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403 – Avoiding the Burnout | Nick Smarrellil

Mar 12, 2020 | 00:00

00:00 00:00

Episode Description

This week we are discussing a serious issue: burnout. To share his insights we are joined by Nick Smarrelli, CEO of GadellNet Consulting Services along with Adam Weber, Chief People Officer and Co-founder of Emplify. 

Why is burnout such a serious issue? From the research we’ve conducted an alarming 62.2% of people report experiencing burnout at work and of that 62.2 % the burnout is happening as often as daily - and the larger the company, the more employees reporting burnout. 

This data shows that more than half of employees today may have negative feelings toward their job or be less productive because of burnout. The impact of burnout is more than just disengagement from their role it’s also both physical. Ultimately, this does result in high performers leaving companies. 

Take a listen to this episode to learn how you can address burnout in your organization.  


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Episode Transcription

[00:00:02] Welcome back to Insights an Employee Engagement podcast from Emplify. This week, we're talking about a pretty hot topic all pun intended because it's a serious issue burnout.

[00:00:14] Now, before we get into it, here's a quick reminder that you can download the Emplify 2020 Engagement Trends report at Emplify dot com slash trends. This will give you access to all the trends discussed in the series and more. All right. Now, in our last episode, we were joined by Jill Felska and, of course, Adam WEBER to discuss the new era of H.R., specifically what it means to be a strategic people eater. If you had not thought of yourself in this way before. Our hope is that you do moving forward. You see, knowing how important it is for you to advocate on behalf of your team is just as important as you feeling equipped to implement real change in your organization. One area of opportunity for change in many companies is addressing burnout. And here's why. From the research that we conducted, an alarming sixty-two point two percent of people report experiencing burnout at work. And of those 62 percent, the burnout is happening as often as daily. And the larger the company, the more employees report burnout. You don't have to be a mathematician to know that there's a lot of people. It means that more than half of your employees today may have negative feelings toward their job or be less productive because of burnout. The World Health Organization refers to burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Basically, we're all stressed and the impact of that stress and burnout is both physical and mental. Burnout manifests ways like chronic fatigue, insomnia, headaches, stomach aches, anger, isolation, irritability, depression and more ultimately leading people to disengage and then leave the company in hopes that the grass may be greener somewhere else.

[00:02:03] So to me and engage employees is somebody who can really, truly save lives, the values on a regular basis. I mean, I think there's so many ways that that's displayed. And I think for me, it's hard as a leader to say they're displaying it in a different way than I would be. So I think we really want to make sure that as employers, we want to we want to bring in unique personalities into the mix and let them with the foundation of kind of the core values, show them in different ways. So for us, you know, people that are super participatory and company events and others that are not for me does not really necessarily give an engagement idea or not is because ultimately speaking is is people kind of manage their days differently. They have different competing priorities in their life. So for me, I think is how often are they speaking to an acting in accordance with kind of our three company values and in our world, it's it's growth. So an engaged employee in our role, this is continuously seeking out new ways to improve their asking. We have a training and development manager there asking them for new training ideas. They're talking to their manager about what's my next step in the organization. So they're living that growth mantra. Accountabilities are second value, so they're holding themselves accountable. I find a disengaged employee throws blame on the company or their peers or their clients that they don't like. And I find that a truly engaged employee holds himself truly accountable. Obviously, that's a core value of ours, but I'd say that's a universal skillset and I've loved by by employers in the last one is impact. And so for me, a sign of an engaged employee is somebody who is kind of working tirelessly. They're hitting their goals. They're on the time that they're not hitting their goals, are asking questions on how they can continue to do that. So for me, the alignment of the values kind of really makes an easy definition in my mind to see truly who is who is engaged and then who is slipping from from being engaged.

[00:04:02] This is Nick Smarrellil He's the CEO of Gardell Net Consulting Services. One thing I want to make sure you heard him say is that engagement is going to look different for different people and that one employee is experiencing burnout and becomes disengaged. They're no longer yielding the results expected from their leaders. Nick touched on the notion of leaning into your core values as a driver of engagement. And the truth is, those core values impact how an employee evaluates whether your company is the right fit for them.

[00:04:33] From the get-go, let's bring Adam back and hear what he has to say about engagement from the start of an employee's journey that goes all the way back to viewing what I was saying earlier with that transition of the H.R. landscape going from those, you know, payroll and benefits to more of getting the most out of people and driving engagement. The employee also views work that way today as well. Like they also don't just look at jobs in a line and just go, here's the pay, here's the pay, here's the pay, here's the pay. They go. What work is fulfilling to me? What company has a purpose that aligns to who I am and what leaders do I resonate with, what leaders are authentic? And so I think the way that you compete, especially when you're our size, is you have a noble purpose that has clarity and you live that out and you lead in a radically transparent way that inspires other people. And if you do that, people are willing and then you give people challenging work that they also want to get it do in other environments.

[00:05:33] At some point, everyone within an organization can feel disengaged. So what happens if you are the leader of a team and are in fact the one that's disengaged?

[00:05:44] So how do you if you yourself are disengaged, how do you drive engagement on your own team? I see that the most in large companies or not even large companies that more than a thousand employees where you could be in a middle management tier. Maybe you have a really good job. You've worked there for for a long time and you've got kind of a proprietary skillset. And yet decisions are made multiple levels above you that you often disagree with. And then you're kind of in this middle. And I wish there were some like perfect silver bullet on how you do it. I do think part of it, though, is being committed to your people, that no matter your situation, how you treat your people is something that matters, no matter what situation you're in. And each of those people deserve your best every day as well. And so reminding yourself. And then I almost wonder if you don't manufacture some of those those troops we know exist at the top of the org. What is the noble purpose for you that is motivating you in this season? And how can you then share that vision with your team and try to still motivate and inspire them during that season? I don't want to pretend like it's easy because some seasons are hard, but even at the most engaged you can be the most have the most engaged culture companies in the world where all humans who go through seasons, where we love our work and other seasons where we work really hard to get through the season.

[00:07:06] Let's jump back to Nick. To get his perspective on how he eclipses leaders.

[00:07:10] I often have to remind my leaders that fun is not one of our engagement seasons. At one of our core values or teamwork is now you get all these kind of things where teamwork is kind of foundational, of course. But it's one of those things where I think people need to say these are our core values. This is what success looks like here. And how you interpret that is up to the unique person. And I think force-feeding people into saying you've got to act a certain way or this person is really happy today means nothing whether they're engaged or not. They could just be a happy person. And so I think distilling down to kind of some of the things I touched on earlier really helps to find what engagement looks like.

[00:07:48] I hear it. Both Adam and Nick are saying engagement is engagement, but how an employee experiences it will look differently based on your company's culture, its purpose and the environment. Ultimately, if you're in a season of disengagement, you can go and speak back to the company's purpose to foster both your own motivation and those that you lead. Don't know if you're disengaged. Well, let's see if you can answer some of these questions posed by Adam.

[00:08:15] Can you still follow best practices through those seasons? I mean, the reality is this is not like it's not all rainbows every day.

[00:08:22] Like there are days where you're going to have to know that there are things that to create engagement, you have to do every single day to create the type of culture and drive the performance that you want to drive, even on days where it doesn't like. It's not the most exciting thing to do. I still I mean, this is like the work on my life. And I still have some days where I wake up and I wake up. I promise I wake up like I'm a 1950s manager. Like, I don't know where it comes from. And I'm just like on the factory floor thinking of my employees like we did, like, you know, 70 years ago. We all deal with that tension. And I think it's just making sure you take the time to remember, like what actually drives and motivates people. The lie that you tell yourself in that situation is that it makes things better and it never makes things better. You always look back on it like you just look at the weight, you know, of the charred field that you created in your frustration, no matter what level of an organization that you're in.

[00:09:21] If you are managing people, then you have to be real with yourself. And although it can be scary or uncomfortable to tell your supervisor that you're feeling burnout or disengaged, you also have to be real with the people above you, because isn't that exactly what you'd want from your team? I know that I would much rather have early conversations about burnout and a work to take action and improve it than hear about it in an exit interview where it's too late. So thinking about ways to take early action, I'm curious if there's some other insights that can indicate whether an employee is disengaged or burnt out. Nick had some thoughts.

[00:09:58] I think signs of disengagement are somebody who's changing. I think one of the big things for us is we hold fairly regular cadence of one on ones with our team. We have a lot of exposure to metrics and goals. And so I think if you get it in my head and it's hard to describe on a podcast, but if you're looking at a graph and you've got a nice consistent or semi consistent line and then you see a dip, I would argue that that is generally one of the first signs. So changing from kind of normal way of acting. So going back to before is if they were engaged, they were attending every company event and they they kind of chose not to. Or if they're sitting in a team meeting and before they were coming up with new ideas and then now they become kind of blame or worse, they become quiet where the normally kind of outspoken person becomes quiet or the person that just seems to get sick more often or doesn't show up when they need to show up. For me, those are generally signs of disengagement, where a standard that they held for themself, whatever standard unique to that individual, was that they kind of decrease away from that standard in some way in some sort of noticeable fashion.

[00:11:09] Adam also gave his perspective and how you can now as a manager, that there are signs of disengagement on your team when someone's disengaged as a manager.

[00:11:18] Some of the things that I'm looking for, are they still actively pursuing new skills? Are they hungry for feedback? Do they receive it? Well, especially if someone had that and then they've lost it. That's really where to me, it's it's time for an honest conversation as a manager to make sure that that role. And maybe it's just they just need to have a conversation and resolve a conflict or enhance the role. It might be time to transition into a different role inside the business or it might be that might be the time that it's time to transition out of the business. But having the conversations and creating that level of back and forth trust is what allows all of those options to happen in a way that feels seamless to the business and the introduction of this episode.

[00:12:04] We talked about the real impact of burnout and burnout leads to disengagement and eventually to departure. But as leaders, how do we get ahead of it? We can see a decline in performance and we can connect one on one and see if that makes a difference. But what else for NEC? When people leave, he can pretty much say that disengagement was the first sign of that inevitable departure.

[00:12:28] I could look back and say I could tie it to some saw a sign of disengagement where they no longer believed in our values, or you saw the signs. They were becoming apathetic. They were. Performance was decreasing and we really kind of try to excuse the sides. But I would say arguably that the other 30 percent. And again, maybe this is a weakness in my organization, but I'm ready and willing to share it. Is is it? It's hard. I mean, you humans are unique and I think is ultimately is there is a level of unpredictability. I mean, there's you know, work is one of thousands of different facets of a human being. And, you know, people have family commitments. People want to move away from the city that they're in and they want to move someplace else or their value shifts or they don't want to commute anymore. So matter how great of an organization you have, they do want to do a commute. So there's I would say there's arguably some other things where it's not. I think we all want to find that beautiful silver bullet. And I think often it's not quite as easy. So it doesn't discount. I think the need to kind of monitor and track and kind of really watch and be really in sync with your employees, because that's 70 percent is is a very high number. But I would say there are certain times where perhaps I think especially myself, I believe everything's my fault is kind of having this locus of control of saying I can't prevent everything. And there are certain times where you couldn't have prevented a departure. But I would argue the vast majority, there were signs that had, you know, utilize those signs, we probably could have prevented a departure and or we could have kind of exited more gracefully by having a really kind of collaborative dialog.

[00:14:04] We can all agree that we can become better as leaders. But the reality is that people will leave an organization voluntarily for a myriad of reasons, including things outside of your control. One example of that is rapid growth, which Nick's company has experienced. So I asked him to share his insights and how to deal with both types of employee exits, voluntary and involuntary.

[00:14:29] We grew 30 percent last year. We're looking to grow 15 to 20 percent this year. I joined with four employees. We have a hundred and fifty now in the past eight years. So, you know, for us we've seen kind of each phase of the business and oftentimes for better, for worse, sometimes your employee, that is a stellar employee at 15 people is is no longer a stellar employee at 50. There's a value misalignment or that individual wants to be the jack of all trades. And now we move to more pragmatic team orientation. So I think in some capacity to say. To try to achieve 100 percent retention of employees is probably not the best for the business. So in our worlds, again, we track the metrics that we use for success is broken into involuntary voluntary turnover. So voluntary we define as that employee chose to leave on their own volition, they found another job or they chose to stay at home and be with the kids or they chose to to move. It was their choice. And then involuntary turnover is an organization is your place on a performance improvement plan. Generally speaking, you're given anywhere between 60 and 90 days to make a concerted improvement. Improvement doesn't happen and we have to make the hard choice to to terminate our relationship with that employee. So we define both, but we defined both in scorecard them equally. So for us, a disengaged employee who chooses to leave or an employee that either we hired wrong or we really did keep them on the growth curve with Goodell that we scorecard the same way. So when we look at our retention numbers for the prior year, we blend those two of those together because ultimately, as we are responsible in the hiring process and in every phase of our of each our lifecycle to really manage those employees. And so if we if we brought somebody who doesn't truly align with our company, then we need to scorecard that, too, because I think there's learnings there. We can't. I think oftentimes people say, well, you know, I was an involuntary turnover that doesn't count against our numbers. And I would I would argue that every one of those has an opportunity for learning and growth for the company. Every departure that we've had, voluntary, involuntary, I believe that we've done with the kind of the foundation of humanity involved with it. I mean, I think ultimately we've been very lucky. We've haven't had any major ethical breaches or kind of really kind of harsh of, you know, where they came in that day. And we thought they were fine. And by the end of the day, we've had to make a hard decision. Most of the time, you know, we either perhaps knew is coming or we had to make that hard decision. And we I think we always do that with a foundation of, like I mentioned, humanity in that process. So for us, if someone does give their their two week notice for us, we the manager sends out talks two or three things that what they did well, talks a little bit about where they're going. Talks about kind of how that impacts their family, really reinforcing the values that we have as an organization and kind of wishing them the best. We do do an exit interview, which I think is hopefully fairly standard. If not, I would highly recommend doing that as a chance to kind of learn and grow, because obviously, you know, we always say we're a good organization, we're not a great one. So those exit interviews really give us a chance to kind of learn a little bit more about the employee and kind of why they're departing. And I will kind of impart a message, too. We do exit style interviews for employees that stay. So we we call them stay interviews and say we. Instead of saying, why did you leave? It's why would you leave and why do you stay? And asking those two questions have really opened our eyes in terms of kind of understanding perhaps gaps in our process. And I think ultimately speaking is what we found is it's mostly it's kind of a lack of understanding of what the perhaps the bigger picture is or understanding with our future places. And it's almost always solved by a very kind of easy conversation for the most part in terms of kind of helping kind of quell that fear around. I don't know if I if I have a long term place at this organization. So we replicate almost exact same forum for an exit interview as we do for our current interview. But it's it's not a celebration. I wish we were that progressive of a company that we make a big deal about it. But oftentimes on their last day, we'll bring in bagels or donuts and just kind of wish them the best because anybody who stuck around with us for for longer than a week, which everybody does, you know, has contributed in some way and has made us better in some way. And I think just because the departure wasn't ideal, you know, for us, I think kind of acknowledging and recognizing that is still important as an employer. And I think sends the right message to the employees of recognizing that you're not tied here. As much as I would love for you to stay here forever, and as much as I would sleep better if I knew that they would ultimately speaking, as you know, they've got there, they've got what's in the best interests of them. They've got one life to live. And we've got to respect that as an employer.

[00:19:01] As we wrap up today's episode, there was a key theme that manifested from both Adam and Nick. And for me, that theme was humanity, because at the end of the day, we're all human, meaning we all have good days and bad days. And no matter how the company evolves. And no matter how an employee performs, they should be treated with respect, even if that eventually ends in a departure from the organization. Adam shared a unique perspective on the difference between disengagement and burnout that I want to make sure I shared, because even in his role as a leader, he too is human.

[00:19:36] Well, I actually think some of the people who are the most susceptible to burnout are highly engaged people. That can happen like that. I even think about myself. I mean, you know, for seven years I've been on an entrepreneurial journey and it has been the thrill of my life. I have had days where I wake up and I output more work than I would have ever dreamed. And I'm so motivated by it. And then I do it again and again and. And without even realizing it, what starts as engagement's starts, you start to realize you're not in a sustainable pattern. And so and that's not that's not always the case of burnout. That's one way you can approach it. I think and I've experienced it from the other side and I've shared it stories I've shared, you know, before I had a season where I was highly disengaged employee or I was maybe the typical satisfied employee. I showed up to work every day. I worked for 90 minutes and I played fantasy football for six and a half hours a day because I had nothing to do. And it was soul crushing in its own way. I was burned out not from velocity of output, but from a knowing I was capable of more. And it's so much time of your life to show up to work every day and to not give more like or to not give your best. It's such a like hollow feeling for the individual. And so I think you can burnout. It surprises you it because it can hit you from your run into hard or it can hit you because you're running too slow.

[00:21:03] In our next episode, I invited Nick back to talk with Adam and I about the notion of employees looking for another job even when they seem to be engaged. So be sure to join us next time.

[00:21:14] And if you haven't done it yet, be sure to download the Emplify 20/20 Engagement Trends report at to get even more insights.