Beyond Burnout with Suzi McAlpine - Episode 7 of Better Business, Better Life
Updated: Mar 8
3 Top Tips from Suzi
1. Work within your circle of control, not your circle of influence! There are always gonna be things that are in our circle of influence that is affecting us beyond our circle on control. Stick to what you can control.
2. Set clear priorities Look at what you are taking on and be really clear about what are the main priorities are and focus on that.
3. Be purposeful when building connections with your team Think about 'how are we going?' conversations and really up your listening skills as leaders.
Read full transcript here:
Debra Chantry-Taylor 0:10
Good morning and welcome to another episode of better business better life. Today, I am thrilled to have Susan McAlpine with us. Suzi has been introduced to me because she has written this book called Beyond Burnout, and she's going to share some of her tips and her tools from that. So welcome, Suzi. Thank you for joining me.
Suzi McApline 0:27
Thanks for having me on the show. Debra. It's great to be here.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 0:30
My absolute pleasure, hey, this is a really, really hot topic of mine. Obviously, working with entrepreneurs, we get a lot of people who experience various types of stress and issues, I'm not sure was necessarily burnout is. But I think it's gonna be important to talk about what that means and what that looks like. So yeah, I'd love you to start by telling me a little bit about why did you write the book?
Suzi McApline 0:50
Well, it was a perfect storm of three things really. I had experienced burnout earlier in my career when I was in corporate, although ironically, at the time, I didn't recognise it as such. And my role as a leadership coach working with senior leaders up and down the country, it gives me a front row seat to many burnt out stressed out senior leaders, chief executives, and senior executives and I started to see a growing number of people experiencing really high stress. And that was even before COVID. So I I kind of got curious about that. And alongside that, at the same time, I started to see a real growth in research and articles coming up about burnout. But the third thing that really ignited my desire to write to write this particular book is that what I noticed was that there were a plethora of books on burnout, but they were almost exclusively geared towards the person who... who was experiencing burnout. And at first, that kind of annoyed me a little bit. And the more I looked into that, the more I realised that that's a bit like treating the sick fish when it's the water that's contaminated. And I discovered that through research and reading that you really can't have a conversation about burnout, without having a conversation around leadership practices around culture of an organisation around the systemic issues that cause burnout. And so I wanted to change that.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 2:26
Fantastic. How rude of me, I forgot to actually ask before we got started if you could tell me a little bit about what you actually do on a day to day basis. And if you can also share a professional and a personal best with me?
Suzi McApline 2:36
Okay, well, I'm a leadership geek, I love. I love what magic emerges when great leadership is around, and also the challenges that come with being a leader, being a leader, myself, and I work with leaders in many, many different guises. I have a number of different, I suppose products or service lines, one of them is a one on one coaching, I do a small amount of one on one coaching mainly with chief executives. I have an executive leadership team performance, high performance programme where I work with executive leadership teams over the course of about 12 months. It's called pivot. And then finally I have the leaders map, which is an online blended leadership programme for Emerging Leaders which I work with corporates to help roll out. So personal best, other than hooking up with my husband, 21 years ago, that's probably there was probably a good moment. We've got three I would say writing this book has been a personal beast for me, for a couple of reasons. I had wanted to write a book for many, many years, it was a goal of mine and a dream. And four years in the making when we looked at the research, and last year, I wrote it alongside my normal work. And there were a couple of things that I really learned from this. One is you don't have to do it alone. I was really fortunate to have an exceptional book pricing coach, Wally Bach. He's in the states writes lots of helps. Lots of people write books, I'd thoroughly recommend him and also Christina witchwood, who was my agent, and editor. And of course, I had Penguin Random House, so don't do it alone. And the other lesson I got from that was a little bit done often, every day, even if it feels like two steps forward. is one step back as always the word go?
Debra Chantry-Taylor 4:39
Yeah, no, I completely agree. I was talking to a friend the other day who actually wrote a book course on the same sort of thing. They said, just sit down and write every day. And even if you don't get you only get seven words, and that's a start and rather than doing nothing, so hey, so for years I understand there's quite a long time but I understand why you got a huge amount of research, didn't you behind this book and interviewed a whole bunch of people as well. So from that, how would you define burnout?
Suzi McApline 5:05
Well, burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. And it's caused by excessive or prolonged stress. And it's related purely to your professional life. So you can have other forms of mental distress to do with your personal life. And that sucks, but that's not burnout. So there are there are three red flags of burnout. One is chronic exhaustion. And we're not talking about the sort of tiredness where if you go on holiday, or you have a weekend off, you bounce back. This is the no bounce back factor. It's when the batteries just won't recharge. And the second red flag is this increased cynicism or depersonalisation. I talked about it with my no hug, moment with my son. It's it's a sort of a distancing, a detachment, and increased frustration that perhaps isn't part of your normal makeup, a real cynicism and frustration. And the third, red flag is really that reduced professional efficacy. It's like I just can't do the job. I'm supposed to be doing nothing I do matters. I interviewed one person for the book, who had a great metaphor. They said, it's a bit like trying to run a marathon and treacle. And so those are sort of the things that I think that there are red flags. And I would say, it's like you're exhausted, depleted and deflated.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 6:33
Yeah. makes good sense. And so what do you do when you've kind of reached that state? Because I should imagine it's quite a difficult thing to talk about. I know that as with a lot of the the mental illnesses or mental symptoms you're talking about, it feels like it's a personal what do you call it sort of a negative if you like, so how do you how do you what do you do when you think you may have experienced or experiencing burnout?
Suzi McApline 6:58
Debra, one of the things I would say that I talked about four strategies in the book, recognise D stigmatise, socialise and organise and you've pointed to one of the biggest challenges with burnout and any other mental distress in our workplace. And that is, it is shrouded in stigma. You know, Renee Brown says shame never drives any positive behaviour. And I think we need to make it hit create psychological safety so that people feel that it is okay and not career limiting to say I'm experiencing burnout, I am struggling and feeling overwhelmed. And in the book, I go into lots of strategies about doing that for yourself and others. If you do you find that you're the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and you might be going crikey, that sounds a bit like me, there are a couple of things I would say. One is, don't be compassionate. One of the big myths that I've come across and burnout is that if you suffer from burnout, you are somehow mentally weak, or flawed, or you know, are a non performer and the research actually shows that quite often, it's our most passionate and most dedicated and high performers who can actually be most at risk of burnout. So, be kind to yourself became compassionate, don't try and do it alone, I made that mistake where I just felt like I had so drawn and dig deeper, and know that it will take some time. There's some other tips and tools in the book. But also I talk a little bit about if you're a leader who you think may be leading someone who's experiencing burnout, there are some strategies and approaches that you can take the
Debra Chantry-Taylor 8:36
I was gonna say that it's not just the leaders is that I mean, it can be as in the top leaders, it can be anybody in the organisation potentially. So as a leader, it's your role to help them recognise that.
Suzi McApline 8:47
Yeah, absolutely. So burnout can happen to anyone anyone does and can't that can suffer from burnout, regardless of where you are in the organisational hierarchy. And indeed, which industry or profession that you're in, although there are some industries which feature in not in a good way, the legal profession, the medical profession, those who are in human services, also featured highly. But yes, I think it's, you know, leadership has a huge influence on both the prevention and cause of burnout. So I would, I would say, it's important to not only put your own oxygen mask on, but also make sure that you're creating conditions where burnout can take hold.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 9:33
Now, in your book, you have, as you said, You've got the four strategies, but you've also got a number of tools. Where would be the best place to start for somebody who feels like they're potentially, you know, either approaching or actually at the stage of burnout? Do you have a favourite kind of tool that you would?
Suzi McApline 9:50
Well one of the causes of burnout is isolation, either perceived or real. So I would say that connection is a wonderful antidote. Burnout either to prevent it or if you're feeling it. I think that in organisations, we have lots of what are we doing conversations and I think that's important stuff needs to get done. But I think one of the things that you can do as a leader for yourself and others is to have how are we going conversations. So, you know, create psychological safety, to create and be purposeful about creating connections. And this can be as simple as checking in with your staff and you know, your own peers around how are you know, on a scale of one to 10? How are you today and listening skills, you know, asking how are you and then being fully present, to really listen and create that. So that would be one of my favourite tips, I think is is make sure that you're having, how are we going conversations as well as what are we doing conversations.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 10:52
We often start meetings with, you know, one word about how you're feeling as well as showing up professional and personal bests. And it gives you a real insight into where people's emotional and headspace is at. Because yes, we often I think I found particularly throughout the lockdown, a lot of zoom meetings was focused on you know, what's going on. And we had to sort of learn to start talking about how we're feeling.
Unknown Speaker 11:15
Suzi McApline 11:16
It has to be LEED allege one of the most powerful ways you can build trust in your team. And that is an excellent must do it, you know, it's almost your first priority is to build psychological safety and trust is to you is to demonstrate what we call that vulnerability, lead, and trust. So you go first as a leader, so you might say, look, you know, this is I'm finding this challenging or being open about your own challenges creates that space so that other people know that they can to.
yeah, makes perfect sense. And you in the book, you have interviewed a number of very, very high performing people, could you share a couple of stories of people that you talk to who went through burnout and how you know, what they did and how they dealt with it? How do they recognise it? What do they do with it?
Well, we were really lucky that I worked with kogo, who did one of the largest workplace wellbeing surveys in Australia and New Zealand, over 1500 people. So we had some amazing research come out of that, which had to do with burnout. But one person I interviewed for the book was a surgeon, and she was a very high performing surgeon who had experienced really, really strong and debilitating burnout. Although, at the time, you know, soldiered on, and never had an issue about causing patient safety or anything, it was just pretty distressing for her what I think was wonderful about her was that because of her support, and because she was it, she had a really supportive team around her and her boss, she was able to not leave. So I think the thing is, she now has recovered, she's probably stronger than ever. And so I think there's this myth that we if you're suffering from burnout, you have to leave your professional your job. And I don't think that is the case. And it was it was a wonderful story in the end, because she had experienced burnout, but she come out the other side. So you know, that's, you know, helpful.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 13:25
So there is a way back from burnout. And it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to give everything up in order to deal with it.
Suzi McApline 13:30
Totally. Like Rachel, for it won't happen overnight, you know, that Pantiene ad it will happen. And hopefully, in the book, it's got some ideas about what you can do if you think you are experiencing burnout. But I guess my wishes, my hope is that we don't the ambulance at the bottom of the of the cliff that we can create organisations where people as well as profits thrive.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 13:53
So we'll put us what you mentioned briefly at the beginning, but what are the conditions that an organisation can actually cause people to be so overwhelmed by stress?
Suzi McApline 14:03
Yeah, this was really interesting. Debra, when I looked into the research, there are six causes of burnout. The obvious one is overwork. That is I haven't got enough resources to do the job and working really long hours. But there are five others. One of them is insufficient reward. And this is really about a balance, you know, is what I'm putting in to this job and this work and getting enough back and it's not only financial can be others. The third cause is isolation. And we talked about that that's perceived sense of isolation really important. And this one's kind of a big one for those who are entrepreneurs who are or chief executives that could be isolating at the top and absence of fairness. So things like distributive justice, am I getting the same promotional perks or as the unfair treatment and the organisation can be a cause of values conflict or mismatch between values between your own personal values and that of the organisation. But the sixth one is a really big one. It's, it's a lack of control. And so one of the things that we really want to do is to look at the degree to which people have a say in the way that their work is carried out. So if you can involve employees and the how and the wash of the work, that's going to increase the locus of control. So I was quite wide. So it you know, as an organisation and as a leader, those are the levers to work with, to reduce burnout.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 15:31
And it's interesting is the isolation thing I would have done in the lockdown, because there was physical isolation, but in actual fact, it's not just about physical isolation, is it? So? did things change with it? And in terms of the way that we now view things, do you think falling under lockdown?
Suzi McApline 15:50
Well, I think we can't be blamed burnout COVID for all our burnout woes, but it's certainly exacerbated a lot of these causes. I think, one silver lining has been the importance of as you were finding, it's important to have how we go and conversations and connect on how people are in the mental well being. And I think that that really showed in COVID, I think we're still at most organisations are still finding their way about that. But I think certainly when you look overseas, in certain professions, like the health care, workers in America and the UK and parts of Europe, you can see that that burnout will be even more topical and more of an issue because of their isolation. And the scary thing about isolation is we're becoming more and more isolated at work than we ever have been before. And this once again, talks to the importance of creating psychological trust and safety where people can show up and be themselves at work. I think that's really important. And once again, it comes back to later that the tone is set by the leader.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 16:54
Yeah. And so why do you think that is? Why are we becoming more and more isolated?
Suzi McApline 17:03
Well, there's a lot of different causes, I think we're more connected than we ever have been before, certainly with social media, I look at my teenage daughter, and you know, they're on Snapchat, and you know, tick tock, but I think we are having less and less meaningful, deep face to face relationship, you know, conversations, and I think that's important. I mean, the world is becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And so the pace of work is getting much higher. And so I think that certainly doesn't, that doesn't help. And so there's a myriad of reasons, but I think it becomes even more important to, to really be purposeful about building connection and creating safety.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 17:48
Fantastic. Okay. So we like to always give our listeners a few tips, they can actually take away and put into action straight away, because it's important. I mean, part of the reason for this podcast is, is to have those authentic conversations, but then also give some tools to do away with it. So could you share with us three of your sort of top tips for people in a leadership role, or potentially, you know, somebody just starting to feel like they might be getting towards burnout.
Suzi McApline 18:13
I wrote a blog on my blog, the leaders digest just when COVID came and play here in New Zealand, and I think it's a really good one. It's called working in, it's not mine, it's Steven Covey, came up with this concept of working within your circle of control, not your circle of influence. So there's always going to be things that are beyond our circle of, you know, there are going to be a circle of influence that are affecting us, that are beyond our circle of control. So wherever possible work, what is within my control in the situation, and I talk about how to use that in the book. So I think that's a really good one.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 18:52
Because I overcome that feeling of lack of control, doesn't it? Because if you are trying to change things you can't change, you're going to have that whole experience.
Suzi McApline 19:00
Absolutely. The second one is for leaders, not only for themselves, but certainly when you're looking at what you're taking on in your organisation is to get really clear at priority, you know, prioritising and priorities often work with senior leadership teams. And sometimes, you know, I've heard that the comment, are we working on these 10 priorities this year, and I challenged them, that's an oxymoron. You know, really look at what you are taking on and be super clear about that, and probably reduce your priorities don't work on the nice days. But what is absolutely important, because that's going to have a huge impact on workflow. And the third one is,
Debra Chantry-Taylor 19:41
you have a free to be honest, because I actually think that human beings can't cope with much more than three things. And also, it is a real oxymoron, because the word priority actually was singular. And it's only in more recent times that we've actually created it as a plural. So you know, you can have a priority not necessarily several priorities, but yeah, we can try and get less is more right?
Suzi McApline 20:00
Absolutely, l and if there's a wonderful book you might have read it Debra called Essentialism, eeah, I would, I would definitely recommend that. So we underestimate what we can do in five years. And we often overestimate what we can do on one. So that would be my third. My second tip. And the third one was the one that I talked to you about is being purposeful about building connection have, how are we going conversations, and up your listening skills. I do this for a living. And even I find it really hard to actively listen at times. And so I think leaders can always get better at listening. And I suppose in this online environment is a little bit more difficult as well, right? B
Debra Chantry-Taylor 20:40
Because I think when you're face to face with somebody, there's a lot more visual clues you can pick up on, it's a little bit easier if you're planning tips about how you can do that better online.
Suzi McApline 20:49
Yeah, it's a tricky one. I think we're very fortunate to see London that we have this choice. And I think, certainly, when you're having a meeting, I think, look to the purpose of the meeting, how important is that face to face? You know, connection? Are there other mechanisms to do it that certainly sometimes it's really important to be face to face if we can. But if we can, I think just what we did, before we got on to the actual task at hand, which was our podcast, we connected and just got to know each other.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 21:25
I think that's probably the only thing I've got in that space. That's fantastic. Thank you. Hey, look, we're coming up to the end of the actual podcast now. So I just wanted to say thank you so so much for for coming and joining me I've really enjoyed a meeting you before the podcast, and we're having a chat about your book. Where can people get hold of the book? Because I believe we had a few COVID issues around or getting stuck in port, but it's almost here. Now isn't that so? Where would they get hold of a copy of the book?
Suzi McApline 21:49
I feel sorry for my awesome publishers Penguin Random House. Yes, there's they got stuck on the porch, on the porch. But they're coming out. It's Thanks, COVID. So you can buy the book in all good bookstores in New Zealand, from the 16th of February, which is next Tuesday. But you can pre order by jumping onto my website, I have a burnout page. And if you want to be an early adopter, you can pre order through there. Fantastic. So what is the address of your where they can get that? So if you go to if you go to suzimcalpine.com/burnout. Or if you just go onto the main page and you look for beyond burnout book, you'll see it and that tells you all about the book wise to jiankou and wrote the foreword, where he loved pretty much and of course how you can buy the book.
Debra Chantry-Taylor 22:47
Wow, fantastic. Well look just for the viewers. Again, this is actually the the cover of the book. So look out for that nice, uniform, young yellow orange colour. That Suzy again, thank you so so much, really appreciate it. We'll make sure we've got links on our website and all of the information along with your tips, and I look forward to catching up again soon.
Suzi McApline 23:05
Oh Debra, thank you so much. I've really enjoyed talking to you. Cheers. Thank you