told me she was being transferred to a different branch, I was angry and hot tears ran down my face.
I ran home, as a young teenager, and opened up my piano book and pounded out some Burgmuller. Being able to find an outlet for my feelings helped me work through them.
I want all kids to have access to the opportunity to learn music and experience all that music can give them.
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 🙂
Kathleen Battle. I have always been a huge fan of her voice, and when I was growing up, I sat in the front row as she was the guest soloist with the Philadelphia orchestra. The experience was everything I had dreamed it would be. Her voice was even more pure in person than it was on my recordings.
I’d love to learn of her experiences traveling the world and singing with other instrumental and vocal soloists. And then, I’d just beg her to sing me a song.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out my writings on wellness in LifeInsurancePost.com.
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!