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Overcoming employee burnout: Leadership in the digital age

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Break free of the burnout cycle by addressing overwork, prioritizing recovery and fueling teams with the motivation to thrive in the age of digital, sustainable transformation.

The era of digital transformation has revolutionized how businesses operate, ushering in new opportunities and challenges. In this fast-paced landscape, the pressure to keep up with technological advancements and increased competition has led to the normalization of overworking, and in turn, a widespread burnout epidemic.

In the relentless pursuit of success, burnout has become commonplace in the corporate world, and it comes at a significant cost. According to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, poor employee engagement accounts for a staggering 9% of global GDP, amounting to a loss of $8.8 trillion USD in the global economy. As the corporate world undergoes ever-more complex challenges, businesses and leaders need to make changes to reduce the risk of burnout within their teams.

In the latest episode of our original podcast series, Tech Beyond the Hype, leadership coach and founder of Regenerate, Andrew Deutscher, connects the dots between innovation and overwork, and shares leadership strategies to enhance innovation, improve employee engagement and overcome burnout.

Listen to the full podcast above to find out more.

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Digital leadership: The downside of overwork

The shift to remote and hybrid working has caused an erosion in the boundaries between work and home. In this context, where "work is always looming out of the corner of your eye," Deutscher argues that leaders need to be more conscious than ever of how they are prioritizing and delegating work, to ensure their teams stay focused on the areas where they have the most impact without having them burn out.

A range of long-held toxic corporate practices provide a backdrop that make this sort of prioritization extremely difficult for leaders, Deutscher says. "The lack of clarity and the always-on nature of our culture inside of these companies, the matrix environments where you have competing priorities between teams, and … misaligned goals" all contribute to a situation where leaders are working longer than ever and continuing to ask more of their teams.

With competing priorities and unrealistic KPIs to achieve, leaders are overwhelmed and struggling to find ways to inspire and boost employee productivity. Although overworking has become normalized and even glamorized in the corporate world, leaders who regularly work around the clock are setting themselves up to fail -- keeping themselves in a reactive, survival state that can quickly have a negative impact on the wider team.

Rest and recovery as the foundation of success

Deutscher argues that organizations and leaders need to realize that "work and rest are not separate. They're really two sides of the same coin." He references studies that show how people who regularly take breaks throughout the day are "more fueled, energized, optimistic, behave better around peers [and] get more work done."

As the pressure to design digital, more sustainable operations intensifies, businesses need teams to engage in data-driven decision-making and long-term thinking to address ever-more complex problems. Until leaders can identify and address their own toxic working patterns, they will continually struggle to inspire the kind of energy and motivation from their teams that is needed to drive successful transformations.

A roadmap for energy-inspired leadership

Episode 3 of Tech Beyond the Hype, "Rethinking Working Habits for the Digital Age," is a must-listen for anyone looking to overcome the burnout trap, inspire motivation within their teams and drive successful long-term transformation initiatives at work. Listen to the full interview with Andrew Deutscher now, and if you like the episode, make sure to like and subscribe to the series wherever you get your podcasts.

Alternatively, check out the full interview transcript.

Transcript - Overcoming employee burnout: Leadership in the digital age

[00:00:00] Ana: This is Tech Beyond the Hype, a podcast about the future that looks at how today's business trends are impacting the future of work. My name is Ana Salom, and I'm on a mission to make sense of how different organizations are evolving with and adapting to the proliferation of advanced technologies like AI, Blockchain and more.

In today's episode, we're looking at why so many people are burning out nowadays. Now, before you freak out on me and say, 'Ana, this is a podcast about business and tech, not an opportunity to talk about mental health,' -- please bear with me. In 2022 alone, 63% of all workers experienced burnout according to Asana's 2022 Anatomy of Work Index, myself included.

I wanted to include this topic because, aside from being something that really hits close to home for me, I'm convinced that the mental health crisis is slowing business's capacity to innovate and move forward efficiently in the transition to Industry 4.0. As our to-do lists expand and calendars remain filled with back-to-back meetings, it's becoming increasingly difficult for us to unplug from work and get the rest and recovery that we really need to be able to show up at our best every day. This in turn has a huge impact on our productivity. As changes in the way we work amp up and emerging technologies become increasingly embedded into our processes, I think we need to reframe the way we think about and come to work, to ensure that we are all able to cope with and thrive in the face of so much innovation.

Today's guest, Andrew Deutscher, is a leadership coach and consultant specializing in energy inspired leadership. He works with business leaders, ensuring executives and their teams have the tools they need to work more sustainably, avoid becoming overworked and keep clear of burnout.

Prepare for a conversation that's teeming with useful insights and leadership strategies to empower energy inspired work across your team. Before I hit play, I want to give Andrew a huge thank you for being such great guest. I'm sure that you'll find a lot of value in the conversation that we had. He's a great person, very inspirational, and I hope that you enjoy the episode.

So, Andrew, thank you so much for joining me here for Tech Beyond the Hype. I'm very excited to have you here with us.

[00:02:24] Andrew: It's great to be with you. Thanks for having me and for the conversation we're about to get into.

[00:02:30] Ana: I know that you worked as a senior executive at a large corporation and then you switched and started your own company. Tell us a little bit about that. What led you to make that shift?

[00:02:40] Andrew: I had a great career at Sony. I was in the entertainment division and I sold TV shows and feature films to TV stations. Now that was at a time when it mattered from an economic model standpoint that people watch shows at a certain time. And so that was a different era. Many of the people listening to this either remember that really well or are like, 'are you kidding me? You actually at eight o'clock had to tune into a show because that's when it was on?' and that was the reality. And that's how quickly things change.

Not just in the media and entertainment industry, but all over. That's what people can connect to. That change in my career is just one example of what has happened across all industries. And it wasn't that long ago, and the pace of change continues to just exponentially increase. So, for me the shift was really out of a physical, emotional, mental strain and drain -- where I really felt my life was getting away from me and that was a hard reality.

Looking back on it, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. But any time we're in that space, it doesn't feel great. I was 38 years old. I had a young family. I was really the lion's share of income in my home and my wife was taking care of our kids, and that's what we absolutely wanted. And so, I was feeling a lot of pressure around that. And yeah, fortunately I had the opportunity to really reflect and consider what's this next phase of my life going to be like? I realized that there was a huge opportunity for trying to figure out how to make work work in the context of a life that works.

And I knew I had zero work-life balance, and I knew even that phrase was just setting everyone up to fail. So, I had to try to explore a better way.

[00:04:42] Ana: Thank you for painting such a great picture of that moment in your life. I think there's a lot of people who will identify with that, of having kind of that aha moment where I guess everything is going okay, but it doesn't feel okay.

And it seems like having that moment to pause for reflection that people often take a lot from that and find, if you will, a higher purpose for themselves through that time. What did you see as your purpose after that point?

[00:05:15] Andrew: It's a great question and let's start with the fact that reflection is a bit of a gift. I was still being paid after I was laid off. I had still some contract time left, so I was very fortunate, and I recognized that fortune. I was very grateful for it because at that time when a lot of people were being laid off, they may not have had that ability to reflect and consider their next steps going forward, and I had some time. The challenge was as I started to thaw, because I was on the road 45 weeks a year and I knew, given this time that I could have while I was being paid to figure some things out, that it would go quickly. I needed to figure some things out. But I also recognized like I need to just be home and just be more present with my wife, my kids, get more involved in some of their stuff and take care of myself in ways that I had not been doing. And it was great. And that lasted about two months before my young son, who was two years old at the time, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

So there it is, right? Like the time in my life to just finally disconnect and consider my next steps. Now all of a sudden, we were in family crisis and a whole new perspective of trying to take care of what we needed to -- that was the priority. Now, the good news was I was home and I was in a space where I could totally do that, and focus on that.

It also meant I needed to put myself on the back burner at that point. But that was what was necessary and required, and I'm very fortunate and really glad I was able to do that. So, as we started to get a hold of that and I really was considering my next steps, I knew that I wanted to have a lifestyle where I could continue to manage the things that I wanted to around my own needs and my family's needs and get after work, whereas before it was work first and then everything else. That was what was getting away from me, and it started to play out physiologically. I had stomach pains that just persisted, and no one could figure that out. Looking back on it, it was just a huge amount of stress that was in the system. And until I addressed that, that's really what started to solve for that.

So, I realized that for me, the turning point, both with my son's Type 1 and being in a career and experience that was leading me toward burnout, not toward health and performance, was a shift that I needed to make. And one that I also wanted to make available to others, because I did have the opportunity to go through a program that was really the basis for what I'm doing today. That was the understanding of energy as a resource in your life, to build your capacity so that you can get more done in a more focused way and in a way that is just more whole and balanced and complete. And I didn't understand what that could look like or even what it meant or how to do it.

But that's the journey that I went on. And that was the beginning of something completely different, out of the media business and the TV industry. I completely shifted gears and started to work as a consultant and trainer in the health and performance space with a company called The Energy Project.

[00:08:42] Ana: So, what timeframe were we talking about at this point?

[00:08:44] Andrew: I was laid off from Sony back in 2009. And so alongside many people, during the financial crisis there were significant layoffs. So, I was really in that frame where many people were going through something similar and that was really where it put me on the path toward starting a totally different line of work and moving more in the direction of positive energy and change and purpose to really live life with a greater meaning and passion, and one that was just much more complete and whole family based.

And still, I have a lot of ambition. I want to have an impact in the work that I'm doing, but I think before it was driven more from my ego and just trying to compete in a work world that was pretty unforgiving and relentless to a place where I could take a breath and understand what was true for me, and then move in the direction that it created more opportunity from what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be rather than who I thought I needed to be.

[00:09:54] Ana: That's super cool. It seems like you were having the kinds of conversations that business leaders have only really just started to wake up to now in terms of the importance of finding a balance and really being able to value, as you were saying, not just not putting work first, but having the ability to balance them all and to optimize for your own personal ends, rather than trying to achieve these wider aims and objectives that are set by maybe social standards or a whole multitude of other things. What was the reception like for that kind of conversation back then?

I guess what I'm getting at is even today, there's still some resistance to the idea that you would want to pursue something other than the big success, or that profitability isn't going to be the main thing that you are optimizing for, if you will.

[00:10:51] Andrew: Yeah.

[00:10:51] Ana: How did people receive the message at the time and has that changed at all?

[00:10:57] Andrew: Yeah. It's been very interesting -- you think about how the workplace has evolved from the time where I had that really up-close front center view of, 'Wow, is the life I'm leading the life that I really want to lead?'

Having that reflection, deepening your own reality and connection to answering that is tough, right? Because sometimes you may feel like 'How lofty does this sense of individual purpose need to be? If I take care of my family, isn't that enough? Right? If, I'm taking care of my friends or volunteering and doing important work in the community, or I just try to bring the best of myself to the interactions that I'm in, is that enough?' And I think, yeah, like we've gotten to this place where we feel like we have to have this incredibly lofty meaning and purpose. And of course that is helpful. We know that human beings want to find a sense of meaning and purpose in what they're doing.

But I think to your point about societal and cultural expectations is that we have had to do that at a level that is maybe not so realistic for everyone, right? And so, if somebody doesn't feel like, 'Wow, I have this incredibly lofty sense of purpose or I'm doing incredible things, isn't it enough in my space, in my community, in my world to have a positive impact?' And then to feel good about that, not to feel less-than?

So, I think the conversations that we were having back then were resonant from the standpoint of a sense of purpose is but one source of energy. And even if you're really deeply connected to your work, are you taking care of yourself physically? Are you taking care of yourself and cultivating the emotions that serve performance and relationships at the highest level? Are you taking care of your brain and your levels of focus and cognition and organizing yourself in the context of being able to deliver on whatever your purpose is?

So, it's holistic, it's multidimensional -- when you start to think about energy, and the resonance and response to those conversations back then were very real, because it was like I was saying before, diminished resources -- many people were being laid off. So, if you weren't laid off, you're looking around like, am I next? Or now that I'm here without my counterparts, that's just more work on me and higher expectation, that didn't come with a pay raise. You've got to keep your job, and so the 'doing more with less' conversation has not relented, that has not wavered since then.

Obviously, we've seen since the pandemic, the shifts to more of the talent side, dictating some of the workplace. Now we're starting to see that level out to a degree, with unemployment so low and a lot of the people leaving or taking more money, that's kind of settled down and even the people that have left find themselves in situations that they were hoping would really improve from their last situation but, kind of back in the same boat is what many people report or just not satisfied.

So, we've seen that shake up all over the place since the pandemic. So, the conversation now, it's been interesting because it's resonating and evolving to a place where even though we may have more flexibility in where we're working from, the executives that I'm talking to have never been busier and they have never worked longer hours. So that supposed flexibility is not really felt.

When you're working back-to-back long hours and you can go from your office to your family in five steps, how are you showing up around that? What does that transition look like? Or at dinner? And then you, let's say if you have kids, you put kids to bed, then you come back to your laptop. These are ways where our boundaries have been completely eradicated now. They were eradicating before the pandemic, but now it's just sort of crazy. Right? Work is always looming out of the corner of your eye. And so now the resident of that conversation is the fierce consciousness that is required to prioritize what you need to, and then to be able to focus on the things that really matter and that are going to have the most impact. And then being able to communicate and advocate for yourself, whether you're managing up or you're a leader, trying to communicate with clarity to your teams to keep them pointed in really focused spaces without having them burn out. That wasn't a significant responsibility for leaders before. Today it is.

From the conversations that we're having and the workshops that we deliver, that recognition has not been fully assumed -- that responsibility has not been fully taken on. That they are right square in the face of trying to manage people's levels of mental health, how overtaxed they are, their role in contributing to that volume of workload and lack of clarity, and that they need to now recognize symptoms of burnout -- like it's just not what you went to college for.

So, a lot of leaders are just not stepping up to that responsibility because it's hard and it's a whole different skill set, and where you draw that line is challenging. So, that's what we try to really help companies with is considering those challenges and that's how it's really evolved now to the point where if you want to inspire a workplace that is fueled by high positive energy, well there's a construct for that. There's actually a way to build that. There's a roadmap, but we're just moving so fast.

I think many leaders in workplaces or companies view some of those ideas as a training and a one-off, but it's not -- it's a way of life and it's a way of working. And the companies that are doing that well have a distinct advantage because it's not so much what you do today -- because there's so much commoditization out there -- it's how you do it. And getting leaders to behave in ways that are going to invite the best from their people and create really skillfully led, high-performing teams, that's where the people are going. That's who they want to work for. So, we call that an energy-inspired leader. If you don't have the motivation yourself and the energy in your own tank to be able to lead others, then how are you expecting them to really step into the things that you're asking them to do?

So that's, that's the gap that we're experiencing and seeing right now.

[00:17:33] Ana: I love the way that you described the energy-inspired leader, because I think the concept of energy in itself is so powerful. I think you can show up to work in so many ways and having a conversation around, being mindful of how you show up and the impact that that has on the wider team is such a powerful message really -- because I'm sure lots of our listeners, as well as myself, have been part of toxic teams where one person's energy can sour the whole team in the space of no time.

And there's a sort of dependency that's created within teams where you have, if you have someone who's not mindful about the way that they use their energy and the way that they share with others, it can create such a horrible working experience for everyone around you.

And then in terms of productivity, I think going back to your message of energy, it's the link between the energy and productivity, which I think has been missing so much and why I invited you onto the podcast specifically about this because I think it's definitely a conversation that's lacking. You said that there's almost a recipe for good energy in the team, and I love that. If you were making that recipe, what are the ingredients that go into it?

[00:18:51] Andrew: Yeah, well, first to get into that one -- it starts with the recognition that there's a significant problem and issue with what you just validated and had mentioned about the toxicity that could exist in a workplace, not just from the leader themselves and what they're bringing to it, but also how things get done, the lack of clarity and the always-on nature of our culture inside of these companies. The matrixed environments where you have competing priorities between teams and just misaligned goals. You know, the way we do artificial deadlines even, make everything so urgent and have these unrealistic expectations.

When you start to really identify the things of when change happens so fast, and we were talking just before we came on about change adaptability, and the fact that demands are exceeding our capacity to meet them. The curve on change today is a sharp one. but the curve on human adaptation remains the same, which is a slight uptick -- it just doesn't keep pace with the changes that are happening outside of us with the way we internally respond to them. So, what do we do? Well, we overtax our teams then because we have all of these pressures, some of which again, are artificial in the way of trying to keep up or do more or compete harder, or just overwhelm the marketplace with what we're trying to do in such a sense of urgency that it leaves people frayed.

And until we kind of see how those behaviors are overtaxing people and the impact that it's having on them, you can't really shift from a workplace that is time-based to energy-based, until you begin to recognize that working longer hours and continuing to ask more and more of people and the workloads that are incessant and ever-increasing is taking a toll.

And if you're waiting for people to just say, 'Hey, I've had enough,' you're not going hear that because there's vulnerability to that. People are going to feel they're at risk or could be marginalized in their careers. So, first it just starts with, let's recognize that, let's speak to that, bring it into the workplaces. How do we work more sustainably?

So now I can kind of get to your question about what does sustainability look like then? And what would an energy-inspired workplace look?

And really, we start with three main things. First of all, we know demands are going to continue to increase for people, so unless organizations are investing in a roadmap for addressing exhaustion and long hours through building internal capacity -- and that goes from leaders on down through the organization, then you're going to continue to have these high levels of burnout.

The second thing is we misunderstand stress. If you're part of a team or part of a company that invites the best from you in the way of good, healthy challenges and provides the resources for you to accomplish them. I mean, what a great experience, even if you had that once or twice in your career, to be part of a team that's doing incredible work and is resourced and mobilized to accomplish that -- you know, that is unique and it shouldn't be so unique.

Most people feel like the goals that are set, which are misaligned in many cases, are not shared between teams, but that they are set in ways where the resources against them are just, they're not fortified, they're not realistic. So, people are working against unrealistic expectations. And so acute stress, which serves you in the short term, becomes chronic stress in the longer term, and that's what, unfortunately absolutely since a couple of years of the pandemic and now coming out the other side of that is we're seeing a lot more higher levels of chronic stress. And the acute stress that we really do want to seek is just really not understood. So, leaders in companies aren't organizing around the principles of delivering acute stress experiences for their people.

That basically looks like healthy challenge stress. I have a goal; I'm clear on that goal. I have resources that I need to get there. I have the responsibility and ownership in the spaces that I'm clear on of how to deliver on that. I'm rewarded and recognized for those things, and we operate by high standards. And so that contributes to a good, strong sense of team and the ability to get work done in a sustainable way.

And then the third piece is really about how do you equip that? You need to invest in these, what we're calling energy-inspired leaders. Energy inspired leaders recognize that energy is their most powerful resource to invite the best from their people and to sustain high levels of work without burning out and with mitigating levels of exhaustion.

It's how you fuel optimism and resilience -- when you start to think about more of the sustainability of people rather than the short-term things that we're putting them through. So, we really look at it in those three areas. Build capacity, prevent acute stress from becoming chronic stress and invest in energy-inspired leaders to deliver a more optimistic, resilient and sustainably performing team.

[00:24:31] Ana: There's a lot of conversation around how short-term business thinking is one of the things that is generating the most challenge when it comes to climate change and driving more sustainability for businesses generally as a way of running a business. When it comes to people, how do you look for the leaders who have that understanding of how energy works and is it something that you can -- let's say a team can come to you with a group of leaders that need to improve in this area, is that something that you can kind of develop on an individual basis or is it something that you think is more of an innate understanding that people have or won't have necessarily?

[00:25:16] Andrew: That's a great question, Ana. There are definitely leaders who seem to occupy this space very naturally and organically, and it's who they are, where they come from. And when we find leaders like that, it's a lot easier to work with them because they, they understand it. I don't want to say they get it, but essentially, they get the parts of this that are important.

Obviously, this is what we do, so we have a strong conviction around this way of leading and trying to create a workplace that looks like this. I think it's what most companies, leaders would say they want. Like we want an optimistic, resilient, fully fueled workforce.

And then if you were to ask them to what extent financially, right? And through their actions is really investing in that -- there's a gap there. So, we know what we want, we're just not really so sure how to get there. And it is the short-term pressures, it's the sense of unrealistic urgency that we put people through.

And I think we're not saying here, you know, you've got to make work go from 60 hours to 30 hours a week. I think what we're saying here is your value and your output is not dependent on the number of hours you work. It's much more about the energy you're bringing to those hours. So yes, some leaders just intuitively operate that way.

For other leaders, it's harder to get them there, but through workshops and certainly through conversations, I think people begin to realize one of the more important aha moments for them, and that is that work and rest are not separate. They're really two sides of the same coin. And that whole aspect, that literal statement that I just said there is from a book called Rest and it's really paramount, I think for, doesn't really matter your level, is to understand that work and rest both contribute to a meaningful life.

And so, if you're just working and working and don't understand how to rest and recover well, then you don't work as well, both creatively or tactically. So, we know now, right? The evidence is clear. Those people that take regular breaks throughout the day are more fueled, energized, optimistic, behave better around peers, get more work done, and they set the tone for an energy-inspired workplace versus those that are just coming into every call two minutes late and frayed and trying to reposition their brains around what the current thing is. Having open notes on everything from the previous meeting and when is all that work going to get done?

So, an underappreciation for every hour of meeting probably throws off another 50% to 60% of work that is unscheduled work, and that's what leaves people so far behind. There's just simply not enough time in the calendar. So, when you start to put it in those practical terms, I think that's what starts to move people who may not get it or operate that way intuitively or organically to start to recognize that their behaviors are actually depleting themselves. So, when they're depleted, that's showing up around others. You can't fake that. Right? Like that is going to play out. I think sometimes for leaders, they'll hear that feedback from others and that's where they really start to check in with themselves. It's not who they want to be. They know that there's more than one version of themselves and they prefer the fully fueled, energized version. It's just a better way to show up, you know? But that requires spending the time to renew and recover very systematically -- physically, emotionally, mentally -- that's human energy -- it's all three, it's not just one. So that starts to become your roadmap for how do I do that physically, emotionally, mentally.

There are behaviors and strategies to do those things for yourself, for your team and also to encourage and give people the permission that if they are recovering and introducing different aspects of self-care into their lives and into their work that should be celebrated, not done at the margins, or, 'Well, we shouldn't talk about that at work.' Or 'If I can't reach you for an hour, what's going on?' Like, what are you doing? That's just not working today. That's causing people to run very fast out the door and you're losing them.

[00:29:48] Ana: Yeah. Yeah. There's a big, I guess since the pandemic where people had lockdown and were forced to live with very little and doing the kind of break, I guess a little bit similar to the break that you mentioned after you got let go, people are thinking about how they like to spend their time and looking at their careers, thinking, 'How can I develop skills that are not necessarily right in the field of my work, but that can contribute in another way.' In my case, I've been learning how to play the guitar since last year and I try and make it a thing where every day I try and practice during the day, like in between calls or writing or whatever.

[00:30:33] Andrew: Oh, fun.

[00:30:33] Ana: Um, yeah, it's really great and it's, it's so nice to do something that's just for me, even though I know that it's also bringing me back to a place where I'm better at work, in terms of not being in the kind of reactive state that I think the fast pace of the corporate world kind of puts everyone into.

You were saying that it was, it's hard to quantify and that people don't necessarily even think about or see the amount of work that they have on their plates. Do you think that the amount of engagement that we have with digital technologies could help us kind of at least get a better picture of the amount of work that we are expecting of ourselves?

[00:31:15] Andrew: Yeah. Well, a couple of different thoughts on this, but overall, it's more of a problem than it is a solution, you know, trying to introduce technology to every equation, even to the levels of rest that we get. We do have, you know, better dashboards than we've ever had before through wearables to give ourselves a look into, 'Hey, how am I doing and am I reaching a level of overheating or burnout?'

We can see these things now in ways that we haven't before, especially when we're moving so fast. We'll often hear the stories around the panic attack, right? Or the cardiovascular event for a person in their early forties that they just didn't see it coming. They didn't really, they may have had symptoms, but they didn't really pay attention to them, or they just thought it was, you know, a shoulder pain, but it was actually something related to their heart. And we may dismiss those things, right? So, I think for people, let's just say for many leaders who are in very busy circumstances, really introducing a technology to spend the time to get a look at that and use a dashboard and it'll be so valuable, but usually they'll do that for a month or two and then it kind of goes away after it's lost its luster.

So, I think starting with just getting in touch with yourself non-technologically and getting a piece of paper and a pen, and just noting how distracted am I during the day, especially if I'm trying to stay on a video call. Am I working X number of hours because if you work from, let's say you get up at 6:00 AM and hit emails until 6:45 AM and then take an hour to get kids out of the house or do whatever you're doing and then come back to work and then do the same thing in the evening, are you counting all of that time and hours and then when you're not working? Are you counting the time you're thinking about work?

I don't even think that's a necessary exercise to go through. I think the more important thing is to look at your meetings and just trim them by 30%. If you look at the number of hours that you're in meetings and you had to trim them by 30% and your boss said to you, 'I need you to trim meetings by 30%,' just like, they'll say, trim your budget by whatever, you would be able to do that. You would be able to say, these are the things I need to be involved in, these are the things I can delegate, and you would get rid of already a few hours right off the top. You don't need to go through any kind of technology to tell you that you're working too long.

So those are just more simple basic strategies of just starting to right-size around the calendar. When you understand that every email you send invites more than three emails back, and for every meeting that you're in, you're throwing off another 50% to 60% work. How we're not factoring that in, how we're not factoring in when you leave a meeting, what is the next step to that meeting? What gets pulled through? What was the more important elements to follow up on? Who's accountable for that?

Many times, people are like, I think I'm supposed to do this, or we just left that open, and who's following up on that? So, there's just no clarity. There's very little accountability and a lot of these situations are throwing in tons of extra work that is not needed.

So, this is really about better understanding, to connect to the things where you're most needed, where you have the highest impact, but then Ana, the ability to let go of it when you need to. Because recovering isn't just about spending hours recovering. You can do that very efficiently, sometimes five or 10 minutes, a seven-minute workout, right? A five-minute meditation, a 20-minute yoga, standing and sitting throughout periods of the day with a sit-stand desk, understanding what key stretches are going to help you open up your hips and make your back a little bit stronger. Just moving a little bit more, because we're so sedentary.

Those are very simple things you can infuse right into your workday to just be more effective, less reactive, more performance-state rather than a reactive survival-based state, which is where we find a lot of people today just kind of trying to survive.

[00:35:44] Ana: Totally. Yeah, and how do you see the role of the company in that? Because I guess when it comes to energy preservation at an individual level, there's obviously a whole list of things that we're aware of, that we need to keep an eye on and make sure that we're doing or not doing to optimize our own performance. I guess where I'm coming from is when an organization's well-being policies infringe on those things, it can backfire when it comes to well-being policies very quickly. What does a good well-being program look like for a company that's looking to encourage and embrace that level of understanding at an individual level?

[00:36:25] Andrew: Well, whatever well-being platform they may have has more or less of some of the things that they're trying to make accessible to people around good, healthy habits and good practices.

Most of those go underutilized, unfortunately because companies are spending a lot of money into those spaces. So, you think about some of the policies and the practices that operate at the team level, if an organization has an unlimited PTO policy your issue becomes people do not plan their vacations and most of their vacation goes unused. In an unlimited PTO many are just like, I'm not taking advantage of this. Nor do they accumulate any days where if they were to leave, that they would be paid for. So, it's one of those things that seems like a great perk that companies are giving because you can have this unlimited paid time off, and the reality is, you feel handcuffed. You don't access that.

And then you hear about some companies that will say 'You must take three weeks off.' In an unlimited PTO, you have to take three weeks off. Well, if people aren't understanding and leaders aren't really leveraging those times for vacation to say, 'This is a valuable part of who we are and what we do,' so that when we're not working, we can really be connected to the people and the things that matter most to us and not be checking in with emails or calling people from vacation, it's those kind of things. It's not even so much the policies and practices, it's the behaviors inside of these things that really are the unintended consequences that you're talking about, because that's what people see.

So, what does a good well-being program look like? I mean, I don't even think about it in the context necessarily of a program itself. It's how the leaders are behaving inside of any well-being program that really matters. And then also the levels of trust and courage that all employees at any level can bring to bear to say, Hey, this is the kind of workplace I want to inhabit and this is how I'm going to behave and I don't want to be marginalized for that, but really stepping into the things that they are wanting to value and whether the company supports that or doesn't, they sort of stand in their own conviction of, this is the way that I'm going to operate. And if that's not going to be thought highly of here, then that's probably not a good fit, right?

I think the more important piece is going to be not so much even thinking about it as like, well, this is what we do for well-being -- this is just what we do at the team level is have healthy boundaries, allow people to disconnect, encourage movement throughout the day, value the role of recovering and performance so that we could all be better at what we're doing and bring in the understanding of stress management is a distributed responsibility for the whole team so that nobody feels alone in that and they can actually call out the things that are depleting them and feel safe to do that.

That would be a good start for a well-being program.

[00:39:38] Ana: I think that there's a lot of parallels that you can draw between how you're talking about well-being and the way that it's kind of being seen less as an objective and more as a kind of part and parcel of how our team operates. There are lots of parallels with inclusion.

Does that resonate with you? Do you think that inclusion and well-being sit together in some sense? Or, what's the relationship between those two things? Is it something that you've thought about and is it something that you talk about with leaders and clients in your work?

[00:40:13] Andrew: Yeah, certainly we do. I mean, sometimes we're brought in to speak about that connection and the understanding that even diversity or elements of inclusion carry through to, if you're a single caregiver, if you're a person that's traveling a lot, if you are a person, you know, chronobiology is a different kind of diversity and inclusion.

Some people work better in the morning. Some people work better at night. Some people suffer from different aspects around their sleep, right? Some people are really challenged in working remotely and not having the structure around them to be able to do work. Depending on their personality types and how they're either needing to be cajoled into action or to plan better, you know, so these are the kind of things that aren't fully considered in understanding the complete human being and their energy needs. These are not energy wants. These are energy needs. We all have them physically, we have them emotionally, we have them mentally. If we're going to bring all of our resources to bear, to work on anything, to bring the best of ourselves in a healthy, happy, focused, committed manner -- that is the epitome of engagement right there.

You know, if you're feeling all of those things and you're firing on all cylinders that way, then you're probably going to be an engaged, loyal member of the team, you know? So, yeah, it very much plays a role, into also the ways of working, right? That there's inclusiveness around that and boundaries, right? And where things are still private, and what is important for your team around those different aspects of who they are and what they want to be a part of. Some people have more inclusion needs than others, so you have got to know your people on those levels. But clearly we know that people have diverse preferences in the way that they work -- they're just not often talked about, right? Like how people work best when they work best. What is the sort of the intersection of time and location flexibility that invites the best from them, given the lives that they have? There was just a great post that I saw on LinkedIn recently, that no one really cares about the future of work; [what] they care about is the future of their lives.

And how does work fit into that? That has been just such a sea change, right? That we're seeing since the pandemic and all the mobility and the remote work and people really just starting to prioritize things that are more important to them, that matter in their whole lives above and beyond work.

So, if there is a future of work and the evolution of work, it's occupying this space where people are considering their lives first. Whereas before it would be the work, and then how do I fit my life into this to balance everything. And people realize that that's fool's gold. It doesn't work that way.

You've got to build a life that works. Right? And then, understand how work is part of that. It is not something that's just like a chore, right? It's something that is woven into your life, that brings you richness and joy and healthy kinds of challenge. And that's motivating when your work and your life are working seamlessly together, that's what people I think are after. And so that's what needs to be more focused on in the workplace is starting there, at the individual and at the team level.

[00:43:43] Ana: Absolutely. That's a very hopeful picture that you've painted and I hope that that's something that we can, well, that we'll get to see it in the future at some point.

[00:43:51] Andrew: Yeah. I think people are, that's what they're voting for, you know? And I'd point people in the direction of 'The Healthy Organization,' you know, some of Josh Bersin's work on the healthy organization and the companies of level one, level two, level three and level four. And it's pretty cool to see all of the research around a level-four company, but very few companies occupy that space.

[00:44:13] Ana: Hold the phone. What do you mean by level four? I'm not sure I've heard of it.

[00:44:17] Andrew: Level four is going to be where leaders are role modeling and encouraging these healthy practices that are woven into the business. They're not a sidecar, right? They are literally integrated and woven into the business. And people understand that well-being is much more of a business discipline, right? It's not just a simple perk or parked in Total Rewards --level-four companies bring everything out, where C-level, HR, Total Rewards, organizational development are all coming together to solve that problem.

It's just too siloed right now. It's misunderstood as well-being is kind of a perk or something that we just need to do for flexibility or to have people stay here. Of course, yes, it's going to have those business outcomes, but you don't get it at that if that's really what you're after.

If you're going to do it in a sustainable way, you're going to get all of those different people coming together strategically and creating an experience for people that actually supports that and encourages that. So, that's just a whole different way of thinking about it. But there's great evidence that those are the companies that are going to win and the other ones that don't do it are going to really quickly fall behind because people just don't, they're not putting up for it anymore.

They're not afraid to work. You know, I think that's what's confused too, -- it's not about the work ethic. People are more than willing to commit and to focus and to work really hard, it is just, that's not going to be the only thing. So don't confuse people's appetite for health, flexibility and well-being as they don't want to work as hard. That is a huge myth that's getting in the way of companies not doing some of these things.

[00:46:09] Ana: Absolutely. It's funny -- sometimes I think we completely miss the point, like you were saying, we see some benefits but from focusing on those benefits, we're ignoring the main reasons why that thing is beneficial in the first place.

And in this case, I guess having a good well-being policy to ensure that you retain people -- it's a very business way of thinking about a very human dilemma. When all this stuff came out about – the Great Resignation, for example, there's a lot of conversation about how Gen Z are unengaged with work, and no longer give a 'shoot' about their jobs. But I think that's such an unnuanced way of looking at what is essentially people saying, 'Yes, we want to work, yes, we want to contribute, but we want to do it in a way that is sustainable for ourselves and that is in line with our other life goals and ambitions that don't have to do with our relationship with work.'

It's great to hear you say that and put it in that way because I think for a lot of people, or at least for me, it can get quite frustrating seeing in the media, a lot of stuff around how ways of working are changing and people are being painted in a way to look as if they're being lazy or don't really care anymore when it's exactly, when it's just totally missing the point of the change. If that makes sense?

[00:47:48] Andrew: Yes, yes. And uh, you know, it is kind of an exciting and fun time too because some of the clients that we're working with I think are really starting to move in this direction, of more of a purposeful nature in how they do well-being and what that means for employee experience and how leaders can encourage and role model how people can advocate for themselves.

You really start to see some fun and exciting things happening. But yeah, I think that point right there, I have a Gen Z working for me. One of the Gen Zs, he actually did a presentation at a conference on Gen Zers in the workplace and how misunderstood it is. And it's interesting when you get leaders or companies who have a tough time influencing how/when people come back to work or what this generation is going to bring to the table, and if they have the appetite or the work ethic, if you hold the mirror up, if you look at yourself and say, why can't I influence these people?

The struggle with influencing and not being able to do that -- they quickly point the blame on those people. 'Those people aren't willing to work hard. Those people don't want to come to work -- those people.' But here's the issue -- you haven't been able to influence. You haven't been able to inspire them and invite the best from them to come into a workplace that you're trying to create, that would actually enable and accelerate that and unlock it so it becomes a point of blame outside of themselves. Because when we have trouble influencing, it's easier to blame other people for not being influenced than our ability to influence. So, I think here is where you have to really look at how you're behaving and what you're inviting from your people and do you genuinely care about them, to try to move them.

And then look, Ana, you know, there's another big piece of this that comes up a lot, which is how do we – take return to work as an example. How do we get people back into the office, and what value proposition you are trying to sell your people, because you probably have a lot of HR people, who are in the ears of the C-suite saying, you know, we need better flex policies and we need better work-from-home policy and all that. But if the CEO or the leader says, 'You know what? This company is built on collaboration and we need people together because we're at a stage of our company that's really important for people to be mixing and to be here,' then step into that and offer a different value proposition of we're growing, we want people to be together.

There are plenty of people out there who will respond to different value propositions that aren't just about flexibility or work from home. People want to work. Back to that healthy challenge stress, at companies that are on the move -- they want to work for startup companies that are doing meaningful work and believe me, we've seen it over and over again -- if they are offered a really good meaning in their work, and they are surrounded by people who are smart and offer a good challenge to get there, then they'll show up at work. They're happy to do it. Others may not be, but that's okay. You don't have to appeal to everyone in every sense.

It depends on where your company is and what they're trying to do, and then getting leaders mobilized around a set of behaviors and talking points and communications that encourage that value proposition. So, that's getting lost in the, well everyone needs flexibility or everyone needs work from home -- not everybody is looking for that. They do want a more seamless nature between work and life, but there's other things that they're responding to than just trying to be perceived as taking more from the company and having more for themselves. It's, sort of not what's happening here.

[00:51:36] Ana: Yeah. I feel like it's another classic example of like a binary that we've created.

[00:51:42] Andrew: Oh, totally.

[00:51:42] Ana: A totally random binary of like remote versus hybrid that like, yeah, again, it's about the nuance I guess in that you can have a mix of both very easily, I think. On one side you've got people who are very keen to stay at home and to maintain their sense of freedom or flexibility. And then you're struggling to get the value proposition, like you said, right, for people.

Where do you think that this is moving toward? What do you think in, say, 20 years' time? How will human performance look when it comes to work? And do you think that we'll still have this burnout issue? And how will we solve it if, if not?

[00:52:25] Andrew: Gosh, big question. Uh, it's a big question, and I'm not a futurist, but I can be hopeful, right? And optimistic is an important value of ours. I think not everything's about the pandemic either, right? The world of work was shifting a lot around people feeling pinched, feeling a lot of levels of stress the previous day as reported by Gallup before 2020 hit, and so this has recontextualized for people a new way to live and work that I think is good.

And if companies start to really figure that out, that this piece that we were just talking about, the willingness, the discretionary effort can absolutely be there if you invest in your people's energy needs and understand that recovery, renewal, managing energy are woven and integral to performance, then I think the workplace will shift to accommodating that in very real ways, rather than just being corporate speak or lip service.

You know, the no-meeting Thursday and the two hours off of emails, or the one day off a week is just, it's not getting the job done. It's box checking. You need to completely transform the infrastructure and the culture around understanding personal sustainability for any of those things to be successful.

So, I hope that's what happens. I think we'll see some indicators too. Four-day work week does a really good job and a big campaign around that particular brand of working less is smarter and working better. So as that continues to grow, that should be a good indicator, but companies falling all over themselves or falling down, trying to institute these things without restructuring workloads and culture is where they feel like it doesn't work, but it's not working because they're not starting with the infrastructure around that.

They're just starting with no-meeting Thursday and working less hours but giving people the same workloads is not a solution. So hopefully we get some more of an energy-based paradigm rather than a [time-based] one in the next 20 years and we'll certainly try to bring our contribution to that.

[00:54:43] Ana: Put your energies there. I love that.

[00:54:46] Andrew: Yes, exactly. Well, energy is contagious, right?

[00:54:49] Ana: Exactly. Absolutely.

[00:54:50] Andrew: For better and for worse. So, we all have a choice around that.

[00:54:54] Ana: Absolutely. Well Andrew, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining me. Before we head off, is there anything that you would like to plug, or anywhere that people can find you on social media perhaps?

[00:55:14] Andrew: Yeah, of course.

Well, thanks for having me today, Ana and people can reach me, I think the best place would be LinkedIn and it's Andrew Deutscher, D-E-U-T-S-C-H-E-R. So certainly, you can connect and find me there. You also can visit our website at Regenerate Works, and we're also excited about being added to Blinkist, with a program called 'Sustainable High Performance Habits.' So, if people want to learn more, go deeper in some of the content and topics we discussed today, they can check out that on Blinkist, 'Sustainable High Performance Habits' with Andrew Deutscher. And thanks again for having me.

[00:56:00] Ana: Awesome. Thank you so much. And we'll include a link to the Blinkist in the show notes, to anyone who's listening and you want to check it out, head to the show notes and you'll be able to find them there. All right, well thank you so much again, and speak to you soon, Andrew!

[00:56:14] Andrew: Okay, Ana. Take care. Thank you.

[00:56:17] Ana: That's about all we have time for today, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this episode and got as much out of it as I did. It's clear that our current way of working is unsustainable for everyone, and with innovation and changes to how we work only set to increase in coming years, it's vital that we start talking more about the impact of overwork on our collective health and well-being.

For all you leaders out there who have been struggling to keep up with piles of work through the pandemic, and since then, I hope that Andrew's insights at least provide you some comfort and at best encourage you to start reevaluating your own relationship with work and taking steps towards working in a more energy efficient and sustainable way.

Thank you all for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please do like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Tech Beyond the Hype is a TechTarget original podcast.

+ Show Transcript
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