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Servant Leadership as a Response to Crisis

The impact of COVID-19 has greatly endangered our lives and livelihoods as we continue to work our way through what seems like a never-ending cycle of uncertainty and confusion surrounding management of the pandemic. As cases of infection and deaths rise, we’re seeing more clearly the complex ways that the pandemic is affecting   employers and their employees.  It’s important for business leaders to understand that research in terror management shows that increased reminders and exposure to mortality can invoke strong feelings of anxiety, which puts employees’ wellbeing at risk. Workplace performance and employees’ sense of wellbeing are deeply connected.  Business leaders can relieve employee anxiety and uncertainty by learning and demonstrating the characteristics of servant leadership.  Let us explain how.

Unexpected Ways The Pandemic Affects Business 

The impact of the pandemic is a business concern and not just because it takes up so much mental space in employees’ minds. Amid such a crisis, researchers inform us that increased exposure to death and the threat of death may not only trigger anxiety but also activates self-protective behaviors that decreases job engagement (Hu, He, & Zhou, 2020). With millions of Americans working from home and already experiencing increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety, work performance is at high risk of being negatively affected by this exposure to death. Decreased work performance can be seen as a form of withdrawal caused by a decrease in devotion to work physically, emotionally and cognitively. This may lead to lower productivity, distractions and low motivation to work.

How Servant Leadership Can Help Employees Navigate Anxiety and Retain Work Engagement

Within the workplace, just as in our larger society, leaders play an essential role in guiding people in times of crisis to reduce anxiety and for business leaders to promote work performance and customer service. They can adopt the leadership approach coined in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay, The Servant as Leader. Servant leadership is defined as a leader who prioritizes the needs of employees and stakeholders within the community by promoting the fulfillment of others’ needs, attention to emotional suffering, and empowerment (Hu, He, Zhou, 2020). A recent study on the relationship of COVID-19 related anxiety and job engagement revealed that higher rates of servant leadership promoted job engagement (Hu, He, Zhou, 2020). Servant leaders are especially important in times of crisis as their skills are valued in keeping anxious workers engaged in the workplace. Servant leaders aid in providing workers with a stable psychological resource, such as the feeling of  purpose and meaning in life by encouraging others to consider our shared humanity in reducing the destructive effects of a crisis.

Be Attentive to the Emotional Needs of Employees

To do so, servant leaders must be attentive to and acknowledging of employees’ emotional needs in order to shape employees’ responses to a major crisis. Rather than a top-down, leader-first approach, servant leaders tend to be more effective in leading from the bottom and placing importance on the promotion of growth within employees – in this case by reducing the negative influences of anxiety caused by the ongoing pandemic that is killing 1,000 Americans per day.

Provide Affirmation of Their Confidence in Employees

In addition to connecting with and empathizing with employee concerns, servant leaders should provide affirmation of their confidence in their employees. When employees feel that their leaders care about their wellbeing, most will feel more valued in the workplace and most will be more willing to invest in their work roles. Added resources for employees and autonomy in remote working is also crucial in reducing the negative influences of employee anxiety on their job engagement and performance.

Focus on the Broader Community

Lastly, servant leaders also focus on the broader community. By creating a work culture that inspires employees to serve the community outside of their work, leaders help to deepen their sense of our common humanity and connectedness. When individuals feel a deepened sense of humanity and community, their attention is more likely to be directed towards action to alleviate others’ suffering as well as to be better teammates in the workplace.

Prioritize the Wellbeing of Employees

As we continue to navigate through the global pandemic, companies should continue to prioritize the wellbeing of employees to ensure work engagement. Utilizing techniques of servant leadership to recognize and acknowledge the possible effects of crisis-related anxiety and reduce the consequences of work disengagement may be a key factor of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

To read more about servant leadership, see Robert K. Greenleaf’s books, including The Power of Servant Leadership or The Servant as Leader.

About the Authors

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

Sources

https://psycnet.apa.org/search/display?id=b6ee4cd6-1096-a0a2-0d11-e6b017b2c7fa&recordId=1&tab=PA&page=1&display=25&sort=PublicationYearMSSort%20desc,AuthorSort%20asc&sr=1

(https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-75403-001.pdf)

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

The Damage of the Pandemic to Higher Education and Student Health

The coronavirus pandemic is currently surging in many parts of the U.S. Just as cooler weather, the flu season and the holidays approach, COVID-19 is killing over 800 Americans per day, and case counts are reaching new peaks in some states. We have heard a good deal about the pandemic’s economic impact on businesses, especially in the hospitality and airline industries. Another consequence is its impact on higher education – an impact that threatens student health and the future of millions of students. Many of the responses of higher education administrators have sent chilling messages to students, parents, and prospective students.

Impact on Higher Education

The coronavirus is forcing colleges and universities – large and small, famous, and not-so-well-known – to dramatically cut academic programs, student services, and lay off employees. Even Harvard University with its massive endowment has not been immune to the belt tightening. Cost estimates run into the hundreds of billions of dollars of lost revenue or additional costs to colleges and universities across in the U.S. In the spring of 2020, when most Americans thought the coronavirus might be under control in a matter of weeks, colleges began softer cost-cutting measures such as offering early retirements and implementing hiring freezes. But given the persistence of the pandemic, those measure proved to be much too little. Across the country more drastic cost saving measures are taking place. These include laying off employees (even tenured faculty, an anathema in academia), delaying graduate admissions, eliminating entire departments and degree programs, and reducing student support services. In some cases, entire colleges are vanishing as they are consolidated into other institutions. Over 300,000 jobs in higher education have been lost according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wave of Belt-Tightening

This wave of belt-tightening in 2020 comes in the midst of a longstanding relatively quiet recession in higher education. This financial crisis has been going on for years and has been brought on by reductions in State and Federal support for higher education, by decreasing enrollments, and by increasing student concerns about skyrocketing tuition and burdensome student debt. (Average student debt is now around $33,000 and much higher for graduate and professional students.) In response, many systems, like the University System of Georgia, were already closing and consolidating public colleges even before the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S. on January 20, 2020.

Student Health Needs More Attention

Too often in financial crises, businesses and institutions give too little attention to the wellbeing of stakeholders by their employees or in this case, students. The enduring coronavirus pandemic has only made a bad situation worse. Colleges’ costs for new safety measures have cost them millions. Students and parents have been reluctant to pay the same or nearly the same tuition for online classes. Freshmen enrollment is down 16% from 2019 as some students take a gap year or pursue other plans. Other students have sought out lower cost educational options.

Pandemic Affecting Social Change

Traditionally, higher education has been the linchpin for social mobility in the U.S. for lower income and poor students. But the pandemic is also affecting that avenue for social change. Some of these students seem to have given up on higher education, at least for now. This is reflected in an 8% reduction in awards of federal Pell Grants in 2020. These are educational funds given to deserving poor and lower income students to help them learn marketable skills and obtain undergraduate degrees or certifications.

What it Means for Student Health

It seems likely that the pandemic will be with us at least well into 2021, an almost unimaginable outcome in the spring of 2020 when quarantines and lockdowns began. As institutions of higher education continue their rounds of budget revisions and cuts, how will those decisions affect services that support the wellbeing of students? To what extent will decision makers take the wellbeing of vulnerable students into consideration? Will advocates of student health be included in the decisions? Will administrators make sure that their decisions sensitively recognize and address the mental health and wellbeing of their students? Will they recognize the enormous stress experienced by students – even in the best of times? Are they mindful that among traditional college age students that suicide is already the second leading cause of death, and that suicides almost invariably involve an untreated, poorly treated, or completely undetected emotional conditions?

Administrators Focus on Services to Support Student Health

I encourage administrators to revisit their Student Assistance Programs (SAP), campus counseling center services, and other services that support student health and wellbeing. In doing so, they should look for creative, proactive, cost-effective solutions to support, engage, and assist students in their wellbeing. Not doing so communicates another distressing message to students and parents.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Sources

Nothing off limits…

NY Times

Shawn Hubler

Oct 26, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/us/colleges-coronavirus-budget-cuts.html

 

See 10 Years of Average Total Student Loan Debt

US News and World Report

Emma Kerr

Sept 15, 2020

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/see-how-student-loan-borrowing-has-risen-in-10-years

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

What People With Mental Illness Want You to Know

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 4 – 10. This week was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to draw attention to the work of a variety of private and public organizations who educate people and create awareness of mental illness. This year’s theme is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” I’d like to piggyback on that theme to tell you what I as a mental health professional want you to know.

We Should Talk About Mental Health

First, I want you to know this is a topic that we need to normalize by talking about it. By talking about it as many different conditions – not one singular illness. By recognizing that some illnesses are biologically based. By understanding that in various ways they can affect our thinking, feelings, mood, and behavior. In general, talking about it much as we do in discussing physical health conditions. By doing, do we help confront the social stigma and stereotypes? Stigma and stereotyping delay those with illness and their families from seeking help.

Mental Health Disorders Are Not Uncommon

Second, I want you to know how prevalent mental health disorders are in the U.S., even before the coronavirus pandemic with its enormous emotional toll. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report confirmed the growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession are having an unprecedented negative impact on Americans’ mental health, with unpredictable consequences. The KFF tracking poll found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health status had worsened due to worry and stress associated with the ongoing pandemic and economic damage. For many years prior to 2020, studies have shown that about one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition of some type, and one in 25 U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness each year. Many more family members are affected as well.

You may have heard these facts, but you might not be aware that mental illness is an issue for children and young people. One in six children aged 17 and under experience a mental health disorder each year. Fully 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. Yet many school systems are poorly resourced and equipped to provide early screening and referral for children and teens.

Causes of Mental Illnesses

Third, I also want you to know this about the causes of mental illnesses. Just like physical illnesses, there are multiple causes of mental disorders and they affect all classes, all groups, all zip codes, all red states, and all blue states. A person’s genetics, their early living environment, family circumstances, their social conditions like poverty or discrimination, and many other factors play a role in development of a mental illness. A stressful job, or an unloving family life may also create risk. Experiencing traumatic events like child abuse or neglect, intimate partner abuse, trauma in war, daily microaggressions related to gender, race or ethnicity, or brain injuries also put people at risk. But in short, no one, no family, no society is immune.

Treatment for Behavioral Health Disorders

Finally, I’d like you to know some uplifting news. Treatment for behavioral health disorders has never been more effective than it is today. New pharmaceuticals and evidence-based talk therapies are making their impact. Social stigma around the issue is diminishing, especially among younger people. Access channels like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are common and Student Assistance Programs (SAP) are gaining traction. Both are prevention, education and early case finding and advocacy resources. Speaking of EAPs and SAPs, October is a good time to visit with your programs. Understand what they are doing to provide an easily accessible channel to help those in need to get started on a path to treatment. And while you are at it, ask about what they can do to help you educate and build resiliency in the other 80% who will not experience a mental health condition this year, but who are experiencing all the unusual stressors that have come with 2020.

One last thought. A great way for you personally or for your work organization to get involved in advocacy for people with mental illness and their families is to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Sources

National Alliance for Mental Illness
www.nami.org

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Kaiser Family Foundation
Nirmita Panchal, et al

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Burnout key on computer keyboard

How To Prepare For A Second Wave of Employee Burnout

Employees everywhere are feeling it.  Employee burnout. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, the compounding effects of stress and anxiety from social isolation, fears of contagion, added workloads where staffs have been reduced,  and (for many) the potential of financial ruin are mounting.  The cumulative effect is edging many of us close to, if not beyond, a breaking point.  With daily news media reporting on the spreading pandemic second wave in Europe, breakouts in colleges and newly rising infection rates in many states, we need to be prepared for not just a second wave of the virus, but the mental health impact of  a second wave of employee burnout.

The executive recruiting firm, Korn Ferry, recently published an article, Burnout: The Second Wave, which brought attention to this looming issue facing employers throughout the country.  The article is worth a read, but excerpts are provided below.

Employee burnout is increasing

According to the article, nearly six in 10 employees reported feeling burned-out last month, compared to 45% in April. Moreover, as it becomes clear that the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, more employees are blaming the virus for their burnout, citing it as responsible for increased workloads, lack of support, and unclear performance expectations.

Experts say the increase in instances of employee burnout is troubling given that employees have had some time to adjust to the “new normal” of remote working and fear of layoffs. What’s more, organizations have ramped up wellness efforts over the last four months. Now, however, the concern for organizations is employees sliding from burnout into anxiety, depression, or worse. “Organizations are looking hard at the impact that diminished informal interaction and personal support is having on employees,” says Mark Royal, a Korn Ferry senior director.

Current efforts are not enough

What many employers are finding is that Zoom check-ins and basic wellness activities like yoga classes, mindfulness training, and gym classes aren’t enough. In fact, instead of relieving stress, reports indicate that work-sponsored social activities over Zoom could actually be causing more stress. George Atkinson, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, says right now wellness isn’t about programs or activities. Rather, he says, it is about “creating intimacy with employees to cut through the surface.”

“People need to vent, but they aren’t comfortable talking about these kinds of issues with managers or coworkers,” says Atkinson. That puts the onus on managers and leaders to proactively engage with employees, something they aren’t necessarily comfortable with, given that they are legally bound by what they can and can’t ask about home, kids, and health.

It’s not just the pandemic

But it isn’t just the work-life imbalance created by the pandemic that is leading to burnout. It’s also ongoing racial unrest, wildfires, and the upcoming election, among other factors, that together with the pandemic are creating a general feeling of hopelessness and lack of control, experts say. To be sure, part of the problem is that people haven’t had time to take a breath because they are being hit with one metaphorical body blow after another.

Another problem is that employees often don’t know that help is available for them. “Organizations need to proactively connect employees in need of help with available resources,” says Royal, pointing to benefits like psychological counseling, telehealth programs, employee resource groups, and company-supported childcare.

Managing employee burnout 

According to the Korn Ferry article, the most important thing leaders can do is to make sure employees know they are not alone in how they feel, nor should they feel guilty about it.  We agree, but we’d add several tips on how to handle burnout from an Espyr blog published last year.

  1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.   Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized and send burnout packing.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

  1. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  There are many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

  1. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

  1. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

  1. Identify a good manager

A recent Gallup study on stress and burnout at work found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

  1. Keep good health habits

It goes without saying, but good basic health habits – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep –  can go a long way  in relieving stress and thus burnout.

  1. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Burnout printed on burning background

Burned Out From Working From Home? Here’s How to Fix It.

Last year, we wrote about how the World Health Organization had officially classified “Burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis beginning in 2020.   Since our post last year, COVID-19 has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in working by moving huge segments of the work force to work from home.  Has that change in work environment resulted in more burnout or less?  Do people get burned out from working from home? 

Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.  Last year a  Gallup study  of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always.   In high stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher.   For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%.   But, burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

The number of people working from home had been steadily growing anyway, but with COVID-19 the percentage skyrocketed. In 2017, 5.2% of US adults worked from home on a regular basis.  In March, 2020, that number had grown to 51% of employed US adults according to a Harris Poll in early April. It’s likely that the work at home number has receded somewhat as employers reopened offices, though the recent spikes across the country in COVID cases may send more workers back home.  Regardless, many Americans’ are still working from home and it’s likely that a significant number of them will continue to work from home even after the pandemic is in our rear view mirror. (Yes, eventually the pandemic will be behind us!)

What is burnout? 

With so many of us working from home, we wondered whether burnout is more or less of an issue than it was a year ago?  To answer that question, let’s first understand what we mean by burnout.  According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations. 

It’s important to note that burnout is not just a mental health issue.  Major health risks that have been associated with job burnout include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Is home a “breeding ground” for burnout?

A recent article by Natasha Hinde in the Huffingtonpost in the U.K. explored the issue of burnout for those working at home.  Hinde found that with “working from home the boundaries between work and personal lives are increasingly blurred. When your laptop is always within reach, it’s all too easy to check emails at 9 or 10 PM and easy to skip lunch when you’re buried in a project.”

“Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day,” says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. “There’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by traveling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work.

“Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”

Psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, doesn’t think people know they can burn out while working from home – “people usually see it as a more relaxing work day, where they can do work at their own pace” – which might mean they’re hurtling headfirst into it.

How to Prevent Burnout

In another blog from last year we wrote about how to prevent burnout.   Our advice last year holds true today regardless of where you’re working.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.  Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  Look into the many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

In the Gallup study on stress and burnout quoted earlier, employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

6. Keep good health habits

The same basic advice that will help in relieving stress is also true for burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

To this list, Hinde adds one more piece of advice that is specific to working from home:  setting boundaries.  “Create a specific area just for work and separate from personal life even if it’s only a corner of a room.   Set boundaries with the people around you, too.”  Of course, that can be more challenging with small children at home, but not impossible.   “Make clear what times you’ll be working and when you can spend time with them – and stick to that routine.”

Another great idea that Fuller adds is to think about how to create commute-type divides into your working day. “In normal circumstances we have a natural divide, which is your commute, but we now have to create our own transition,” says Fuller. “This might be doing exercise, putting music on that you love or taking a bath. “Whatever it is, use the activity to shake off your day and draw a line under your work to move into your leisure time.”

What if you already feel burned out?

Between working at home, social isolation and pandemic induced anxiety, we are all facing an unprecedented level of stress.  Your work and your health may be suffering as a result.  What if you’re already burned out from working at home?  Here’s what to do.

Take a break

Stop, get away from your many screens and tell yourself you’re doing a great job.  “Take a break outside of your home environment,” suggests Karahassan.  Go for a walk, preferably outdoors. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a wooded area or forest, walk there. Exposure to forests strengthens your immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts your mood and helps you regain and maintain focus.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.” Even 20 minutes in a forested space is enough to produce positive changes in the body. “If you can’t go out, go in the shower, wash your face, just do something for you. That five or 10-minute break can give you the space to reset and take control of your thoughts and feelings,” Karahassan says.

Indulge in something that brings you joy

Take some personal play time.  Reconnect with old friends.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Whatever it is, “Turn off your work screen and indulge yourself in something that brings you joy,” adds Fuller. “You won’t regret it.”

Take care of yourself physically

Avoid unhealthy vices like smoking and drinking and instead try to do things for your mental wellbeing – do some exercise, connect with loved ones, prioritize self-care, sign up to volunteer, and try to work smarter (not harder), says Hinde.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help you live in the moment rather than thinking about the next Zoom meeting on your calendar. And practicing gratitude can promote feelings of positivity – write down three things that went well today, or for which you’re grateful.

Breathe

Breathing exercises are useful when things feel too much, so take five minutes out of your day, sit comfortably somewhere, and focus on your breath.

If these remedies don’t work, consider consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program, or discussing your feelings with your physician.  Don’t try to gut it out alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people achieve and maintain good mental health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s innovative coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Telehealth – A New Normal We’re Glad To Have

Americans are making many lifestyle adjustments during the COVID-19 emergency: working from home, restricted travel, wearing masks when in public and the increased use of telehealth or virtual care services to name a few.  At least one of these adjustments – telehealth – may prove to be a new normal for the better, both in terms of convenience and quality of care.

Telehealth is not new and surveys show that use was increasing even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But the pandemic has led to a rapid escalation in use of virtual care.  That escalation may be driven by the concern for  prevention; patients are avoiding public places, especially doctor’s offices for fear of contagion.  On the other hand, doctors also want to limit the risks of COVID-19 contagion and are encouraging patients with pandemic symptoms to stay home.

However, crisis often leads to innovation, and in the case of telehealth providers and patients alike will find it to be a convenient and effective alternative.  It is the benefits of telehealth, rather than preventing pandemic contagion, that will drive future growth of telehealth.

The benefits of telehealth

A recent US National Library of Medicine article provided a noteworthy report on the benefits and issues with telehealth.  There are a number of obvious benefits of telehealth:

  • It’s an effective way to provide care at home, especially for people who can’t easily get to their provider’s office.
  • Patients can get care from a specialist who may not be close by or easily accessible.
  • Patients can get care after office hours and can more easily communicate with providers.
  • Communication and coordination between healthcare providers is enhanced.
  • Patients managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes can get more support, more conveniently.
  • There is a potential for lower healthcare costs, as virtual visits can be less expansive than in -person visits.

 Telehealth for mental health care

Telehealth is not just for physical healthcare; it also can be applied quite well to the care of mental health.  A recent article in healthIToutcomes.com by Ray Costantini made a strong case for why telehealth services are needed for mental healthcare.

To begin with, there is still a stigma associated with mental health.  Although society is becoming more understanding and accepting when it comes to mental health, even those ready to get help encounter discouraging roadblocks: a lack of timely appointments because of a shortage of doctors and/or clinicians, the high cost of care, the lack of insurance coverage for mental health services and the challenging emotional burden of acting on the symptoms of depression.

Tele-mental or virtual health services are a convenient alternative. Easily accessible and much less expensive than in-person visits, telephonic or online care enables patients to access the resources they need to get help and address their challenges.  Tele-mental or virtual services also allow people to get help for their mental health concerns from the privacy of their own home. That often makes taking action easier and has been shown to help them be more open and honest about what they’re experiencing, compared to a face-to-face with a provider.

The Role Of Tele-mental Health Services

Similar to the expansion of telehealth services for physical care, telephone or computer based offerings for mental healthcare are also expanding.  Benefits of virtual mental healthcare include:

  • Increasing Access to Care – Virtual care can be available 24X7, 365 days of the year. Patients don’t need to wait days or even weeks for a scheduled appointment any more. And they don’t have to miss work, since then get care any time they want.
  • Offering More Time and Attention – Because providers’ schedules are frequently overbooked, patients only get their attention for only a few minutes, and can feel rushed to digest all the information they’re presented or be too intimidated to ask questions because they’re worried about inconveniencing the doctor. Online platforms enable patients to proceed at their own pace, giving them a chance to review information without being embarrassed about taking the physician’s time to ensure they fully understand.
  • Saving Time and Money – Not only is virtual care more affordable, people don’t have to lose pay by having to take time off for in-person visits or travel a long way. It’s also better for employers, since unmanaged mental health takes a brutal toll through both absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Insurance Coverage – More payers are now reimbursing providers for virtual care. For example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said late last year that it is expanding opportunities to cover mental health treatments under Medicaid and encouraging states to improve community-based mental health services.
  • Reducing Stigma and Emotional barriers – Patients can seek care in the privacy of their own home without informing employers or family members. The comfortable environment often empowers them to share more information that can lead to a better diagnosis and faster time to treatment. It also enables them to become more engaged in their own care, seeking providers and solutions that best meet their individual needs.

Since the onset of the pandemic, at Espyr we’ve seen a dramatic increase in utilization of  tele-mental health services.  We’ve recently launched TalkNow®, where clients can reach a licensed mental health professional immediately without waiting or the need for an appointment. TalkNow has proven to be especially helpful for clients suffering from stress and anxiety issues related to COVID-19, but it can provide valuable support for a wide range of mental well-being issues.

While TalkNow provides immediate and convenient support, often resolving client’s concerns in one phone call, we also provide tele-mental health services for more complex mental health issues that require multiple sessions with a qualified mental health clinician.

The future for telehealth

We expect to see continued expansion in telehealth services.  Furthermore, as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues impact an increasingly large segment of the population, we expect a growing role for tele-mental health services as an effective and convenient form of treatment and support.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people – employees, students, members –  achieve and maintain good health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

Women in Trucking Association (WIT) Announces Partnership With Espyr® To Support Professional Driver Health

WIT to provide drivers 90 days free Espyr behavioral health support programs

PLOVER, WI APRIL 9, 2020 – Women in Trucking Association (WIT), a non-profit organization with the mission to promote the employment and recognition of women in the trucking industry, and Espyr, the leading provider of customized behavioral health solutions, have announced a partnership to support professional driver health. The partnership will provide truck drivers who are members of WIT with 90 days free access to Espyr’s Fit to Pass? coaching program and iResolve?, Espyr’s CDL Driver Support Hotline.

America depends on the trucking industry to provide food, medical supplies and other essential goods despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in normal times, truck driving can be taxing on driver’s physical and mental health. Add the impacts of COVID-19 – fear of contagion, closed restaurants, limited availability of restrooms and showers – and the toll on drivers’ health is substantial.

Espyr’s Fit to Pass is a customized coaching program designed to improve the health of professional drivers and help them meet the physical requirements of the DOT recertification exam. iResolve is a tele-mental health solution that provides immediate support for driver mental health and work-life related issues. Drivers and their family members can speak with an Espyr mental health professional without an appointment and without waiting.

Espyr’s professional driver health services will be provided to all current WIT members who are drivers thanks to the generosity of Amazon. “Our concern is for the nation’s drivers who have to cope with the added challenges brought on by COVID-19 on a daily basis and need the support these programs can provide,” said Chris Heine, Amazon’s Director of Transportation and WIT Board member. “Drivers have always kept America moving. Now more than ever we need to care for them like they care for the products they haul.”

“We are so pleased to be able to provide this much needed support to our driver members,” said Ellen Voie, President and CEO of WIT. “ Professional drivers are among the many unsung heroes helping us to live through these difficult times and we’re very grateful to Amazon for providing the funding for these programs.”

“Thank you WIT and Amazon for helping us support professional driver health,” added Rick Taweel, CEO of Espyr. “While COVID-19 has created a mental health strain for everyone, the impact on professional drivers is especially significant because we all rely on them for the essentials of everyday life.”

About Women In Trucking Association, Inc.

Women In Trucking Association, Inc. is a nonprofit association established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry. Membership is not limited to women, as 17% of its members are men who support the mission. Women In Trucking is supported by its members and the generosity of Gold Level Partners:  Arrow Truck Sales, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, BMO Transportation Finance, Daimler Trucks North America, Expediter Services, FedEx Freight, Great Dane, J.B. Hunt Transport, Michelin North America, Peterbilt Motors Company, Ryder System, Inc., and Walmart. Follow WIT on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. For more information, visit http://www.womenintrucking.org or call 888-464-9482.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform at their best – for 30 years. Espyr’s industry leading Behavioral Health Coaching and Assistance Programs are relied on by clients in the most challenging occupations. For more information on Espyr, go to espyr.com.

Making Work From Home Work For You

These are extraordinary times.In addition to the health concerns of Covid-19,  the virus has brought on lifestyle changes that we’ve never dreamed could occur.One of those unexpected lifestyle changes may be working remotely, which in virtually every case now means working from home.

As someone who has worked from a home office for nearly 8 years, I found Kim Lyons article, How to Work From Home, to be remarkably accurate and informative.While there is no one size fits all when it comes to working remotely, Ms. Lyons offers several time tested recommendations that you should be considering if working remotely is in your future.

Have a separate workspace

There is something psychological about having a dedicated workspace.When you’re in it, your mind sends you a signal that says, “I’m ready to work.”So, it’s entirely fitting that establishing your workspace is where Lyons starts.“A separate workspace doesn’t have to be a dedicated office with a door that closes (which is often not an option in smaller living spaces). It should be an area that mentally prepares you for work mode, whether it’s a separate room, a small desk set up in a corner of the living room, or a laptop at the end of the kitchen table. Ideally, it would be a place you don’t go to relax, like your bedroom or your sofa, and a place that other members of your household know is designated for work.

If you find you’re most productive with a laptop on the sofa, then by all means, set up shop there. It may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what area of your home is most conducive to getting work done.”

Woman working at home with dogs at her feet

Establish a designated workspace.

Establish a routine, including non-work hours

Lyons was spot on when she remarks, “One of the hardest things to adapt to when you start working from home is the lack of a structured start and stop time for your day.With devices that allow bosses and clients to reach us constantly, you can end up working 24/7. Try to start work around the same time every day if you can, and schedule breaks (including meals) around the same time if possible. I would also advise not eating in your work area.

Ideally, you should try to get some outdoor time once a day, to get coffee or walk the dog, so you don’t go too stir crazy.”

Many people find the lack of socialization to be one of the more challenging changes when they’re no longer working in an office or shop with colleagues around them.“Working remotely can feel isolating at times, so as part of your routine, try to interact with your co-workers regularly. Chatting over messaging apps like Slack (even just saying “Hello!” when you sign on in the morning) and holding meetings over Zoom or another video app are two quick and easy ways to stay in the loop. However you connect, don’t let email be the only way you interact with colleagues,” say’s Lyons.

“Finally, try to end work at the same time every day. Obviously, there will be times when a late deadline or project needs after-hours attention. But in most situations, a 10PM work email can wait until the following morning for a response.”

Dress the part

One of the biggest selling points of working from home is that you can wear what you want.My office-bound friends often ask me what time I get out of my pajamas and whether I actually ever get “fully dressed.” Lyons suggests, “ To keep a sense of routine, try to get dressed and do it around the same time every day. This might sound a little odd, but in addition to jeans and a comfortable shirt, wearing shoes (instead of slippers or just socks) helps keep that sense of work vs. relaxation. I’m not talking about the most expensive shoes in your closet; sneakers, flip flops, or other comfortable footwear are just fine.”

Know your body

Lyons describes how she “splurged on a good desk chair when I first started working from home, and you may find that’s a worthwhile expense; it’s hard to work if your back is bothering you or you’re not comfortable. Definitely make time to get up and walk away from your desk at regular intervals to stretch your legs.”I too found that a good comfortable chair can make a huge difference.

I also found that I needed to set the alarm on my smartphone to make sure I took a break every 45 minutes or so of working.  Setting my alarm served two purposes.First, I found that establishing 45 minute periods of focused work enabled me to be incredibly productive.Second, if I didn’t set the alarm I found myself working non-stop for hours at a time without ever leaving my chair.  Sitting that long is not healthy.You need to get up and walk around for your physical health, as well as your mental health.Unless you include some “walking around time” in your day, working from will be more sedentary than you’re used to.

Lyons also reminds us to make sure your work area is well-lit so you don’t strain your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

No kids

Many of us may have little ones thinking that mommy or daddy is home to play with us.  That may be especially true with many schools temporarily closed to reduce contagion.Lyons reminds us, to “make sure everyone in your family (kids, parents, spouses, and anyone else with a key to the premises) knows that when you’re working you’re not available to help settle minor juice-box-related spats or engage in idle chitchat. Shared living spaces can get noisy, so if your workspace isn’t isolated from common areas, I strongly recommend getting some noise-canceling headphones to signal to others that you’re not to be disturbed and to avoid getting drawn into conversations that are going to distract you from an important deadline.”

You’re probably going to try to get some chores done when you’re working from home.That’s okay.“Be realistic about what you can get done. Taking out the garbage or checking the mail are two ways to get away from your desk for a quick break, but it’s probably not practical to try to conquer that mountain of laundry all at once while you’re on the clock.”

“Another suggestion: don’t offer to be the on-call person for friends and neighbors. Of course you should help in emergencies, but if you’re always the go-to for package deliveries or to feed people’s pets “because you’re home anyway,” this can quickly become more time-consuming than is fair. Establish — and stick to — clear boundaries about when you are and aren’t available.”

Get the tools you need

“You’ll get a lot of advice about investing in various work tools, such as a standing desk or a separate work computer,” says Lyons. “If you have the resources to do this and think it will help you (and better still, if your company will reimburse you for these expenses), go for it. If your company is requiring you to work from home, find out what tools they’ll provide and what they’ll pay for.”

“In addition to the noise-canceling headphones, the only must-haves for my own work-from-home setup are a decent Wi-Fi connection, a computer that meets my needs (this will vary greatly depending on your job), and a reliable cellphone. But if you end up working from home long term, you’ll figure out what you need and what you can afford.”

Looking ahead

Working remotely is not for everyone.  Doing it well requires the right work environment, the right type of job and the right mindset.  However, if all those factors are present, you may find working remotely offers a sense of freedom and flexibility that you’ve never had in your work.

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative coaching and assistance programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for 30 years. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.