We run a workshop for the workplace called Preventing Burnout. It’s one of our most popular and is regularly requested by our clients, some of which include the government. The concern (and awareness) organisations now have on the subject of burnout seems to have increased dramatically over the past year.
It doesn’t take much to figure out why organisations such as the government are so in need of learning the tools, tips and techniques offered in this punchy session. They sit on the front line daily, trying to keep up with the requests handed down by senior politicians in our ever-changing political landscape. And just like so many people working in the private sector, experiencing stress (which, if left unchecked can then lead to burnout) has become an epidemic in this country. And it’s no wonder, when it’s expected that staff should be giving 100% input, 100% of the time.
Your Optimum Capacity
Obviously this is not good for our mental health and this expectation needs to change. It’s outdated and needs evolving. More importantly, it doesn’t work – not for the employer and especially not for the employee. It’s for this reason that we suggest people operate at 70% of their capacity most of the time.
Usually, when we drop this clanger into our session, in the first instance it tends to raise an uncomfortable laugh from those staff who are at a more junior level, and an automatic raised eyebrow from those at managerial level. Yet after a quick explanation as to why this is, the room tends to take stock, settle down and understand this principle. It actually makes perfect sense, because if we’re continually operating at 100% then what happens when we really need to up our game? There’s nothing left in the tank, generally, and depending on the type of work, can lead to burnout at worst and serious stress at best. Everyone understands that this is not sustainable.
The Protocol For Acute Stress
In the burnout session we teach people what to do when they find themselves in a stressful situation. It’s called BEN and consists of the following:
B = breathe
E = escape temporarily from the situation
N = new role model – so what would someone you admire do, or how would they react in this situation? Try modelling their behaviour.
Another method we teach is ‘3 Legs Of A Stool – Questions To Ask Yourself Everyday’. These consist of
1. What did I do for my body today?
e.g. What foods did you eat? What exercise did you do?
2. What did I do for my mind today?
e.g. Intelligent learning, culture, mindful travel
3. What did I do for my soul today?
e.g. Take time out to do something you enjoy – i.e PLAY!
The Power of Play
And it’s play I want to touch upon here, namely because of the power it possesses to expands our minds and to change our state – which is often to relax us. In doing so, play helps us to see ideas and possibilities that were otherwise unavailable to us in a logical brain state, sat at a desk. And it’s in these moments of play that we may find ourselves experiencing real breakthrough, finding solutions to problems we just haven’t been able to figure out.
As adults we forget to play. I do it myself and sometimes I even have to consider what the word play even means! And when we find ourselves in, let’s face it, most workplaces, play is regarded as trivial and childish. So playing is not something that even enters our mind.
Yet some organisations have woken up to this and begun to implement ways for staff to play whilst at work. They’ve understood that play stimulates not only parts of the brain involved in both logical reasoning, but also creates a framework for carefree and unbridled exploration. They also know that some of the biggest breakthroughs in history have happened in times of play. Edward M Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specialises in brain science, explains that play has a very positive effect on the executive function of the brain. These include planning, prioritising, scheduling, anticipating, delegating, deciding, analysing and in short, most of the skills we need in modern business. He goes on to say
Columbus was at play when it dawned on him that the world was round. Newton was at play when he saw the apple tree and suddenly conceived of the force of gravity. Watson and Crick were playing with possible shapes of the DNA molecule when they stumbled upon the double helix. Shakespeare played with iambic pentameter his whole life.”
Play is a huge antidote to stress. At the point we begin to get stressed, our brain begins to shut down and we can’t think clearly. It’s the fight or flight reaction our brains have and once served to protect us in hunter-gatherer times. Play works to alleviate those symptoms. In the co-working space I sometimes use, they have the obvious play option of table tennis. But who cares, it’s great! Filled mostly with techie guys, it’s the ideal way for them to let off steam – shouting, laughing, cursing and running about after the ball. It’s just what they need to let off steam.
I would best describe play as anything you enjoy doing just for the sake of doing it. So perhaps a game of table tennis, a kick of football or frisbee around the park, playing music loudly and dancing (perhaps not one for the office), drawing, a game of chess, going to a football match after work, knitting, boxing in the gym. In firing up the brain in a totally different way to what you do to tackle work tasks, play has the power to improve relationships, make you happy when you are feeling stressed, expand the mind and spark ideas for exploration.
Amongst some of the many companies now beginning to realise the potential and benefit of giving their staff time to play at work, Twitter offers improv classes to their staff. IDEO has meetings in fun, imaginative locations which incorporate games in the breaks. Pixar decorate offices in themes such as Star Wars or western saloons. Even just having childish things on your desk to play with offer a great distraction.
If you’d like to read more on the subject here’s a link to a PDF interview with Stuart Brown, Founder of The Institute of Play
He’s also written a book on the subject which you can find easily on Amazon.