“If you start to feel pain, tell yourself how great it is to be alive. If you get too hot, think of it as a fire-pack that is there to propel you forward with ease. You’ve got this!”
Headlining the majority of discussions I’ve had with leaders recently is the question of burnout, and how to avoid it or course correct it within their organization. I believe everyone is genuinely worried about giving their people relief. So many organizations are doing really big things to help, from additional PTO time to more flexible schedules and one-time bonuses to unique benefit packages.
I ran the Chicago Marathon last week. Upon reflection of my training experience and race day event, it is clear the opposite of burnout is motivation, and maybe the answer lies not in the big things we need to focus on but the little things.
Let me draw the parallels with 7 little things you can do to increase motivation and reduce burnout.
1. Be a stress-free role model, and don’t let your level of burnout show.
When the race starts, adrenaline is high, and runners tend to go out faster than they should. They regret it later when they can’t keep up their pace because they’re essentially out of gas. There was a guy in front of me whose running looked so smooth and light. His pace was steady. I followed him for the first five miles, and just watching how relaxed he was made me relax and get into the zone. I was bummed when I lost him, but he got me started on the right path. Be that guy for your team. Get them moving in the right direction, at the right pace, and without feeling your stress.
2. Create an ending and a new beginning.
That first mile was way, way shorter than the 25th mile. (The 26th mile seemed to be slightly shorter than the 25th). I am serious. When the first mile marker came along, I thought, “there is NO WAY that was a mile.” Sometime after passing mile 24, I thought perhaps they just decided to skip the mile 25 marker because surely, I should have passed it by now.
It’s a proven fact that beginnings and endings are much more memorable and exciting than the middles, especially when they are really long. This pandemic forced everyone into high gear at the start to figure out new ways of working and communicating, and there was a lot of learning and novelty in people’s lives. There was motivation to “figure it out”. And now we feel like we’ve been in the long, long middle without an end in sight. Give your team a finish line to cross, give them a medal, and create a new race for them to get excited about.
3. Recognize progress – I mean really recognize progress
Along the entire route of the marathon, people came out to cheer on the runners. It's truly an incredible experience, and I know all the runners are so grateful. Don’t get me wrong, every person on the sidelines gives you motivation to keep going. Still, there is a difference between someone standing there looking at their phone and a complete stranger jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air, and screaming that you’ve already gone halfway.
The power of progress is fundamental to motivation. Celebrate incremental improvements and make it visual – find a way to dance and wave your hands in the air! You might also consider moving away from annual incentives and goals to shorter, more eminent goals (mile markers).
4. Give people a reason to laugh
From the music at top volume to the funny costumes to all the signs people hold up to take your mind off the tough task. It’s a great mix of motivation such as “Tap here to Power Up” (which I did at every chance), the Ted Lasso “Believe” (which has to make you smile), “toenails are for sissies” (runners understand this), and “You’ve done dumber things when you were drunk” (may or may not be true). Laughter releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which serves as a reward for the brain, creates a sense of euphoria, and plays a pivotal role in our motivation to continue the behavior.¹
Make a concerted effort to inject a little comic relief in the workday. Laughter can be a great motivator.
5. Have meaningful conversations with each individual about how they are truly feeling
A dear friend video-called me the morning before the race and said, we’re going to have a little chat about your race tomorrow. In all honesty, I was not very motivated to do the run the next day. It was going to be much hotter and more humid than anticipated, and I had already resigned myself to the fact that it was not going to be a PR Day for me regardless of the weather. I was feeling a little burnt out on the whole thing. She took the time to break down each one of my concerns and shared some ideas about how I might look at it a little differently and get the most out of the day and my training. It was exactly what I needed! Every “You’ve got this” matters when it comes to motivation, and it just might be exactly what your employee needs. Her comments are at the top of this blog.
As a leader, take time to understand how your people are feeling, what might be causing the lack of motivation and help reframe the situation.
6. Try new things
As the 30,000 plus runners were getting ready to start, the race kicked off with the National Anthem. I thought I was taking a video to post on Instagram when I realized I was actually on Instagram live. Something I’ve never done before. Suddenly, people I know from all over were chiming in with notes of support, hearts, and handclaps. My cousins, kids, nephews, goddaughter, sister-in-law in another country, and more were all there with me right at that moment. It was fun and funny, and I had no idea what to do. But it was so surprising and motivating. Later, I asked my son how to do an “Instagram Live” event, and I realized a couple of key things I could have done to make it more impactful (like actually say something – lol). Without that mistake, an Instagram Live event would never be on my radar but stay tuned, people, I will be doing those!
The point is this, promote and invest in things that push your team out of their comfort zones, for that is how they grow. And growth is not burnout. Growth is motivating. You could provide a new training with live role-practice, it could be a new technology to help them be more productive. Let your teams come up with ideas and try them.
7. Make sure they know why Doing the Work Matters
Training for a marathon is hard. So is working throughout these ever-changing Pandemic times. I had a goal and a purpose. I was running for a charity (CASA) - which was a big part of my “why”. There were several times during the training season that I felt on the verge of burnout. I needed to draw first on the habits I had formed and next on the reason it was important to push forward. Doing the work was necessary to make it to the finish line. The work mattered.
Do your teams have a really good “why” to hold onto? Your company does great things, and they need to know how their work matters. And they need to hear about it often.
Burnout is real, and today's leaders are working hard to keep their teams motivated, engaged, and growing. Butler Street can help. Our leadership training is designed to focus on the employees operating reality in an effort to help companies and their people grow. Contact us to learn more.
¹ A Better High: How Eating, Laughing and Other Stuff Can Get You High Naturally, Everyday, 2nd Ed. 2011 (New Jersey: Winter Oak Press).