Episode 6
Episode 6
When Passion Meets Burnout with Jennifer Moss

When Passion Meets Burnout with Jennifer Moss

In this episode of Leading From The Front, Mathilde is joined by award-winning author and journalist Jennifer Moss, who's an expert on happiness and wellbeing in the workplace. They talk about why high-performers get burnt out and what they can do to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.

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Mathilde Collin Hi, everyone, I'm Mathilde Collin, co-founder and CEO of Front. Over the years I've shared my journey as a leader and a founder, and everything I've learned so far has been by talking to people that are more experienced and wiser than me. And this is what I'm doing today. Today, I'm here with Jennifer Moss, an award-winning journalist, author and international public speaker about preventing burnout. Jennifer, thanks so much for hopping on with me today.

Jennifer Moss Yeah. Thank you so much for having me and looking forward to the conversation. 

Mathilde Collin I'm so much looking forward to it as well. So, Jennifer, you're known as an expert in happiness and workplace workplace well-being, two topics I'm passionate about, and you've even authored a book about it called Unlocking Happiness at Work, in addition to writing many articles for many large publications. So I'm curious, is there a moment in time that first drove your interest in the intersection between happiness and work? And if so, what was it?

Jennifer Moss You know, it's really interesting, so I've been working in communications around here and well-being and just all of the things that impact the workplace and the future work for for a long time. And then, you know, I was living in Silicon Valley doing that work. And my husband, who is a pro athlete or was at the time, he's retired now, but he went at the time he ended up becoming acutely paralyzed. Interestingly, right now, as we're speaking, it was from the swine flu epidemic and he got very sick. And so one of the things that we learned right off was that he wasn't going to walk again. And the thing when you're in that moment, you sort of just reset all your priorities, right. And so it wasn't about anything like rebounding, going back to playing. It was just getting through it and walking again. But athletes tend to have this sort of superpower. And that's why I think we study leadership through the lens of sports psychology, because so many of the traits of early identified high performers are found in that capacity to overcome. And Jim walked out of that hospital after six weeks. And what it really taught us was that it was gratitude. It was hopefulness, it was mindset. It was emotional flexibility. It was all of these precursors to post-traumatic growth that are developed in young people when their identifies high performers. And so we went on to really try to figure out how that applies across a larger scale. How do we develop psychological fitness and people in the workplace? How do we make sure that they're prepared for really big events or stressors? And the reason why it was work was because I learned a stat early on that we spend 50 percent of our waking hours at work in our lifetime. And so what a better place to have interventions than in a place that we're spending so much of our waking hours. And that's sort of what led me to being where I'm at today.

Mathilde Collin I first I'm sorry, and I'm also very happy that he got better. One of the things that I've read from you and I think you read this in the Harvard Business Review, is that the saying "if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life" is a myth. And so I'd be curious to understand from you why you think this sentence or this belief can be dangerous.

Jennifer Moss So first off, I'm passion-driven person and I love what I do, but are there a lot of times in the day that I feel like I'm working, you know? Absolutely. Do I have a hard time putting on the self care hat on me? Yes, because I love what I do. And highly engaged, high performing people also tend to have perfectionist concerns and where they're driven and so they don't take care of themselves. They can be engaged and yet burnt out. And so one of the important aspects to that is that we can have harmonious passion. We can be really well fueled by our work where we love it. And passion and purpose and meaning in our work is actually a prophylaxis to burn out. It's just that it needs to be managed and needs to be moderated and considered and labeled so that we can be better at diagnosing it. So, yes, you can have passionate people and purpose driven people and they can be burned out. 

Mathilde Collin That makes sense. So now, knowing that one of your beliefs and tell me if I'm wrong, is that the the responsibility, the responsibility for preventing burnout is moving more towards organizations and individuals. And so I'm curious. I'm I'm a leader. So many leaders are going to listen to you. And what are your recommendations for leaders to prevent burnout from being a big part of their organization?

Jennifer Moss So absolutely. And we've looked at burnout for a long time as an individual problem to solve, you know, just do more self care. And you do. And a lot of organizations actually have had well-being strategies that sort of focus in on that sort of the life on site culture or there's perks with Heart of Business gym memberships and yoga and all of these things, which are really actually great. Don't do away with any of those things. They're excellent, but it's understanding that they're really for people that are pretty well and that's helping them to optimize their wellbeing. When we're talking about mental illness, I mean, these are things that can't necessarily be solved just by individual health care. These are things that potentially are systemic. It could be overwork. It could be people not being able to talk to their manager at a point where they're feeling burned out or they're seeing the symptoms of burnout. It's about fairness and equity and dealing with some root causes that are sort of beyond even just the organizational level and social structures that we need to battle. And so, again, I don't think it's just an individual problem or an organizational problem. It's just it's a whole entire "we" problem to solve. And so when leaders are looking as a first step in trying to prevent burnout, I really try to encourage looking at this from micro steps. It's just a change that's going to take a long time. And so let's start small. I really strongly suggest a Friday meeting where we ask these three questions, and that is, is this week particularly stressful? Why or why not? So what were the things that helped you to feel motivated? What was good about this week? What was really stressful about this week? And what can I do as a manager or leader to make next week better? How do I support you in your in your amazing optimism and all the great things that you feel good about this week? What can I also do for those of you who are feeling extremely stressed. That checking in part is where really is the secret sauce. Because it's consistently checking in. If it's looking for language like "I'm tired all the time", repeated themes of people feeling cynical, like they can't change. You know, it's really getting to the root of those problems way further upstream than tackling them when someone is actually taking long term disability for being burnt out.

Mathilde Collin Yeah, that makes sense. And to be very tactical here, would you recommend a manager, chickens, checks in live like a one on one or just sends an email weekly asking these questions that, you know, the person can answer?

Jennifer Moss We should have both in-person check ins and team meetings. So what's really important is for teams to actually talk openly and feel safe in talking to each other. So we need to have one on ones where these questions are asked, but we need to talk about how we as a team can collaboratively support each other, because often we live in a silo and it's the team dynamic that actually causes burnout to lack of community. And feeling like we're not bonded as a team is a predictor for burnout, too. So it's always just the individual burnout. But it also makes sure that we're feeling like we're destigmatizing workplace stress and feeling anxiety about whatever it is that we're dealing with, that week. That we can share that as a team together. 

Mathilde Collin And should the manager also answer the question in front of their team?

Jennifer Moss Absolutely. One hundred percent. Leaders need to model the behavior that's absolutely critical to change any culture. So if you are a manager that's saying go and take this really great course that H.R. is offering, but you never attend, if you're saying answer emails, don't answer emails after six. But I will. Don't answer emails on vacation, but I will. All of those behaviors make people feel like that's a lack of trust. Why would I do that? I can't be what I can't see. So all of their behaviors as leaders translate into an ecosystem sort of contagion approach where we all start thinking and behaving in similar ways.

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