Are Your Employees Ready to Bailout from Burnout?

Are Your Employees Ready to Bailout from Burnout?

Last month, I called my go-to window washer to schedule a much-needed cleaning. I usually have this done twice every year, but…well, you know. He was booked solid for the next two weeks, but we managed to get the job scheduled. When he came to my house, I asked if he’d been extra busy with customers like me scheduling make-up window cleaning. “Yes,” he said, “I’ve had more back-to-back jobs in the last two months than I had all of last year.”

I had similar conversations with a landscaping crew, the dental hygienist, and the manager at my local dry cleaners. Everyone is happy to have plenty of work to do, but managing the sudden surge in demand while trying to deal with pandemic fatigue and get through the upcoming holiday season can set us up for a triple dose of mental drain this quarter.

If this is happening to me and the people who I’m running into personally, it’s likely happening to you and your team. Here are some guidelines for keeping your employees from bailing out from burnout.

1. Check-in. Instead of jumping right into Q3 reports, Q4 forecasts, and 2022 strategic planning, check in with your team members in one-on-one conversations by simply asking them how they are doing in the midst of all that’s going on. It may seem like such a small thing, but it can be surprisingly helpful. If you can provide a safe space to let your team members share what’s occupying their minds, they can feel calmer, clearer and better able to focus on other things.

2. Don’t fix. Just Listen. Listening sounds so simple, right? Hearing what the other person is saying is one thing, but really listening—listening for meaning, and how the other person is feeling—is something that takes discipline. As a manager, your brain may shift into “Let’s solve it” gear. When you’ve invited your team member to share what’s on their mind, this is not the time for a quick fix. Instead, listen to understand your team member’s feelings, then identify and acknowledge those feelings. Be supportive and nonjudgmental, whether your perspective matches theirs or not.

3. Keep extra passes handy. Now is the time to internalize that everyone you interact with is struggling, and in ways you may never fully understand. When you notice your team member acting in an atypical way, give them a pass. Assume that they are acting from a place of good intentions and don’t take it personally. This is not the time to flex your positional power. Instead, give them time to process, then repeat Step 1, above.

Under the best of circumstances, many of us struggle to navigate the Q4 crush. These are not the best of circumstances, and it’s more important than ever to model empathy and help your team members avoid burnout.

Question: How do you keep your employees from bailing out from burnout?

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

Merge Ahead: The Rules of the Road for Effective Team Engagement

Merge Ahead: The Rules of the Road for Effective Team Engagement

In order to get my driver’s permit as a teenager in Texas, I had to take a series of Saturday morning classes offered by my high school. After completing the classes, I needed at least 12 hours of driving practice accompanied by a licensed adult 21 years or older in the front passenger seat. Much to my mother’s horror, she was my designated adult passenger.

Luckily, Mom and I survived those practice drives, although the row of flowers she’d lovingly planted along our driveway paid the ultimate price. After I was issued a driver’s license by the State of Texas, I quickly learned that the written rules of driving were subject to interpretation. Merging, yielding, passing, and allowing others to pass meant very different things depending on whether I was negotiating rush hour traffic on I-45 or taking a weekend trip along the network of state routes and farm roads that connected small towns across the state.

When it comes to interacting with a group of people, it helps to establish a common set of guidelines for everyone’s safety. For teams, guidelines lay out how you are going to connect with one another, how you can create a space for everyone to contribute comfortably, and how to be individually vulnerable to make the collective outcome stronger. Here are some “I will…” recommendations for teams that want to create the rules of the road to improve engagement.

1. I will respect confidentiality. Every team needs to be able to invoke confidentiality when sensitive issues arise. The team needs to be able to have open and frank discussions without worrying about whether I will leak what is said to other coworkers.

2. I will be fully present. If an issue arises that can’t be covered in an email, I commit my full attention to what’s being discussed. I will resist the temptation to multi-task or respond to cell phone notifications during team meetings.

3. I will ask for what I need. I will assume responsibility for asking for what I need to be successful in my role. Nobody is a mind reader. So, if I need something, I will ask for help getting my needs met instead of waiting for someone else to figure out what I’m missing.

4. I will not assume my perspective is everyone’s reality. My perspectives are shaped by my beliefs, opinions, experiences, and unconscious biases. They’re how I view the world. Owning my perspective is part of speaking my truth. That said, it doesn’t mean my perspective is always right or true. It’s just what’s true for me.

5. I will have the courage to be imperfect. Learn to fail or fail to learn is a framework for a growth (rather than fixed) mindset. Mistakes come with being human, so I will admit my mistakes and course correct, where possible, as soon as possible.

Teams that honor and model a set of rules of the road both individually and collectively will create a mutual sense of safety and move forward faster.

Question: What are some of the rules of engagement on your team? Are they healthy?

Are Your Managers Ghosting Your Employees?

Today’s organizations are fighting a workforce trifecta of facts. Fact 1: There are a million more job openings in the U.S. than workers to fill them. Fact 2: The employee quit rate in the U.S. has hit a 17-year high. Fact 3: Workplace burnout is being upgraded by the World Health Organization in its International Classification of Diseases. In short, managers are trying to get more done with fewer people at a greater risk to their own health.

It gets worse. A study by Harvard Business School found that more than half of a manager’s time is spent on administrative tasks and only 7% of their time (about 2.8 hours per week) is spent on developing people and engaging with stakeholders. After engaging stakeholders, developing people is likely closer to 1 hour per week. This chronic lack of time spent on employee development is equivalent to the phenomenon known as ghosting which perpetuates both the quit rate and burnout rate. To break this cycle, the role and purpose of today’s managers must change in three fundamental ways:

From controlling to coaching. While the world’s workplaces have been going through extraordinary historical change, the practice of management has been stuck in time for more than 30 years. The new workforce — especially younger generations — wants their work to have deep mission and purpose, and they don’t want old-style command-and-control bosses. They want coaches who inspire them, communicate with them frequently and develop their strengths.

From deciding to delegating. Too many managers don’t let direct reports make decisions for fear that mistakes will take too much valuable time to correct. This tendency restricts employees’ ability to develop their thinking and decision making which is exactly what is needed to help organizations remain competitive. Today’s managers don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. They need to tap into the collective intelligence and draw out everyone’s best thinking.

From ‘what works’ to ‘what if’. Managers often encourage predictability. They want processes in place that can be referred to regardless of who is in the role. The problem with this management style is that it leads to perpetuating the status quo at the expense of what is possible. Today’s managers don’t need hired hands to turn raw materials into products. They need hearts and minds that are challenged to find better ways to operate, to discover ways to grow, and to reimagine how things have been done in the past.

Today’s managers play a critical role in helping your organization adapt to the new workplace demands. Help them succeed by reimagining them as coaches who encourage critical thinking and curiosity.

Question: Do your managers spend more time reporting to senior leaders or coaching emerging ones?

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News

From Bureaucracy to Adhocracy: How Far Has the Culture Pendulum Swung?

Once upon a long, long time ago, it was good to be king. Being an unchallenged leader was so good, in fact, that the top-down, command-and-control organizational model that sprung from the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when the Mesopotamians first used mass labor to irrigate crops remained relatively unchanged for the next 6,000 years. 

In early 20th century America, researchers began studying the impact of managerial behavior on employee productivity in organizations. The video titled (I kid you not) The Year They Discovered People documents studies conducted in the 1920s on workers at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in partnership with Harvard Business School. The research first focused on environmental factors, like better lighting, that would result in a more responsive, efficient workforce. Much to the surprise of the researchers, however, was the finding that social factors played a larger role in workforce efficiency than environmental factors. The Hawthorne studies found that manufacturing workers who received additional attention from their managers felt that they were cared about as human beings. Social factors were, in fact, equally important to financial motives – at a time when the average pay was 50 cents per hour.

Fast forward 100 years. Information is the new raw material. Survival in the 21st century information economy means turning information into knowledge, and knowledge into insight at lightning speed. We know that organizational structures still slogging in Mesopotamian mud are doomed for extinction. Somewhere between a purely bureaucratic organizational structure and the notion that every human wants to contribute to something greater than themselves, however, is the question of how to balance organizational structure with flexibility, fluidity, and role ambiguity. You’re probably familiar with the holacracy model famously adopted by Zappos in 2014. Here are two more examples of how far the pendulum can swing from bureaucracy that you may not have heard of:

TEAL Organizations. 

What’s the theory? As human consciousness evolves, so do our organizational systems. The Teal theory shifts from external measures of success to intrinsic needs along a color-based motivational scale. It’s less important if we get what we want (Red), we conform to social norms (Amber), we are effective and successful (Orange) or that we belong and have a say (Green). Now, humans are motivated by Teal — Does it feel good? Am I being my true self? What is right for me to do? Am I being in service to the world? In Teal, obstacles are life’s way of teaching us about ourselves and the world. We embrace the possibility that we were part of creating the problem.

How are they structured? Small teams take responsibility for their own governance and for how they interact with other parts of the organization. Assigned positions and job descriptions are replaced with a multiplicity of roles, often self-selected and fluid.

What’s radically different? No job descriptions, no targets, few budgets. In their place are soulful practices that enable extraordinarily productive and purposeful organizations. People’s actions are guided not by orders from someone up the chain of command but by ‘listening’ to the organization’s purpose.

What company is successfully using this structure? The Morning Star Company

Where can I read more? Reinventing Organizations, by Fredric Laloux


What’s the theory? Employees are encouraged to tap into their entrepreneurial nature, initiate new projects, and choose which of them to work on. Self-selected teams emerge spontaneously where the most exciting opportunities appear to be rather than according to a strategic plan or a product development roadmap.

How is it structured? Instead of projects coming to established teams, teams converge around projects. These are highly collaborative and mostly temporary structures. Their edge comes from the ability to form links both inside and outside an organization. These nimble groups come together around a specific task, recruiting personnel, assigning roles, and establishing objectives. When the work is done they disband their members and take their skills to the next project.

What’s radically different? If a project launch fails, employees move to other, more promising projects. As a result, the organization is market focused—its model resembles that of a venture capitalist: it invests only when it sees a clear pathway toward a commercially viable product.

What company is successfully using this structure? Mundipharma

Where can I read more? All Edge: Inside the New Workplace Networks, by Clay Spinuzzi

Traditional management goes wrong when one powerful individual prescribes what must be done—or how—because of their positional role, not because he or she has more insight into what will produce the desired outcome. Self-managed organization models strip away much of the top-down hierarchical power, and favor process over structure to get the job done.

Compared to 6,000 years of bureaucracy, models like holacracy, teal, and adhocracy are still in their infancy. The next generation of self-managed teams will require leaders with the vision to recognize the limitations of hierarchy, and defend the structure that serves the organization’s strategic goals.

Question: What’s the best mashup of hierarchy and self-managed teams?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News

The 4 Must Have Pieces of the Engagement Puzzle

In the past, business success was all about size. Today, it’s all about speed. But with speed, comes change, and change, as we know, creates fear. People don’t like change because it’s disruptive. Employees begin to disengage as they struggle to define where they fit in or fear that they may become obsolete.

Disengagement doesn’t come cheap. Each year, companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to improve an estimated $550 billion annual impact to the U.S. economy in lost productivity. The latest research by Gallup shows that nearly 68% of American workers are disengaged. Clearly, the dollars being thrown at this issue are making a paltry impact at best.

From productivity to profitability, from safety to shrinkage, employee engagement is not a philosophical exercise. It has bottom line implications.

Employee engagement is both potential and kinetic in nature. You likely recall potential and kinetic energy demonstrated by Wile E. Coyote in his thwarted attempts to capture the elusive roadrunner. Potential energy is stored by an object – perhaps a giant spring or over-sized mousetrap. The object is loaded and ready for action. Kinetic energy is related to the object’s motion – like a coyote arrow launched by a bow.

The same is true of employees. Engaged employees have both stored and activated energy. Stored energy comes from having both meaningful work and aligned goals. Activated energy is an employee’s ability to tap into his or her strengths and the learning and growth afforded on the job. Together, they make up four pieces of the engagement puzzle. Here’s a breakdown of each piece:

1. Meaningful work. Do your employees know the value your organization brings? Regardless of whether you are a non-profit or for profit enterprise, everyone in your organization should be passionate about your why. As Simon Sinek argues in his popular TED Talk, people want more than a paycheck. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

2. Aligned goals. Next, employees need to move from the why to the what. The sooner you can connect your strategic objectives with employee goals and rewards, the better chance you have of turning your strategic plan from theory into reality. Help employees see how their daily jobs impact goals such as profit margins or market share.

3. Strengths-focused. At this point, your employees are spring loaded and ready to move onto the how. Depending on whether you focus on improving employees’ weaknesses or leveraging their strengths, you can either thwart their enthusiasm or thrust them into action. Gallup research shows that the best way for employees to grow and develop is to leverage their natural talents to perform at their highest potential.

4. Learning and Growth. Employees under the age of 25 rate professional development as their number one driver of engagement, and workers up to age 35 rate it as the number two priority. As employees get older, their focus on development shifts away from mobility in favor of aligning a job with long-term career goals. Create an environment that gets people engaged and keeps them engaged by providing opportunities to grow and advance.

While 90% of executives understand the importance of employee engagement, fewer than 50% understand how to address this issue. Design an organization that thrives on turning potential energy into kinetic energy by focusing on the four pieces of the engagement puzzle.

Question: In which of the four pieces of the engagement puzzle does your organization excel? Where could you use improvement?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

Strengths: Connecting all 5 Generations. Side by Side.

Strengths: Connecting all 5 Generations. Side by Side.

As our Employee Engagement Specialist, Jenny Jacobs brings an infectious humor and midwestern sensibility to everything she does. Jenny is a lifelong learner and a natural teacher who guides our clients through a structured employee engagement method that improves bottom lines and results in changes that last. Jenny holds a B.A. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and is a 2017 Masters candidate for Organizational/Industrial Psychology from Azusa Pacific University. And don’t forget to check out the short video below where Jenny introduces herself and our new program.

By: Jenny Jacobs

What does it mean to operate from a place of your strengths? I’m not talking about how strong you are or if you are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… I am talking about helping your employees recognize the talents that naturally exist within them. Each of your employees serves a special purpose within your organization based on their strengths. When we tap into them as a strengths-based team, we can build a vibrant, healthy work environment.

I recently heard a fascinating radio program about Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist. In a study on collaboration among trees, Simard discovered that trees work together through a network of forest floor communication. Simard states that trees need a complex and diverse community to thrive in.

In her June 2016 TED Talk, Simard explained the symbiotic needs of trees in a forest. Trees are connected to their forest community in a kind of “underground super-highway”, Simard explains. They need other plants that can cycle nutrients more quickly or that can access nutrients in different niches. They need neighbors that are resistant to insects and diseases. So, instead of competition for resources, trees are actually communicating and cooperating with their neighbors. They make sure their neighbors — their diverse community — is vibrant because that feeds back to them and impacts their health.

Simard equates the forest community to the way our communities work. We live in communities of doctors and teachers and people who run coffee shops and bakeries. A thriving community requires a whole range of skills and resources. We need each other. If you take away the baker, we’ve got no bread. If you remove the banker, financial stability is shaken.

Just as the trees in the forest share resources to remain vibrant and healthy, so must managers identify individual strengths of team members for maximum collaboration and engagement. Don’t hire people for their strengths then ask them to work on their weaknesses. Instead, unlock their natural talents, give them the tools and support that best suits their individual style and you’ll build a team that thrives!


Click here to learn more about 5 Generations. Side by Side. and reserve your seat for our June 6 workshop!

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