Tara Lilien: “Find the balance”

Find the balance — Get exercise and sleep, practice mindfulness, or start a new hobby. These are all outcomes that can help you find balance in your life and avoid further burnout. At our company, we give employees “gone fishing” time each week to take time out of the business day to care for themselves. One employee […]

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Find the balance — Get exercise and sleep, practice mindfulness, or start a new hobby. These are all outcomes that can help you find balance in your life and avoid further burnout. At our company, we give employees “gone fishing” time each week to take time out of the business day to care for themselves. One employee shared during a recent team meeting that she takes daily walks during this time, which inspired me and a few others to do the same.


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 Tara Lilien, Partner and Chief Talent Officer at Peppercomm.

Tara is responsible for talent management, development, engagement and acquisition for Peppercomm, including creating an employee experience with the goal of being a sought-after place to work where people can build and grow their careers. Prior to Peppercomm, Tara was the U.S. Human Resources lead at Cohn & Wolfe, a WPP agency and before that spent 15 years at MSLGROUP, a Publicis agency, where she was the SVP of HR for the North America region.


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 backstory and why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?

Thank you for including me in your series. I have worked in HR for over 20 years, supporting hundreds of employees who have all experienced some level of burnout throughout their careers, especially as we’ve faced the uncharted territory of the last 18 months. And personally, with two young children at home and a full-time job, I am no stranger to the issue of burnout!

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 the context of a professional setting, burnout is work-related stress that someone is feeling that is impacting their productivity, health and/or wellness.

How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?

I would say balance (across work and life) would be the opposite of burnout.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some skeptics 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 health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?

When someone is feeling work-related burnout, it can continue to fester and grow if it isn’t addressed. This could lead to diminishing mental and/or physical health for the employee, a disengagement from their work and your company and it can bleed into the way the person operates in their personal life and cause additional concerns there. There is a difference between having a bad day at work (minor annoyance) and having burnout.

From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?

Burnout can happen for many reasons — I’ve captured the main causes I’ve observed in the last 18 months:

  • Loss of control/uncertainty — employees were feeling nervous about keeping their jobs, determining how to juggle working at home with other obligations (i.e., kids doing remote school) and operating on an unknown for how long this “new normal” would last.
  • Changes in workloads — we all had to cover for each other when someone got sick or had to take personal time off — this often caused an ebb and flow experience for the work — and when it was intense, it meant people were working longer hours and filling more roles. As companies experience heavy attrition and the time it takes to fill roles has increased, this means employees are oftentimes doing two jobs at once.
  • Lack of balance — when our office is in our living room, some people struggle with turning “off” at the end of the workday. The days often felt longer when working from home (often time without actual social contact).
  • Difficulty with teammates — when you aren’t enjoying the team you work with and building relationships is even more challenging over Zoom, some team members can become disengaged at work and unable to figure out how to get out of the “rut” they are in with their managers or co-workers.
  • Other variables — Issues at home, illness and not sleeping are just a few factors that can impact employees at work and cause them to feel burnout with their jobs or in their roles.

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.)

  • Get to the root of your burnout — to beat the burnout, you first have to determine what triggered this. Think about how you have been feeling lately and what triggers you to feel burned out. Recently, I worked with a new employee who was feeling burned out from working late nights. We talked about why she felt she was needing to log back on at night and it was because she was feeling like too many “urgent” assignments were given to her each day that she needed to complete. We were able to work with her managers to streamline some of her assignments and push out certain deadlines. Within a week, she was able to work normal business hours again and felt like she had balance back.
  • Ask for help and use the resources around you — managers and mentors can be a great sounding board for you to talk through why you are feeling burned out and you can work together to co-create what a solution would look like. Many companies also provide both physical and mental health resources that you should take advantage of — whether it’s a meditation app or your Employee Assistance Program — which are free to you.
  • Map out a plan on how you will address the burnout to achieve tangible results — once you’ve audited yourself to determine the root of the burnout, consider creating a plan for yourself on how you can turn around the feeling of burnout. Are there both short and long-term fixes? Be specific and drill down to measurable changes that can be made. Once you put pen to paper, you can then figure out how each one of your goals can be achieved. Review your plan weekly and celebrate achievements you make that move the needle.
  • Take care of yourself first — I always relate this to what we hear when we take a flight — in an emergency, put your own mask on first before helping others. Well, this is YOUR emergency and without self-care, you will not be able to help yourself or any others for whom you are responsible.
  • Find the balance — Get exercise and sleep, practice mindfulness, or start a new hobby. These are all outcomes that can help you find balance in your life and avoid further burnout. At our company, we give employees “gone fishing” time each week to take time out of the business day to care for themselves. One employee shared during a recent team meeting that she takes daily walks during this time, which inspired me and a few others to do the same.

What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?

This is going to sound so simple, but it works. At our company, I encourage our managers to start every one-on-one meeting with their direct reports with “how are you doing this week?” It’s amazing the responses you will get when you open the door for the conversation. Helping to normalize expressing burnout or asking for help will drive deeper connections within your organization. You can then determine the right way to support each individual through a period of burnout, in the short term, with things like taking time off or taking a project off their plate, and in the longer term with reshaping their role or working with them to find balance in their schedules.

At our company, we also use humor to drive levity to motivate, inspire and connect with our teams. This has driven engagement among our team and helped our employees find balance.

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?

I think companies are paying attention now more than ever — the pandemic was the wake-up call for companies to put the health and wellness of their employees first. For those companies that are lagging, I would encourage employees to speak to their manager, leadership team or human resources about a specific idea you have (help to pay for a wellness app or a request for yoga at the office, for example) and why it would benefit you and your team. Companies are faced with low engagement, high attrition and uncertainty about the return to work and I would hope their ears would be open to hearing directly from their employees on what they want.

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?

Inconsistency in implementing change drives “quick fixes” which are often just that. One day of taking a walk or taking one assignment off your plate is not going to help with the long-term issue of burnout. Commit to making significant change, which will take time and effort, to have a successful outcome. Change is difficult under any circumstances, but know that the changes you are making will inspire a more balanced lifestyle.

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.

Even with my extensive experience in the working world and with somewhat self-sufficient kids, I struggled to figure out how to manage it all these last 18 months. I could write a novel about all the hiccups we experienced as I took on a more “at home” role while continuing to lead our HR function at my company. I cannot imagine how challenging this was, and still is, for newer parents and especially for women who are trying to grow their careers with little ones at home and no guidebook or “how-to” for managing the unprecedented recent times. I would love to be involved in a mentoring program for new parents to motivate them to stay in the workforce, achieving their professional dreams during these challenging times.

How can our readers follow you?

I’m really active on LinkedIn –https://www.linkedin.com/in/taralilien/ — so find me there!

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!

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