Team and leadership coach from May Strategies, Ylva Anderson thinks we should all be “shutting down for 208 seconds, every day.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little frustrated by today’s organizations and leadership,” she said in a presentation titled: “Leadership: Are you ready to take a decision in 208 seconds?”.
The coach is confident not only that this method could be greatly beneficial for creativity in the workplace, but that we also need to change the way today’s leadership works.
Anderson has worked and published at various Swedish media companies – in television, radio, and print – for years.
She’s also an expert in dynamic communication and is currently involved in leadership training at The School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Rwanda.
The way we lead needs to change
Anderson said that in her work she meets managers and teams from different countries and industries every single day.
The coach described the way they work as fast-paced, disorganized, and stressful.
According to her, managers are prisoners of the rat-race – they work under enormous pressure, they have no motivation, and they’re exhausted.
In her opinion, they’re also not particularly innovative when it comes to changes in leadership.
“We’re doing more or less the same things we were at the turn of the 20th century – we’re working as though we’re in the early industrial era,” said the coach.
She also highlighted that we’re still working according to a pyramid structure, where those in command are at the top and those who are contracted in are at the bottom – but what can we do to alter this way of working?
According to Anderson, the answer is actually “the most powerful tool of all”.
“It can change the world, it can change ourselves, it can bring about unexpected opportunities,” she said. “It’s creativity – the ability to adapt, transform, search for new methods, to improvise, and to play.
She believes that, in management and leadership, the pyramid model needs to be scrapped and replaced by a “circle of creativity” consisting of four elements.
1. Joint problem-solving
Communication and feedback, where everyone talks and discusses, where everyone is open to others’ ideas without judgment and every reflection and conclusion is welcome.
2. Co-operation and co-creation isn’t enough
The expert also proposed a new way of making decisions, where responsibility and decisions are taken together.
3. Management through training
This isn’t just about bosses training their coworkers, according to Anderson; we should all be learning from one another.
“We should help elevate each other to the highest level,” she said.
4. “Switching off” during the day
“We’re not cut out for the speedy, messy, stressy lives we lead – our brains are constantly on the boil. In the circle of creativity, we need time for reflection and pause,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, “turning yourself off” during the day is the key to creativity, her suggestion being to mentally “log out” for exactly 208 seconds, or around three and a half minutes.
“If you take out 208 seconds a day or around three and a half minutes for a break, for silence, and for focus, you’ll notice a big difference,” said Anderson. “Those three and a half minutes do offer real results.”
“The next time you are stressed before making a decision, stop putting pressure on yourself,” she continued. “Instead, take a step back and give yourself those 208 seconds. I’m positive you’ll notice the difference.”
The crisis is subsiding, but its wounds run deep. For all the heroic efforts of employees to keep companies operating, the past 16-plus months have left a powerful psychological scar.
A recent Workhuman survey of more than 3,000 US workers reveals a workforce in trouble. The data shows 48% of employees agree they’ve experienced burnout, 61% feel elevated stress levels, and 32% agree that they’ve felt lonely at work.
The emotional toll has been greater for working parents (especially mothers). Observed differences in stress and burnout levels between men and women appear to be related to caregiving responsibilities as well as the disproportionate loss of jobs among women.
Early in the crisis, for example, mothers with young children decreased their work hours four to five times more than fathers. The survey, which asked seven questions related to psychological safety, also discovered that non-White employees experienced lower levels than their White co-workers.
Google’s People Operations team found that the number one driver of successful teams is psychological safety, an environment where people feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another.
When people feel safe, they will innovate, cooperate, and show up as their full selves at work, which are critical qualities in today’s agile environment. Conversely, lack of psychological safety in the workforce is corrosive; it endangers all plans to return to the “next normal.”
Rebuilding psychological safety after a crisis requires leaders to speak candidly about the toll employees have suffered, and show the way forward with a more human-centered approach to managing:
1. Say “thank you” more often
“Recognition builds lasting connections between people,” said Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley. “Great leaders instinctively know that the more human connection in a company, the better it performs.”
It’s easy to see why receiving a “thank you” makes an employee feel appreciated. What’s less obvious is that showing appreciation for someone’s efforts improves the positive feelings for the giver as well. Mutual recognition and gratitude help people take off their emotional armor. When employees do that, they feel safer as well as more connected.
2. Check in with employees more frequently
People who check in with their manager at least once a week experience higher psychological safety than those who check in less frequently, and yet only 29% of respondents in the Workhuman survey said they check in with their manager every week.
IBM is taking the lead on changing that statistic, emphasizing more frequent feedback for everyone. CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux, who spoke with Workhuman co-founder and CEO Eric Mosley, cites it as one of IBM’s four priorities, saying, “Feedback is as important as growth, innovation, and inclusivity, because you can’t have those first three elements without feedback.”
3. Build resilience into your culture
While you might not be able to prevent the next crisis from happening, you can take steps now to build resilience into the workforce, enabling people to deal well with external stressors.
For example, psychological safety can become part of your hybrid workplace design as you return to the office. You can consider formalizing appreciation and thank-yous with a data-rich social recognition system. You can strengthen diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts by helping managers understand and mitigate unconscious biases.
Imagine how much time and resources would be salvaged if your organization moves the needle on psychological safety. If all employees, and especially underrepresented groups, feel more comfortable sharing ideas and bringing their whole selves to contribute, the “next normal” won’t just be a recovery from the crisis but a fresh start. There will never be a better time than now to build psychological safety into your culture.
From its consultants and investment bankers to diversity executives and lawyers, many in America’s workforce are running on empty.
In a recent Insider survey of 1,000 workers, over 60% of respondents said they were experiencing burnout. The data supported separate findings. Employees on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder reported higher rates of burnout than their senior colleagues.
In response, CEOs have tried just about everything: Goldman Sachs offered analysts fat bonuses, Citi launched “Zoom-free” Fridays, and countless other companies offered meditation apps and more paid time off.
Executives at major retailers, banks, food-service companies, and professional-service firms told Insider they promised to permanently keep many of the benefits they added during the pandemic and continue educating employees about mental-health services. But business experts who study burnout, as well as exhausted workers, say it’s not enough.
“Being generous, I’d give corporate leaders a C grade,” Kelley Bonner, a consultant who helps Fortune 500 companies address burnout, said.
“Zoom-free Fridays and more PTO is great,” she said. “However, if you don’t have a strategy for how you’re going to make your workplace psychologically safe, a space for innovation absent of toxic behaviors, then you’re never going to get it.”
It’s not that executives don’t care. Nearly 80% of employers surveyed in a recent McKinsey report said they were concerned about employee mental health, and about 66% reported concern about substance-use disorder. But for the lower-level workers who feel burnout most intensely, it’s that C-suite executives aren’t thinking holistically – they’re troubleshooting when what’s needed is a full reset.
The employees Insider spoke with said that their workloads and goals were too ambitious to afford taking vacation, that their managers set an unhealthy example by working long hours, that they felt disengaged because their colleagues talked to them disrespectfully, and that mental health was seen as a nice-to-have rather than a business imperative.
As the corporate world returns to pre-pandemic life, both workers and management consultants say now is the time for senior leaders to redefine work in America – before worker productivity drops and more people take leaves of absence, quit, or worse.
Executives make promising first steps
To be sure, executives have been struggling with burnout, too. And they’ve been rolling out new benefits and policies to help.
Mike Fenlon, PwC’s chief people officer, spent many weeks during the pandemic working late nights coordinating office closures, making decisions about business travel, and adding benefits policies. He said back-to-back Zoom meetings at his desk brought on a sense of mental fatigue. On top of that, he was busy helping his three children manage their homework schedules.
“I’ve appreciated being able to work from home, but at the same time, it’s house arrest,” Fenlon said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it really was around-the-clock work.”
With Fenlon’s help, PwC doubled the amount of money allotted for employees to pay for backup care to $2,000. It also began offering discounts for childcare services, and, like Citi, rolled out “Zoom-free” workdays.
Other executives took similar measures after seeing their colleagues struggling with work-life balance.
IBM introduced four additional weeks of flexible paid emergency leave that could be used in increments of hours or days, or in a single monthlong stretch, and added emergency backup eldercare and childcare options. Hershey expanded its telemedicine services to include mental-health sessions and increased its Employee Assistance Program (EAP) support from five visits to 10 visits a year. Chipotle expanded in-person, phone, or virtual mental-health therapy to all of its employees through its EAP program.
The financial giant Ally conducted daily wellness surveys to see how employees were doing and made adjustments to its benefits based on the findings. Wells Fargo executives emphasized the availability of the company’s EAP program that offers 24/7 mental-health support for employees and their household family members. HP educated human-resources managers about the signs of mental-health challenges.
Chris Scalia, Hershey’s chief human-resources officer, talked about his journey dealing with anxiety during the pandemic in a company-wide virtual meeting.
“It hit a chord,” he said. “For a senior leader to openly share personal, private challenges and the importance of my family, colleagues, and seeking help – it opened a new level of dialogue and vulnerability across Hershey.”
The breaking point
Unfortunately, those experiences haven’t necessarily been trickling down to the tens or hundreds of thousands of employees at large companies. For many of them, burnout remains an isolating, fearful experience. All the employees Insider talked to spoke on the condition anonymity for fear of retaliation, disciplinary action, or termination. Their identities are known to Insider.
A 27-year-old woman at a top national media company hasn’t told her boss that she’s burned out because she doesn’t want to appear weak to her managers, she said. She often works 12-hour days writing scripts and editing videos.
“I am completely exhausted, no matter how much sleep I get,” she said.
The very idea of work brings her to tears, she added. Recently, after she received assignments on top of an unrelenting long list of must-do tasks, she said she felt physically and mentally depleted.
“I just pulled out my kitchen chair, sighed, and began to sob. And I mean sob,” the media employee said. “I don’t think many leaders are talking about or thinking about mental health.”
She is one of the many American workers who say they are struggling with burnout. And she, like other workers, doesn’t want to let her bosses down, so she works around-the-clock, she said.
In Insider’s survey, one-third of respondents reported a lack of boundaries between their work and personal life.
I am completely exhausted, no matter how much sleep I get.
A 30-year-old employee at a staffing firm in New York has been exceptionally busy over the past year. Her job has been to help staff medical professionals to treat the surge of COVID-19 patients. She’s had only one day off a week. Often, she has no days off, she said.
“Burnout is absolutely a problem,” she added.
The staffing-firm employee is about to give her two weeks’ notice at her job because she doesn’t think her work-life balance is sustainable, she said. She added that she felt torn between working late to the evening every night and passing off her work to other coworkers who are equally overworked.
“I want to have a family, and I just don’t see myself being able to do that with this job,” she said.
At certain companies, talking to a manager about feeling overworked is met with judgement.
Amy, who didn’t want her last name published out of concern that her former employer wouldn’t give her a reference for job opportunities, worked in billing for a major New York City hospital until January. The 30-year-old said she quit because she was so drained.
According to Amy, the hospital implemented a schedule during the pandemic that allowed workers to work from home 50% of the time and in the office 50% of the time. But if upper management felt you weren’t productive enough, your work-from-home privileges were revoked, she said.
“The breaking point for me was when they wouldn’t give us time to go to doctor’s appointments. And if they did, they demanded notes,” she said. “It was too much.”
A chance to redefine work in America
When it comes to fighting burnout, benefits alone won’t get companies very far, Bonner, the consultant, said. She added that firms needed to spend less time and money on the next new perk and instead spend more time on the employee experience, which includes rethinking people’s workloads and schedules and addressing how employees feel about the workplace as a whole.
“Before you even get people to buy in to do the little things that improve your work culture, you have to really tackle those large elephants in the room,” Bonner said. “Is there discrimination and diversity issues in that company? Do employees know how to communicate with each other? Or is there a toxic work environment of microaggressions and uncivil behavior?”
Leaders, she added, should not only keep the benefits they added during the pandemic but also need to increase the number of conversations they’re having with the company’s head of diversity. “If certain workers feel invisible, they’re going to remain burned out,” Bonner said.
Corporate executives also need to chip away at harmful workplace norms by leading by example, said Vanessa Bohns, a Cornell University professor and the author of “You Have More Influence Than You Think.”
“If the boss responds to work emails at 10 p.m. on a Saturday or never takes a vacation,” she said, “all the PTO benefits in the world won’t make employees feel comfortable taking advantage of them.”
Workers seem to agree. According to the 27-year-old media-company employee, additional time off is necessary but not sufficient.
“They’ll say ‘don’t forget to take your PTO’ in an email, and I know I can call a number for therapy,” she said. “But some workers don’t feel they can realistically take PTO, or they work in toxic workplace environments.”
She said C-suite leaders needed to have more conversations with rank-and-file employees – sometimes “three or four levels beneath them” – to see how they’re feeling or gather information through surveys.
“In order to get results you’ve never had, you need to do things you’ve never done before,” she said.
And above all else, multiple workers said, executives need to encourage midlevel supervisors to take more responsibility when it comes to preventing burnout.
“Otherwise,” she said, “this cycle will just continue.”
You want to change the world, so you work long, tireless hours, your mind never shuts off, and your body never rests. It feels as if your life were burning on both ends of the candlestick, but you can’t seem to let yourself stop.
Was it healthy? No. Was I more productive? Not necessarily.
Here’s the truth. If you want to actually impart change, drive your mission forward, and grow your business, then creating space and stillness in your life must be non-negotiable. To do so requires a mindset shift away from thinking breaks are bad. To turn downtime into a valuable asset, I started to do the following three actions.
Schedule your downtime
Most people think taking breaks is spontaneous, but the best way to stop is to plan accordingly. When nighttime comes around, your circadian rhythm and body know without consciously thinking that it’s time to sleep. You’re training your body and mind to anticipate shutting down. You can impart this same level of shift within your daily or weekly schedule.
Create a routine for your rest. Whether it’s a block of time in the morning, a day during the week, or a few minutes throughout the day, plan time to take a break and stick to it. Every Wednesday and Sunday, for example, I have blocked off time specifically for relaxation and reflection. This has become a non-negotiable in my life in order to instill the habit within my mind and the cycle within my body to unwind. Taking downtime becomes a habit, similar to that of checking email.
The thoughts and ideas that flow through your mind are how you raise your value as a leader. So use moments of pause to bolster your brain’s ability to think stronger and faster.
Take space to allow yourself to think. Focus on an aspect of business that you want to improve. Think about where you want to be and whether you are on the fastest path to get there.
In our society, we have become accustomed to constantly being stimulated and entertained. As a result, we must actively block time to find stillness, and allow these moments of perceived boredom to spark inner dreams and allow creativity to flourish. During this time, hold no judgment of the ideas you come up with.
You don’t need to work 12 grueling hours each day. You need one moment of insight.
Take care of your body
Some of the biggest deterrents to actual wealth creation and success are not resources, investors, or a strong supply chain; it’s your personal health. If you are energized, you are more likely to act and be bold when you experience fear or moments of opportunity. If you have taken care of yourself, you can more easily show up to connect with and support your employees, partners, and customers.
You are the leader within your organization. If something happens to you, everything is compromised. You must take care of yourself as if you are going to be around for a while. During your moments of space, create a wellness routine, navigate your fitness schedule, and give your body, mind, and spirit what it needs most. Some days, this looks like hitting the gym really hard, and other days, it consists of meditating, getting a massage, or reading a book.
Health is a resource that you can always provide to yourself.
Creating space for downtime in your life is necessary. After all, the entrepreneur road isn’t an end goal, it is a way of life. If you want to enjoy it for the long term, you must be willing to pause, reflect, and rejuvenate. It might just land you farther forward than those late nights at the office ever could.
What they do, according to O*NET: Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work.
32. Environmental scientists and specialists
Importance of stress tolerance: 69
Average annual salary: $80,090
What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct research or perform investigations for the purpose of identifying, abating, or eliminating sources of pollutants or hazards that affect either the environment or the health of the population.
31. Financial examiners
Importance of stress tolerance: 69
Average annual salary: $92,730
What they do, according to O*NET: Enforce or ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing financial and securities institutions and financial and real estate transactions.
30. Database architects
Importance of stress tolerance: 69
Average annual salary: $101,090
What they do, according to O*NET: Design strategies for enterprise databases, data warehouse systems, and multidimensional networks.
29. Art directors
Importance of stress tolerance: 69
Average annual salary: $114,490
What they do, according to O*NET: Formulate design concepts and presentation approaches for visual communications media, such as print, broadcasting, and advertising.
28. Ship engineers
Importance of stress tolerance: 68
Average annual salary: $81,110
What they do, according to O*NET: Supervise and coordinate activities of crew engaged in operating and maintaining engines, boilers, deck machinery, and electrical, sanitary, and refrigeration equipment aboard ships.
27. Postsecondary mathematical science teachers
Importance of stress tolerance: 68
Average annual salary: $86,760
What they do, according to O*NET: Teach courses in math, statistics, and actuarial science.
26. Postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers
What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct research into fundamental computer and information science as theorists, designers, or inventors. Develop solutions to problems in the field of computer hardware and software.
What they do, according to O*NET: Research, design, plan, or perform engineering duties in the prevention, control, and remediation of environmental hazards using various engineering disciplines.
Importance of stress tolerance: 64
Average annual salary: $83,620
What they do, according to O*NET: Investigate and describe the determinants and distribution of disease, disability, or health outcomes.
Importance of stress tolerance: 64
Average annual salary: $97,170
What they do, according to O*NET: Develop or apply mathematical or statistical theory and methods to collect, organize, interpret, and summarize numerical data to provide usable information.
Importance of stress tolerance: 64
Average annual salary: $120,880
What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct research, prepare reports, or formulate plans to address economic problems related to the production and distribution of goods and services or monetary and fiscal policy.
12. Bioengineers and biomedical engineers
Importance of stress tolerance: 63
Average annual salary: $98,340
What they do, according to O*NET: Apply knowledge of engineering, biology, and biomechanical principles to the design, development, and evaluation of biological and health systems and products.
What they do, according to O*NET: Use chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and other sciences to study the principles underlying the processing and deterioration of foods; analyze food content to determine levels of vitamins, fat, sugar, and protein, among other research.
Importance of stress tolerance: 62
Average annual salary: $90,150
What they do, according to O*NET: Research the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of underground and surface waters.
8. Materials scientists
Importance of stress tolerance: 62
Average annual salary: $104,450
What they do, according to O*NET: Research and study the structures and chemical properties of various natural and synthetic or composite materials.
Importance of stress tolerance: 62
Average annual salary: $137,700
What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct research into physical phenomena, develop theories on the basis of observation and experiments, and devise methods to apply physical laws and theories.
What they do, according to O*NET: Formulate and apply mathematical modeling and other optimizing methods to develop and interpret information that assists management with decision making, policy formulation, or other managerial functions.
4. Chemical engineers
Importance of stress tolerance: 61
Average annual salary: $114,820
What they do, according to O*NET: Design chemical plant equipment and devise processes for manufacturing chemicals and products.
3. Political scientists
Importance of stress tolerance: 61
Average annual salary: $124,100
What they do, according to O*NET: Study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.
Importance of stress tolerance: 59
Average annual salary: $85,620
What they do, according to O*NET: Study the nature and use of areas of the Earth’s surface, relating and interpreting interactions of physical and cultural phenomena.
Importance of stress tolerance: 57
Average annual salary: $112,530
What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct research in fundamental mathematics or in application of mathematical techniques to science, management, and other fields.
Method and data source
The Department of Labor’s O*NET Online occupational database includes survey-based measurements of how important various skills, activities, and personal traits are for a particular job.
One of the characteristics measured is stress tolerance, which O*NET describes as jobs requiring “accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.”
O*NET scores job characteristics like stress tolerance on a scale from 0 to 100, where a 0 means stress tolerance is not at all necessary for an occupation, and 100 suggests a job with a very high-stress environment.
We ranked occupational groups from most to least stressful using O*NET’s stress tolerance score, with lower scores indicating less stressful jobs. Since we are interested in high-paying jobs, we looked at occupations with average annual salaries of at least $75,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data for May 2020, the most recently available release.
The above jobs were ranked from most to least stressful. In the case of a tied stress tolerance score, we ranked by average annual wages.
Several of the jobs fell in academia, with postsecondary teachers in various fields and researchers in economics, statistics, mathematics, and materials science dominating the top of the list.
You’ve received the standard advice about setting boundaries with the hours you work if you’re now (or have always) worked from home. You’ve read that you should focus on tasks more intentionally by using software that blocks social media and email notifications. You may have even experienced work-life balance for a while.
However, what’s missing from the conversation about work-life balance is the need for self-prioritization in goal setting, work, productivity and the desire to optimize one’s life. Here are three reasons why making yourself a priority is the key and foundation to achieving work-life balance.
1. Burnout stems from a lack of excitement for what you’re pursuing
Do you wake up, look at your to-do list, and verbally cringe? Chances are, most of what you do each day is the same, and the routine is draining you mentally, and by extension, physically.
When you spend day in and day out grinding with no time allotted for fun and all the personal goals you’d like to accomplish – it leads to frustration, bitterness, and burnout. You aren’t excited to work, which diminishes your energy and motivation. The resulting burnout decreases productivity and amplifies excuses.
Work-life balance has to be about balance. But more than figuring out a schedule that works for you, you’ll need to incorporate plenty of “you time.” Your schedule should include moments when you work on hobbies, do fun things, and focus on personal optimization.
If you’re feeling stressed and mentally exhausted when you think about work and your goals, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself when was the last time you did something just for you? You’ll be more productive and develop the ability to work more intentionally when your life doesn’t feel like a burden.
2. The ‘work’ part of work-life balance can’t overtake your identity
When you’re good at what you do, it can be easy to let that become part of your identity. It’s not uncommon for someone who’s been the “boss” at a job or business to have readjustment challenges to changes in their work situation – millions of Americans experienced just that over the past year.
If you tie your identity to your work, you’ll lose balance when life circumstances become unpredictable. Work-life balance starts with you being secure in your non-work priorities and unattachment to circumstances you can’t control.
There are so many experiences of life and moments to be lived beyond work. Work helps you build the financial freedom to experience life, but don’t let it overtake the balance and tie your beliefs about yourself to circumstances that don’t have to define you.
3. You’ll get more done when you work from a place of being complete
Whether you realize it or not, you are the most significant project you’ll ever pursue. When you make your optimization a priority, you’ll be more productive. When you’re excited about life and the opportunity to work, you’ll reduce stress and burnout.
Start with making yourself the priority. Family, friends, coworkers, clients, and anyone else that demands your time and energy should see and respect your boundaries.
Spend time each day with one task, goal or fun experience that’s just for you. If you can do that at the start of your day, you’ll train your mind to understand that you’re the main priority. Do this over time, and you’ll wake up excited for what the day will hold.
As you build the self-prioritization muscle and develop healthy self-care habits, you’ll achieve a work-life balance more sustainably.
Paula Davis calls herself a “recovering people-pleasing perfectionist achieve-aholic.” As a commercial real estate lawyer, she tried to exceed expectations in her incredibly demanding job. One day she wound up in the hospital for stress-induced stomach aches.
Today Davis is the founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, where she helps redesign work cultures at the likes of Walgreens and Coca-Cola. She studied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and joined the university’s team that taught resilience skills to the US Army.
Davis’ new book, “Beating Burnout at Work,” arrives amid reports of burnout across industries, from consulting and law to finance, with a recent Microsoft survey finding that over half of workers worldwide said they felt overworked.
Join us Monday, May 24, at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST as Insider correspondent Shana Lebowitz interviews Davis live about tackling burnout head-on – both as a manager and as an employee.
We’ll discuss how the pandemic has made employers more willing to address burnout, the perils of having your identity wrapped up in your job, and why preventing burnout is about structural overhauls as well as microchanges, or tweaks to your workday that make it more fulfilling.
Narrator: Americans are cursing more today than ever before. In fact, the average American utters 80 to 90 curse words every day. That’s about five curse words every waking hour. And it might not be in vain. Turns out, swearing may help make you live a happier, healthier life in the long-run.
When you stub your toe and holler your favorite dirty, four-letter word, You’re actually doing yourself a favor. Swearing has been known to raise your heart rate, which can help reduce the pain. For example, one study found that people who held their hand in icy water while cursing lasted 50% longer than the people who used neutral words – like “wooden” and “flat.”
And if you’re still not convinced that you should curse more, consider this: Swearing could be the key to improving your workouts. Researchers asked people to curse while riding a stationary bike and holding a device that measured handgrip strength. Wouldn’t you know it, participants pedaled faster and gripped stronger while spewing their favorite expletives. And swearing won’t just help you get more fit, it can also reduce stress and anxiety.
For instance, one study found that swearing helped drivers better cope with their frustration on the road whenever a pedestrian illegally crossed the street. And in fact, this type of emotional relief is so common, it has a name: Lalochezia. Scientists think that this relief is one reason why we’ve evolved to curse in the first place.Because it’s a way for us to express strong emotions – like anger and frustration – without having to throw a punch or act out.
And this method – of choosing words over violence – has other benefits, too. Studies show that people who curse are perceived as more genuine and sincere. And researchers have found that people who can list the most swear words also come across as more honest when they’re measured on a lie scale.
But there’s still one place where cursing is almost always out of the question: Work. But you might have a good excuse to swear there too. Researchers studied a team of workers at a soap factory in New Zealand, and looked at the use of a particular swear word, we’ll call it “the f-word.”
Turns out that using “the f-word” helped the workers express politeness, alleviate tension, and bond with each other. So, we’re not saying you should curse out your boss, but a little swearing here and there can’t hurt, and sh-t, it may even help.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in December 2018.
Let’s say your colleague shows up for your Zoom meeting crying. When you ask what’s wrong, they share that they’re having a tough time balancing the demands of work with three young children at home, caregiving for aging parents, and dealing with a spouse who travels constantly for work.
So, what does this colleague look like? Did you picture a woman?
If so, you’re not alone. Like so many of us, you may have some implicit gender bias about things like who’s more likely to cry at work, who takes care of young children, or who is a caregiver for aging parents.
Gender bias is the tendency to associate certain traits with one gender over another. Sometimes, this means favoring one gender over the other. And gender bias is just one of many biases that we need to be aware of – and work on – to support our colleagues during stressful times.
But let me start with some good news if you’re struggling with the assumptions you made: If you have a brain, you have bias. We tend to think of bias as a bad thing, but it isn’t always.
Bias is a natural byproduct of the way our brains work. Biases help us categorize objects so that we can quickly determine what’s safe and what isn’t. Biases help us make decisions more easily so that we don’t have to tap into our cognitive bandwidth every time we decide something. A bias toward eating more vegetables and less dessert is a healthy bias, for example.
For most of us, starting at a young age, we start to discriminate between those who are like us – the “in group” – and those who are not like us – the “out group.” Recognizing our in group can help us develop our sense of identity, belonging, security, and safety – but it can also lead to harmful prejudices.
So, let’s look at some biases we should all be aware of, especially when creating a climate of openness and trust for our colleagues who are experiencing stress.
Be aware of discrimination and its effects
Chances are, you’re working with colleagues who are part of marginalized populations, which are groups that may experience discrimination because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions. Here are just a few:
Military combat veterans
People with physical disabilities
People with mental illness, including substance abuse and other addiction disorders
People on the autism spectrum
Of course, your colleague doesn’t have to identify with one of these categories to be subject to discrimination. Perceived discrimination consistently has been shown to be associated with diminished mental health, and even the anticipation of discrimination can lead to higher stress levels. Constantly feeling on edge or unsure about how you’ll be treated can trigger a long-standing stress response.
Whether it’s related to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or beliefs, feeling undervalued and uncertain about the future directly impacts mental health now and in the future.
Learn about stereotypes and microaggressions
So what can we do about discrimination issues? We need to be mindful of our own stereotypes and microaggressions. Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about a particular type of person or a group of people.
So, if you’re speaking with a woman about her stress, make sure you don’t assume that she’s the primary caregiver at home. If you’re speaking with a colleague with a disability about his stress, don’t assume that his stress is related to his disability.
And what about microaggressions? According to Columbia University’s Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
So, if you’re speaking with a non-native English speaker about stress, don’t “compliment them” for being able to speak so clearly or fluently. If you’re speaking with a non-binary colleague about their stress, don’t say, “I can’t keep up with your latest pronouns.”
Finally, we shouldn’t assume that the stress a colleague of ours is experiencing right now is about their marginalized group experience. And we also shouldn’t assume that it isn’t. There’s more about other people’s experiences, cultures, and backgrounds than we can ever truly understand. So be thoughtful, careful, compassionate, and open to feedback about how you’re speaking and showing up for everyone – equitably.
Entrepreneurship is challenging. Some days, it’s downright exhausting. For many entrepreneurs, there comes a “last straw” breaking point where the conditions are too stressful or too overwhelming to continue.
But for most others, the eventual loss of passion for entrepreneurship – better known as burnout – is something slower and more gradual. It’s a creeping feeling that grows from day to day and eventually begins to affect your work performance.
You won’t go from happy-go-lucky to ready to quit overnight. One day, you might be a little extra irritable. The next, you might wake up and dread the idea of going to work. Not long after, you might make worse decisions, rushing through projects, or you might seriously contemplate leaving.
It’s not a position any entrepreneur wants to find themselves in. The good news is, it’s mostly preventable.
Why it’s important to stop burnout
There’s nothing wrong with changing jobs, selling your business, or retiring. But burnout itself can be devastating. Not only will it force you to leave your business prematurely, it can also leave you feeling despair and exhaustion. Even more importantly, it can negatively affect you on a physical level; burnout is associated with higher stress, higher susceptibility to illness, and even a higher risk of heart disease.
These effects compound with time, so acknowledging and stopping burnout early can put you in a much more favorable position long-term.
The trouble is, burnout is difficult to catch, especially early on.
How to identify entrepreneurial burnout
We all feel stress. We all get nervous. We all experience anxiety or dread sometimes. So how do you know when this is just part of the job and when it’s an early sign of burnout?
You dread going to work consistently. One of the hallmark signs is dreading going to work. Everyone dreads going to work some of the time; there might be an awful client to deal with or negative consequences from a bad decision to manage. But if you dread going to work on a consistent basis, it’s a sign of developing burnout.
Your mood and personality have changed (according to others). It’s hard to notice the changes in your own personality since they often unfold gradually and beneath our notice. However, burnout often leads people to experience mood and personality changes. Talk to the people around you; do they notice that you’re more irritable, angrier, or less pleasant than you used to be? Chances are, something external is responsible for this.
You’re experiencing physical symptoms. As burnout develops, it tends to be associated with more and more physical symptoms. For example, you might feel more stress headaches. You might have trouble getting to sleep (or getting enough sleep). And you might even be more susceptible to contagious illnesses. Keep an eye out for these developments.
You always feel tired. No matter how much sleep you get, burnout will leave you feeling tired. You’ll be physically and mentally exhausted most of the time, even after a good night of sleep or a break away from work. It’s almost impossible to feel full of energy.
Solving the burnout problem
It’s tough to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for how to get rid of burnout because there are many different types of professionals and many different types of burnout.
For example, your burnout might stem from your own over-investment, in which case, delegating more and reducing your workload could help. You might also be worn out from a specific type of stress, which might require you to change up your daily responsibilities. You might even feel under challenged due to excessive predictability and routine, in which case the solution is finding new ways to be stimulated, like learning a new skill.
In any case, one of the best steps to take to address your burnout is to take some time away. Use up a few vacation days or take an extended hiatus from your work; it’s a great opportunity to de-stress and get away from the burden of work. It’s also a chance to get some perspective. Once you’re away from the office, you’ll have a much keener sense of what’s actually stressing you out (and what you might be able to do about it).
You can also talk to the people around you for advice. They may have a better perspective on your work style than you do. Once you have a better understanding of your current position, you can invest time and energy into making an action plan. How can you change your environment and your approach to work in a way that relieves your stress?
The action plan will look different for everyone. But as long as you’re consistent and proactive, you’ll have a good chance of reversing the effects of entrepreneurial burnout in your career.