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The 4 Stages of Burnout that Business Leaders Need to Know [Podcast]

Episode 68: Burnout is very real, and no business leader is immune to it. In this episode, Michael and Kathryn cover the 4 stages of burnout, and how to identify each one. Give this episode a listen to find out which stage of burnout you're in, and how to avoid reaching a physical or emotional shutdown.

man experiencing burnout

In This Episode You Will...

  • Hear Michael and Kathryn's personal stories about burnout.
  • Discover The 4 Stages of Burnout and how to identify them.
  • Find out if you are currently experiencing the physical effects of chronic stress.
  • Learn how a Passion and Provision mindset will help you overcome burnout in your company.
"Burnout is something a lot of leaders keep to themselves. It can be embarrassing when it happens. With burnout, we don't operate at our peak. We don't have the best grasp of our emotions, or our mind, and we don't produce our best work." – Michael Redman

References:

The 4 Stages of Burnout Assessment  (by LEADER Breakthru)

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Michael:
              Hi there, and welcome to HaBO Village podcast. I'm Michael Redman.


Kathryn:
               And I'm Kathryn Redman.


Michael:
              And we're here to talk about passion provision leadership, and creating a passion provision companies so that you have more profit and more joy in your company and you create more passion and provision employees.


Kathryn:
               Yay! Yay!


Michael:
              We love that. We think that's great. We think it's going to impact the world and it does impact the world and companies we see.


Kathryn:
               Changing the world one podcast at a time.


Michael:
              Okay. So today we're going to talk about burnout. Now we're kind of chipper and everything else and boy burnout sounds like a dull, what a bummer type of thing.


Kathryn:
               Kind of gets in the way of passion and provision.


Michael:
              Burnout is a super important topic and quite frankly, it's not talked about enough because quite frankly, there is a big demon floating around, wanting to take you down. It's this whole idea of burnout. It's a monster waiting to take out leaders and does take out leaders way more often than not.


Michael:
              It's a strange thing because burnout is, like a friend of ours said about leadership recently and transition, you're in it, up to your knees before you even realize it and it can be affecting you. And we're going to talk about burnout today and the four stages of burnout, how you start to recognize it, and then maybe give you some suggestions on what to do about it, or maybe we'll just ...


Kathryn:
               Leave you hanging.


Michael:
              ... leave you hanging going, "Oh crap!" And then burnout and that's it. I want to explain burnout comes in several different phases and we'll talk about some of those phases, but to tell you the story. Right now, I'm 51 years old. We've had our company for 17 years. We've been fortunate. We've had moments where we have, especially if you've listened to this podcast, where the company grew insane. We had a tremendous amount of growth over a year and a half period, and then the ground gave out underneath us a little bit. In the midst of that, we created a company that we didn't really like.


Michael:
              There was measures of burnout in all of that. We hit another major transition in our late 20s, and you know burnout's something that a lot of leaders we keep to ourselves. It's a little embarrassing what happens in burnout. We don't operate at our peak, we don't have the best grasp of our emotions. We don't have the best grasp of our mind and we are not producing our best work. And it's really, really frustrating and it's embarrassing at some level, but it's really important to talk about.


Michael:
              In the mid to late 1990s, we were in leadership positions in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We were in a situation where some really hairy things happened in our organization. We've talked maybe some about it. I found myself in the midst of the stress, all of a sudden one day, in front of a bunch of people, having an emotional breakdown. I'll describe what I mean. I started crying. I said something, I started crying, and then I started crying really hard for like 10 minutes.


Kathryn:
               Big baby.


Michael:
              It was uncontrollable. It caught me off guard. I was fortunate I had some folks around me at the time that there was some really mature folks in there, but they didn't know what was going on. But the worst part about it was it happened again the next day at a random time. And it happened for six days in a row.


Michael:
              There are different levels of burnout. If you do not gain control of it, you will have moments where it is just going to crush you and it's going to take over if you do not deal with these things. And sometimes it's your emotions and sometimes it's your physical body, where it's incredibly hard to get out of bed. Sometimes it's arthritis and pain that shows up. I'm trying really hard to paint a picture here and be vulnerable for everybody. This is real. And as leaders, if we don't talk about it, other leaders are going to think they're alone. And I don't want you to think you're alone. And these are challenges we go through. So today, that's why we're going to talk about burnout and that's what burnout can lead to.


Kathryn:
               So let's just back up a little bit and go back more into some definitions. I remember that period. Well, obviously I was his bride and it's like he just cried eight days in a row, it's like, we got to get you some help. And it was after a period of some epically chronic stress for several months that had just been building up and building up.


Michael:
              Yeah.


Kathryn:
               So burnout, typically, it is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional depletion.


Michael:
              You don't jump into, I'm crying uncontrollably for several days.


Kathryn:
               No, it's not just a switch turn thing, unless there's other stuff going on. For someone who's heading towards burnout, you build up to it and you have these suddenly ... I mean along the way, you become more ineffective, you have a lack of accomplishment, you get a little depressed, you become cynical. There's all of these steps that you go through. But the reality is that part of the reason that burnout takes people out is because as leaders, when we start entering burnout, as Michael said, we're typically in it before we realize it. And when people start asking us questions, we are chronic deniers. Like we just, "No, I'm fine. No, I'm great. No, I'm good." Right? And here's the thing folks-


Michael:
              Everybody has blow ups. Everybody throw stuff.


Kathryn:
               Yeah, everybody loses the plot. So here's the thing, if you are entering in or in the midst of a season of burnout and you don't deal with it, first of all, it could take you out at the knees. And second, part of the reason that leaders get so stuck is because rather than dealing with it, rather than recognizing it for what it is and pushing through it, they end up self-medicating.


Michael:
              Yeah. And it doesn't help you, it doesn't help anybody else. Remember that the goal of this podcast is to help business leaders build passion and provision companies, and that starts with you building that passion and provision in yourself and then extending it to your staff. And passion and provision doesn't live in burnout. Passion and provision allows you wisdom and some smarts to be able to navigate everything that's on your plate and what's going on, and then manage your plate, what's on your plate so that you're walking through transitions and challenges and the good times and the bad times and managing not to get in burnout. So probably really important. Let's talk about, there's four stages we've alluded to and we talked about briefly in the last podcast. Stage number one, Kathryn, actually list through the four stages real quick. So we have a context for our folks.


Kathryn:
               So stage one is just exhaustion and depletion. Stage two is physical symptoms. Stage three is frequency of sickness or depression. And stage four is physical and emotional shutdown.


Michael:
              Okay, so we're telling this to you not just because you might be in burnout, but a lot of you listening are not in burnout. We're telling you because A, you need to watch your other leaders. B, You need to have them watching you. Because when we hit those 10 to 12 transitions in our lives and some of them are major transitions, we automatically move into first stage. It just is part of the process, the question is will you keep going or not? Because transitions are hard, so we want to just equip you as opposed to sit here and accuse you, "You're in burnout, you don't know it." It's like, "Everybody's an addict. They just don't know it." That's not what we're doing.


Michael:
              So when you have this exhaustion and depletion, that's stage one, it's kind of like you're ramping in like you know, you put your foot in the water and the water gets deeper as you go farther out, so does burnout.


Kathryn:
               And sometimes stage one comes because you've just taken on too many things. You said yes to stuff that you should be saying no to and you kind of lost your boundaries. So stage one comes from just you are putting a lot of effort towards a whole lot of stuff and you're just exhausted. And sometimes that comes from choices you've made. Sometimes it comes because outside external circumstances have shifted in a way that has radically impacted you, story michael alluded to earlier, and you're having to respond to that and process your world and your company and your leadership in light of this new thing that just happened. So it can be external, it can be internal.


Michael:
              Yeah.


Kathryn:
               But either way, you're just at this place where you are just kind of exhausted and depleted. And typically, people who are in that place, they just ... Again, first response is denial, "You know what? I just need to get better sleep. It's just stress. Everybody has it." And you don't begin to make adjustments based on that. You just deny and keep going forward with your current level of activity. You don't change stuff, you just push forward, which leads then to stage two.


Michael:
              Stage two. And so when we're dealing with stage two, you'll start to see physical symptoms. Now, here's what's interesting about the way our society has lived for decades and decades. I mean my father, when I was young, he was in corporate America and had a corporate leadership job. And one of the things that was really, really common in marketing were antacids.


Kathryn:
               (singing)


Michael:
              In our house, we have Rolaids.


Kathryn:
               Oh, Rolaids.


Michael:
              They spell ... Do you know the tagline?


Kathryn:
               No.


Michael:
              Rolaids, they spell relief.


Kathryn:
               That is awesome. All I remember is plop, plop, fizz, fizz, what a relief it is. But that's not the right thing.


Michael:
              That's not even the tone.


Kathryn:
               That's Alka-Seltzer.


Michael:
              And so what you had is you had these antacids that were because everybody's stomach was a mess. What had happened is I believe an industry had grown up around ... A medical industry, over-the-counter medical industry, had grown up around first and second stage, actually second stage, the beginning of second stage burnout. That it was okay to live in stress at this super high level.


Michael:
              So one of the things that causes stress and causes burnout, and you can pretty much guarantee it, this is really interesting, it connects to passion and provision company. So a passion and provision company, let me say it this way, a passion provision company means that your working 51% of the time or more as the leader in your gifts and talents and your continuing to acquire skills. You're developing a competence that's moving towards some kind of mastery over time. And you're doing stuff that as it fits in there, you enjoy also.


Michael:
              So if 51% of the time you're working on things that are within your gifts, within your talents, you actually have the skills or you're acquiring the skills, and then once you acquire a minimum competency, things get easier, and there's a certain amount of enjoyment. If 51% of the time or more you're there, then you're already beating this. You're not spending the majority of your time on things that are difficult or outside of what your skilled for, but you're spending it on things that you are. And if you continue to walk and work on things that are outside of your gifting, outside of your natural talents, they will take more energy, more time to do because it's harder for you to do. And they will eventually lead to burnout. And so therefore ... Kathryn.


Kathryn:
               So part of the reason that we are so committed to equipping you holistically is because what ends up happening a lot for leaders in companies is you start, especially young leaders, you start a company, you have an idea, you head into business, but you didn't realize all these other parts of business have to happen, and you have no skills for them. And so they sap your life and your energy because they require so much energy. So part of our heart is to tool you up on all the core stuff so that your positioned not to have your life sapped, right?


Michael:
              Yeah. And even mid-game leaders, 40s and 50s, they're sitting there, they're going, "Okay, I've been at this awhile, I do this a while and I've had successful companies." And maybe you're saying, "I've managed to do it for the method I have works." I haven't gone into burnout, I haven't suffered, I haven't done any of those kinds of things, but you're lacking fulfillment and joy. If I take you forward 20 years from now, can you look at the way ... If everything goes as it is right now and stays right the way it is, in 20 years, can you look back and go, "Man, that was so worth it. It was so fulfilling. It was so great." And what happens is in this passion and provision concept, you are looking at it holistically and personal healing, personal, mental, and emotional health that allows you to move because here's what happens.


Michael:
              The more you do things that are against your grain, the more you move into these levels of burnout, the more you move into these levels of burnout, the consistency on that, the less effective, the less creative, the less innovation that you produce as a leader, the less you're able to really see what needs to happen. So everything's impaired and your company doesn't grow. When you move into a passion and provision mindset and model and you flip into that paradigm, one of the things that starts happening is you start to equip and train, you start to realize where your gifting is. Because in the beginning of a company, you have to wear a lot of hats. But what happens is some people get stuck and they keep all those hats as opposed to figuring out how do I navigate, grow the company so I can give away hats.


Michael:
              And then instead of running the hat that says, "I have to do all the books." For me, I take off that hat and I put on a leadership hat about finance and I go, what do I need to know and be aware of so that can manage somebody else who does that on a regular basis? So I can manage the finances because I don't have to be an expert at that. I have to know what's going on and I have to be able to understand the next level of leadership in that place. But then I don't get sapped personally by doing the books on a regular basis and doing the billing and everything else and running that, which personally for me, that just sucks.


Michael:
              I can do it. I am competent at the task and I can do it, but I'm not fast at it, I don't enjoy it, and it is an incredible amount of energy I have to expend just to go to the desk to do it if I have to. And I'd rather fill it in with other things that I do and I have in the past. Therefore, I neglected it. And so we get into these things ago go, this is what we want you to think about is what does that look like?


Michael:
              Okay, so in that stage one, you're going through exhaustion, you start to lose your boundaries. Let's ask this question, how are you doing on your boundaries, your personal boundaries, your emotional boundaries, your boundaries at work? What does that look like? Are you saying right now I don't know what boundaries are. That's a good place to start understanding, and learning, and growing. And what about your reserves? Are you always pushing to the end of your reserves where you're just spent at the end of the day, spent at the end of Friday, and still have stuff you are going to do over the weekend? Or do you have reserves that you can pull from on the occasional time it pushes into overdrive? But that's not a pattern because we're talking about patterns now, we're not talking about the occasional things.


Michael:
              Stage two, physical symptoms and loss of boundaries. Again, adrenaline becomes further depleted.


Kathryn:
               Yeah. So when you're living in a depleted or exhausted place, adrenaline is the core thing you need to keep pushing through. And the further you push, the more adrenaline you need, the more your adrenaline gets depleted. So that's going to matter when we get to stage four a lot. But the physical symptoms we're talking about in this stage are things like fatigue, irritability, sleeplessness, nervous habits. Things that when you are your best self, this is not who you are. So that's the kind of stuff, you end up with diminished results, right? You're just not functioning well. And so stage two, those physical symptoms begin to really manifest, the stomachaches, the lack of sleep, laying awake at night worrying. All of those things become kind of a regular part of how you're processing.


Michael:
              Okay. Now, the thought occurs to me, Kathryn, what do you say to people who are saying right now, "Yeah, that's work. That's just the way work is." Like, "There's leisure and I don't have to deal with that when I'm off playing or on vacation or traveling the world or whatever and I get away, but when I come to work, I'm not working hard unless that's happened." Or, "I don't like work, but that's what that is." What do you say to that?


Kathryn:
               I would say, so are you telling me that you ought to be laying awake at night worrying, that's just part of work, that's your job?


Michael:
              Some people are saying yes. "Well yeah, that's what comes with the package." And you pony up. This is the philosophy that is true and it was the one I was taught. I was taught that-


Kathryn:
               Suck it up, princess.


Michael:
              My father lived in this place, which is one of the reasons, one of my motivations for creating HaBO village and Half a Bubble Out and pushing into passion and provision is because at fifth grade, I was actually instructed by my father very clearly that that is exactly what work is about. It brings all of those and it brings the antacids, it brings the Rolaids, and that's just it. That's just life. But we've discovered over and over again, not only ourselves, research, plenty of experiences with clients and different things like that, that for those of you who may be saying, "I don't understand, that's a different thing? There's something else?" Yeah, there is. And because what you're experiencing when you're working like that is toil.


Michael:
              There's lots of different things that get talked about boundaries and all kinds of other stuff. If you listen to this podcast, we're talking about labor and toil. And labor bears fruit and it doesn't burn out your adrenaline. It's hard work, but it doesn't suck you dry. It doesn't leave you with a pit in your stomach. It doesn't leave you with colitis. It doesn't leave you with the need later for all kinds of challenges, and doctors, and everything else. And yet, I watched my dad go through all of that. He lived probably in third stage, second, third stage all the time, and he finally tipped over into fourth stage and people say, "Well, why do businesses fail? Why do 50% of businesses fail after five years and up to 90% after 10 years?" Well, there's lots of reasons and money is up there on the top, but what's happening is there's a lot of toil going on. There's a lot of stress going on and you just kind of go, "I can't take it anymore." That's coming at this thing from a little bit different example, frequency of sickness and depression.


Kathryn:
               Yeah. So stage three is where you basically move further into physical exhaustion. Loss of sleep becomes just part of life. You have a hard time resting, you're just vulnerable, and you start getting sick more often, right? You have colds, you have skin irritations, you move into colitis, whatever it is, your immune system is beginning to be completely compromised at this point and you're starting to battle with far more frequency sickness.


Kathryn:
               So what's interesting about that is that again, typical response is denial and compromise. "You know what? I'll just take sleeping pills because it doesn't everyone take sleeping pills. That's the way it is." Right?


Michael:
              That's just it.


Kathryn:
               Start at this stage, you begin to drop some responsibilities like balls are hitting the ground. You can't keep them all in the air. Because at the core of who you are, you know things aren't right, if you're not engaging this and realizing what's happening, you tend to start pulling back from relationships that are close to you because they're going to call you on the carpet. They're the ones that are going to say, "What is happening here?" So you begin to pull back from the very relationships you need to start addressing some of this stuff.


Kathryn:
               So that's stage three is just frequency of sickness and depression. Your adrenaline is really exhausted. Your body's having a hard time producing enough to keep up, and your immune system begins to fail essentially.


Michael:
              And notice that you're questioning a lot about your productivity. You're having problems being creative, you're frustrated. Your solution internally oftentimes is just, I've just got to push harder. I've just gotta drive more into it, and if I just push harder and lean farther. If those thoughts are going on in your mind, then you can change. There is a path, but you're going to need some help to get out of this. You don't just turn around on your own and if you find yourself being more irritable and cranky with people and you don't say you're sorry to them, but you wish, internally and you're like either I have every right because they don't understand me or you're in this place where you blow up and then you feel bad about it, but you don't know what else to do. You're in this place of tension.


Michael:
              And we have talked about stress, and there's good stress and there's bad stress. And good stress comes in spurts and it's something that the body can handle. Bad stress comes in longterm, it becomes chronic, it's over and over for long periods of time and it weighs on you and there's not enough recovery time for the body. And stress, this thing we've been talking about for years and years and years, researchers ... One of the folks I know is a researcher at a university, and one of his specialties throughout his entire career was on the issue of stress and how stress actually acts as a poison and then in its own form a cancer in the body. It starts to eat on the body and starts to tear out the body and it actually can kill you because it leads to disease.


Michael:
              What we haven't always talked about is that thing that's just normal. It's like, "Ah, it's just distress. Ah, it's just stress. I just have headaches normally because that's just normal." That is what's happening is ... The stress doesn't come and just stay there at a level, it actually is pushing you farther and farther into this burnout, which means it's tearing down your body to the point where the term burnout comes like a candle. It will burn out and your body will ...


Kathryn:
               Shut down.


Michael:
              ... shut down.


Kathryn:
               Stage four.


Michael:
              And that physical, emotional shutdown, you hide. There's a flight that starts to happen. Normal things don't exist. Physical exhaustion happens. Loss of boundaries completely. You start to make really dumb decisions. You give into some really based desires that usually would be held in check and you make decisions quickly and randomly that you know that this isn't who you are. You're looking at yourself going, "This isn't who I am. This isn't how I used to make decisions."


Michael:
              And in leadership a lot of people will quit their companies, small businesses will shut down, and they'll start to implode on themselves before you enter into fourth stage. It just happens a lot. Corporations I think see it more because people end up falling out, but you may end up losing relationship with your kids.


Michael:
              We were talking the other day and a great story, great story. A good illustration was our office manager was on a trip and met this man who worked for Motorola for 16-17 years. Stress was crazy. The job security was next to nothing. Every year they talked about firing them, letting them all go and it was a one year to one year, one year contract. He says, "I am absolutely convinced that the stress of that entire environment led and contributed to my divorce to my first wife." Here's somebody who's walked through it all and gone, "Yeah, that thing caused me to lose something that was super important to me."


Michael:
              We talk about this because we believe that one of the really solutions that's packaged really well is chasing after what it means. The understanding and the paradigm shift of grabbing a hold of a passion and provision life and building a passion and provision company, so that you as a leader have a passion and provision job. That you have a passion and provision job in a company that's been designed for passion and provision because it's designed to create it all working perfectly like a finely tuned engine that has, not only strength and speed and the ability to sprint when it needs to and to overcome adversity when it comes, but it has longevity.


Michael:
              And when we're optimally working in a health and we are laboring 51% of the time or more, we have all the tools and the resources or we're growing in those tools and resources to experience that thing that leads to not only a much more fulfillment, enjoyment at work, but you have more energy in leftover reserves for the rest of your life, for those other four areas of your life. For your family and friends and relationships and other stuff going on. And we want that for you. We've discovered it, we live it out in this company, we know it can work.


Kathryn:
               And one of the things that we're doing too, and it's just important to say this out loud, is nobody is ever immune to the possibility of burnout. So the other thing that we're doing is we're looking at it all the time like, am I struggling? Are you struggling?


Michael:
              We're proactive about it.


Kathryn:
               We're asking each other those questions, and when there's sickness or whatever, we're looking at these things and saying, "Okay, do I need to pay attention to this? Am I wrestling in a way that would make it look like I'm heading into burnout."


Kathryn:
               So those are just things that we're asking each other all the time. It is so helpful to have someone outside of yourself that you trust, who can ask you questions, who's keeping an eye on things, and help you catch it early so that you're not moving towards this place where literally, there are people who hit burnout, they cannot get out of bed in the morning. Adrenaline completely shut. It is physical shut down.


Michael:
              And the adrenaline doesn't come back easily once it's shut.


Kathryn:
               It's like a six-month thing. It's like, it's brutal.


Michael:
              We've had several friends who have gone through total adrenaline depletion. And yesterday you could get up in the morning and push through again, today you won't.


Kathryn:
               Final straw. You do not want that.


Michael:
              I don't want to go there.


Kathryn:
               Nope. So what we're going to do is we're going to put some assessment questions in the podcast notes for you. Just things to start asking yourself to help you just assess where are you, and then what does that mean in terms of decisions that you might want to make for how your present world is being structured, for the relationships that you're in, for the tasks that you're doing that may or may not be suited to who you are and for the places that you know are depleting you that maybe you just need to learn a little bit more and that way they are less stressful to you.


Michael:
              Yeah, absolutely. So we're going to land this really quick here, a short runway in the middle of Alaska and just say, hey, if any of this today has sparked a, I wonder if I'm in burnout, we want you to seek some help. Talk to a very close friend, look for any kind of counseling or anything like that, coaching, business coaching or anything like that around you or wherever you are. Ask those questions. Get some really good counsel from somebody who understands that. Ask the people that are ... Loved ones around you, "Do you think I'm kind of burnout or do you think I'm in these places?" They know, they're watching.


Michael:
              Two, if you're not and you're doing well, well done. Keep an eye out. This is a danger for all leaders and even folks that aren't leaders can go into burnout, but leaders have a tendency to do it more often and you want to be proactive. We just want to give you the tools and hopefully we've given you some language and some things to be observing so that you're going there. And then again, to just to be thinking, what does it look like to have that paradigm of a company where most of my work is labor, not toil, where it feeds me and re-energizes me as opposed to depletes me. And to continue to understand what it's like to lead that company and then take the responsibility as a leader, and create that environment for your people.


Kathryn:
               Yeah, so that your key people and leadership and your company aren't also wrestling and fighting burnout.


Michael:
              It matters. It's a socially responsible thing to do, but I'll tell you what, if you just don't care about social responsibilities at all and you're just greedy, it'll help your bottom line and it'll help your company thrive more.


Kathryn:
               Short term.


Michael:
              Even building a passion and provision company ... I would say longterm. Even if you're building that passion and provision company for people, even if you have selfish motives, which it's really hard to do and sustain them. Sorry, it's kind of a secret [crosstalk 00:28:14] there.


Kathryn:
               It's kind of counterintuitive when you say it that way.


Michael:
              It does sound counterintuitive, but if you develop those things, they will help your company. They help the bottom line and they help strengthen your company and grow your company and you win in the midst of that. And if you get some good health out of it, even better.


Michael:
              So that's today on the HaBO village podcast, talking about burnout, the four stages of burnout. We want to make sure that you actually have those. Again, and one more time, stage one, exhaustion, depletion. Stage two, physical symptoms. Stage three, frequency of sickness and depression. Stage four, physical, emotional shutdown.


Michael:
              You can get out of all of these, you can recover from all of them, but once you hit the fourth one, it takes a whole lot longer. And we don't want that to happen to you.


Michael:
              So thank you so much for joining us today. If you're listening to us on iTunes, we'd love it if you hit subscribe and leave a review. We a thrive on making sure that we are being helpful to you and help isn't help unless it's perceived as help.


Kathryn:
               So our smart friends say.


Michael:
              So our [inaudible 00:29:12]. Well, hopefully, we're smart enough to say it too. So anyway, I am Michael Redman.


Kathryn:
               And I'm Kathryn Redman.


Michael:
              Thank you for joining us today on the HaBO village podcast. Take care.


Kathryn:
               Bye.