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March 29, 2023 | 36 Mins Read

Busting the Biggest Burnout Myths 

March 29, 2023 | 36 Mins Read

Busting the Biggest Burnout Myths 


Sarah welcomes Cait Donovan, burnout expert and host of “Fried – the Burnout Podcast.” Cait and Sarah demystify burnout as a buzzword and Cait shares insight not only for individuals concerned with burnout but also for companies looking to reduce burnout to retain top talent. 

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we are talking about the biggest burnout myths. So we are here to bust the biggest myths that exist about burnout. Really excited for my guest today, who is Cait Donovan. Cait is a burnout coach, author, and host of the Fried Podcast, and I love that you say you're on a mission to end burnout culture. So welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Cait Donovan: I'm so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: When Cait and I connected to prep for this, I had to stop myself multiple times of trying to turn it into a one-on-one coaching session related to my own burnout. So we'll try not to do that today either, but this is the topic that of course, is timely, relevant to so many folks and companies, right? So whether it's from an individual perspective, the leader's perspective, looking for ways to support their teams or the company, thinking about the relevance of this topic, a lot of different perspectives. So before we get into it all, tell everyone a little bit more about yourself, your journey and how you came to be the burnout expert.

Cait Donovan: Well, I'll start with the burnout expert. I always have a trouble with the word expert, and if we're going to use Malcolm Gladwell's sort of description, then 10,000 hours I covered ages ago, so we can go with that if we need to. But we'll start with I'm a super nerd. School was always easy for me. I got through things. I got a full scholarship to college. I did all the right things, and I think that when I started my burnout recovery, when I realized I was burnt out, I spent a lot of time digging in the research, and one of the things that really ended up standing out to me was that I wasn't represented in it. At the time of my burnout, I was a female entrepreneur, and all of the research was on corporations and hospitals, and I just sat there thinking, "Well, that means there's a lot of gaps in the research."

So I have spent the last seven years, I even went back to school for another degree because I really needed space to be able to dig into some of these gaps. So talking about the burnout myths is really important to me because there's a lot of things that I see out there where I'm like, "No, no, not that."

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So you were an entrepreneur when you kind of hit your burnout phase, or I guess realization, right?

Cait Donovan: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So what were you doing at the time, and then, so you've written a book, you host a podcast, you do a lot of public speaking and you do coaching. So tell us a little bit about how that journey has unfolded.

Cait Donovan: I realized I was burnt out because of an article. I saw an article, I started reading it. It was about burnout. This was 2016, and it was one of those moments that I know that people say that they have now when they listen to my podcast that I was going, "Tick, tick, tick, tick, oh, shoot." I just kept going down the list and saying, "Oh, okay, this is what's happening to me. And I had been struggling for quite some time." When I look back on it, I really think that my burnout was a good six or seven years long, and I couldn't figure out what was going on, which is strange because at the time I was practicing as a full-time acupuncturist and I was living in Prague, and I didn't understand how someone with the kind of knowledge that I had and the introductions to meditation and stress management and all of those things that are a part of my medicine, how it could happen to me.

Plus I'm a little bit of a perfectionist. So I was a little annoyed that it happened to me. I'm like, "Why didn't I fix this before it happened?" I was a little bit mad at myself. So when I went through the process of healing, I was writing about it online, not for any purpose, just for the sake of saying, "Hey, this is what's going on." People started asking for help, and then I got to a point where I did all of that research. I read through every single thing that was available on burnout in 2016 over the course of one year, everything that was downloadable, and I did it through Cambridge University because my husband was doing a post-grad at the time. So I had all the access to all the university libraries. Like, "Get me everything." I read through it all, and I was reminded of a Charles Bukowski poem about being an author that I read when I was a senior in high school, I think, and I remember reading it and thinking, "Oh, someday this is going to be me."

The poem starts out, and I'm not going to say it word for word because I don't know it word for word, but the idea is you shouldn't be a writer until the words are so piled up in your body that you can't help but get them out, that they're just pouring out of you because you can't keep them in anymore. I remember reading that and being like, "Someday that's going to happen to me." This is when it happened to me. So I wrote the book, not even really for anybody else, I wrote the book because I felt like if I didn't get this information out of my head, I was never going to have room to learn anything ever again. I needed to make space.

So when I finished writing the book around that same time, I had just gone through an injury. I ruptured my achilles, I was unable to work. We had just moved back to the United States. I wasn't able to work. I was in bed all day every day because I couldn't stand for 16 weeks, and the podcast was born during that time. The podcast was born out of a few different things. There's an origin story somewhere out there in the interwebs if anybody wants to look for it. But the dual goal of creating a resource for people and gathering stories for my book that weren't just about me was behind it at the end of the day.

So then the podcast started nine months before a pandemic hit. So people always say, "How do you create a successful podcast?" I'm like, "Get lucky with timing," because you can't control that bit. So I got really lucky with timing, and both of those things catapulted the rest of my work. So all of my coaching clients come directly from the podcast, or 98% of them come directly from the podcast, and a lot of my speaking engagements can come from there as well. Even if it means that a listener is saying, "Hey, there's this speaker I know that has this podcast about burnout," and is sharing it with their HR team or their people.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, what a wild ride. So let's get into our myths. So the first one isn't so much a myth, but more bringing clarity to I guess a working definition of what burnout is. So there can be some misperceptions or maybe widely varying thoughts around what burnout actually is. So can you start by just talking about what is it, and why is it commonly misunderstood?

Cait Donovan: In order to do this, I always go back to the definition that has been accepted by the World Health Organization because we have to start at a common place. According to the World Health Organization definition, which is based on research done by Christina Maslach and a whole team of people, burnout has three components. The first one is physical and emotional exhaustion. This always makes me giggle a little, and this is part of the problem. Almost any symptom on the planet can fall under physical and emotional exhaustion, so that's confusing. The second is cynicism and detachment. So feeling like you're alone in the world, being really negative and cynical at work is part of it. Those two things both have to be there, and there has to be a third aspect. So all three pieces must be present. The third aspect is feeling like your work is not impactful slash you're not able to be productive and/or both. So those three things in a bubble have to all exist for it to be burnout.

Additionally, the definition states that this is primarily work related, so this is where things get confusing. First of all, physical and emotional exhaustion is confusing because physical exhaustion is fatigue. It's also headaches, it's also sluggish digestion, it's also crappy sleep. There's a lot of symptoms that can be related to physical exhaustion. So how does it present in people? So that can be confusing. Emotional exhaustion is also, well, what does that really mean, lack of bandwidth? Well, lack of bandwidth will lead someone to crying, another person to anxiety and a third person to eruptions of rage. So again, what does it look like? And after talking to hundreds and hundreds of people over the years, the biggest problem is that it looks a little bit different in everybody.

In Chinese medicine, we say that your weakest places in your body, which some of them are constitutional and some of them are gained because of life experiences, your weakest constitutions are the ones that will be exploited in high stress situations. So if you were in a car accident when you were 12 and you had whiplash, your burnout will likely have some neck pain. So that makes it make more sense to people to say, "Well, this person had asthma as a child, so they're having trouble breathing as part of their burnout." You might not have any issues with your breath during burnout, but you're having massive headaches because you have a genetic predisposition to migraines. So it's a little convoluted.

I think the next part of this definition that makes it difficult is there's so focused on trying to delineate burnout from depression because there's some overlapping factors that in order to delineate it, they're saying, "Well, this is work related," and the fact of the matter is it's not just work related. And so I think that that's something that will evolve with time. So I was really glad that you used the words specifically working definition, because this is very much a working definition. We have a lot to learn. There's a lot of gaps, and this is the best information I can give you at this time, understanding that if somebody listens to this podcast in five years, it might not be correct anymore.

Sarah Nicastro: Right, that makes sense. So then it seems like one of the biggest reasons it's commonly misunderstood is because those three characteristics can look really different based on an individual's experience. A lot of times when people want to understand something, they want to simplify it to where it's very specifically defined. They can look at it, and this is one of those things that you can only do to a point because huge aspects of it are very individual.

Okay, so I think we'll get into explaining it a bit more as we go along. So the next kind of myth I want to walk through is twofold and that is that people tend to see burnout one of two ways as the individual's duty to repair. So it's the person's fault or it's a result of their work environment. In reality, it's a lot more complex. So let's talk through those two things. So the first part being the individual needs to take care to avoid burnout. So this individual responsibility, so let's talk about why that is not so simple.

Cait Donovan: I think I would start by adjusting the sentence slightly and saying that it is an individual's responsibility to recover from burnout, but I don't actually believe it's an individual's responsibility to avoid or prevent burnout. I think that's a societal, cultural, organizational piece. So after everything that I've done, I can say with clarity that burnout is not ever an individual's fault, just never. I've never seen it be somebody's fault.

What does happen is that due to various situations in childhood, everybody has them. Some of them are traumatic, some of them are not really traumatic, but they create coping mechanisms and behaviors that each person chooses that allow them to feel safe. If those coping mechanisms and behaviors involve problems with boundaries, perfectionism, people pleasing, et cetera, that person will be more vulnerable to burnout. So those are some type of trait almost. I mean, I don't really want to say trait because trait is more innate and more baked in than this, and these are responses to life, but these are coping mechanisms that people are using and use them successfully for most of their lives, but leave them vulnerable to burnout.

It's not their fault that they created those things, and most of the time they're not even aware that they do it. So how can somebody be at fault for something that they created as a coping mechanism when they were four, right? That's just not even fair. However, once you've already burnt out, nobody can fix it for you, but you. You can work with someone like me, you can work with your doctor, you can go to a therapist. Of course, you can get support in the recovery process, but if you don't decide to go through the recovery process, fixing the outside world is not going to change it for you because there are concrete physiological changes that happen in your body that require healing. So this is the individual piece.

The organizational piece comes from a lot of the research that ends up saying that 80% of burnout is due to the organizational dysfunction, toxic organizations, et cetera. I have not found that to be true personally. When I talk to people, it usually ends up looking about 50/50, and my sample size at this point is around a thousand people. So I need five times that in order to make it a reasonable size study. So I'm starting where I am, but I do not see this 80/20 split. However, that doesn't mean that the culture of the organization has no effect. The culture of an organization has massive effect. If there is a tendency toward overwork, if there is a lack of fairness, if there is no recognition or praise, if there is a lack of community, if there is a values mismatch, these are all things that were talked about in a previous episode.

So we don't need to deep dive into those. People can go listen to that episode of the Future of Field Service podcast to get that. If those things are all out of whack, again, the environment is creating a vulnerability for burnout. So when I use the word vulnerability, I'm using it really carefully because we don't have a way to study burnout that would allow us to say that X or Y is a cause. There are a lot of correlations, and a lot of those correlations have been proven time and time again. So we are inching toward the word cause, but we aren't there yet. And you can't do an experimental study on this to check for cause for sure, because it would be completely unethical to expose people to things to see if they burn out or not, right?

So every time you see burnout and cause somewhere I've made the mistake, you'll find it in my material, but every time you see that somewhere, I want you to stop and remind yourself that yes, there might be a relationship here, but we can't talk about it being a causal relationship.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. So okay, so we talked about a myth is that it's the individual's need to avoid burnout. Not true. Another myth is the workplace is responsible for burnout and why we're seeing so much of this also not entirely true.

Cait Donovan: Untrue.

Sarah Nicastro: It is, but not in its entirety, right?

Cait Donovan: Right.

Sarah Nicastro: But the other thing that we haven't talked about, and I'm curious how it fits into the overall issue is as you mentioned, the societal aspect. Can you talk about that piece a little bit?

Cait Donovan: Yes. So the model of burnout that I've created is a biopsychosocial model, and there's six places that can affect you. The first one is work. We've got that. We know that the studies are done. We have the research. The second one is self, and this is all these trauma response things, right? But again, not your fault. It's just something that leaves you more vulnerable. Outside of that, we have culture. So right now we can talk about the United States culture because that's where we are. I have insight into other places because I have lived all over the world, but we can talk about this culture. Within our culture, the patriarchy is an issue. So if you are anything other than a white man, you will have to fight for things more. If you are subject to any of the isms, racism, homophobia, homophobism, sexism, any of the things, you will be more vulnerable to burnout.

It is very clearly shown in the research that when you are subject to constant discrimination, even in many ways like microaggressions, you have higher levels of inflammation in your body. So there are actual physical responses to being in the group of people that is not treated as well as they should be. So this is a cultural thing that has a massive effect on burnout.

In the United States in particular, we have two values in our top 10 list of values as a country that are problematic. One of them is hard work, and the other one is individualism. This is a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of country. We know where it comes from. We understand our history, we get it. And also that is not how we were designed. As a people, we did not evolve that way. We need each other much more than we are allowed to feel that we need each other in the United States culture, and our sense of community is breaking down over time, which is making it worse. Again, one of the reasons why COVID had such an effect on burnout rates, because we were kept separate, we were isolated, we lost a lot of our communal factors. So all of those things matter. So that's from a culture perspective as an overall culture and overall society.

Now we put those things into a workplace where very often those same exact things are concentrated, and this is how a workplace can create vulnerability for someone, especially if it's in combination with some of the bigger cultural issues, some of the self issues. There are also health components. There is a portion of your genetic code that's responsible for telling your stress response, how it should function, and there are epigenetic changes that can happen to that code. So an epigenetic change would be is something like a volume button that gets put on a little piece of DNA and it will turn it down or turn it up. So it can either make your stress response more hyperactive or it can turn it down so that you don't have an adequate enough response to situations, right? So it's like a volume button.

If you are not having the same stress response as most other people, you're not going to be able to manage life the same way as most other people, but you don't know this about yourself because it's an epigenetic change. So you're wondering, "Well, so-and-so can handle it, why can't I?" So you push harder, right? So this biological thing can be a problem. If you have a chronic illness and you don't pay enough attention to it and you're ignoring it because you want to be able to do what everybody else can do, this is going to be a factor.

So there's all of those things. Then we have family stuff where the trauma comes from, where the coping mechanisms come from. So if you have a family unit where you were parentified, where you were made to feel like you had to be in charge in your household, that will lead toward poor boundary issues, people pleasing, et cetera. If there's poor attachment styles, this is a whole psychological gamut of things, but your family of origin and your family of choice can both affect how you react in the world, how your stress response system works, and whether or not you're vulnerable to burnout.

The last piece is environment. We don't like to think about this because it feels like it doesn't matter, but it really does matter, and there's plenty of research that connects how many trees you see during the week, how much time you spend breathing fresh air if you like, the color of the walls of your apartment. Stuff like this really, really matters. So if your home is in an unsafe neighborhood, you hate walking into the building and you hate the color of your walls, you're going to be more susceptible to higher stress levels through things that seem to not matter. So all of these things combined to me are provide a web of causation for burnout.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, that makes sense, and I think it gives a really good perspective to folks on why it isn't so easy to say the individual or the organization. There's a lot more to it than that.

So I want to go back to the myth that you've already negated in what you said, which is an individual thinking, "This is my fault." okay. So you already said that that's not the case. When you are working with people who are going through burnout, how do you help remove shame because I would think layering in shame for feeling burnt out only slows the recovery process? So how do you help people to move past that and not feel personally responsible?

Cait Donovan: I package that into shame, blame, guilt, and judgment. If anybody ever listens to my podcast, they'll hear those four words always sort of packaged together and for good reason. To me getting information, like the information that I just told you helps people to release some of this just naturally because they're saying, "Oh, I get it. I get that all of these reasons happened. If there's 87 things that make you vulnerable to burnout and I have 80 of them, well then it can't be my fault. Clearly this happened." I think that's part of it.

I think another part of it, especially when it comes to this shame portion, is asking people to talk about it directly. There's very clear correlations between name the shame, and then it starts to dissipate. This is a Brené Brown thing, right? Name the shame. So just say it, saying it, which means that my job is to create a safe enough space where somebody will say it. We talk a lot about the guilt and the shame that comes from taking time for yourself and prioritizing yourself.

A lot of that is just a practice of doing it and noticing that everything's still okay. So we call this gathering data in my work, so I give people this sort of home experiment to do. I want you to go out and practice this and gather data about the responses and reactions, and then come back and report to me what's happened. Most frequently, if we put it into that, we're putting you in an observer mode. So now we're going into Buddhism and meditation, which this is the healthiest mode from which to view your life. We're putting you in the observer seat. Once you get into the observer seat, you're practicing. So you're not trying to make it happen. Take some of the pressure off and you know that you need to do it multiple times so that you have enough information by which to base some sort of new truth on.

So we are challenging the beliefs and truths that you have had ingrained in your body your whole entire life and saying, "Yeah, but can you prove it? Prove it to me," right? Because in science, a hypothesis is never proven. It's only falsifiable. You can only say like, "This is false," or you keep trying to find a way to make it false. That's how we get to theories and proofs, et cetera. So prove me wrong. Prove yourself wrong. Go gather data. Let me know what happens. And it gamifies it a little bit. It makes it a little bit lighter and gives people an exercise that they can use.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, okay. So another myth that I think is worth talking about is this idea of I or they, depending on if you're looking at it from the person experiencing or the environment they're in, just need to push through.

Cait Donovan: So the reason that this doesn't hold up to scrutiny is the physiological changes that I mentioned earlier. I'll run through those quickly so that people can understand why we can't just push through. I am only going to talk about the brain because we have a 45 minute to hour long podcast to do, and so we can't do all of the symptoms across the body, but just the brain alone should allow you to see that we need to take time and recuperate. When you are under chronic stress for extended periods of time, chronic chronic stress, let's extend the chronic part of it so that everybody really understands this. The front of your brain, the part, the piece that sits just behind your forehead shrinks. You literally lose neurons, you lose brain cells. That part of your brain is responsible for your executive functioning, which is your adulting, right? Your ability to plan, motivate, emotionally regulate, make decisions, et cetera. If the part of your brain that is responsible for you acting and feeling like an adult in the world is no longer functioning, what do you think is going to happen?

And how from that place are you supposed to just push through? You can't decide. You can't motivate. You can't do those things well, and if you can do one of them, you use all the power your brain had that day and you can't do any of the other ones. So pushing through is literally not possible.

There are two other things that happen in the brain that I think are really important. Another part of your brain that shrinks during this time that goes through hypotrophy is your hippocampus, and that's where your memory is. So you lose access to your memory. You can't catch things as easily. You're losing things, you're losing words, you're losing ideas. So planning and deciding, maybe you get through those things, but then you can't remember what the hell it's all for, so you're stuck again.

Then there's one more part of your brain. Of course, more things happen, but these are the critical, your amygdala, there's two of them. One on either side is responsible for scanning your environment at all times to look for danger. This is why the environment and the people you surround yourself with are so critical. The amygdala instead of shrinking gets bigger. So the parts of your brain that are supposed to be able to talk you down, plan, be logical, be rational, are shrinking, and the part of your brain that's like, "Fire alarm!" just got bigger and more sensitive.

How do you push through that?

Sarah Nicastro: So it's interesting, this explanation. So I'm going to share personally for a moment, which I don't know if this will make sense to you as a public figure or content creator, what have you. Like I do, but I don't share personally. Do you know what I mean?

Cait Donovan: Mm-hmm, yes.

Sarah Nicastro: I do. I'm very open, but there's also limits to, I think the detail people want to hear, but what you're saying really hits home to me because I've shared publicly. I have a seven year old son. He was diagnosed January 22nd, 2019 with type one diabetes. He was three at the time. And so there's a lot of layers to this, right? Because it was a terrifying thing. It was traumatic for sure. I actually was diagnosed afterwards with PTSD, and that was on top of already having anxiety, which I've also spoke publicly about.

But so it was four years in January, and the impact, I can notice on my executive function, my memory, and I'm assuming the last bit, that would feed into anxiety, right?

Cait Donovan: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Because it's your ability to basically self-regulate diminishes to where that becomes something that's harder and harder to control. All three of those things are absolutely present. So then, you think about that in the context of what we're talking about today, which is burnout. And I've said this before, but in a very surface level way, one night we were up a lot treating lows, and for people that understand, I'm grateful that he only has type one diabetes. So I do have perspective in the sense of it is something that he has a really good chance of living with to old age.

That being said, okay, what a lot of people don't understand because it isn't a super well understood disease, it's an autoimmune disease, so there's nothing he could ever do to cause it or fix it. He will die without insulin, point blank. And we are responsible on a day-to-day basis for dosing him insulin, which is a liquid that you mess that up and it can have dire consequences. So literally it is life-threatening and his life is in our hands. He can also have low blood sugars, which can have those consequences.

So it is a very chronic form of stress, and that's compounded by the fact that it will never go away. So you have to learn how to navigate that. So I've shared before in a kind of, I'm authentic, but no one wants to hear the gory details either. But I've shared a reminder for people from a professional standpoint, if I'm up all night treating low blood sugars, and then I'm on a Teams meeting at 8:00 AM the next day, you never know what someone is going through. So always be kind.

But also from a burnout perspective, if you think about just that one example, and that's just me sharing one example, everyone has their own versions of what they're going through, that to your point, is these contributing factors that it's not my fault. It's no one's fault. I said this to you when we were prepping. I'm probably categorically burnt out, but so everything you're saying about the impact on the brain rings true. What I'm also though interested in mentioning or getting your thoughts on, and we talked about this a little bit from your own personal experience too, is that I think a lot of times another myth is that there's this negative connotation of being burnt out means you're doing something you don't like doing.

So either you're showing up kind of like, "Ugh, gosh, I don't want to do this anymore. "I'm burnt out" or the organization is forcing you to do this thing that is causing you to be burnt out because it's not what you want to be doing. You and I were talking about the fact that you can absolutely love what you do, which in my case is my reality and still be burnt out. So can you talk about that a little bit? This idea of it doesn't have to have this negative connotation in this sense of coming from something unwelcome.

Cait Donovan: Yeah, I think the danger of that comes from the world of spirituality that says, "Anything that's wrong in your life is because you're not aligned somehow." And the only thing that I will say in that is that within something that you love, there can be aspects of it that are out of alignment with your values, and that can add to your burnout story. So I think it's important to be able to look at the thing that you love and understand that you can do it forever, but you might need to shift some mindsets, some perspectives, and some behaviors in order to make it really tenable for you.

For instance, as an acupuncturist, I was coaching people and giving them acupuncture within one session. I was totally overstepping my own boundaries, and I love doing both of those things. So I wanted to do it, but it was not nearly enough time or money exchange for me to make it actually worth it. At the end of the day, I got the recognition, I got the praise. I have clients that I still talk to. I haven't lived in Prague in four years. I'm friends with these people now. I created great relationships, but I was giving much more than I actually had the space for.

And when I moved into coaching, I had to learn how to not overstep my own boundaries in those situations, how to give people what they need but not overdo it. Part of the reason I was overdoing it was because I was afraid that if I wasn't giving people extra all the time, I had no value. So I had to do some work with a therapist on self-worth and on value. So this kind of goes layer, by layer, by layer, by layer, by layer into what you need to get into at the end of the day, if you're doing something that you love and you're burnt out, there are ways to adjust to make it okay.

Sarah Nicastro: So now, this is the last thing I'm going to say about my personal experience, but I have found with me, and I don't know that it's necessarily a type of burnout or personality type, but one of the ways I navigate this, and it could just be volume of things going on, because we talked about the chronic illness thing, but then there's work, there's travel. I am my mom to two kids, marriage. You have these compounding things.

For me, it very much ebbs and flows. I have times where I feel like I can absolutely do it all. This is great, boom, boom, boom. I'm energized, whatever. And then I have times where I do feel burnt out. Now I am fortunate that I have the ability to scale up in the times where I feel I have more to give and pull back to an extent in the times where I need to. Where I struggle is when I can't pull back as much as I need to do. Do you know what I mean?

Cait Donovan: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: But would you say that it is something that ebbs and flows, or is that more stress versus burnout? Do you know what I'm saying?

Cait Donovan: Yes. And I think that it is more stress versus burnout, because when you are in burnout and your brain has those changes, that's like saying, "I have PTSD today, but I don't have it tomorrow." That's not really true. That's not how it works. So I think that when it is burnout, you can have some good days sometimes, but most of the time it's not good. Most of the time you're feeling pretty bad.

In chronic stress, you can have those differing things. And I think the important thing to realize there is when those good things are, because things are just sort of okay, and when they are on adrenaline and caffeine, paying attention to that so that you don't end up in a place where you can't up and go anymore. You don't have that oomph anymore.

So I think what you're saying is actually a really great red flag for most people. If you are going through life and you're kind of going extreme to extreme pretty frequently, you're in a chronic stress pathway that can lead you to burnout, and it's a little bit dangerous, and you should pay attention to it. Life is always going to be stressful. There's always going to be stress that happens in your life, but a lot of stress can be healthy and positive. So it's not all a burden, and that's a whole separate conversation. But Alia Crumb is a good person to follow for that.

And so I think the thing after burnout for me is that I'm not afraid to burnout anymore. Mostly because I don't think that I would allow myself to get there because I know what to pay attention to. I also know that even if I did, I'd be able to get out of it because I've done that before. So yay. And when I'm starting to enter that place of higher stress, I notice it faster usually through paying attention to resentment. That's my red flag sort of thing, and I can shift things right away. So not necessarily change everything immediately. Sometimes things take three months to change because you have to implement a business decision differently or something like that, but you can decide to do things differently.

So I think, this sort of cycle that you're describing happens on a smaller scale in everybody's lives all the time. If you have to stay up with your kid and then you wake up in the morning and find out that your mother fell, and you have to be on a Teams call at eight or nine, you're not going to be fully present. And that day is probably going to feel pretty bad, but that doesn't mean you're burnt out. It means you're having a bad day.

So the question is, how big are the amplitudes between your extremes? How frequently are they happening? And can you soften the curves a little bit? Because it's okay to have a little bit over wave that's just humaning.

Sarah Nicastro: Sure, yeah.

Cait Donovan: Right?

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. So you mentioned resentment. So talk about, again, myth would be that resentment is a negative emotion, but let's talk about how it can be powerful when it comes to burnout.

Cait Donovan: Resentment is my favorite emotion. It's the best one with burnout because it tells you everywhere that your boundaries are off. And I use the words are off intentionally. Your boundaries being crossed from the outside is not actually something that happens all that often. It might be 30% of your boundary issues. The rest of it is you either overstepping your own fence to do more for other people than they're asking for, or opening your gate and then being mad that somebody's in your yard. So I think it's critical to have a tool that allows you to say, "Oh, I actually want a fence here." Okay, then you can figure out how to put a fence up and resentment when you pay attention to it will show you the patterns and themes in your life that need to shift in order for you to manage your stress better because you're keeping some things out and/or letting some things in, because boundaries are also about asking for help and asking somebody to come into your yard or into your house and bake some muffins because you don't have time.

So boundaries should go both ways, both keeping people more at bay or keeping tasks more at bay and asking for help. That's a two-way street that I think most people don't talk about, but resentment. And as a general rule, the anger group, as I like to call them, resentment, irritation, frustration, annoyance, anger, those emotions will tell you exactly where your boundaries are off, exactly where they need to be adjusted. And it might start off with, "I'm frustrated every single day because I'm making my eggs, and they always stick to this damn pan." If you're starting your single day with frustration over an egg pan, go to TJ Maxx, get a new pan, stop it already.

So if we can adjust a lot of these small things, we'll find that we have more energy for the big things. So I don't think that people should look at resentment and then say, "Oh, I have to have a serious conversation with my mother-in-law," roll back deal with your coffee mugs and your pans and your blankets and your laundry first, and then build up to it when you have more energy. But it's an incredibly useful tool.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So let's kind of take this back then to the workplace aspect, because let's say that as individuals, let's just make a generalization here, we are going to do a better job of paying attention to our resentments and looking for these areas where we need to either set better boundaries or ask for more help. So from a workplace perspective, the speaking that you do for the corporate world, how do you encourage those entities to contribute to the burnout challenge by making some changes in their companies to better understand, et cetera.

Cait Donovan: So it depends on what's going on. It depends on what's going on in the company, but usually, we'll start with the six factors in the workplace that have been researched to death that we know are correlated with burnout. And we only choose one of them at a time, and we work on that and we see what happens. But if one of the factors, for instance, is a values mismatch. The values mismatch can happen in two ways. It can be a values mismatch between a company's spoken values and values in action. If that's the problem, then we work on that. How do we get those things to be closer together so that people are not reacting to the lack of integrity? Or it can be a values mismatch between an employee and a company. If you find out it's a values mismatch between an employee and a company or an employee and their direct manager, that's not a good fit for your company.

So sometimes we do talk about the fact that quitting for burnout isn't always necessary, but if you are in an environment that's constantly going against who you are as a person, you probably should look for a better environment, both for the benefit of yourself and the benefit of the company. Sometimes having people leave is the best possible solution, so we look into things like that that say, "Hey, what's really going on here?"

The other thing we talk about a lot, and I think this is the most important piece, is the modeling of good boundaries by leadership. So if leadership says, we're not going to do emails after six o'clock, but then sends an email at 8:00 PM well, again, we're lacking in integrity. You're breaking down trust and people don't know what the expectations are. So get real good about that. If your company can handle having a policy like that, it's worth it to have one, but schedule-

Sarah Nicastro: Or whatever they are, right?

Cait Donovan: Whatever it is.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think that also seeing it in action the other way, so setting those boundaries, but asking for help. Leaders that are comfortable, and we've talked about this a bit on this podcast related to mental health, leaders that are saying, "I'm going through a hard time and I need to take some time off," or whatever those things are, right? But not hiding that or doing it in a way that people understand it's okay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Cait Donovan: Yeah, the modeling is the most important part. I had someone on LinkedIn that wrote a post, and I wish I could remember who they were to give them credit, but I don't remember. They said that they started to try something new because they were dealing with some culture issues at their company. And they said, they started one of their weekly team meetings by saying, "This is a task that I really struggled with last week," and, "Either this is how I got through it," or, "This is who I asked for help," or, "I haven't solved it yet. Does anybody have any ideas?"

Sarah Nicastro: I love that.

Cait Donovan: They started with, they said, "First failures, what did you fail at last week?" So this allows everybody in the room, this increases the level of psychological safety and allows everybody in the room to go around and then say, "Hey, this is what I'm struggling with. I haven't gotten help with it. I don't even know what to do." Or, "I struggled with this thing and this is how I fixed it. So if you are also struggling with this thing, this option might work for you." And this sort of failure share moment brought their team back together. It was the only thing they changed.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think we had talked about knowing how to talk about burnout. I mean, there's also this idea of it doesn't have to be burnout as a topic always. It can be how are you struggling? What are you struggling?

Cait Donovan: I think those are tough questions. I think those are tough questions because people don't always know, especially when it comes to chronic stress and burnout. Like, "I'm not struggling with anything. I'm fine." And then three weeks later, they're taking FMLA because they can't function anymore.

So I think that the modeling is a better way to do it because that creates space for just natural conversation to arise. It says, "Oh gosh, your son has diabetes. My mother has diabetes and she refuses to stop eating candy all day, and I don't know how to manage her." Dr. Kristen Donnelly taught, taught me this, the root of the word empathy, when you look at it in any language, in definition, in all different dictionaries all over the world, I think she looked at like 140 sources for the word something ridiculous. The root of the word empathy always has the word understanding in it. So if you want to increase empathy, you have to increase understanding. And understanding is a lot easier thing for most leaders to work on because it's easier to grasp than the idea of empathy. It's really easy to say, "Oh, my son has diabetes.," And for somebody to be like, "Oh yeah, my mom too," or whatever the heck, all of a sudden there's a different understanding. When you understand someone better, you are more likely to grant them grace.

When somebody understands you better, they're more likely to grant you grace. So creating that normal sea of life, it doesn't mean you're going to talk about your life all day, every day at work, but allowing the pieces of your story that you feel safe with to be part of the work environment will create more space for people to understand you, empathize with you and give you grace when you need it. And the same goes for you and other people. And this is modified by the oxytocin hormone, which is fascinating, but that's a whole nother deal.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think there's a lot more side conversations. I just want to end with, I want to talk about warning signs and then anything you would urge companies to consider in terms of how to respond to those resources to provide, et cetera. So what should they be looking for and how should they be reacting?

Cait Donovan: So if you are a company and you are looking for signs of burnout in your team, you should be looking for attitude change. Somebody that was always positive and is now negative, Nancy, that's a problem. You should be noticing attitude change. You should be noticing shifts in production. So if somebody can't keep up anymore and they always could, something's wrong, and you should be looking toward an increase of complaints about a person from other people in the company, even if they're just sort of whispers and things happening in the background. If you're noticing that a lot of people are annoyed with one person, either that person is a bully and needs to be dealt with, or that person is burnt out and needs support.

So there's those three things I think are really important. And as for what companies should do, it really depends on a combination of the company culture, the parts of the company culture that are contributing most to burnout, and how much buy-in they have from leadership. Nobody that is a team lead that doesn't have support from leadership should try and implement these things because it is impossible to carry this load by yourself, and you shouldn't have to.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. All right, I know we're out of time, so we're going to have to end there, but hopefully at some point I'll be able to have you back. In the meantime, let folks know where they can find the Fried Podcast, your book, any other information about your coaching, speaking, et cetera.

Cait Donovan: I think the best thing is to just share one resource because it's easy to remember. If people look up FRIED. The Burnout Podcast, they will find it anywhere they listen to podcasts. They'll also find the website and all of the information is available through there. That's one thing, and I would like to give one more resource before we wrap up, if that's okay.

Sarah Nicastro: Of course.

Cait Donovan: And when I was talking about all the brain changes, I know that some of the people listening were like, "Yeah, but then what do you do about it? How do you fix it?" You do not have to take six months off to fix it. Okay? One thing that is accessible, and by accessible, I mean free and available at all times is a guided "meditation" that's either called Yoga Nidra, N-I-D-R-A, or Body Scan Meditation. These are basically the same thing.

Andrew Huberman calls it non-sleep deep rest. It doesn't matter what you call it, but doing this for 10 to 11 minutes a day for 30 days will improve the functioning of your brain, calm down that part that's growing and regrow those parts that are shrinking. And so that's something that if you were listening and you're like, "But my brain is now broken." Don't be afraid. There's a super cheap, super easy way to help yourself. So go find, go to YouTube, go to Insight Timer, go to the Calm app, whatever it is that you use, type in Body scan or Yoga Nidra or whatever it is, and start practicing that to buy yourself back some of your function.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I feel like you were talking directly to me.

Cait Donovan: I sort of was.

Sarah Nicastro: I know. I can tell. So I'm going to get on that. No, I know, I do. I've said it on here before, and anyone that's listened all along is going to say, "You said you were going to start meditating a long time ago." I do. I do. I do. So yeah.

Cait Donovan: Well, this is an easy way to get that in that doesn't really feel like meditating and doesn't really require you that much work. It's just easier.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Okay. I'm going to give it a go, 30 days and I will report back.

Cait Donovan: Great.

Sarah Nicastro: Cait, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. Everyone look for FRIED. The Burnout Podcast, and it's Cait, C-A-I-T,, correct?

Cait Donovan: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. You can also visit to find more content, including some of the podcasts we reference today on burnout and mental health. Be sure to subscribe to the Future of Field Service INSIDER and look for the live tour event nearest to you. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn As always, thank you for listening.