280: Transforming Workplace Stress into a Positive Force, with Dr. Sharon Grossman

September 26, 2023

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Dr. Pelè: 

Hello happy people. Welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr. Pelè with the Profitable Happiness Podcast, and today I have with me Dr Sharon. Now Dr Sharon Grossman is hired by top Fortune 500 companies and their executives to focus on burnout in the workplace. She has a book that is coming out. We're going to talk all about it and I want to know exactly specifically how do we stop this big epidemic called being burned out. Dr Sharon, how are you doing today?

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

I'm doing fantastic. I'm super excited to be here and thank you for having me.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh, that's awesome. That's awesome. Well, you know, as we shared with each other before we started this conversation, I'm really interested in understanding this thing called being burned out, and is this something that's sort of invisible? Is it happening and people aren't aware of it? I would love to know exactly what the challenge is in organizations around this topic of stress.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Yeah, you know there are so many challenges and we could talk about this for days, so I'm going to give you the condensed version, and that is that burnout can be invisible in some people, because it's not something that is either on or off. It's not like you have it or you don't have it. I like to talk about it from the perspective of think of like a stress burnout continuum. And we all have stress, but when we're talking about stress related to burnout, we're actually talking about chronic stress. So this is very different from acute stress. These are the kinds of things that you're faced with day in and day out and they really take a toll on you, and so you're getting a little bit stressed out and you're getting a little bit more stressed out, and maybe there's an accumulation of things or maybe it's the accumulation of that thing over time, and you're going down that continuum closer and closer to burnout. And so there's you know you could be, quote unquote burned out light, where you're only starting to see some things happening and you're not even aware of the fact that you're in burnout territory. And that's really why I do these shows, because I, like I made it my mission to go out there and educate people on what to look out for, because the idea is, the sooner you can catch it, the sooner you can start implementing things to hope you get out of it, so that you don't continue to go further down that continuum. You know, and what I found when I was starting to learn about burnout and I listened to my clients with a different ear I started hearing them actually be burned out from the way they were describing what was going on without ever using the word, and so then I would say to them you know, it sounds like you're burned out and say, oh yeah, that makes sense, right? And so I think it's really important for us to know what it is so that we can catch it and start then figuring out what to do about it.

Dr. Pelè: 

You know it's interesting because when you use the words burnout, I wonder if there are people who wonder what that impact is. You know, at the bottom line or the pocketbook, I've heard of things like you know, companies spend about $300 billion annually on stress management alone. You know it's like some crazy numbers. What are the negative impacts of this concept of being burned out, both at an individual level and as at an organization level?

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Well, actually, the $300 billion thing that you, the statistic that you shared, isn't how much organizations are spending, it's what burnout is costing them.

Dr. Pelè: 

Ooh.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Right, and so that is actually one of the implications. It's that when we don't have the right things in place as an organization, as a company, this is what is costing us annually and we're talking global numbers, right, this isn't like one, obviously not one company is paying that but it is costing us in productivity and health care costs, because you're you know, burnout also manifests. It manifests physically, emotionally, mentally, like. It manifests in a lot of different ways. So you have employees who are suffering, who are struggling, who are not able to live up to their full potential because they're just out of juice, and it's costing you because you're not just paying their salaries now, but now they are. There's more people that have to take time off to recover. There are people who show up to work and you know that's what we call like present T is right, like where they're there but not there.

Dr. Pelè: 

But not there yeah.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Yeah, it's like lowered morale, like all of these things that create this toxic work culture where people are just kind of getting by there in survival mode. They're just there to kind of show their face and check the box, and the truth of the matter is no business is gonna thrive with that kind of a workplace, right? So if people are unhappy I know this is like about your your podcast is all about profitable happiness. It ties in very well If people are unhappy, you're not going to be profitable Bottom line right. So so there's huge implications for organizations, but there's also huge implications for the individual, and when I wrote my first book on burnout, it was really to this was back in 2018. So I started doing some research on the topic and in 2020, I was just about to publish it and then COVID happened and I thought to myself well, no, I can't publish this book now because everybody's working from home, and my book was for the employee that's working for a company and is feeling like there's all this stuff happening that's causing them to feel this way. And at that time, when I started the research in 2018, really the only books on burnout that were out there were books that were talking about organizational change, which is really important. But we all also know how much bureaucracy is in these organizations, how slow they are to make these changes, if at all. So I thought to myself well, what if I'm the employee? I can't sit around and wait for them to make some sort of a change. So I wanted my book to be, for those people is like what can you do to empower yourself? Right, and so that's so I anyway. So fast forward, about six months into COVID, everybody was burned out, like it was the hot topic of COVID, and so I was like, well, even though you're working from home, like you got, you need this book. So then I released it and it's called the seven e solution to burnout, and so that really takes you through like a whole process of the kinds of skills in the mindset that can really be helpful to you when you're quote unquote stuck in that burnout place. Yeah, so there's, burnout can look like a lot of different things. It happens for different reasons to different people. We said there's more like light versions and heavier versions of it, depending on where you are on the spectrum. So it's a very complex animal and obviously a lot of ramifications both for the individual and companies.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, yeah, no, and you know you mentioned earlier actually that you made it your mission to go research, to combat, to help all around this topic of burnout and stress in organizations. If I may ask you, how and why? What's your story? How did you get here?

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

So it's actually a funny thing because I'm the only person in my space who's got this kind of a story, because everybody else who I've met who is doing this burnout work is doing so because they've gone through that hero's journey where they were burned out and then they recovered and now they want to help other people and there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, I think that's actually a beautiful thing, yeah, and I'm really glad that those people are out there in the world. My story is different in that what happened for me was I. So I was studying psychology and I was in grad school and I attended the American Psychological Association's annual conference one year and there was a psychologist there presenting on burnout in private practice, right. So he was talking about how, when you see patient after patient, you are more likely to burn out because you're also not working in a team and you're isolated, et cetera. And I remember thinking to myself well, that doesn't apply to me because you know I'm not going into private practice. So fast forward, I graduate from school and I start working for a nonprofit and I'm there for a number of years and I kind of reached a ceiling. So I get to this point in my career, where it was like you're either going to do the same thing forever and probably never make more money, or the only opportunity they had for me was to go into management and I was like I didn't go to school for all these years to like sit in meetings and talk about data or whatever, like I want to work with people, you know. So I start looking outside for where am I going next? And I realized that what I wanted did not exist in terms of a job opportunity, right. I was very much driven by one value, which is lifestyle. I wanted to have a career, but also have time for my family and have time for me, and I didn't want to be commuting for an hour and a half in traffic and I didn't want to go on bridges and bridges or tunnels and things like that. So I was just like I want my people, I want to be able to be impactful, I want to also then be able to cut out and go and pick up my kids and make dinner and do all the things that you do outside of work. And that's when I was like I got to start a private practice, right. So now it's like years later, but I remembered that session from the conference and I thought, okay, well, if I'm going to do this, I have to do it smarter. So then I got an office that was walking distance from my gym and I scheduled my patients so that I would see a batch of them in the morning. I take a really long break, go to the gym, work out, have lunch and then see my afternoon batch of patients and then cut out, go home and deal with like, my personal life. But really so the thing that I thought was really important is, when you work all day and you don't have a scheduled time that you're going to go exercise or do whatever it is you need to do for your own self care, you kind of run out of time, right, because you're busy taking care of everybody at work and then you're busy taking care of everybody at home and you're always living in this idea of when I have time, then I'll exercise, then I'll meditate, then I'll do whatever it is, and that just like never happens. Like when do we have extra time? Like never, right. So I really just wanted to bake it into my day and that allowed me to make sure that I'm on top of my game.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, I have to say it is interesting having it in the middle of the day. I try to get my exercise in in the morning, and that's when I'm most alert, and then I double up the exercise with a kind of thinking not meditation, but a thinking process. So I don't listen to music or anything when I'm out jogging or walking, I just think. So that's my style, but anyway it's in the morning. Is that a good strategy to have it in the morning, or is it better in the middle of your day, like you do?

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

It really just depends on the person and like in that circumstance it just kind of like how I did it then, given what was going on in my life. Now I do it in the morning and I think for most people that's probably the best time, because you've got the most energy in the morning. You want your sharpest in the morning, so you want to start your day being active, getting all your juice kind of up and ready, and then dive into your work when you're really sharp, and then in the afternoon you want to just do the things that require less of you. So that's a great time to check emails and do those things that don't require a lot of creativity and things like that. So yeah, I think, but as long as you can do it like some people do it after work right, yeah they'll do it after dinner, they'll go for a long walk or whatever. As long as you're doing it and it works for you. That's great, it's not like a long way to do it.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, it's almost. It's something you have to figure out as far as what fits in and works best, but just get it done. Dr Sharon, if we could go a little deeper into this topic of burnout and the ideas of stress in terms of how you help people and organizations address these things. You know a lot of people want to learn something, they want to walk away with something, and you know, one of the things that you've shared with me that I think is just brilliant is that the idea that stress is actually not the enemy. Tell us about that perspective and then lead us into how you help us use stress to create the results we want.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Yeah, the reason I focus on this particular point is because number one, as we said, it is stress that when it's chronic, becomes burnout right. So we have to be able to break, burnout down into a. Why do we get burned out? And it's because of stress. Now, stress in and of itself isn't the same for everybody. Stress really has to deal with our perception, right, because and we know that, because if two different people are in the exact same situation, one might be stressed out and the other isn't. So we know, you know, a lot of times we say it's like those external things, it's you know, I've had, I've had people say to me why should I have to work on my mindset when it's them? That's the problem. It's my job, it's my boss, it's my industry, it's all the things that live out there that I don't have control over. And I'm here to tell you that, first of all, that is not what's causing you stress. It's how you think about those things that causes you stress. But that's that's going even deeper. Let's, let's take it one step back. So sometimes you notice yourself being stressed and then you have a thought about that and you say to yourself this isn't good, like stress is going to kill me, stress is bad for me, stress is going to make me burned out. Now that you've listened to this, right, and here's the truth. The truth is that our beliefs about stress also can make a difference in our experience. So when we believe that stress is bad, not only are you stressed about whatever your circumstances, but now you've got an added layer of stress and essentially is you know the way we would describe it is you're stressing about being stressed, right? So you're adding this extra layer that is only hurting you. The other side of that is that stress can actually be a really good thing and if you can focus on the benefits of stress, then you can actually leverage stress to your benefit. So I'll give you an example of what I mean. We've all had situations where we have the unexpected kind of show up and we are programmed to really be in certainty. Like we, our brain does not like uncertainty. So when COVID happened, so many people freaked out because they were like I don't know what to do, like this is new. I was supposed to be, you know, working from a, an office, and now I'm like at home. Or you know, my kids are supposed to be at school and now I'm supposed to be homeschooling them, right, like everything changed.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

And I had. At the time I was still in my therapy practice and I had patients who some of them were totally anxious, totally freaked out. And then I had other people where I saw how they were looking at this as an opportunity and they exploded their business or they started a new business and they, you know, they did. I mean you see all these people who were like on Etsy making masks.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

They didn't know they were going to end up doing that, but what happened was they saw an opportunity and they ran with it, right. And the people that were freaking out and stressing out because things were different than they had normally been used to, those were the people that, if they don't figure it out and sometimes it just takes us a little, it takes us a minute right. It's like what is happening, this discombobulated, and sometimes we just need that minute to kind of get reoriented. But when you can't adapt and that's true for business as well, we saw that with you know the famous example is like with Blockbuster and Netflix and like, right, if you cannot adapt to the new situation, to the future, then you're going to get left behind.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

You know, as opposed to the people who ran with the situation and they saw it as an opportunity. They were making money hand over fist, right, they were like a whole other revenue stream all of a sudden, because I'm like making masks for people or whatever. Yeah, I mean that's just a small example, but I mean I saw all kinds of examples like that during COVID. I was getting emails from plumbers and they were like you know, even though you're not in the office, like, you still have a toilet, do you need a plumber? Right, they recognized that certain services were going to be just as relevant and that we needed reminding that you're at home now. Maybe you're using your toilet more than you normally would because you're out all day. If you have a problem with your toilet, don't worry, we're here to take care of it. I mean another small example, right, but I mean there's so many situations like that. I'm sure everyone here who's listening can figure out a situation that's happened where it was completely out of the blue, unexpected, and maybe something's going on right now in your life where there's a health scare, where you're worried about the security of your job, whatever it is right. You know, I've had clients who have had children born with disabilities, or they've lost their babies and they're dealing with the stress of that situation. I mean, there are so many things. Life is full of surprises, life is full of ups and downs, and some of those things are really heavy. Right, it's our job to figure out how to manage our brain, because that's what's going to create that added layer of stress. And if we are really stressed, then how do we talk to ourselves about that? What do we think about? That is also really important, and so I want you to think about whatever's going on in your life right now and you're seeing it as a threat, maybe because you feel like you don't have control over it maybe because it's the unexpected, maybe something that you wouldn't have asked for. How can you see that as a challenge? How can you rise to the occasion? Because think about how many things have happened to you in your life that you would have never asked for and yet, when you look back, it's made you the person you are today, and you wouldn't change it for the world.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know, you know it's interesting. I like the your use of the word challenge, because challenge actually could have two different meanings it could be a problem or it could be a challenge to solve a problem. An opportunity, yeah, an opportunity, rather. Yes. I remember when someone said never call things problems, only call them challenges, because that's how you leverage them for the better. How would you apply some of your research and the things you've written about in your book, the 7E solution, and in the upcoming book that you're working on, to organizations? So, let's say, I'm a leader at an organization, I have a team of people and of course you know we're all experiencing burnout. Are there things from the perspective of a leader that you might advise? Maybe the 7E solution, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I don't know.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Well, you know, even I think one of the biggest problems is we, as you did. You know you talk about how can leaders help with people who are in their teams and they're burned out. What we're sometimes forgetting is that even those leaders burnout, so we have to start at the top. We have to start at the top, with the leaders and say if you're burned out, we got to help you figure out how to manage your own stress, how to get out of this place of burnout. What is missing for you? Why are you here in the first place? If you can learn the skills and the mindsets that are required for you to show up to work and not feel this way and instead be like totally in your power, then we can talk about management skills and leadership skills and how that can trickle down into the people that you're leading. If you don't know how to manage your own stress, how are you going to lead the people on your team and help them manage their stress? That's pretty well impossible. It's just it's really hard to teach somebody something you don't even know, and we also lead through role modeling. So if you're not dealing with your stress very well, without even saying a word to your team, you are showing them that you're stressed out, that you're maybe behind on schedule, that maybe you're yelling at them, maybe you're impatient, maybe there's all these things that you wouldn't be showing up in this way if you were managing yourself better. So I think it starts with helping these leaders. This is why I work with a lot of executives, because I feel like it's important to start at the top, help them get to the other side and when they do, there's so much less internal pressure. Like I said, a lot of times, when we think about burnout, we think about all those things that are out there and like how do you expect me to not feel this way when I've got these deadlines and all this responsibility and all these people I'm supposed to manage? We can easily fall into that trap and while it's true that there are always going to be things that are outside of your control, what is also true is that when you learn to handle situations by I mean, this could be the way that you think about things, so that's your perception. It could be about whether you're you know, if you're a perfectionist letting go of that and allowing delegation to happen so that you don't have as much on your plate, that there's so many things that come into play that you do have control over, and that when we start to tap into those, you're going to see how much of a difference it makes, even in the face of those circumstances that are outside of your control. So we're never going to have 100% control of the things that are going on around us, but we have so much impact when we are in control of our minds and are able to show up more powerfully and then not be kind of taken down by those external things that we can't control.

Dr. Pelè: 

I think, just the idea that a leader could sit down on her chair and, for once, say, hey, I got this gift. This gift is called stress and I'm going to use this gift to change everything in our organization for the better. I think that's a great starting point. I love that, dr Sharon, if we could switch topics a little bit and focus on the idea of happiness, the idea of what I like to call profitable happiness, which is not just the regular rah, rah, pleasure seeking happiness, but rather the kind of happiness that leads to deeper engagement and people really finding meaning in their work. How does stress sort of align with that, or maybe not align with that? What's the relationship between your work and happy employees producing profitable companies?

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Yeah, it's a really excellent question and I think it's one that companies should be thinking about. I know a lot of times when I talk about these concepts, I hear people say, well, nobody cares, like what companies really care about is their bottom line, which might be true, but you can't get there, Unfortunately, by the way. Yes, Well it's kind of like even if that's true, then you have to reverse engineer it. And you're like so how do I get to profitability Right, which is really where a lot of your work comes in too. It's like well, you've got to have happy employees. Okay, let's reverse engineer that. How do we get happy employees? And it's all the things that are the opposite of what leads to burned out employees, okay. So a really simple thing that doesn't cost anything but can make such an impact and such a difference in your employee's well-being and their engagement level, which then translates into productivity, which translates into your bottom line, is how appreciated or recognized or acknowledged they feel in the workplace. So, if you are a manager, sometimes all it takes is sending an email and saying great job. Everybody Like you know you got the stuff done on time. I know it was tough, but you all pulled your weight and I'm so proud. Sometimes, just like a small thing like that is huge, because you don't know the impact your words have on your employees. You don't know what it's like to work so hard and, at the end of the day, crickets. Because you're like really and it's not just the crickets, it's also that you feel like as soon as you finish the thing that you've been working on so hard, they then come and say to you well, don't just stand around, go do 12 other things right. And then you feel like they're just milking you as much as they can. Because again, you've got people who are or companies, rather that have that short-sightedness about their company culture. They don't have that cultural foresight that is needed. They need to think about how do I have a sustainable workplace culture, or what I like to call an irresistible workplace, right? So how do you create that irresistible workplace? It's by creating the kind of culture that takes care of your employees, that leads them to that place of happiness, of contentness, where they're, like, so excited to work for you because they feel taken care of, because they feel cared about. And again, it can be little things. It can be little things, like I know, sometimes in some companies, especially like the super, you know, like the Fortune 500, you know we talk about bonuses at the end of the year.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yep.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

And while I think it's nice that we get bonuses, I also think that it becomes and I'm going to give you a little analogy which I think is actually really funny it becomes something that they expect, and I've had, I've had clients who expect the bonus and then they maybe don't get as much as they thought they were going to get. So now they're stressing about the bonus, which is kind of like ridiculous, right? But I'll give you an example. So my son just lost his tooth and he was like so what are you going to give me? Right? And it's like he's already expecting it because he knows at this point you know hopefully there's no children listening we're not going to spoil it. But spoiler alert, there's no tooth fairy. So while he was little, you know, he didn't know. So he would wake up and there'd be something and be like oh my God, the tooth fairy left that. Right now that he's older and he knows that there's no such thing, the expectation is there. Yeah. And number one it takes a lot of the excitement out of the process for me, like it takes the magic out of it, because now not only is he expecting it, but he's now asking his friends what do you get? And then you're like, and then he's like well, you only gave me $5 and my friends get like $100 or whatever you know. And I'm like who gives their kid $100? And I was like, why would you're 10, you know? And I thought like that was really cool. Like I gave him five bucks, like whatever. So it's like now not only is that expectation there, but he can't appreciate whatever I give him, because now he's doing the comparison thing, which is kind of like the person saying well, last year I got this much for my bonus or my colleague got that much for their bonus and I only got this. So now you're getting this extra thing which is supposed to be like an appreciation token, and it's become this thing that you're really negative about. I just you know. So we have to find other other ways, ways that are unexpected, ways that show us continuous living, not through monetary means per se, that you didn't forget about us as employees, that you care, that you're, you're recognizing us, because, at the end of the day, what we all want is to be heard, to be seen and to be understood. And so if you can show me that you see how hard I work, you appreciate the effort that I'm putting in. You're not there to scold me about maybe I had to take time off because I had to go take my kid to the doctor, or you know, like you're not letting the little things get in the way but you're looking at the big picture and you're having this more comprehensive approach to me as a human, not as a robot Then I'm going to love working for you and it's really, at the end of the day, it's about that relationship. So if I feel connected to you and I'm like my manager has my back, yeah Then that's where the loyalty comes in. And if I'm loyal to you, I will do everything to make sure that this company is profitable. I will make sure that I do my best work because I care about what this company stands for, because that manager maybe not isn't like the founder of that company but, they're representative of that company.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, no, you will not believe. You've pretty much written my whole book and my software and all the things that I've worked on right there and that little explanation so powerful, and I appreciate that link. I think you said it earlier All the things that can help you alleviate stress are actually the same things that can help you grow your sense of satisfaction and happiness, and it's really two sizes the same coin, dr Sharon. What are you working on right now? What are you excited about? I know that you've got a book coming out. Tell us about that and tell us how we can connect with you on social media to learn more.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Happy to. So you know, when I wrote my burnout book, it's really like a manifesto. It's like 400 plus pages, because I put everything that I ever taught any of my clients, and then some from like 20 years of experience, into that book. So I just poured it all in. But I also realized that it was a little much for people. It's like no one's going to sit there and read and it's like a media. So I decided to do the exact opposite for this next book, and this book is about how stress can be leveraged as a positive, and so I created about the shortest book you can find on the subject, because I wanted people to be able to grasp these concepts as quickly as possible and be able to run with them, and so it's called the stress advantage lessons from the tennis court. And what I did there, which is really fun, is when I was taking tennis lessons, I took notes about what my coach would say and I would say you know, you could totally spin this and think about how this applies to the workplace, and so I decided to take my notes and create this story that you can consume. It's, again, very short, you could do it in one sitting, and so that you can find on Amazon. By the time this episode launches, it should be up so. So that's what I've been working on and I'm super excited about that and sharing that. And where you can find me? I'm most active on LinkedIn, so if you go to LinkedIn, you can find me there under Sharon Grossman. I am the burnout doc, and really all the other goodies that I have for you are on my website, which is DrSharanGrossmancom. We've got a lot of freebie things related to burnout. So if you're thinking about, well, am I burned out? You know what do I do? I've got a burnout checklist you can download for free. I've got a weekly newsletter that I share every everything new that I've done for the week. You know I have a blog and the podcast episodes. By the way, my podcast is Decode your Burnout and we're going to have Dr Pallee on there soon, so check that out as well. So, yeah, for all the things that I do speaking training it's all on the website DrSharanGrossmancom.

Dr. Pelè: 

Awesome, and once you get your new book back from the publishers or from Amazon, please send us a link and we will have that included in the show notes for this episode. Drsharan, it has been a pleasure learning from you and getting to know you. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Profitable Happiness Podcast.

Dr. Sharon Grossman: 

Thank you so much for having me. It's been amazing.

Dr. Pelè: 

Thanks for tuning in to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. For more episodes, visit DrPalleecom. And remember get happy first and success will follow.