Mitigating Workplace Burnout with Dr. Jacqueline Kerr

ON THIS EPISODE

In an era where employment-related stress and burnout are increasingly prevalent, it’s essential to understand and address these highly damaging issues at the corporate level. In the first episode of the year, Dr. Jacqueline Kerr, a globally recognized behavior change scientist, community advocate, and TEDx speaker joins me for a conversation about burnout, public health, and the role of organizations in mitigating burnout.

ABOUT THE GUEST
Dr. Jacqueline Kerr

Dr Jacqueline Kerr is a mom, behavior scientist and burnout survivor. She is in the Top 1% of Most Cited Scientists worldwide and her work has informed the US Center for Disease Control Community Prevention Guide. Dr. Kerr left her position as a public health professor in 2018. She now hosts the Podcast ‘Overcoming Working Mom Burnout’ where she interviews researchers, diversity experts, and leadership coaches, focusing on #mentalillness. She is on a mission to dismantle the causes of working mom burnout and #genderbias with individual, organizational and cultural change through behavior change science. Connect with Jacqueline Kerr on LinkedIn and YouTube @Dr Jacqueline Kerr. Filming and video editing credits go to NSHAPS Productions and Kamal Ismail. Food photography credits go to Tom Adams.

SHOW NOTES

Dr. Kerr deeply resonates with the intersection of public health and personal behaviour change, particularly with respect to the effects of workplace burnout. Burnout can affect every facet of a person’s life and might be induced by pressures from multiple areas of life in its myriad versions. Dr. Kerr emphasized the value of intervention, noting the vital role that organizations can play in learning from and adopting community-based approaches to prevent burnout.

Driving home the importance of collective efforts in combating burnout, Dr. Kerr highlighted the pivotal role of leaders. Leaders are encouraged to forge a healthier atmosphere in the workplace, thus decreasing the possibility of burnout. Flexible work hours, limiting non-essential meetings, and fostering a culture of appreciation can all contribute to a more engaged and less stressed workforce. 

Furthermore, a thriving culture of inclusiveness is essential along with recognizing the link between bias and burnout. The approach must be comprehensive, considering individual, family, organizational, and societal level factors. 

Workplace culture is often linked to changes in behavior patterns. As with managing any change, understanding where people stand in relation to the concept of change is crucial in bringing about effective behavioral adjustments. The key is to create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable discussing changes they’d like to see in the workplace. 

Dr. Kerr highlighted the importance of reducing unnecessary meetings and encouraging more focused work time to boost productivity and reduce burnout. She recommended considering the reduction of meeting hours and introduced the concept of a “meeting-free week” as a productive approach to address the perceived need for continuous meetings within teams.

We talk about:

  • [0:00] Intro

  • [3:13] What got Dr. Kerr into the burnout and behavior change space

  • [6:19] What does it mean to be in a state of burnout

  • [12:47] How can leaders help mitigate burnout for their team

  • [18:33] Making burnout a collective responsibility

  • [23:44] What do we commonly get wrong about behavior change

  • [35:29] Mindset of “this is never going to work” can also be a sign of burnout

  • [42:16] The importance for leaders to be self aware, and have an emotional connection with emotional intelligence

  • [46:15] Rapid fire questions

Join Dr. Kerr and I for this conversation, as we talk about understanding and mitigating burnout in the corporate and leadership spaces You can find the full transcript of our conversation on my website, along with more information about Jacqueline and her work.

Thank you for being a part of my podcast community, and remember to stay tuned for more inspiring episodes to come!

TRANSCRIPT
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Carolyn: Well, happy new year, happy 2024. And we are going to kick off this year on Evolve by speaking with Dr. Jacqueline Kerr. Now, she is a world recognized behavior change scientist, community advocate, and TEDx speaker. What I loved about her profile was this blend between academia and also public health, community focus, and the fact that she works with organizations.

I know from doing this podcast for over a year now that having evidence based. Interventions is really important and I think there’s a lot that our corporate world can learn from community based approaches. And I think public health health falls into that. Now, we’re going to talk specifically about.

burnout. Burnout is something that impacts us across many spectrums of our life. Burnout can be caused by pressures, as I said, across all aspects of our lives. So that’s what we’re going to talk about. And we are going to hone in a little bit on job burnout in particular. And I’m going to ask Jacqueline to share some insight, some suggestions that can help.

All of you as leaders to mitigate burnout in your workplace. Hey, I don’t think we’re going to get all the answers. It’s not like this is a, that there’s a golden key to this, but I am very hopeful that you, I, we, we’re going to hear some fabulous insight that we can take and apply and make 2024 a little bit better than last year.

Let’s have a listen.

Welcome Evolve Community. We are kicking off 2024 with some awesome guests. And I am so delighted to bring Dr. Jacqueline Kerr onto the show. Jacqueline, welcome.

Dr. Kerr: Thank you so much for having me and happy new 

year. 

Carolyn: Happy New Year to you as well. So, you know, oh, there’s so many things I can hardly wait to talk to you about Jacqueline. You know, I found you on LinkedIn. I think you might have liked a post or something. And I went back and, you know, looked at what you did. And I saw this Ted talk that you did around burnout.

And so, yes, that appealed to me, but what also caught my attention is you did it at McMaster University, which is where I went to school. So I thought, well, I have to, I have to meet, I have to meet this amazing Dr. Jacqueline Kerr. So we’re going to talk a little bit about burnout and behavior change today.

And I wanted to start off and ask you a little bit about like, what got you into this space? Like how did you take this background of behavioral science and, and really be inspired to talk about burnout? Like how did those two link up for you? Oh,

Dr. Kerr: Well, actually, and as I described on that TEDx talk, I experienced my, my own burnout. So I was a professor here in San Diego. Running, running a large research group, I kept taking on more and more leadership thinking that that’s what I needed to do to sort of prove my worth, to have greater influence.

So as I took more and more leadership on, I was losing the leadership autonomy I had of running my own group and doing the work I wanted to do. And then really starting to see the sort of. Toxicity of some of the different levels and hierarchies in, in the university. So, actually I experienced you know, what, what might be considered suicide ideation which again, I, I, I talk about a little bit on the TEDx stage.

And so I took a, a leave of absence to try and reset my body and, and to You know, work on what was it I could do to get better control of my sleep, my stress, you know, my back teeth were cracked, you know, and, and, and this basically happened, you know, now we’re thinking we’re talking about the new year here.

This happened for me in the new year. I, I woke up to the new year and on January the third, I was like, I cannot face. Another year.

Carolyn: Wow.

Dr. Kerr: So it was really my own experience. Now I’m a behavioral scientist. I work in the public health realm. I work on community change and getting people to be able to live in more healthy communities and do healthy behaviors.

So that’s all related to stress. But this burnout concept wasn’t actually something that, that I was a specialist in as a researcher. But as I started to recover from, from That, that period in those episodes, I then went back to work and basically went, okay, I’m feeling better. And literally for the first time in my life, like I had, I had got my stress down to such a level that I was so like calm and.

And when I got back to work, it hit me like a truck, literally in my chest, this enormous feeling, which I’d never felt before, because of course I had all these self care techniques and exercising and things that kept my stress at bay, but it didn’t. Let me like process the stress or acknowledge the stress.

I just like kept it all down. So, then when I started to realize that, you know, I, I was better, but actually there was some major problems with the system at the, the university. That’s when I started to go, okay, how can I create. Workplaces. So other people don’t have to go through this,

Carolyn: So I want to back up a little bit cause burnout when we hear that word, can you describe sort of, not like really scientifically, but like generally speaking, what does it mean when one is in a state of burnout? Let’s just start with that. How would you describe that?

Dr. Kerr: Right. And most people don’t recognize it, acknowledge it either. Like they don’t necessarily want to say that’s what I’m in. When I was in it at the time, I didn’t necessarily know it. It was then afterwards I could recognize the symptoms. So kind of the official definition. Is around exhaustion, lack of productivity and potentially cynicism to where you no longer care about the work you’re doing.

And if you think about that in healthcare and frontline workers seeing their patient as a number instead of a human, that can be some of the experience. And when you’re a, a giver, right? And you start to feel like that about the people you’re helping. It’s, it can be so so soul destroying. It’s such a cognitive dissonance you experience.

Some of the symptoms people report are brain fog, right? They just can’t function anymore. Tired, but wired. That was me. I just couldn’t. Get my brain to shut down at all. People sometimes experience such, such exhaustion. They, they can’t get out of bed. And then, you know, there’s also there’s, there’s early signs you can look for.

So once you start to sense things like resentment. And rumination. Those are like those early warnings. Now, there is this like 12 stages of burnout and I won’t go through all the 12, but the key part of it is stage number one is the need to prove yourself. And so many of us step onto this burnout journey.

Through that door and not just because say of the personality, we are our own. I’m an overgiver, I’m a people pleaser. And those are the things I’ve had to work on. But imagine if you’re a black woman in an organization and you are actively being refused promotion, then you’re constantly having to reprove yourself.

And certainly as a mom and a woman, I have that situation sometimes, but not as often as other. Very marginalized groups. So this is a reality. This is not just, Oh, your personality makes you do that. Sometimes the system of bias makes you do it. So when you step onto that and you start to prove yourself, you start to suppress your feelings, your values, you’re trying to avoid conflict clicks.

That’s when it all starts to lead into worse situations. And another thing I like to share is. You know, one of the steps is when you start to see people’s behavior change. So that’s when you can notice things in your colleagues rather than sort of thinking, oh, they’re failing at their job. You think about it as like, no, this person’s normally super reliable.

Something’s going on and, and really have the compassion to ask them. Cause it can be so hard for, you know, people pleases type A personalities to admit that there’s something going on.

Carolyn: Right. And, and you alluded to where I wanted to take things is burnout. We, we see as such an individual thing and take on to ourselves. And yet there are so many things that impact burnout. So burnout can happen from a whole lot of different areas. I know for me, I 2007 and it wasn’t from my job.

It was from a lot of other things going on in my life. I was a caregiver. I had two young kids. And so I just want to acknowledge that burnout can come from a lot of different areas, but I appreciate what you said. Like that gateway is, is needing to to please and deliver. Right. And to not basically to not slow down, like you’re worth.

And I know for me, I didn’t consciously understand what was going on. This was all, you know, like below the iceberg line. I didn’t, I didn’t understand that, that, that, that was driving my behavior. But you know, what we do know is I think it was a 2018 or 2019 that the world health organization declared job burnout in particular as something that needed to be addressed.

Dr. Kerr: that’s correct. Yes. Yeah. And so that’s, that’s definitely that’s that definition. I gave the, the exhaustion, the, the loss of productivity and, and, and the cynicism and sort of, I’m so it’s like, it’s Chronic stress that hasn’t been managed. So this is what workplaces hook into and point the finger and say, chronic stress that you haven’t managed.

Not, and that’s why I always say point the finger because your three fingers are pointing back to you saying chronic stress that came from the workplace. So since the seventies Christina Maslach, who really is, is one of the best workplace burnout researchers has basically been showing this comes from workload.

From lack of reward, lack of appreciation lack of fairness in the workplace when your values don’t align. So these are all things that employees are struggling with today that you know, where there’s, and also then lack of purpose. So I think that’s such an important one too, because that’s, again, a really big conversation.

We’re having today of with employees is, is they want to be recognized for their work you know, sometimes more than that, they want more pay. They, they want to be valued in what they’re doing again, back to that. Do you have to prove yourself or are you valued? And also then you know, they, they want purpose.

They want meaning in their work. And that really comes from when you tie somebody’s job. One, two, the outcomes of, of the, the organization or to, to, to customer’s work also when you actually help people with something like job crafting, where their strengths are being used for the impact. And again, when we allow people to do meaningful work, because when people are in meetings all day, they’re not productive, they’re not getting to the tasks that actually shift.

You know, the product or the bottom line or the innovation and that’s what leaves people feeling so drained and so disengaged at the workplace,

Carolyn: And, and so Jacqueline, you’ve just shared some ideas from an organizational culture perspective. What are some, like if somebody is listening to this right now, new year, there’s sort of just like a bit of excitement. 

What are some things that leaders could do with their teams? With their teams to help create a healthier environment that would sort of, mitigate burnout.

Dr. Kerr: right? Yeah, and, and I call it a thriving culture for all, because I really want people to start to understand this connection. between bias and burnout as well. So if I can just close that loop before I start to go into some examples, because I think it’s really important. Again, when we sort of say to people and we give them perks or, or employee benefits to go get services on their own, those services are not delivered, especially here in the US.

equally across all groups. So, there’s so much systemic racism in the healthcare system. There are not necessarily therapists of color available if they’re even accessible to, to everyone. So again, when we start to push it to on people, we are really increasing the health inequality.

Carolyn: Hmm. Right.

Dr. Kerr: so That’s again, that’s an opportunity for businesses to reduce health care inequalities by doing something different for their employees. The other part is this research showing that when you’re in burnout you are worse at making decisions. Now that really makes sense. And I’m sure you could experience that once we, once we put our egos aside, we can say we’re not doing this all well.

But what we actually are doing is relying back on our brain, superhighway, the, the, the old systems in our brain, which are often more biased. So there’s research showing, for example, physicians, when they’re going into burnout they treat their patients with more racial bias, and then once their burnout reduces, they stop doing that.

So this connection is so important to think about when we’re in burnout, we’re not just damaging ourselves. We can be damaging, you know, those around us.

Carolyn: There’s a real collective here. There’s a real collective thing that that I’m picking up from you is burnout isn’t an individual problem. It’s a collective issue, which means suffering in silence like I did for far too long is really the least optimal way out.

Dr. Kerr: right. Yes, it is actually the least optimal way out. So, so how I think about is, is yes, we all have to do some of our own work because we, we do have to own our part in this process. Cause again, there’s often either self beliefs or stories or practices. you know, poor boundaries, not able to say no. These are all skills we can learn.

You know, not communicating our needs, not asking for help. There’s so many skills we can learn as an individual. And when you’ve got those skills, it does contribute to, to keeping burnout at bay. But what we, from a public health perspective, we always say, okay. There’s individual level things.

There’s family level things you can do. So particularly for parents going through burnout, it’s about that family. Who’s playing what role in the family? Have you got a partner or other family members who can take on some of that load? Then there’s the organization. Again, what in the organization and we’ll get into some of those things with what can the workplace do, but then there’s also that social level as well.

So that’s when, when I talk about health inequalities and things, so really, we’re wanting to understand that intersection between the individual and the workplace culture and social environments as a whole. And the way sometimes people get overwhelmed with that, but what I say is it opens up opportunities to ask.

where is the biggest, you know, problem coming from? Shifts and you absolutely, you know, help their lives, give them more flexibility, so you’re not solving their family problem, say, but you are giving them the flexibility to to work it out on their own, or in some cases again in the US here, we very much need it, you know, more paid leave, subsidized caregiving, because all those things are not currently being provided by society.

So, workplaces have an opportunity to do something here that will have bigger social impact. I know they want to have this social impact and even their ESGs make them do this. But actually, before they turn to outside volunteering and thinking they can help communities, right? They first have to help the community inside their organization and learn from them.

And that’s what I think, when you actually start to understand. The, the intersection of people’s lives and work, then you understand your customer better too, because they are the same people struggling with this intersection of where do we fit, where do we belong and you know, how do we actually have a life that is, that is meaningful?

These are all things that we’re, we’re all struggling with.

Carolyn: Well, and our, you know, this brain inside of our head doesn’t flick into work mode and, and home mode. I mean, we, we’ve created that, that sort of construct, which is completely an illusion. And so really, it’s again, we’ll do this whole bring your full self to work. I, I kind of get a little squeamish when I hear that because there are so many systemic inequities that don’t allow for that to happen.

But. Not, but, and how can let’s, let’s come back to what are some things that leaders can do on their teams? I heard you say, like, offer some flexibility. I, I know I got that for several years from my employer and it was amazing. Like, you know, sure. If you want to come in at 7am core meeting hours are going to be 10 to 3.

You have to be here for those. So that would be an example, right?

Dr. Kerr: Exactly.

Carolyn: What might some, what might some other, maybe two other examples, Jaclyn, that could, leaders could put in place right away to help, again, we’re not solving burnout, but potentially mitigating it and making it more of a collective responsibility.

Dr. Kerr: Right. So I think the meetings are definitely a big one to have those core meeting hours. And cause that really does give people true flexibility. Cause if the meetings are 24 seven, then, then it doesn’t matter if you’re working from home,

Carolyn: Right.

Dr. Kerr: still unable to do anything that, that, that can. Help with the stress.

So so I definitely agree that that’s that’s a really important one. And again, other ways of doing that are potentially to the four day week. We’re saying a lot of evidence coming out how that reduces burnout and improves productivity. But only if you actually do something to get rid of all this stuff that that’s blocking up time and stopping this focus time.

So again, allowing people to have it. Uninterrupted, uninterrupted focus time is so important. That’s going to also lead to more productivity and better work. And actually what I have is, is over a hundred different behaviors that somebody can, can choose from and adopt. And so that’s really the behavioral approach I take.

So again, when we get to choose what we work on, we are so much more motivated to do it. And everyone comes to this from a slightly different place at a slightly different level of, of skills. So again, sometimes like mandated DEI training, that’s not going to meet people actually where they’re at. So I have it under these categories of healthy workplace habits.

And those are really around, you know, the, the working hours. The way we work well being inside and out of work. So again not just sort of saying you do your well being on your own. For example, when you have a career plan and you’re going for promotion and everyone’s pushing you and you want that too.

Do you also have a wellbeing plan to help you move through that? Then there’s there’s other areas around cultures of growth and belonging. And those are the conditions for any change to happen because if we don’t have psychological safety, if we don’t have some self-awareness and, and, awareness of others around us in, in that emotional intelligence is really hard to start having the, these conversations. And then I also have sections around flexibility that we sort of talked about a little fairness. So again, are we talking about promotion systems that are based on time only, like put more time in, do more.

And for anyone that’s got time constraints, whether they’re, you know, a caregiver of a family member or a parent, or because they’re doing work in their community, right? These, these, it’s not possible to, to, to have that same metric. So in that situation, I say, before you think about a merit review, have you even done a pay equity?

Carolyn: Mm. 

Dr. Kerr: so, and then thinking about purpose, so, so, you know, I have these different categories and, and really the, one of the main things I’d love to talk to you about a little bit more is, is because of this new year is how do we go about behavior change? ’cause I think we are all moving now, and some, I’ve seen some articles out there saying, you know, KPIs, oks in bed, it’s all about behavior.

And, and I would agree it is all about behavior. ’cause again. Values, if you can’t operationalize them in, in behaviors,

Carolyn: Totally. Yeah. Now, and I’m not going to ditch KPIs and OKRs completely, and I, I’m not suggesting that you were saying that but it’s sort of like, you know, when I hear that the process, the process and how you get to the outcome, your OKR, your KPI, your process is just as important as your outcome.

Dr. Kerr: yes. And when it’s behaviors, it can happen today, whereas those other goals, it’s great to be making progress towards them. Some of them can be slower than others. So that can be demotivating versus, whereas if you’re actually saying, okay, what behaviors can I do today? The behaviors I can see, because when we think about something like values, like, can I see them?

Can I even, can I measure them? And even things I agree, we need these. Employee engagement surveys and things because they give us a sense of patterns, but they’re not necessarily measures of of sensitive to measures of change. And if you say something like somebody at work cares about me, what does that mean?

Does that mean they give you flexibility? Does that mean? That they check in with you one on one and ask about your personal life. Does it mean they give you a wellbeing plan when you have a career plan? Like, what does it actually mean to know someone cares about you? Right? So I think that’s the thing that, that, that gets lost.

In that progress, whereas behaviors, we can start them today. We can measure them straight away and you can really start to see that, that progress. So I think that’s when people are stuck meeting some of these longer, bigger goals. It’s the way to start.

Carolyn: Yeah. So let’s, let’s go there. Let’s let’s go there. Sorry. 

What do we commonly get wrong about behavior change? And what, what 

can we, and then what do we commonly get wrong and then how can we adjust it so that, hey, 2024 and I know behavior change can happen anytime of the year. For me, September seems to be a stronger time of change than January 1st.

But hey, our, our, our cycles are a little bit different or it’s different for everybody. So let’s come back to that question, Carolyn, cause I’m babbling or carried on. What do we get wrong about behavior change and how might we adjust it? Right,

Dr. Kerr: is my time to, to, to, to start new habits. I think when the kids go back to school, I get back into that routine and it really helps me. So I agree. Sometimes people do argue that like a new year or a big birthday or things like that can be times for a fresh start or a new start, but actually our behavior science also shows us, for example, even when someone has.

A heart attack, you’d think that would be a moment in their life that maybe they want to start changing their behaviors that sometimes doesn’t even lead to behavior change. So I think we have to really recognize behavior change is difficult and it’s because we kind of set ourselves up to fail one. We probably have experienced doing it badly in the past.

So we’re afraid to fail. So we don’t tend to tell people what we’re doing. Like if we were trying to lose some weight or something, we’re not necessarily declaring it to the whole world. Cause we’re thinking, well, what if I don’t, then I’ve embarrassed myself. So I think that’s one thing is we do it on our own.

And for me, the most. The most important part about behavior change is who is going to support you to do it because they can help support you in motivational ways, they can support you logistically, a company could support you financially, and then you can also have somebody being that accountability partner too.

So you don’t just want that accountability partner, keeping you on track. If you’ve not also got someone to say you’re doing great. And you’ve, you know, here’s why you remembering why you’re doing it. And again, doing it together with someone else is also the best way. So we often don’t do that. And then even though there are ideas of things like, like smart goals, we can set very smart goals.

But if we don’t actually say, what are the daily behaviors I’m going to do to get to that goal? Is that even the best goal for me? Cause if we set a goal that we think is realistic, and then we suddenly discover, Oh. It’s harder than I thought, you know, we can then experience kind of that negative feeling of like, Oh, I’ve set myself up to fail again.

So, so trying to avoid that by having these daily behavior plans and the more specific they are, the better, because basically I’m trying to say, I’m going to do this when I’m drinking my morning coffee. I’m going to take time to do a mindfulness exercise. So it’s anchored to my morning coffee, because I’m going to do that every day, right?

That’s what I’m going to do every day.

Carolyn: right,

Dr. Kerr: So I’m tying it to something that I love and I want to do. I’m saying, this is my mindfulness that I’m going to do every day. And it’s going to be at a specific time of day tied to something else. And, and if we then can’t if you start to create that plan, it goes, I’m not going to be able to do that.

Then you change the plan and you start saying, well, what is realistic for me? So I do think we, we tend to, you know, go so, so big with our goals that, that then we struggle. But the biggest part, like I mentioned is doing it alone. So again, when we think about the workplace. onE of the best things we could be doing.

And again, this is also showing our vulnerability, our, our, our transparency and honesty, which again, are all things that it’s going to support psychological safety in the workplace anyway, is to basically. You know, declare to your colleagues, I want to find a way to have less meetings this year to you know, work out which, you know, how can I get more focused time?

Can we do this together? Right? You know, I don’t want to do this on my own, partly because I need everybody else’s support. As a manager, for example, if you start to reduce your work hours, the rest of your team is left going. They’re no longer available. What do we do? Right? So that’s why also when we do it on our own, we, we, we leave everybody else lost, whereas if it actually, we say, let’s do this together, then we’re supporting each other, then we’re role modeling to each other, we’re being.

Be honest about our struggles with each other. And this is basically social learning. And the research shows that social learning is much more effective for the group and for individuals within the group, because you have that support system, you have the, the role modeling, you have the reinforcement, everybody saying, you know, great job again.

It’s, it’s great job trying to do what you’re trying to do, even if you’re not getting there yet, you

Carolyn: So Jacqueline, you brought up the reducing the number of meetings. So my hypothesis is the number of meetings that you have and your inability to get out of them. Cause I hear a lot of people tell me that, Oh, you don’t understand. Like we just have meetings back to back now. I, I believe there could be some thought patterns in there, some mindsets around that.

And what you’re saying is socially a team can work together to change this. It’s not incumbent on the leader, the formal leader, or two other people because their job title has manager in it, that collectively the team can work towards us. Right. I, so I heard

Dr. Kerr: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. And that’s also why I love that you ask, ask this question in teams, because again, we know the CEOs are burning out too. And one of the things I say is like, let’s have a meeting free week. The CEO basically declares all meetings canceled and everyone gets their productivity back.

And then you decide which ones to bring back in. And some companies you know, have been doing this. So it could come from the top, but don’t wait for it to come from the top, do it within the team, do it from the ground up, because you might do it in your team, and then the next team goes next to you is like going, okay, you’re, you guys are just doing great again, what’s happening?

And then it spreads and shares and builds from the ground up. And that is also how systems change can work. It does not have to come from the very top. So, yes, absolutely in teams.

Carolyn: Now, can we tie this then, to mental habits? Because I know mental habits will link significantly to stress and how we process stress. So what comes to mind is, oh, well, Carolyn and Jacqueline, you don’t understand at my company, we have to have these meetings. We can’t cancel our meetings for the week, or, I can’t, I can’t just step in and, and make this change.

You know, you’re making it sound too easy. Are there some mental patterns linked to that type of mindset that we could offer some suggestions to the listeners about?

Dr. Kerr: You know, I, I don’t necessarily think of, of mental patterns in that way. And, and I agree, I, I never want to suggest this is easy. I, I suggest it’s, it’s possible, right? But that, that I understand that there, there can be barriers that are mental barriers. And there can be barriers that are organizational barriers that have set it up in this way.

But I, I think again, sometimes sometimes it is in this process of experimentation. So that’s the first thing I say is one, let’s, let’s open up, be open to experimenting about this, because if somebody is. is, you know, the, I agree in different companies, different solutions are going to work. So that process of saying, here’s the outcome we want.

How do we get there? Let’s work on this together. Then that, that definitely helps shift that mindset. Cause again, I do think it’s really important. If there is not that open and growth mindset, then it definitely can be a challenge. So that’s why I say one of the conditions for change is to even develop those conditions to make it safe to make.

These suggestions and to basically be able to say, you know, making mistakes in this process is okay. And, you know, we’re going to learn, we’re going to struggle, we’re going to fail, but, but we know we’re trying to move in the right direction. So again I, I think that’s something that’s, that’s important.

the other side of it too is. I think about this too, so there’s this concept that, that came from some of my work in public health, which is called tactical urbanism. So basically, you know, we’ve been trying to make more walkable streets and healthier streets and healthier play areas, more, more, you know, family friendly play areas.

For years and it hasn’t worked. So actually what happened even in New York. So if you think about Times Square now has that huge pedestrian area that started because basically a guy went out with spade spray paint and deck chairs and said, let’s. Claim this space, and then people went, I love this, and I don’t want to go backwards.

So that’s what’s so interesting to me to the whole return to office debate, because actually so many people really have it benefited from that, and they don’t want to go. So that’s for me where when you go take the approach of let’s do a meeting free week. So we’re basically saying this is like a meeting audit.

We’re cleaning it out. It’s like cleaning out the clutter and basically saying which meetings. Do we want to bring back in, which do we think were really worth it? And it is a mindset change about even what meetings are about. Meetings are about, you know, discussion debate decisions. It’s not about sharing information anymore.

We’ve got so many other ways to do that. So, so, you know, there’s. Again, there are mindset shifts about that. And, and, and even yesterday I was talking to somebody in the uh, who, who does support parents in workplaces. And they wanted to move their support from working helping around parental leave and those sorts of things to actually making some organizational changes.

And. You know, unfortunately, the CEO kind of said over my dead body and it’s like, okay, there is still that stuck in the status quo and many companies are experiencing it or employees experiencing when the CEO says mandate return to office. And, and then, you know, they’re losing employees because of that.

So again, it’s not a case of does, does this work for everyone? It’s flexibility is the answer, right? Where is your flexibility so that the people that need the in office connection can have it, but those that don’t can also work in other ways without being biased against, you know, it’s.

Carolyn: And, and it’s not like a generally like sweeping. What I find is it’s like, it’s binary, either everything’s flexible or nothing’s flexible. Right. There’s, there’s these pieces in between. 

So, you know, the other thing that came up for me when I asked that question was if we are stuck in that mindset of like, this is never going to work or this is useless we’re never going to reduce the number of meetings that could also be an indicator of burnout, correct?

Dr. Kerr: Yes. I mean, if it seems like another thing on your plate. 

I agree. I agree. And, and again, I think we also have to acknowledge the stages of change. So there are people who basically are what we call is pre contemplation. They’re not even thinking about change. So if you said to them something like let’s reduce the number of meetings, they’d be like, what are you talking about?

Let’s, and they’ll talk about something else entirely. Like they would not even. Yeah. It wouldn’t cross their radar that this is a problem that they won’t even recognize it. So if you try and get a meeting with someone in that mindset, they won’t even let you have a meeting about the topic you want to talk about.

It’s not their priority. It’s not on their list. So in that situation, you have to find out what are their priorities. And how can you tie your solution or your issue to their priorities? So that’s definitely one of the ways the next group are basically contemplate is they’re thinking about changing, but they’re seeing all the risks and the costs, not the benefits.

And if you sell them the benefits, basically you want to shift that balance. So they start to see the benefits are greater than the costs. But if you come in with all these. Benefits and they don’t believe you, right? Cause they’re stuck in loss. They’re stuck in loss aversion. And this is also where we’re seeing a lot of the DEI backlash in companies is they, that people are afraid of losing their power or their privilege in, in the company.

So they’re in this loss aversion framework. Again, these are cognitive patterns that we have. So you’ve got to meet them there. You’ve got to say, okay. What is this loss? How big is it? Do you think it is? You know, and then really sort of say, let’s talk about rather than future loss that might happen.

Let’s talk about the loss that’s happening right now. You’re losing out to your competitors, um, or in the, the, the meeting place. We’re losing good focus time. We’re losing. Innovation, right? So, and we’re losing flexibility. So you focus on the present loss and what is being lost. And then there’s other people who are much more in the phase of preparation.

And those people are basically like, I want to do this. I don’t know what to do. So that’s when you walk them through the different ways of getting started. And then there are also people who are in the phase of I’ve been doing this and it’s not really. Working as well as I want, what do I do to, to shift and move and try something else?

So again, we have to be really cognizant of where people are at. Cause if we’re shoving something at them,

Carolyn: That, that sounds

Dr. Kerr: your energy to do, to do that. So, again, that’s, that’s slightly different to burnout, but I, but again, I agree in burnout. Anything new feels like, cause if you’re already overwhelmed, um, that’s definitely what it feels like.

So that’s actually one of the strategies I really recommend to companies. And interestingly, to increase employee engagement around feedback. So lots of people are saying we, we, we do these employee surveys, one, they’re not very helpful because it’s not asking about behaviors so that they don’t really lead to anything other than sort of maybe patterns, right?

Being able to track patterns and then employees are like, you know, we’re giving feedback. We’re giving our

Carolyn: seeing

Dr. Kerr: Nothing’s happening. And actually, when I talk to leaders, they admit we’re in that stage. We’re not acting on this. We don’t know what to do. And so for me, partly because the, the tools they’re using on helping them find the right answers.

So when, when companies are in that state of overwhelm, I’m really basically saying, let’s. Get rid of the crap, right? And actually, the U. S. Surgeon General came in as a strategy for Bernard and said, the first thing you should do is get rid of all the stupid stuff, right? We have to clear out anything that is cluttering the process and adding to this overwhelm.

So if you think about saying to, you know, you have all these solutions, you’re, you’re, you’re hoping that employees are taking them and using them. If you start to look at the user data, they’re probably not engaged with these solutions. For example, one you know, colleague I spoke to, she was like, they just rolled out this new communication software.

She goes, I’m not even downloading it because I’ve got zoom burnout. I am not. Using a tool to improve another tool to improve communication. This is not the problem, right? So that’s really what’s happening in organizations. So those people are the, you know, your employees are the informed users. So if you actually go into a, an organization and say, okay, let’s ask our employees what we can get rid of and what we can keep, so then you actually start to bring them into the process of saying this doesn’t work.

If you actually ask somebody, what do they need? Often people don’t actually try to know that. And again, around behavior change, they’d see more time and willpower, right? And it’s like more time, money and willpower. And it’s like, no, it’s not those things. Actually, you need more support. So, so we don’t always know what we need.

And so in this situation, rather than asking that, what. What they need and trying to find a new solution. You say, what’s wrong with what we’ve got? They’re informed users. They know what’s wrong. They start to tell you, and then they say, let’s together decide, like bring the employees into this joint decision making process and say, let’s decide what to get rid of, then the employees see you take action.

Right. And what you’re doing is decluttering and then from that place, you’ve actually also learned about them because when they’re telling you we don’t like this, because they’re also telling you what would be better. So you’re getting the information from an informed place around. You know, the, the solutions that aren’t working and yeah, that’s a process I’ve used in, in my research for years and I, I, I just love it.

I’m always starting with some sort of pilot intervention and solution, knowing that really what I want to hear is. Why doesn’t this work? Because when people can give you that information, they start to being able to really more clearly identify what, what it is they need. So,

Carolyn: And when I hear that, I love that. I love the simplicity, the again, the community focus, the group focus around that. So I just have one thing to say, and then we’re going to, we’re going to head into the next section of our conversation, the wrap up section. 

But when I hear something like that, what’s going to be so important for the leaders.

Especially the senior ones is to have the self awareness and the emotional connection, emotional intelligence to recognize the purpose of it and that it’s not a slight on their abilities and that they in fact are going to be better served by having a collective solution versus waiting for a solution to be handed down from the top.

Dr. Kerr: yeah, and, and I think that’s so important because we feel this responsibility, right. And it’s so, it can weigh so heavily and just a really sort of. Simple example, when I started trying to solve everything for my family and instead we had family meetings where everybody solved all the problems. And then some of the problems just disappear.

Cause they’re like, mom, we don’t even like doing that anyway. You know? and what’s so important about that is like when the kids came up with their own solutions, Oh my God, so much more innovative and inventive things I could have never thought of until they bought into it because it was their idea in the first place.

And that’s, what’s so important about involving employees in these decisions is we get more innovation and we get more. Buy in they will be committed more to the solutions that come out of this or the solutions that remain because they had a say in it and they, they, they you know, they were part of, of the process and that shouldn’t just be something that’s a one time thing.

That to me is the way to continue. Shared decision making is absolutely an important. Change strategy and important for our marginalized groups as well, because again, people don’t want to be invited to a party. They want to plan the party. And that’s what we have to ship people into. And that’s how we can do it in a small way.

And these little experiments just become bigger and bigger. But that experimental process of saying like, Hey, What is working? What is not working? What else can we do? Let’s make a shift. Let’s see if it makes a difference. And let’s learn from the experience. Again, that’s, that’s, that’s opening up that whole growth mindset as well.

Carolyn: So I feel like we have just had a nice 40 minute conversation that hopefully will inspire those listening to declutter their meetings and try some experiments around it. We’re not saying you have to have a plan all the way through to December 2024, but try some things out what isn’t working and let’s try a few things out

Dr. Kerr: Together. Together. Absolutely. Together.

Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, thank you so much, Jacqueline. 

Where could our listeners find more of your work? I know you give away some great resources on, on your website. So where can they find more of you?

Dr. Kerr: Yes. So my company is leading real change. And the website is www. leading realchange. com Real hyphen change. com so they can find me there. I have a podcast leading real change that’s hosted there as well. And on LinkedIn, I, I, I post on LinkedIn regularly and really enjoy when, when people reach out to me there and actually people can book a free consultation with me as well, because this thought partnership.

Is what I absolutely love and want to get started with. And then if it’s helpful for someone, then yeah, I can continue to support people. So I feel that’s what we all need is, is more support.

Carolyn: Wonderful. Well, thank you. I know when I reached out to you on LinkedIn, we, we got this figured out, didn’t we? So now to wrap up all of the podcasts I ask the, the guests a series of questions and these questions have to do with my evolved model or evolve model. 

And so the first question has to do with self awareness and just a moment, insight that you had, Jacqueline, that really showed something to you that had been so hidden from your consciousness.

Dr. Kerr: Yeah. So for me, you know, as I was going through this burnout and like we talked about before it was workplace burnout, it was also parental burnout and I was trying to work out with my husband, what was it that, that we could do more of. Between to share the load. And really what happened in that process was him sort of saying, I don’t want to step in and do more for the kids.

I will do something to help you have, you know, but the kids are getting plenty. That’s not what I want. So you start to go, okay, why are we working from these different frameworks? Right. And then also he said, I didn’t want to step in. And try to do more for the kids and have you criticize me. And that was just so hard to hear.

I mean, it took me a few days to process. And so then what I realized is what I need is, is I need to take breaks from the family so that my husband can be the dad and do whatever he wants with the kids at those times. Like, I don’t care. It can be fast food and it can be no activities, but it can be just what he wants to do with them.

Not organized by me, nothing to do with me. And I take. A total break. So that was really the biggest thing was not necessarily that I needed more help with certain things. I just needed times when I took a complete break. So that was for me.

Carolyn: It sounded like a collaborative approach to problem solving too.

Dr. Kerr: Absolutely. 

Cause me standing there in the, you know, cause that’s what we sometimes do as moms. We start to order everyone around and it’s like, hold on.

Carolyn: Yeah, we’re part. I’ve said that I’m, I’m the problem. Kind of, yeah. We’ll quote a Taylor Swift song. It’s me. I’m the problem. It’s me. 

So, the second, the second question has to do with how you manage your nervous system, how you find yourself in a place of calm or return yourself to a place of calm.

Is there a ritual, a practice, something that you really rely on?

Dr. Kerr: Yes, absolutely. And again, I can give you a little example story about this. So my husband a couple of years ago, just post COVID broke his leg really badly in a a biking accident, an e bike accident. And so his leg was, was. Shattered. Yeah. And I got the phone call late at night and again, you know, you feel your body going into this absolute sort of state of a stress.

The kids were, were, We’re asleep in bed, but I just went out the front door and I walked around the, the kind of cul de sac where we lived. And so for me, walking has always, an exercise has always been my biggest mental health support after I’ve gone for a run and I’m in my shower, I have my best ideas.

But that night feeling the stress leave my body as I moved around was just amazing. So that’s a problem. We take our stress sitting down in, in, in the way we work at the moment. And, and that’s not good for us and good for our bodies. So for me, that’s what it is. And I have the dog who reminds me

Carolyn: Yep, that’s, they’re, they’re great reminders, aren’t they? Yeah, my, my dog, my dog doesn’t mind if he doesn’t get walked, but he definitely, when he hears the W and ALK afterwards, he’s like, pretty excited. Now, my last question Jacqueline has to do with, kind of feeling connected to people, which was a big theme of our conversation today.

and I like to do this through music. So what is a song or genre of music that helps you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?

Dr. Kerr: And, you know, it’s funny cause my favorite, favorite song of all time is Katrina and the waves walking on sunshine, but I actually feel one of the songs that I came across recently is it’s called don’t lose sight and it’s. By the Lawrence band and there’s lines in it that are, you know, this shit is going to kill me, but I’m not going to let it, you know, and so that gets me really motivated and it’s like, it’s interesting because part of it is saying, ain’t nothing going to change.

And, and it, it, it almost just motivates me to go. Yeah, that’s what people believe. And I actually want to be able to. Say things can change. That’s the difference. So, so this, you know, it, it has these kind of two sort of two messages in it. you know, don’t lose sight of that. You, you can control some of this.

But also this sort of thinking about change isn’t going to happen. And it’s like, yes, it is. It can, and it will, and it’s hard work. I get it. It is, it is hard work. And that’s what we have to acknowledge. It makes people scared. There’s a lot of resistance, but that’s where the behavior science and the community advocacy science and system science, all these sciences, we know how to move people through those those phases.

Or to focus on those who, who are in a different place to start with. That’s sometimes also where to start.

Carolyn: Beautiful. Well, that will kick off our 2024 playlist. That

Dr. Kerr: Yay.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for making the time and coming on and having this lovely conversation with us and wishing you all the best in this upcoming year.

Dr. Kerr: Thank you so much. And to you too, and to all your listeners have a great year and, and yeah, be kind to yourself and be open to change.

Carolyn: So well said. Thanks again.

 

Carolyn: Okay. Let’s start off 2024 by avoiding burnout, mitigating burnout. We want to find new ways to be able to show up in our lives. And I think through the conversation today, you heard from, from Jacqueline around behavioral science techniques. And specifically we got, we got really granular around meetings.

And meetings, we know from the research, can really define a culture. Meetings are for collaboration, for discussion, for conversation. If your meetings have little conversation, then perhaps consider emails. Perhaps consider more space for conversation. we can change the way we work. We can do it in the teams that we, that we lead and we work most often with.

And let’s just focus on one piece of this at a time. We know we’re not going to change the whole culture of your organization right away or a whole system, but what we can change is ourselves and our teams. And what we heard from Jacqueline today is we’re not meant to do this stuff alone. We’re meant to do this together.

So I’m excited to hear from you how this works for you. If you are taking on this fun invitation to make 2024 less Meeting focused, or maybe appropriately meeting focused. Thanks for tuning in. I’m really looking forward to another great year of this podcast. We’ve got lots of guests coming your way for 2024 to help you be the evolved leader.

I know you are. if you want to reach out to me, you can find me at carolynswara. com and love for you to leave a review, like, subscribed, forward this podcast to friends and leaders that you think it would help. Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day, everyone. 

 

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