Career Development - Julie Winkle Giulioni

Published in Spring 2023

Enjoying a long and satisfying career requires that we bring the best of who we are and what we can do to our work day-in and day-out. Unfortunately, for many, this is becoming increasingly challenging due to growing levels of stress and burnout. What many believed would be a post-COVID-19 blip has turned into a persistent and pervasive workplace condition that’s taking a toll on individuals and organizations alike.

I recently spoke at a conference of emergency professionals — the people we count on to maintain public health and safety. These people are exceptionally well-trained and prepared to handle the stress associated with navigating high-stakes situations. When asked who was feeling burned out, very few hands remained in attendees’ laps. I immediately thought, “If these folks feel like this, the rest of us don’t stand a chance!”

During informal conversations with some of the people who raised their hands, I heard a common refrain: “The job is what it is and it’s not going to change.” And isn’t that the case for all of us? Most work is likely comprised of a variety of tasks that need to happen for the organization to meet customer, market and stakeholder needs. As a result, our ability to shift or mold any given job to reduce the emotional toll it takes is limited.

While your job may not require the life-and-death decision-making of the emergency workers I spoke with, you likely endure considerable and compounding stress and tension of your own. But, if the job “is what it is” and likely can’t morph much to mitigate burnout, what can change?

Much good and well-meaning advice is directed toward the individual — the very person who may lack the emotional resources in the moment to be able to engage in breathing, meditation, journaling or mindfulness recommendations. Talent management professionals and leaders are better equipped to facilitate the positive, energizing and inspiring feelings required to turn down the heat a bit and balance the exhaustion and depletion of burnout.

Supporting Skillfulness

The job might not change, but an individual’s capacity to perform the job with greater ease can. And that’s a talent management professional’s superpower: Identifying and addressing skills gaps. Offering tools and resources to lessen the cognitive load and effort required to deliver results. And making sure that obstacles to success are removed, as ongoing obstructions can be among the most debilitating and stressful situations employees endure.

Promoting Purpose

Feelings of fulfillment, meaning and deep satisfaction can be inspired in many ways. For instance, passing along a stakeholder’s compliment or connecting the dots between an employee’s output and customer outcomes. One of the emergency professionals shared how much she appreciated it when others in the system shared the outcomes of an incident she supported. Even if the outcome wasn’t what anyone had hoped for, it reminded her of the difference that she and the team could make together.

Cultivating Connection

Relationships can play a significant role in helping us rebound from work stress. In fact, longitudinal research conducted by Harvard finds that connection is linked to happiness and longevity. This creates a compelling case for insisting upon inclusion, building a sense of belonging and enabling authentic and meaningful relationships between leaders and employees and among all team members.

Burnout is no passing trend. The emotional and physical labor associated with doing the jobs required of today’s dynamic, fast-paced, ever-changing workplace will likely only escalate, introducing new levels of stress. Since in many cases the job “is what it is,” we must envision what we can do to support employees and ourselves to turn down the heat on burnout. That’s the only way to ensure that our careers shine bright for some time to come.