6 Ways to Address Employee Burnout | Future of Field Service
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6 Ways to Address Employee Burnout

Sarah welcomes Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health, part of the APA Foundation, for a discussion around the tie between burnout and mental health and for tangible tips on how to address employee burnout. 

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we’re going to be talking about a very, very important topic, avoiding and addressing employee burnout. I’m thrilled to be joined today by Darcy Gruttadaro, who is the director at the Center for Workplace Mental Health, which is part of the APA Foundation. Darcy, welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Thank you Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: I’m so happy to have you. So before we get into today’s topic, why don’t you tell folks a little bit about yourself, what the Center for Workplace Mental Health is all about and also what the APA Foundation is. So for anyone that isn’t familiar, tell them a bit about the organizations and then your expertise.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Sure. Happy to do that. So the APA Foundation is a foundation that has a philanthropic and programmatic focus. And what we like to say is we are creating a mentally healthy nation where you live, learn, work, worship and play.

So we have workplace mental health initiatives, school-based initiatives, criminal justice reform initiatives, a faith-based community initiative. We focus on schools and really broad community anti-stigma work.

As far as my background, so I’ve been at the Center for Workplace Mental Health for five years. Before that, I spent 17 years at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and I worked primarily on policy and programmatic issues there.

I also have a family connection to mental health issues, which is really what led me into this field. I was a lawyer practicing litigator and I got very interested in policy work when it came to mental health and wellbeing, so here I am.

Sarah Nicastro: And you made a big change. That’s awesome. Good. So I’m happy to have you. I shared with you when we were planning for this episode, Darcy, that I try to weave mental health conversations into our content quite regularly.

So I myself have my own challenges when it comes to anxiety and things like that and so I have a personal connection to the content, but I also see in the audience we have, the industries that we reach, this isn’t a topic that has been widely discussed for very long and in some pockets still isn’t, right?

But you have people that are struggling and need this to be a more regular conversation in the workplace and they need better support and they need that destigmatization that you mentioned. So that’s why it’s really important for me to make sure that mental health is a through line of the conversations we have here.

So today we’re going to talk specifically about some advice you have around burnout, but before we do that, let’s talk a little bit just about mental health in general. So how did you see the impact of the pandemic? So how would you say things related to this conversation have changed over the last two or three years?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yeah, great question. I mean, let’s face it, we really have been through a really challenging time, but let’s just start with the idea that we all have mental health and mental health exists along a continuum. So our mental health may be in a really solid healthy place even if we live with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or another one.

Or it may be slipping and it may be that it’s really not doing well at all. So mental health exists along a continuum. We have what I like to describe as a trifecta. So we had the global pandemic which disrupted our lives tremendously, at work, in the community, if we have children at school, caring for loved ones.

It was a really difficult change and came very quickly and sort of got dropped into our lives. We also have had a lot of political and racial tension over the last couple of years. A lot of political change, a lot of political winds blowing. And then finally we have an economy that’s really uncertain.

We’re hearing inflation, recession, we’re solid, we’re good, we’re stable. So this can all lead to a tremendous amount of uncertainty in our lives. We as human beings don’t do great with uncertainty. We like certainty, we like things to go well. So we’ve been under a lot of stress, a lot of strain and it’s taken its toll.

And we know the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been collecting data since March, 2020 in a weekly pulse data, a pulse survey rather. And what we know is that we’ve had a tripling and quadrupling of people experiencing anxiety and symptoms of those conditions across industries.

So whether you’re in a service industry, you’re a frontline healthcare clinician, you work in a restaurant, we are all experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression at very high rates.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So do you feel like… There’s been a huge strain, right, on humanity as a result of everything you mentioned that we’ve encountered over the last few years. And that’s kind of the challenge that we need to grapple with. If you maybe try and look for a bright side, okay.

Do you think that the collective stress we’ve all had to deal with over the last few years, has it opened eyes to the need to talk more about mental health in the workplace? Have you seen a change in people’s openness to having dialogue, people’s willingness to make changes in the workplace to be more accommodating?

Darcy Gruttadaro: 100%, yes. We are seeing mental health taking center stage. There is a recognition that we’ve been through a lot and our mental health has taken a hit as a result of that. And so the silver lining is mental health has existed in the shadows for too long.

And really there are myths and stereotypes that persist around mental health, that it’s this dark scary condition that makes people act in ways that any of us would be sort of ashamed of in a sense, but that’s all changing because more and more people are being upfront about the fact that they’re feeling anxious, depressed, they’re struggling with the substance use issue.

The more people talk about it, the more others are willing to come out and say, you’re not alone. I’m experiencing this too. We know from surveys that younger generations are more comfortable talking about this. They have an expectation that the workplace will address these issues.

They’re looking for it when they’re making decisions about careers and where they want to work. So it is a positive development that mental health is coming out of the shadows and into the light. It needs to, because what we know is when you get treatment and connected with support and services, you can do quite well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now how would you describe, based on where we are today, how would you describe the criticality of companies becoming more adept at managing mental health and providing employees support?

So there’s been maybe less hesitant or resistant or reluctance, right, to do so, but I’m sure you also see a continuum, and that could be based on a variety of factors, location or industry of companies that are really advanced and doing wonderful things and companies that are lagging.

So what would you say overall in why and how it’s so, so important for companies all around location, in a variety of industries to really grasp the need to put in work here?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yes. So what we know is that people living with mental health conditions exist along the continuum from frontline healthcare workers to the C-suite. So having a mental health condition does not limit your ability to perform at an exceptionally high level.

And right now employers are really looking for high performing individuals in the service industry, in the tech industry, in the finance industry. And they know that people who are high performers may have mental health conditions. So they recognize… And the other thing is we have very low unemployment.

There’s a real focus within organizations on retaining their high performers. So they want to make sure, given that we know high performers can live with mental health conditions, they want to make sure we have the right services and supports.

People have been through a lot, and even if we hadn’t been through a lot, the expectations are growing that organizations will provide mental health services and supports. That it will be visible, that it will be talked about. They are really looking for that. So it’s a retention issue. The other thing is it’s an engagement issue.

If you’re an employee in an organization that shows they care about you, not just your physical health, but your mental health too, you’re going to walk into that business every day, or get ready to go wherever you’re going in the field and you will feel much better about the fact that your organization cares about you. And in turn, you will be a high performer whether you live with a condition or not.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Yeah. I think the points you brought up about engagement and retention are very, very important points for our audience, especially because I talk a lot about the fact that I think a lot of folks within our audience are amid a bit of a reckoning with employee engagement, because we as an industry have been so incredibly focused on customer experience that we’ve maybe overlooked a bit the experience of our employees and how engaged are they and how supported are they in all areas, right.

And then when you layer on the impact of the pandemic and all of that stress, there’s a real recognition, I think right now to your point of, okay, this is real. We need to do something different. We need to make sure that our employees are supported and engaged so that they don’t burn out, so that we can retain them because there is a shortage of talent.

And then as we bring new talent on, what is their expectation of what we can offer in this area? So I think those things are all incredibly valid. I wanted to ask, before we talk about the six ways to deal with burnout, I wanted to ask about if you think about service and some of the industries that we reach, what do you think are the biggest stigmas or misunderstandings that kind of persist?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Well, certainly stigma is associated with mental health conditions in many industries. I think industries that tend to be male dominated, that tend to have people who work out in the field, there can be perceptions that you should be tough. Just stick it out, suck it up.

Male dominated industries tend to have this tendency to really want to send the message that they’re strong and they’re tough and that somehow mental health can be linked with weakness. And when in fact we know, I mean, look at the professional athletes who have now come out and been very open about the fact that they experience anxiety, depression, substance use.

So we know some of the toughest athletes in this country at the highest levels are experiencing these conditions. So it’s not a matter of toughness, but we still all have to work at breaking down some of those stereotypes and breaking down the stigma. And the best way to break down stigma is for people to share a personal connection.

So there’s a real opportunity, but we have to chip away. It’s not like we’re going to wake up one day in stigma will be gone. We all have some responsibility, like we’re doing here, to have conversations about it and to say it’s not a matter of weakness. It could be really a matter of strength to seek help when you need it.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And it’s a really good point. I don’t have any statistics off the top of my head, but I know that you hear stories of rates of real challenges and even suicide among men because they feel that elevated need to keep it in and struggle in silence.

And so this is an industry that’s working hard to bring more women and all sorts of folks in and improve diversity, but it is still male dominated.

So that’s a really good point to bring up that we need to be particularly sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to reinforce, even subconsciously, that narrative of toughen up and suck it up. We want to make sure our teams know it’s okay to say that they’re having a hard time in whatever way that might be. Okay.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yeah, I mean, I have to say I’m very impressed with construction and the field service industry, and really you all are doing important work around breaking down these stereotypes and that is what it takes.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, yeah. And to your point, there’s no magic wand to make it go away, it’s about having conversations like this, having conversations one-on-one.

This conversation blends over a lot into conversations about leadership because there’s also this outdated or this misperception among leaders that feel they can’t share or be vulnerable because it detracts from their position of authority, right.

And so we know throughout the last few years that I think leaders are moving toward a different model where they are more vulnerable and they see that as a strength, not a weakness.

And so when you can learn how to share appropriately and be open to the conversation, that encourages your employees to be willing to talk. So lead by example, right?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let’s dig into the six ways that organizations can address burnout.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Sure. And let me just say, I think when people think of burnout they think individuals should just get over it. More exercise, more sleep, better diet, don’t take stress so seriously, when in reality what the research shows is that, yes, we have individual responsibility when it comes to burnout, but there’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes from organizational change, operational change.

There’s been excellent research done on this by Dr. Christina Maslach and what she has shown is there are six factors, as you said. One is workload. Now workload can be difficult when we have people leaving the workplace because other people have to pick up the slack.

But what we want to do as leaders is make sure we’re keeping track of whether people have a reasonable workload. Sometimes it’ll be a little higher than usual, but then other times, make sure you’re bringing it down to about where it should be. That’s really important.

Two is autonomy and control. Do people have the chance to make some decisions about their day, about their work? And again, we all have key performance indicators. We all have goals that we need to reach. So it can be a small decision that people feel like they can make, but people want to have some control over their work day.

So autonomy and control is important. Three is sense of community. Let’s face that we spend most of our waking hours at work. Do people feel that sense of community at work so that when they go to work in the morning, they feel like, oh, I really feel like I belong to this organization? Now that can be true in the field too.

You have to create with field work some opportunities for people to feel like they have that sense of a group, of a community. And the way you do that is you plan social activities, you find ways for people to form groups around topics they care about, to share information, employee resource groups.

The fourth thing is reward and recognition. And this is not per se huge awards and big monetary awards. This is just managers recognizing people want to be told, job well done, thank you for your work, it means a lot.

Really just taking those moments in our busy day when we’re all doing more than we should be at work to say, I appreciate you and I see you and I want to recognize you, either in front of your peers or not, but you’re being recognized for your good work. Four is that sense of, five rather is the sense of fairness.

So are people being treated fairly? If there are favorites, that’s not going to sit well with others, really. And we’re human beings. I mean, managers may have a slight favorite, but it’s recognizing that has an impact. So try to create a situation in which everyone feels fairness somewhat evenly.

And then six is valued. People want to feel purpose and value in their work. So for leaders and managers, remember to share with people when they’re out in the field how important their work is to the bottom line of the organization.

Because if people feel valued and feel like there’s a purpose in them going out into the field and they’re going out into the field every day, that they’re making a difference for the bottom line of the organization and they’re bringing value to what the organization can achieve, if they feel that sense of purpose and value, they’re going to be much more likely to say, I can do this.

Even when it’s hard, even when workload goes high, I understand that I’m important to this organization because I’ve been reminded of that by my manager, by my leader and others. So those are the six areas, and it’s not rocket science, Sarah.

And it’s not a massive investment. This is recognizing human nature and not feeling like, oh brother, I have to pat people on the back. You do need to remind them they’re appreciated and reward them when the time is right.

And because we know 4 million people left their jobs during the pandemic, we are in a very competitive work environment and people have choice. So you want to be the place people want to go to and be part of every day.

Sarah Nicastro: And when you’re in a service business, right, you’re relying often on those people to be the face of your brand. Right. So you need to have them be in a place where they are engaged and feel valued and are committed to that experience. Otherwise, you’re not only facing the realities of the talent situation, but you’re also risking that customer experience that is really important.

Those are really good points. And I think it’s funny that you say it’s not rocket science. I feel like so many of the things that we talk about here fall into that category in the sense of it isn’t some mysterious or incredibly challenging thing that gets overlooked, it’s the simple things.

It’s the simple things that have an incredible impact that are where companies make missteps that really take them off course. So I think it’s great to have those six sort of tangible areas of focus. One of the things I wanted to ask about, Darcy, is what advice would you give around, I guess being programmatic versus being personal? Okay.

And the reason I say that is there’s a gentleman named Jordan. He works for a company called QIAGEN, and he is in Australia. He was on the podcast quite a while ago and we talked about mental health and he’s a field service leader and he was sharing specifically some of the things that he’s done.

And his point was, the biggest impact he’s seen is around just making the topic a very regular part of every conversation and how he’s incorporated that into meetings, how he’s incorporated into his one-on-one dialogue with his team, et cetera.

And so I think both ends of that spectrum, coming up with something programmatic, we know that what we measure gets attention. What we focus on as an organization in an organized way will get the focus it deserves and this is certainly something that deserves focus.

At the same time, sometimes with I guess topics like this that are a little bit more on the human side, right. So mental health or diversity, you run into people doing it to check a box instead of doing it because they have that personal connection or they authentically care.

So what advice can you give people on how to balance creating effective programs that will help you achieve results at scale, in progress related to mental health, but also balancing that with authenticity and genuine connection in a way that matters to individuals?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yeah. I mean, people know when it’s authentic. So the check-the-box approach does not work well. So if you do one training and say, we did a mental health training, we are good, that is not going to make a big change for your organization. And leadership sets the culture.

So the more leadership is visible in talking about mental health, the more it’s happening at a leadership level and operational and managerial level. And I agree 100% with Jordan that people really appreciate when you make it a part of the culture because it’s something that gets incorporated into conversations, into check-ins, into health fairs, into annual performance evaluations.

You really have to make it real and it’s worth the investment to do that. And the other thing is, I think it’s really important to recognize we all get busy and sometimes we forget. So creating as a leader within an organization or a manager or supervisor or an employee, just those simple reminders around I’m part of the culture, I need to be real about making it a mentally healthy culture.

I can do that by complimenting my colleagues, in giving we receive when it comes to kindness. And also recognizing the six factors and maybe keeping them posted somewhere where you won’t forget that reward and recognition matter, that autonomy and control matter, just because we all forget, we get busy.

And let me say one thing about burnout. Burnout became an issue of major concern in 2019 when the World Health Organization announced a new definition. It is not a product of COVID-19. So it’s important to know that because we were already heading into concerns with occupational burnout and that has obviously been intensified.

So all the more reason to make it programmatic, as Jordan said, to make it part of the culture, for it to be visible in multiple ways with authenticity because that’s when people will believe it and feel psychologically safe getting the help they need when they need it.

Sarah Nicastro: I think too, that’s a really good point, that this topic did not become important because of COVID, right. It simply maybe helped surface the criticality of getting a better handle on it, right. And so that also means that for anyone that thinks, well, COVID is over and we don’t need to worry about that anymore.

Let’s just go back to grinding it out and high pressure and we don’t need to do X, Y or Z anymore. You couldn’t be more wrong, right. This is something that needs to be part of the culture from this point forward.

I think going back to the point you made earlier too, almost every organization that I talk with is kind of grappling with what will their recruiting and hiring plans look like for the next 1, 3, 5 years, right.

And so to your point about the younger generations and their expectations around this topic, that’s something else we need to be thinking about. Is there anything on that point specifically that you would point out that the younger folks in the workforce expect? Anything companies are doing that you think is particularly appealing or impactful for them?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yeah. Again, it gets back to the simple notion of make sure mental health is visible in a programmatic way, in how you talk about your organization. I mean, in the recruiting process you can say mental health and wellbeing matter to this organization.

Here’s how we are addressing it. Here’s what we have to offer as an organization. And work is work, so let’s be real. I mean, we all have work to get done, but it’s how we do our work and it’s how we treat each other and it’s how our workday goes.

I mean, one simple piece of advice is for managers and leaders to ask themselves, is this an organization that I feel good about being part of on a daily basis?

And if it’s not, what minor changes can we make to make it more so? And even think about surveying your employees because they have really good ideas. Believe it or not, it’s often not about a lot of frivolity that’ll cost a lot of money.

It’s sometimes just simple policy changes that are very workable that can make all the difference in the world. And this all hits the bottom line when it comes to retention and recruitment and really meeting the organizational goals.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, I think there’s an era of leadership or culture where it was all around trying to ring every last ounce of productivity out of every employee. Right.

And I think just really genuinely understanding and believing that that model doesn’t work as well as giving them more support, encouragement, recognition, making them feel connected and how that pays dividends in terms of not only retention but just output. Right.

I mean, people will work harder if they feel supported and can genuinely be invested in what they’re doing than if you’re just ruling with an iron fist, right. So I think that that’s really important. Go ahead.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yeah, I was just going to say, you made such a great point earlier that I just want to amplify and I will use again, that when people are in the field, they are representing the brand of the organization.

And the more they feel good about what they’re doing because they’re being treated well and they’re in a culture that cares about them, the more they’re going to project a positive image for the brand, which really matters at the end of the day with the competitive marketplaces we all work in.

Sarah Nicastro: For sure. And I also like the point you made about most of the time making really positive changes does not require a huge budget or investment, right. So I want those listening to understand that this isn’t something you should procrastinate because finances are tough and we don’t have budget for another program, right.

Some of the things we’re talking about, I think some of the things that matter most are the personal aspects, the person to person aspects that don’t cost anything. So I would urge everyone to go back to those six points and think about what is realistic for us to start doing today to improve because it doesn’t have to cost a bunch of money.

I know there’s a gentleman that’s spent on the podcast, Gyner Ozgul, he’s the CEO of SmartCare. And throughout the pandemic, he made it a point, he had a goal, I think it was 2, 3, 4, something like that, but he would call a field technician through FaceTime and he would do so many a week just to say, “Hey, how are you doing?”

And people just overlook the impact that has and it’s just a commitment of a 10 minute phone call, right, and it can make a huge difference. All right. Darcy, any other thoughts, comments, words of wisdom for everyone?

Darcy Gruttadaro: No, I think it’s just important to remember that the workplace is what we make it and that all of us have a contribution to make in creating a caring culture. Whether you are brand new to the organization and at an entry level or you are at a C-level, you can make a difference.

And it really is about caring for each other and asking, “Are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself. I’m just checking in to make sure everything’s good.” And the more we do that, the more we create that caring culture that people want to be part of. So every little bit counts.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, absolutely. Can you tell folks, so if they wanted to learn more about what the Center for Workplace Mental Health does, resources, et cetera, where can they find that information?

Darcy Gruttadaro: Yes. We make it easy, it’s workplace mental health.org. And actually on our website under employer resources, we have a free fairly new infographic on burnout that has the six factors with an explanation of each and some strategies on how to incorporate them into your operational level of your organization. So I would say, take a look at that and we have lots of free resources on our website.

Sarah Nicastro: Excellent.

Darcy Gruttadaro: So that’s the best way to reach out.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I’ll make sure we link that infographic in the show notes for the podcast and give people a chance to come and check out some of the free resources you offer. Thank you so much, Darcy, for joining me today and having this conversation. I really appreciate it.

Darcy Gruttadaro: Such a pleasure. Thank you for having me, and thanks for your great work.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you. You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.