How to Avoid Burnout When Your Job Is to Make People Happy

Burn out isn’t new and other thoughts after working in a virtual office for one year

This post is part of a series about working in Internal Operations with a focus on events, bonding and culture.

A few years back I started a secret nightly routine I code named: Goddess Hour. A ritualistic closing down the day ceremony consisting of stretching, journaling and lighting candles and staring into the flames (magic!). I wasn’t sleeping well at the time and needed something to zip up the day to recenter my mind, body and soul so that I could actually fall asleep.

At the time I was working on a pressing events project and became so manic over to do lists and priorities and trying to fit it all in that I was neglecting myself, my self care and self love. When you work in people facing positions, especially in events, your body language always has to be turned on and your priorities are in a constant give and take over other peoples requests and their priorities.

And while things have gone virtual, there are still so many of us in Internal Operations that are feeling burnt out during the pandemic without the added in person interactions and/or running around (if you are like me and also run facilities within your office). And feeling burnt out isn’t new to teams like ours where our roles can sometimes feel very “customer service.” When everyone you work with has an opinion or an issue that needs to be filtered into solutions.

We give so much of our passion and so much of ourselves in service of the joy and happiness of others that it becomes essential to give back to ourselves.

So I ask you, what are you doing for YOU lately?

Like the flight attendant telling you to put on your mask first before you help those around you, this is your overhead speaker telling you right now, prioritize yourself first! Then we can chat in the coming weeks about crushing it at your job once you refill your cup up.

Start and End your day with YOU

  1. Start: When you wake up, don’t check work email or messages. This will send you into flight mode, revving up your cortisol levels. You may use your phone for an alarm, but let it end there. What can you do for yourself an hour before you sign into work? What is something that brings you joy? When you start the day with exercise, a hobby, meditation, your loved ones, nature etc, you are signaling to yourself that you respect and prioritize yourself and your time. This puts you in a place to be productive and strategic for the work day to come!
  2. End: I could literally copy and paste the above paragraph and just say this, end the day with you. Don’t be checking email or your phone. And if there is a lot swirling around in your mind, write all the thoughts down on paper. Looking at screens and phones before bedtime stymies your melatonin production, keeping you in a cycle of restlessness and over thinking. If you have stress related to action items for tomorrow, make a list on paper and/or write down your worries or fears. The goal is to get them out of your head where they can be held for safe keeping until you can address them in the morning.

Just put out a blog piece on how you can close down the day using Goddess Hour!

Prioritize YOUR Projects

Last week during a coaching session, I had an epiphany. When you are tasked with projects from other people, you get a small dopamine hit from helping them and fulfilling that promise. However, when you work on things for yourself, there is less of an instantaneous hit of joy, especially if the thing you are working on is a long term project or goal. The dopamine hit of being at everyone else’s service at all times, however, can also lead to spikes in stress and doubt which, inevitably, will bring you to burn out.

So what can you do about it? Just like starting your waking day with yourself, your dreams, your goals and your appreciation for your personal life, start your work day in a similar fashion. Begin the day with a projects that require deep work. When you get the big things out of the way, it is okay when you inevitably start getting Slack/email/meeting requests. Because you will know you have already gotten a chunk of work done before other peoples priorities start bombarding you. This will set you up for success on your long term career goals and something that will give you energy back to then be of service to others.

Turn off Notifications

Do you need to be notified every single time a new email or message comes through? Is the fact that your phone is pinging you constantly really helping your sanity? Sometimes it can feel like you need to be on call at all times of the day because people will message you at all times of the day.

But when you consciously remove those notifications (Think: Email, slack, social media, texts), you actually allow yourself the space to think, in 3D world and address your phone/laptop when it suits you and your priorities. If you are always available, you train other people to continue the behavior of messaging you at any hour at any time.

Also, as a side note, I was thinking how it isn’t just about notification, but also those red dots that are outside of your texts, slacks and email apps on your phone (iphone). Have you ever seen someone that has a red icon next to their email app that says “2351” in red… I mean, I hurt for them. Is this you? Tell me the truth! Ok well if this is you, we will help you get rid of that anxiety inducing number immediately (see email section below).

Slack

Slack Reminders: If you get people pinging you all the time with questions and asks, but you don’t have the time to answer them in the moment, those messages can easily get forgotten in the cascade of priorities. Enter: Slack reminders!

This is what you can do: Hover over the message that was sent in the Slack conversation >> you will see an icon box appear>>Choose “…” >>Click on “Mark unread” or “Remind me later.” This will then allow you to read what the person said later on without forgetting about it because you will have the notification set up! Set it and forget it!

Set a status: Get ahead of people contacting you when you are away by always setting an away message status. “In a meeting” “Driving” “At the grocery store” Then you don’t have to worry that a message came through and someone is waiting on your to respond. They will see you are busy.

Change your Slack Name: Go into your profile and update your full name in Slack (temporarily) as then it will be even more obvious you are away because your name will change in the conversation side bar at all times with people you speak with regularly . This is a good practice for when you are out for the day or longer.

Example: Nikki Herzog (OOO April 10–16th)

I am literally taking those dates off to mitigate further burnout. Oh did I say, I am maybe writing this article for me as much as you!?

Slack Channels: Is it possible to mute some of the less important channels? When I see a new channel light up, I intuitively feel the need to check in on it and I inevitably get distracted and am like: Wait, what was I just doing before this? But when you “mute” you don’t get notifications, or the bolded text that the channel is alive and well. But you can still check in on it when you feel like it because you haven’t officially left it. How to mute: hover your curser over the channel in the left hand tool bar >> left click>>bar drops down>> Click “mute”

Email

When you open up your email, do you feel energized? I am going to take a wild guess and say for the majority of you the answer is no. I spend a lot of my time in my email inbox and I know so many other people in Internal Ops do as well. It can literally be a source of stress to see those bolded subject lines flowing through if you don’t have a good organizational system. Email automatically puts you on someone else’s agenda and adds more tasks to your to do list.

Here are just a few nuts and bolts to get you started:

  • Unsubscribe from as many things as possible (personal and professional). The goal is less subject lines even coming in to your view.
  • Inbox Zero: Create folders that you can drag emails into (also known as creating tags). This way you are constantly archiving but now, they wont get lost in your general inbox if your search term isn’t accurate come months later and you are trying to recall a specific email.

Here are some examples of folders I have created:

  • Covid-19: This is where I put all random emails that have to do with navigating office re-opening in 2021 or CDC regulations regarding our business. Or even reading materials on how people are navigating workplace reopening and webinars on the topic.
  • Future Vendors: This is perfect for when a person cold emails me and I kind of know that vendor could be useful when the time is right, but not now, not during a time I have other priorities. It helps future me with projects when I am looking for valuable resources but without clogging my inbox or calendar with vendor pitch meetings. I just go into my folder and see what vendors might work for a certain project or event.
  • Articles to Read: Sometimes people send me great articles, but I don’t have the time to read them. Similar to the future vendors folder, I will email myself the article link and/or archive an existing email that has a link to an article, into this folder. Future me will be happy I have data on something pertaining to my role or a project, but current me will be clutter free until the time is right.

The goal is, how can we minimize the non-essential? We will jump into an email and organizational specific post in the coming months.

Time Chunking

This felt like a natural thing to bring up now which is “time chunking.” Many people use this tactic to fit in deep work. The goal of doing this is to cut out the clutter of anything except the thing you are doing. Therefore you aren’t toggling between tabs, emails and conversations while you are also trying to get important things done.

Example:

7–8am: Check emails, respond, delete or archive (into folders)

8–9am: Women’s History Month project planning

9–9:30am: Respond to all Slack messages, or start Slack messaging people for your own asks.

TLDR: Stop multi-tasking. It feels productive, but it might be hindering your cognitive load and long term memory. You may end up dropping the ball on something else if you are always half paying attention.

Calendaring Priorities

When you are in your calendar, save time slots for yourself. You can create time chunks by putting on your calendar “Swag research and budgeting time” and no one needs to be invited but yourself. And if you add to that title “DNS” aka “Do Not Schedule” it ensures that you don’t get invited to a last minute meeting. Of course sometimes you need to pivot as priorities change. But it’s a great way to set the stage of getting your calendar working for you and not being a source of stress.

Current Events

As an Internal Ops person, you are on the pulse of what is happening with dynamics within your company (culture, morale, interpersonal issues etc) and you are most likely trying to stay up to date on news and trends so that you can be sure you are making decisions that are in line with the reality of the world.

You can end up shouldering a lot. Always trying to know everything at all times is exhausting. It can be part of the role to be in the know, but do you need to be in the know at all times of the day? So one thing I was thinking about was this:

What if you added a 30 minute time chunk to your work hours that was like: catch up on news, trends and articles (maybe those articles in your archived folder!). This will allow your YOU time in the morning and at night, without the endless scroll lifestyle of always having to know things at all times of the day. I bet it will help you sleep better too if you weren’t reading the news right before bed!

Dream Team

Your team is your crew. You work together to make things happen. Where can you be honest with your team about your work load, personal burdens, or things that are bothering you? You may share the wins, but you can also share the realities, especially now!

Utilize your team and their skill sets to set you up for success. Can someone fill in on a task for you? Is there someone on your team that is more of an expert on a certain topic, a topic that maybe you need help diving in deeper with?

Remember that your team is meant to be a supportive structure not just for your organization but also for those that are on the team itself. Lean on each other and be truthful when things are feeling tough.

Taking Time

When I think of time at work I think of it in 2 ways, time at work and time away from work. And it becomes an equation of how you spend your hours, what hours are you working and how much work are you truly getting done within those hours.

The more things you are trying to fit into each day the more likely you are to be burnt out. That sounds obvious.

But maybe your role is just demanding and you know what you signed up for. In that regard, knowing when to take time off, true time away is key.

Though it may not feel like you can take time off in a pandemic because its like “where ya think you’re going!” taking time away from your screen is more important than ever.

Take time off. Turn off your laptop by a certain time. Take breaks in the middle of the day that don’t have to do with your computer screen. These are all things you have to put your foot down about, or no one else will for you. You don’t want to be lead to major burnout in which you feel the only way out is to quit. Unless the issues in your role are slowly killing you… then yes, it might be time to leave a negative situation and begin prioritizing what would bring you the most joy.

Dealing with a Multitude of Personalities

Regardless of where you work, there will always be people that cause you more stress and anxiety than others. The goal is, how can you step outside yourself and realize that this person is just a person with their own issues, agenda, problems in their own life. How are you filtering this through yourself and your own history? Maybe this person doesn’t mean to be a burden or a source of stress. Maybe they themselves are stressed and are forcing it onto you to fix.

It can be tough to step outside yourself to see that, to see that others are struggling with their own issues. The goal is, how to not let something that has a negative association ruin your day. This is something we all deal with and can be major cause of burn out, letting other peoples energies into you.

I wish I could just say: “Don’t take it personal!” “Don’t think of work outside of work!” “You only have one meeting with them a week!” But it never is that easy. We are human and we aim to bring joy and happiness in our roles and when others aren’t happy or ask too much of us, it can be triggering.

This is a larger topic that would need more discussing as these inter-personality management techniques can hinder on the relationship type itself: Manager conversations, inter-team dynamics, feelings about a situation rather than the situation itself, high maintenance team members that are a pressure on your resources and time. The list can continue.

What resources are at your disposal to leverage that extra help you might need?

Difficult conversations: Working with your manager on how to have those conversations. Or attending trainings that are offered by your company to help you. If your company offers coaching or a stipend to use toward extra curricular’s, maybe hiring your own coach is the move. Someone that can walk you through tactics in the workplace.

Feelings/Emotions: This can be putting in the time for mindfulness and meditation. Or it can be honoring yourself and finding a therapist that can help you sort out your feelings about a situation. If something feels unjust in your work place, bringing the conversation to a trusted source to discuss or even going through HR if things get to a place where conversations need to be logged and resolved.

And sometimes, the interpersonal issues aren’t that big of a deal, just part of your day to day and you have a work friend that you can shoot the shit with and end up laughing about it! It all depends on the extremity of your feelings and specific issue at hand.

If you have suggestions or ways that you deal with a mix of personalities and competing priorities that cause you stress in the work place, I would love to hear them! Share in the comments below ❤

Recenter Mid Work Day

Remember those 2pm coffee/beverage runs you used to do with coworkers? Well, treat yourself to something else! Get outside! I am currently living in a place that has true winter and as cold as it is, I get outside. Because to take my eyes off the screen and breath in fresh air is worth the goosebumps and the wind.

What is something you used to do mid work day? What is something you just do for fun? Can you take the time during the work day even just for 30 minutes to do that thing that lights you up in a new way?

Sometimes I’ll just sit somewhere random at home. It might be the floor, the bed, the kitchen, the deck. Anything to change just the smallest thing. A new angle a new perspective to reinvigorate the mind.

Consolidate and Minimize

And to tie up the overarching concept, it really comes down to this. Where can you say no (unnecessary meetings, time sinks, projects not part of your role) and where can you minimize the visual stimulation?

We all have unique home life/work combinations right now. Where can you ask for help, whether on your team or the people you live with? Where can you delegate? Where is there clutter that is bringing you down (even your desk or desktop may have clutter- CONSOLIDATE IT). Get rid of the excess things to look at, so that you aren’t distracted by a million colors, notifications and tabs (these small things can become big things).

Is this post causing you stress because it is now a list of more things to do on your already heavy plate? My advice is this: just spend 10 min each day, touching upon any topic in this article and over time, those stacked 10 minutes a day will lead to a simpler methodology of putting yourself first without having to volcanically erupt after a year of dormancy with: I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Also, this photo series that my coworker Julie Russell shared at work yesterday brought a level of zen that I can not describe!

There are parts of working in Internal Operations that will always be difficult. The goal is to make small protections of yourself and your sanity as we all navigate the complexities of a virtual or even hybrid workforce. Honestly, these hacks will be something I dive into even when we go back to the office :)

I hope to hear how you all take time to protect yourself and your interests in a career path that is very “other people’s happiness” focused! Share in the comments what has helped you stay centered among the frenzy.

Stay strong team, we got this!

Note: These ideas and concepts come from my experience across a multitude of career paths and are opinions based on that lived experience, not just my current role at Medium ❤

People Experience Manager at Medium. Currently writing www.meetingswithcake.com. COMING SOON!