Dr. Geri Puleo: Burnout and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at TEDxSetonHillUniversity (Transcript)

Dr. Geri Puleo

Here is the full transcript of burnout & change management expert Dr. Geri Puleo’s TEDx Talk: Burnout and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at TEDxSetonHillUniversity conference. This event occurred on February 19, 2014.

Dr. Geri Puleo – President/CEO, Change Management Solutions

Nice people! Thank you so much! That’s me, obviously.

Well, hey everybody. My name’s Geri Puleo, and I’m going to be your next speaker. And what we’re going to be talking about today is Burnout and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

So, let me ask you a question: how many of you in here have ever been burned out? OK, how many of you didn’t raise your hand but said, “I don’t want anybody to know that I was burned out, because I’m sitting right beside my supervisor or boss?”

Well, burnout is rampant in the modern workplace. I think we all admit that. There’s a lot of things that cause burnout.

And about 14 years ago, I was like six at the time — about 14 years ago, I started on a quest. And what I was trying to discover was the answer to three questions. Number one: what causes burnout? Now you think that’s pretty easy, right? Everybody knows what causes burnout. You know, it’s work overload. It’s a lousy boss. You don’t know what you want, etc, etc. But I wasn’t sure about that.

Secondly: what maintains burnout? Now, for all of you who have been burned out, how long do you feel like you were burned out? A day? You’re looking at me like, “Yeah, a day, that’s right.” A month? A year? Burnout lasts a very long time.

So what I was trying to figure out is: okay, burnout gets caused, but why do we keep staying burned out? It doesn’t make sense, because all of you who’ve burned out, did you like that feeling? Yeah, you’re looking at me like, “She’s really nuts now,” right? But you didn’t like the feeling but why did you continue to be burned out? What was going on?

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So then I started asking: well, how can we avoid burnout or if you’re already burned out, how do you overcome it and come out on the other side? Well, what that led up to is something that I call “B-DOC.” B-DOC is a Burnout During Organizational Change Model, and B-DOC is just a lot faster to say than Burnout During Organizational Change Model. This model was developed when I was doing my dissertation for my PhD, and I interviewed, very sensibly, people who had burned out to find out what was really going on. How did they burn out? Why did they burn out? How did they come out from it? What was going on?

And if you look at this, what I noticed – and I was focusing during organizational change – is all the people who burned out were the star employees. They were the ones that give me 110%. These were the ones who said, “I can do it. Give me more! Give me more!” But the problem is things happen, and they started getting frustrated. Maybe they didn’t have the resources. Maybe they had a boss who took credit for all of their hard work. What do you think happened after they got frustrated? They got angry.

I had one participant, a very intelligent man who said, “Well, I was a sales manager, and my best sales rep and I got into it. When we came back out in the bull pen, everybody was gone, and the pictures were skewed on all the walls.” He left the industry totally because the anger he could no longer control. After the anger, there’s some self-preservation that starts coming in. And these employees started becoming apathetic.

This is when the boss says to you, “Hey, we need you to do another project.” And they go, “Eh, huh Sure.” They don’t care anymore. After the apathy, then they went into full-blown burnout.

Now, I will tell you, burnout, if you can sleep it off in one weekend, you ain’t burned out. Because burnout just keeps on going and going and going. There’s physical problems with burnout. There’s emotional problems. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who’s been burned out? They’re nasty! Very nasty. And in that burnout, it’s literally, it’s like the vacant shell of a burned out building. How many of you remember 9-11? How many of you remember that image of the World Trade Center where there is just one wall up and everything else was dead around? That’s what burnout is. These people feel like life is over.

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It’s a bad situation to be in. And usually, when you hit it all the way down there in the burnout, then something comes up and you say, “I gotta get out.”

So what do you do? First off – withdrawal, removal, either physically or psychologically, the presenteeism in the workplace. They’re there, but they’re not really there. Or almost every one of my participants, left not only the employer, they left the whole industry. They couldn’t take it anymore; they wanted out. But that’s not the recovery. They then had to have self knowledge and acceptance. They had to understand what was going on. They had to accept it.

And then, finally, there’s a revised psychological contract with the employee. Now, some of you, when you looked at this chart said, “Boy, that is one of the worst inverted bell curves I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” because it’s not even. But it’s that way for a reason. The descent into burnout is really fast, but the recovery is very slow. So when you look at this, into this descent, the hope leads to frustration, leads to anger, leads to apathy, then finally, you’re in burnout.

For my change targets, for all of those people who where change was being done to them. It doesn’t matter what your title was, but if you were told to do something you had no control in it? Six months! Six months you were fried. For the change leaders, about one to two years. And I think the reason for that is because as a change leader, you have a little more control over it. But think about it, if all your subordinates you are trying to change are burned out, what does that do to your workload? Makes it even worse, right? And so it takes a little bit longer.

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Now what causes that descent? Well, I found 10 organizational factors. One of the biggest problems with burnout and the thing that gets me really ticked off is most people say, “It’s your fault. You just have a maladaptive response to stress.” Well, you’re not. Some of the literature was saying that there can be organizations that are toxic. And this order was based on the frequency with which my participants identified it. Work overload is number 7. Most people think it’s a lot of work. That’s what makes you burned out. It isn’t.

Because you all know, if you’re doing something that you love, like some of the other speakers said, you can put a lot of time into that. You don’t care. Even Abraham Maslow found that in his hierarchy of needs. First thing was poor leadership. And then a lack of organizational caring. Burned out workers feel like cogs in a wheel. You’re not human anymore. You’re a robot, and nobody cares.

But as I said, while the demise into burnout can be quick, the recovery is painfully slow. And as I mentioned, the recovery takes about two years. Two years to get out of this – until you feel whole once again.

Now, here’s an issue: I wanted to know why it was so difficult to recover from burnout. You feel lousy. You’re not happy with your performance. Nobody around you likes you anymore. Why can’t you just get out of it? Well, it’s three things. It’s what I call The Burnout Triumvirate.

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