Where were you in 1995? Were you doing the macarena, obsessed with Friends or feeling futuristic as you dialed into the world wide web?
In 1995, ASTD (that was the name back then) asked its readers: “Are You Burned Out?” identifying that 86% of training teams were seeing an increase in stress, 83% were experiencing increased workload and 68% were experiencing burnout. Ten years later, Waugh and Judd researched trainer burnout, revealing that 71% had moderate to high emotional exhaustion.
I guess, as Montell Jordan said in 1995, “This is how we do it?” Well, it doesn’t have to be.
The recent years have drawn more attention to the mental health crisis in the workplace, highlighting an increase in burnout and workplace stress. As learning leaders, there are actions we can take to ensure our people thrive in a healthy and happy work environment.
Here are five tips to get started:
1. Acceptance: Learning leaders must identify the stressors that are beyond your control. As a training function, we know that things like compressed timelines are pretty common. So, acknowledging that can help us let go of the need to control the uncontrollable. In their research of responses to the lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, for example, Mead et all saw that acceptance decreased the risk of burnout by 50%. What stressors are occurring for you that you need to realize are beyond your control?
2. Gratitude: In the same article, Mead et al also identified gratitude as a major driver of wellbeing in the face of stressful challenges. Something as simple as considering three things you are grateful for, however small, “contributes to longevity, not only through different types of wellbeing, but also by reducing psychopathology and improving cardiovascular health” (Mead et al). Just as you identified what can’t be controlled, take the time to consider three things that are a positive in your situation. This doesn’t mean to suppress the understanding of what isn’t positive; rather, look for a health balance that begins with curiosity and nonjudgement.
3. Give yourself a break: During a recent session presenting on this topic, the audience shared horror stories of teaching a program and realizing it was the wrong solution. “They were furious. They kept rolling their eyes at me. They already knew what I was teaching; they just didn’t agree with it. I was so embarrassed.” Here’s the thing: being in front of a group of learners can be very challenging. We can’t please everyone (see #4 below). The best we can do is to try our best and to be kind to ourselves for doing so.
4. Defining your worth: CGS identified executive buy-in as the No. 1 issue for training teams in 2022. 20 years before, Keith Waugh identified that one-half of those surveyed identified “an inability to compel supervisors to follow the training plan” [as] cited most often by burned out trainers as the most stressful aspects of their job” Not feeling that the work done is valued is one of the most common accelerators of burnout, no matter the function you are in. One way to counter this is to establish your own sense of worth, as well. By combining curiosity about the inputs of others with your own internal belief in your strengths and capabilities, you will be better equipped for future challenges.
5. Aligning to your values: When is the last time you reflected on why you do the work you do? Beyond the surface answer of “I like to help people,” what is it about helping others that is important to you? What is your purpose? How has it changed? Once you reflect on what’s most important to you, take the time to contextualize whatever stresses you are experiencing. How important are these to you given what your values are? Sometimes, we can find ourselves reacting to situations with energy when, in the long run, they really don’t matter.
As those who have dedicated our careers to educating others, we need to spend a little time building our own know-how on caring for ourselves. Because, if we burn out, who will be left to teach people what they “oughta know?”