Ep. 75

5 Fast Fixes for Employee Burnout w/ Deb Calvert

In episode 75, Deb Calvert offers some simple but powerful methods to tackle burnout at its roots.

Deb Calvert

President
People First Productivity Solutions

Listen to this episode on:

It’s a vicious cycle: employees feel burnt out, so their engagement drops. With less engagement, the burnout just continues to get worse. HR often tries to solve the problem with rewards, recognition, events, and culture initiatives. While all of these are great, they don’t solve the issues at the heart of burnout. 

In this episode, Deb Calvert, president of People First Productivity Solutions, offers some simple but powerful methods to tackle burnout at its roots.

During our discussion, we talked about: 

  • The rising levels of employee discontent and disengagement in 2022
  • Who’s responsible for minimizing workplace stress
  • What factor influences employee engagement the most
  • Ways that HR and management can work together productively
  • Five things you can do to help employees feel less burnt out

People First Productivity Solutions

People First Leadership Academy

Episode 75 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice, and today I’m joined by Deb Calvert, who’s the President at People First Productivity Solutions in Missouri. Deb, how are you doing today?

[00:00:15] Deb Calvert: I am doing well now that I’m here with you. Thank you so much, Garrett, for bringing me in. 

[00:00:19] Garrett Jestice: We are very excited to have you on the show today and just to learn more about you and your company and your background, and also we have a really great topic today. So before we jump into that topic though, tell our listeners just a little bit more about you and your background and also what your company People First Productivity Solutions does.

[00:00:37] Deb Calvert: Okay. Well, once upon a time, I was an HR director with a Fortune 500, and they decided to sell the company, and overnight things went from being very, very people focused to being profit focused, and it was a big wake up call for me. So I decided to, to start my own business. This is now 17 years ago. And to me, the, the premise of putting people first was really important because I had seen that contrast.

So what we do here at People First Productivity Solutions is we help organizations, small and mid-size businesses to understand and utilize people practices that will drive productivity and, and business results. And I’m also the founder of People First Leadership Academy, which is a resource for tons of free resources, for topics like the one we’ll talk about today and for, all sorts of things that might be on your mind as you think about people practices.

[00:01:31] Garrett Jestice: I love it. Well, we are very excited that you can be on the show today and share some of that wealth of knowledge that you have on HR and all of these topics with us. before we jump into our topic for today though, one of the questions I really like to ask a lot of people is, what drew you to the field of HR?

That’s part one. And then part two is, What’s kept you in that space in your.

[00:01:55] Deb Calvert: Well, I’m sort of a unique situation because I, I. Never knew I was being drawn to the HR space. I had a great sales career. And then I got this promotion into corporate where the sales, function, training and development sat in HR and that opened my eyes up to a whole lot. And I, I grew into HR by, by necessity, especially as the company cut back for that whole sales process that they went through.

And then in business for myself, I, I kind rode both. I, I worked a lot in sales. I worked a lot in leadership development and people practices with HR people, and really, it’s just this past year where I’ve, I’ve sort of declared more HR less sales that this is what I’m feeling.

[00:02:39] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm. . That’s awesome. I love it. And what is it about HR that’s really drawn you to that and wanted, wanted to really declare that in this last year?

[00:02:47] Deb Calvert: Well, you know, everything I’ve ever done, in my intrinsic motivators, I, I wanna make a difference and making a difference in this time and place that we are now to people, to people who are feeling stressed to people who aren’t having a great employee experience, to people who are not getting clarity.

That’s really gratifying when you can do that. And so, that I, I’m fueled by that.

[00:03:10] Garrett Jestice: I love that. You can definitely see that as you talk about that. So again, super excited for this topic and I think it’s a very important one. As you and I discussed what the topic should be for today’s episode, you proposed this idea of some fast fixes for something that effects, I think probably every, every company and has affected everyone at some point, but it’s burnout.

A lot of times we hear about burnout, employee burnout. And so really to start us off on that, set the stage for us and tell us, you know, according to you, what is, what does burnout really mean? What is that?

[00:03:43] Deb Calvert: Yeah, well, I’ll, I’ll go with the World Health Organization’s definition because back in 2019, they officially recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon. This is in their international classification. Of diseases. So their definition says that burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. And here’s the part that I think is really important. Out of that definition, stress that has not been successfully managed means that there’s, well there, there’s some shared responsibility h here because who’s responsible for managing? certainly right as employers, we shouldn’t be causing it. We shouldn’t allow a necessary contributed.

Contribu contributors, contributors to it. but I also think that you have to acknowledge that stress is like any aspect of health. Individuals have to take some measure of responsibility for it. All right, so there’s our, our framework. I think what we’re all reacting to more often is, those symptoms, the symptoms of burnout and classically, the symptoms that employees exhibit, they’re, they’re depleted or exhausted.

They’re mentally distant from their job, kind of like in a fog. They have negative feelings that they express about the job. They might even feel cynical about the job itself. And all of that means that they are not as effective professionally, they’re not as effective in the work that they do. So now we’ve got this vicious circling of the drain.

Every single one of those kinds of symptoms feeds the next one and the experience, right? It, it, it just causes more and more of the same. So,

[00:05:28] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, no, and I think it’s, it’s again, something that probably most of us have felt at one point or another. We’ve all definitely felt, you know, that level of stress in the workplace. And I think the difference here is really that prolonged stress levels of stress that really impacts productivity or work, like you mentioned.

And I know that you said, that there is some research that you, have read recently about burnout in the workplace and really some of the impacts. from that burnout, which would you mind sharing some of that with.

[00:05:57] Deb Calvert: Sure. I, I think the one that really got my attention, mid-year in 2022, Gallup had a, a big body of work that found essentially that employees, Do not believe that their employers care about their wellbeing. And you know, that’s always been something that not every employee believes, but in 2022 it just tanked, right?

Many more employees felt that many fewer employers cared about their wellbeing. And when you put that side by side with lots of of studies that have said post pandemic, and as we’re trying to figure out what, what we do next, there’s a whole lot of confusion. Parlays into employee engagement being at all time lows.

Okay, so here we are, we’re in a great resignation. The quiet quit . I think it’s all linked together. employees feel disengaged. They feel their wellbeing isn’t being considered. They feel these effects of burnout, that unaddressed stress, and well inevitably. Where else could this go there? There’s a diminished desire I’m talking about on the part of the employee.

They’re, they’re no longer. Interested or, or motivated to work as hard. they’re not contributing. They aren’t going after the opportunities to, to innovate. Their focus is more on day-to-day survival. How do I get away from feeling this icky, awful feeling that I come to work and feel every day? How do I get through just even another.

[00:07:24] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. It’s fascinating. And so I guess that leads to the question of, at least for me is like, whose. Responsibility is it for, in an organization for burnout and for, you mentioned, you know, low levels of employee engagement. So is it manager, is it supervisor, is it hr? Is it the employee? Is it, I mean, I’m sure everyone probably has, a, a piece of responsibility there, but like, talk to us a little bit more about that.

Who, who should ultimately be responsible for that?

[00:07:53] Deb Calvert: Well, as I said already, em, employees really do need to be responsible for their own wellbeing, but we don’t just stop there. , I want every employee to feel empowered and to take that, responsibility so that they can raise their hand and say when they need something or so that they can recognize that there are things outside of work that they need to be doing.

If we stopped there, we would be abdicating responsibility inside the organization, and that’s not appropriate either. What we know, again, from research about employee engagement is that the number one contributor to high or low engagement is the direct manager. So if I want you to have an emotional connection, if I want you to be applying additional discretionary effort to your work as your supervisor, there are certain things that, that I oughta be doing, in fact, doing every single day, doing more frequently.

And if I do those, We’re gonna have a better situation. Your engagement will increase. Your burnout will decrease. So, what’s not happening in a lot of places is that managers and supervisors are not even aware of what those simple behavioral sorts of things are. So they don’t do them and they kick the can over to hr.

And in a lot of places, the folks in HR don’t know that, Hey, we can’t fix it all. So they try valiantly, . They, they try really hard to try to make it all better through, oh, rewards and recognition programs through, let’s have fun days, let’s do lighthearted things. Let’s create a different kind of a culture. Temporarily, right? Maybe that’s like a little bit of a bandaid you can put there, but you’ve gotta fix the root cause of the problem and make sure that supervisors, managers, that, that they know what to do, that they are, a part of executing on those people practices, the ones that create a solid employee experience that that solves for burnout.

[00:09:44] Garrett Jestice: I love it. And I think that leads us, you know, perfectly to our next question, which is really, you have five fast fixes for helping with burnout. So walk us through each of those and. Why they can, you know, help in this process of alleviating that burnout.

[00:10:01] Deb Calvert: Okay. and before I do, let me just say that. I, I, I hope people will hear this for what it’s meant to be. These are not just conceptual pie in the sky would be nice to have someday. These are business imperatives and they are practical, they’re tactical kinds of things that, that you can do. So the first one, I, I fully realize, Garrett, that this is counterintuitive.

It might be a little bit hard to believe at first, so I’ll, I’ll try to explain it. It’s effective. And if you wanna address burnout, one of the things, one of the best things you can do is give people opportunities to be challenged, opportunities to stretch and, and to grow, you know? The truth is when people are feeling burnout, oftentimes it’s just because they’re slogging through the same work.

Sh and there’s more of it. But they could do it with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their back. It’s not interesting or engaging because it’s not challenging. So if you can provide a challenge that’s just a little bit of a stretch beyond the current skill level and give that message, Hey, I, you’ve got this.

I think you can do it. You’re ready. I, I.

[00:11:02] Garrett Jestice: that, that’s so fascinating. And I, I gotta ask too, what does that look like in practice? Right? I know, I know. Especially, you know, as you, as you talk about that, you and I often are, are probably working in an office, right. For office work. It makes sense. I’m thinking of some of those other like small businesses that might have people who are out in a field or customer facing, where, what does that look like there?

Is it taking on some side projects and giving them some additional responsibilities outside of their core role? Is it, you know, what, what does that tangibly look like for you?

[00:11:35] Deb Calvert: Yeah. it might, it might involve some of that, although that may not serve the rest of the business purposes, especially at a time when you are short staffed. So I’d say look closer. First look at what does the direct supervisor of that employee do that maybe that direct supervisor shouldn’t do? So let’s say you’re, in a customer facing job and every time there’s a customer complaint, you kick that up to the, the floor supervisor.

[00:12:02] Garrett Jestice: Hmm.

[00:12:03] Deb Calvert: Well, the floor supervisor’s running back and forth and doing all kinds of things, and every time you have that customer complaint, it disrupts their work. It means they’re not giving coaching, developing other kinds of opportunities to people because they’re donning their superhero cape and swooping in to fix something.

What if. The employees who were on the floor were given a little bit of instruction and a little bit of empowerment so that they could take at least some of those complaints and address them right there in lifetime. Providing a better customer experience, feeling ennoble that they were trusted to, to be able to handle it, and learning about the business as they, as they do, the business acumen naturally grows when you have that kind of responsibility for.

[00:12:43] Garrett Jestice: I love that. Such a great example. So number one is really just about stretching them, providing assignments and growth opportunities there where that can really stretch them. Next ones

[00:12:52] Deb Calvert: Well, similar. You wanna give people a look into the future. You’re not making promises, you’re not creating an actual career map because as we all know, things change constantly. But what’s a little bit of coaching, a little bit of training that can connect people to the organization and, and to their future.

You know, what, what are they even interested in? What motivates them? What do they wanna learn about? And these don’t have to be, let me learn about your job because you’re my boss. And that would be the natural career track. It could be, let me learn about some soft skills. Let me learn about, Kinds of things you think about in the competitive landscape.

It, it, it could be almost anything so long as you’re positioning it as an investment in that employee so that they understand that, that this is in support of them.

[00:13:37] Garrett Jestice: I love that. I think that makes total sense. So g first, again, just to summarize, give ’em the opportunity to stretch. The second is really give ’em some coaching and training that helps them feel invested in for the future, their future growth and ha having that tie into the organization. Is that right?

[00:13:54] Deb Calvert: That’s exactly right. Yeah. Ooh, this next one’s really, really important. Maybe it should have been first, it’s that important , and that is, yes, you’re busy and you can make a lot of assumptions, and you hope that everybody just sort of knows this, but the truth is they don’t. So you cannot overdo this.

You have to be setting extremely clear, crystal clear expectations and restating them because people don’t always remember. The world around us is changing, but when you have clarity and the expectations that you give to people, when you have real clarity, that’s where their confidence grows because they’re, they’re very clear, and then they can take some of those extra steps.

And when you have clarity, that leads to confidence. Ultimately, confidence leads to courage, and that’s where innovation comes from. That’s where people invest back into the organization. That’s where they, they do a little bit of extra, so don’t ask them to just jump in and do stuff. Give them clarity so they have confidence, so they’ll have the courage.

And the way you keep that, that expectation clear is that you also provide feedback, feedback with the specific express intention of helping people grow.

[00:15:05] Garrett Jestice: I love it. Clarity leads to confidence. Leads to courage. I’m gonna borrow that because I love it so much. That’s awesome. Very good. So that’s number three. What’s number four then? I.

[00:15:17] Deb Calvert: Well, you hear this word tossed around like a buzzword everywhere, but let’s talk about what I mean by it. So inclusivity. I’m talking. Keeping all voices in, not letting the people who are a little bit more outgoing or for whatever reason they speak up first. You don’t stop there. Right. In fact, maybe you, you don’t even start there, but, but doing a round robin, I wanna hear from everybody or going around the floor, Hey, I’m thinking about what are your thoughts and.

This isn’t about it now becoming a democracy and the boss doesn’t make the decisions, it becomes the boss now makes better, more informed decisions where people have felt that their voices were heard. You accelerate buy-in for any change that you wanna make, and you, you dignify people at a, at a human level.

[00:16:02] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that’s, that’s fascinating. I think it’s totally true. The question that kind of comes to my mind as I, as I think about that is I know that there are often employees who feel hesitant sharing everything, partially because they don’t want to be seen as ungrateful. Right? So too much criticism or, or negative feedback, especially to their boss or superiors.

Can shine them in a negative light and they don’t want that. What would you say to, to those employees about the importance of being able to speak up and share? Why, why is that valuable for them to do, and why, how does it help the organization?

[00:16:39] Deb Calvert: I, I would say three things. The first is, you know, when it comes to your voice, it is use it or lose it, and if you don’t speak up, people get used to passing you over. So don’t let that happen. I. Second thing is, it’s about how you say as much as what you say. So you may think about prefacing, hi, I got a little feedback for you.

Are you open to that at this time? Or, I, I’m sharing this because I really, you know, would wanna know if I were in your shoes. So, you know, just give a little setup instead of ambushing folks with, with that feedback. And the third thing that I would say about that is don’t assume that because it may be constructive or, or negative.

People don’t want it. See, I I, if I was doing something wrong, I would rather know if, if you knew Garrett, that I was doing something wrong and you didn’t tell me, and you let me keep doing it wrong. That, that’s not very nice of you, , right? So if your intention is to help people, help ’em grow, help them to, to improve, and you share that intention, and I have trust with you, bring it.

Bring me that feedback.

[00:17:46] Garrett Jestice: yeah, no, I totally agree. The the term that comes to mind is from the book Radical Candor, when they call that ruinous empathy, right? So we don’t wanna have that ruinous empathy. We need to care for people, but also challenge ’em directly, and that’s how we help them grow, right?

[00:18:00] Deb Calvert: Absolutely.

[00:18:02] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. I love it. And then the last one, then number five, tip that you have for.

[00:18:06] Deb Calvert: Okay. I’m gonna give everybody a reminder. This is practical and tactical, not conceptual. You’ll be tempted on this one to let it ride, but, I, I, I think it’s extremely important at this point in time, burnout, compassion fatigue, what everybody’s dealing with. It’s really important in every possible way to ennoble people, and that’s not a make believe word.

You hear about enabling people that matters too. Give them the tools, the resources, the equipment, but don’t do that unless you’re also ennobling them, making them feel worthy and important. You do that. Genuinely putting people first. Don’t hammer on profit and process and products, procedures. What does it mean to people?

Right. What’s the, the people aspect of that? How do you ennoble people? Well, you, you acknowledge them. You don’t walk by them and, and grumble with your head down because you’re having a bad day. You, you affirm and acknowledge people because you know, maybe they’re having a bad day too. , you ennoble people by showing them that you want their opinions.

There’s the inclusivity and the voices in. You ennoble them by giving them clarity so they can have confidence and and courage. You ennoble them by just letting them know that, that what they do is appreciated and that you believe that they can do more and you wanna give them opportunities for that. So it’s the sum total of the first.

[00:19:23] Garrett Jestice: I love it. Yeah, I that, I think that was my favorite one. Maybe that one should have come first too, because Perfect way to wrap it up though too. It’s great.

[00:19:31] Deb Calvert: Okay, so every one of ’em has to be practical and it’s gotta become like breathing. You just do it all the time.

[00:19:37] Garrett Jestice: Perfect. So excellent. Five fast fixes to help with that burnout. The, you know, really one of the last questions I have here before we wrap up is, you know, that’s really helping with most of the employee burnout, which, you know, again, is prevalent all everywhere. We’ve seen it with the great resignation the last few years and everything else.

But, you know, something else that maybe is not talked about enough. The HR people, right, who they’re often feeling burned out, especially in the last few years with everything going on. So any help for them? Like what, what, what else can we, can they do? Or what can we do as business leaders and companies to help those HR people who have taken the brunt of a lot of the challenges that companies have faced the last few years and help them avoid that burnout?

[00:20:27] Deb Calvert: Yeah, although your intentions are good, try not to have those monkeys climbing onto your back all over and over again. Managers are going to bring you problems because they’d really rather that you be the bad guy or do the hard thing or have the the responsibility for for the conversation. But every time you do that, you’re saying to that manager, You can’t do it.

I have to do it. And you’re saying to that employee, your manager can’t do that. I have to do it. And you’re saying to yourself, I have to do this again and you’re getting burned out. And here again, that’s not very nice. You, you, you teach and equip the managers because they’re the ones the employees count on most.

It’s okay that you’re gonna be a little bit more in the background coaching the manager, that that’s better. And the more they do it, the better they’re gonna get and the more you can focus on other stuff. because, well in hr, the work never is, is done . So, spread the wealth. The other thing, I think that that’s important.

So this is maybe gonna give you permission to do what you need to do, and that is to model for others a genuine work-life balance, right? If, if you’re also sending midnight texts and, and answering things at 6:00 AM. You can’t preach work-life balance. You, you can’t run the wellness program effectively, if you are modeling something different.

So, you know, let yourself off the hook. It’s for the good of the entire organization for you to model something that’s healthy.

[00:21:54] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, Deb this has been such a great conversation. I appreciate you joining and sharing some of these tips with us today. I know. There’s definitely things that I learned that I’m gonna take away from this, and I know that’s probably the case for many of our listeners out there too. So thank you for being with us.

If there are listeners who, want to get in contact with you either do learn more about this topic or to learn about working with your company, what’s the best way for them to do that?

[00:22:18] Deb Calvert: Well, I, I’m on LinkedIn company and, and personally and I always enjoy meeting people there, so you could certainly do that. Two websites and, and I understand Garrett, that you put those in the show notes. The first is to the company People First, productivity Solutions. The second is to People First, leadership Academy.

That’s that place I mentioned with lots of free stuff. So if we don’t meet any other way, I’ll see you on a workshop one of these days. Those are always interactive and, and presented live, for about half of them, so that we have a chance to, to really dive deep.

[00:22:47] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, super excited to go check all of those out. I encourage everyone else to do it as well. So Deb, thank you again for being with us. Hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:22:56] Deb Calvert: Thank you, Garrett. I really appreciate the conversation.

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