Responses by: Shauna Moran
Interviewed by: Sophie Warwick
One of our central focuses at The Thoughtful Co is supporting women in advocating for themselves at work. A common time we need to advocate for ourselves is when we’re setting boundaries, particularly when it relates to burnout. Many women that we work with experience burnout for a variety of reasons, from heavy workloads and conflicting priorities to the emotional toll of being a member of an underrepresented or minority group at work. To learn more about her own journey and how she now supports her clients in navigating burnout, we sat down with Shauna Moran, founder of Shauna Moran Coaching that supports organizations in creating healthy, happy and productive teams long-term.
1. Can you tell us about your own experience with burnout in the workplace?
In my corporate journey, I was stopped in my tracks when I emotionally, mentally and energetically burnt out 3 times over the space of two years - for various reasons. I had what I thought was my definition of success: great compensation, the opportunity to travel, and a leadership position and title, but I still deeply struggled with burning out, repeatedly.
Little did I know the final time I experienced burnout, it would lead me on a journey of understanding what workplace burnout is, how it’s caused, why women with big hearts and huge ambitions struggle the most with burnout, and ultimately understand the ways we as human beings can make the impact we want to make without having to sacrifice areas like wellbeing.
I had started my business, supporting remote and hybrid teams just before the pandemic in 2020 and it was a rollercoaster of growth for me when the whole world started to work remotely and needed help. It was very clear to me that remote working wasn’t the real problem - burnout was. Just a month into the pandemic, research was showing that on average people were clocking an extra 28 hours of work per month and those numbers just kept increasing.
I knew from my own experiences and from witnessing the detrimental effects of burnout on my clients that I needed to put all of my energy, research and efforts into truly understanding the root causes of burnout on a systemic level so that I could support leaders and teams in mitigating and preventing burnout.
This journey led me to specializing in the area of workplace burnout and publishing my book, Managing Employee Burnout last year. Today, I empower leaders and teams to scale their impact with confidence, without sacrificing their well-being and joy.
2. How did you initially overcome that feeling, and how do you maintain more balance moving forward?
The first stage is understanding that burnout is actually present. As women especially, we can be so hard on ourselves. We may have convinced ourselves that it’s our fault and that’s rarely the case.
When we understand our symptoms which can vary as burnout progresses (starting with irritability, anxiety and pressing to social withdrawal, pessimism and even chronic sadness and depression) we can start to bring in a level of self compassion for ourselves which is really key in being able to move forward. From there, we can start to seek support and can go back to the basics to begin to heal. When we start to feel better, we can start to see things more clearly and understand why burnout has happened.
We must put strategies in place to remove the root cause. Removing the root cause can look different for everyone. Sometimes it’s leaving a job because it’s a toxic culture that no individual alone can change.
I also don’t believe in balance as a woman. I do, however, believe in seasons and chapters of our lives. Sometimes we take the foot off the work pedal because family or health become the priority. Sometimes, we take the foot off the relationship pedal because we’re doing something brand new and expansive in our work and that takes priority. I believe the illusion of balance is what keeps many of us stuck in the idea that perfectionism in all areas of our lives is attainable.
3. What do you believe are the primary causes of burnout?
Burnout is what happens when stress goes unmanaged for a long period of time. While stress can be supportive for us in our work, for example, meeting deadlines or getting a new project off the ground, it shouldn’t be part of our everyday life.
For me (and for my clients) it’s really vital to understand the root causes of the burnout. Over the last 4 years, I have studied and researched these areas extensively. Every time I experienced burnout, it was for a different reason. These three root causes are linked to the 3 pillars of burnout that I cover in my book:
The Self: This is how we as individuals contribute to our own stress levels. For example, our belief system might tell us that we’re unsafe to rest if we grew up in an environment where the need for rest wasn’t honoured. We might have a tendency to overwork and take on too much at work because deep down we struggle with people-pleasing or saying no.
The Leader: Our direct leader has a great deal of influence on our stress levels. From providing us with clarity on our roles and responsibilities, to ensuring we have a centralized place to create manageable and realistic workloads.
The Organization: The culture of the organization we work on impacts our levels of stress. For example, do we have the psychological safety to be able to take a break at work? Are we stuck in back-to-back meetings with limited flexibility? These processes and common languages all play a part on our stress and burnout levels.
4. What do you recommend for women now who may be experiencing burnout and are unsure how to move forward?
First, create a circle of support for yourself. This may be a colleague, a leader, a coach, a therapist, an energy healer- whatever you’re feeling called to explore.
Secondly, remember burnout is often a new beginning disguised as a painful ending. You’re in the messy middle of it now, it won’t always be this way.
Third, get clear on the root causes of why you’ve experienced burnout. It may be a combination of all three pillars- The Self, The Leader & The Organization. Whatever the root cause is, you need support in being able to create a strategy to move forward.
5. What role do you think employers can play in preventing burnout as opposed to just responding to it?
Great question and I really do believe that employers do need to take a proactive approach to workplace burnout. The biggest impact employers can make is to educate, empower and train their leaders. Leadership accounts for up to 70% in variance in employee engagement but leaders themselves are struggling. Many leaders that I work with are in fact experiencing burnout themselves so it’s no surprise that this stress has a ripple effect down into all levels of the organization. Slack recently found that 43% of mid-level managers are currently burnt out.
We should always start with the leadership team to support managers in:
Understanding and managing their own stress
Being able to identify and communicate to burnout red flags within their team
Understand the key areas of influence and impact they need within their teams to prevent and mitigate workplace burnout
Being empowered to coach team members around stress and build an emotionally healthy and resilient team.
6. As a leader managing a team, how can you help your team without burning yourself out?
Never underestimate the influence that leaders have on their teams. Influence is made up of the actions, behaviours and choices, and becomes the standard for the overall team. It’s important that leaders are aware of how their actions, behaviours and choices can impact their team members. They need to understand what type of standard they are setting for the environment their team is working in.
Leaders can influence and lead by example around team practices like:
Healthy work-life balances
Taking vacation and time off
Deep and shallow work
Healthy work boundaries
Addressing topics before they become a problem
When leaders are leading by example in a positive way within their teams they are:
Taking time fully switched off from work
Completely logging off from technology when they aren’t working
Taking breaks throughout the workday
Actively demonstrating what a healthy and realistic workday looks like
Sharing their best practices and habits that keep them well when working from home
Offering glimpses into their values outside of just working
Protecting their time and choosing not to respond when it’s appropriate
There are a handful of areas leaders can review within their current team processes to prevent burnout and support their teams:
Lack of role clarity
Lack of communication and support from their manager
Unreasonable time pressure
7. What do you hope for the future of wellness within workplaces?
When I published my book last year, I had hoped that we’d see the worst of workplace burnout but unfortunately, in 2023, we’re only seeing the problems continue to increase. Many have been in a state of burnout for so long, it’s coming to breaking point. We’re seeing this as people leave the workforce, and taking extended stress leaves. What’s most concerning for me, is the volume of women leaving the workplace and the reluctance to grow and take on leadership roles because of increased stress and workloads. I also believe that in order to create a new way of working as teams, we need the divine feminine energy of amazing women leaders.
When we look at burnout as a systemic issue within our organizations, we start to get under the hood of the problem, we start to reduce blame and approach these problems with a sense of curiosity, a sense of continuous improvement and learning. That’s ultimately what we need to see in our organizations today- an open mind and a commitment to continuous improvement. We need companies to be introspective when a problem arises, after all, isn’t that the key for all development? To see a problem, a trigger or a challenge and ask ‘What can I do differently?’
We are only as sustainable as an organization as how happy and well our employees feel. The success of our business should include the metric that looks at team wellness because after all, we cannot achieve success alone. Success in business doesn’t just come from the things we do, it comes from the culture we create and the approaches we take, as teams and as individuals. When cultures create teams of people that feel good in themselves, organizations become unstoppable. Customers are happier, innovation is creative and teams are more productive.