Janice Litvin speaks and writes about workplace wellness, specifically stress and burnout. Her book, Banish Burnout Toolkit helps people understand and change their reactions to stress. Salonpas sat down with Janice to learn more about her quest to reduce workplace stress and burnout:
What was your catalyst to focus on workplace wellness?
The catalyst to focus on workplace wellness began with the recession of 2008 and wanting a new challenge after 20 years of technology recruiting. What do you do when you need a career change? I went to the gym and that is where I found Zumba Fitness and back to my first love – dancing. In July 2009, I flew to Southern California to get certified by the founder, Beto Perez.
From there I wanted to return to my career roots, the workplace, but I wanted to provide more value than simply leading fitness classes. I wanted to inspire and motivate others to find their “fun in fitness.” I do this by inspiring people to incorporate these three aspects:
Fun activity – be it volleyball, bowling, hiking, biking, swimming, gardening, etc. You need to be having fun or you will not maintain your activity.
Social – being with friends is one of the keys to feeling happy. The happiness chemical, oxytocin is released when we spend time with a good friend. And, we don’t want to cancel on a friend, so scheduling time to walk ‘n talk makes it more likely that you will do it.
Regular schedule – the only way to build a new habit is to start to do it regularly. I advise my clients to put exercise on their calendar.
How has the pandemic contributed to workplace stress and burnout?
The pandemic certainly exacerbated an already stressed-out America. Before the pandemic 66% of American workers were approaching burnout, according to Gallup. In 2021 that number rose to 77% according to Deloitte.
Having the added pressure of managing children’s schoolwork in the middle of the workday, increased work hours. While parents were saving time not commuting, their work hours actually increased due to having to return to their computers after dinner to finish important projects and emails.
On top of that the social connections normally found at work had all but disappeared. Yes, we had Zoom to replace face-to-face meetings, but water cooler moments disappeared. In addition people who were already lonely at work became even more lonely.
Tell us about the management methodology you developed that is available in your workbook, Banish Burnout Toolkit™.
My book, Banish Burnout Toolkit is a methodology based loosely on cognitive behavior therapy, a foundation co-developed by Dr. Albert Ellis. The underlying belief is that you can change your behavior in reaction to stress.
The book is divided into six tools which include STOP and Audit, Know Your Stress – Spin Your Stress, Unpack Your Emotional Baggage,, Practice Self-Care, Set Healthy Boundaries and Enlist an Accountability Partner:
#1. STOP and AUDIT
is two tools that work together as one. The first S-T-O-P, an acronym developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, stands for
Take a Breath
This tool helps people remember to interrupt negative thoughts in the middle of a stressful incident, be it long lines, traffic, or an annoyance at work. Then they can make the decision to turn the mindset into a positive one by choosing not to let traffic be upsetting, but rather an opportunity to listen to soothing music or call a good friend (hands-free of course).
This process works by shifting the stress reaction from the Amygdala, the fear or fight-flight-or-freeze part of the brain to the Pre-frontal Cortex, the rational, executive functioning part of the brain.
The second part of Tool #1 is the Stress Audit. Again its purpose is to shift a reaction to a stressful incident, like a disagreement at work, from the Amygdala to the Pre-frontal Cortex. This is accomplished by writing out what happened and how you reacted physically, verbally, emotionally, how intensely, and addictively.
#2. Know Your Stress – Spin Your Stress
is about identifying the two most common forms of stress reaction.
It is about building awareness of yourself and your reactions to stress and then taking the important step of converting those to a more sane and rational reaction.
For example, let’s say you made what you consider a big mistake on a project or presentation at work. The common reaction is to overreact and think, “oh no, I’m going to miss out on that next big promotion based on this mistake.” In reality, a good boss who is trying to groom you for that promotion is not going to take it away over one mistake. And the trick is to say to yourself, “my boss is a very reasonable person and I am going to talk with her so that I can learn for the future.”
# 3. Unpack Your Emotional Baggage
This tool refers to the fact that many people are walking around carrying the weight of old hurts and emotional wounds. This causes them to overreact to seemingly innocuous events at work. Usually there is some sort of trigger involved. Usually these wounds come from some time in the past from parents, teachers, school bullies, or even from a prior job.
For example, let’s say a boss casually comments on grammatical errors made on an article. And you get intense knots in your stomach filled with anxiety and anger. This reaction often stems from a childhood filled with intense criticism and unreasonable expectations from parents or teachers.
#4. Practice Self-Care
This tool, while seemingly obvious is not taken seriously by high achieving executives and entrepreneurs. In addition to the typical eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep, I also talk about the value of the sun (https://janicelitvin.com/what-does-sunlight-have-to-do-with-banishing-burnout/) and the value of morning pages, a process described in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Writing with pen and paper helps to clear out the cobwebs of your mind and let go of the stressors from the day before and the stressors of the day to come.
#5. Set Healthy Boundaries
Again this tool may seem obvious but there are other facets to setting healthy boundaries, like learning how to push back when a boss comes to you with a new project but you are already overloaded. Most managers are promoted for technical skills, not emotional intelligence or project management skills. So it is important to communicate what is going on and to make clear what your needs are.
Managing up is about learning to take control and improve the relationship with your boss. Managing up is also about keeping in mind, “what’s in it for the manager.” In other words, form your appeal in terms of what would work best for the team.
I am often asked how to deal with a boss that expects someone to respond to emails 24×7. My response is to write a short report displaying the impact of working overtime. It includes the scientific evidence of the value of taking breaks and the impact of overwork on productivity, morale and even the bottom line. Then I recommend giving it to the boss in such a way that your intention is to benefit the team overall.
I take this chapter one step further and talk about how to learn how to set limits with yourself, meaning knowing how much you can really do. Often entrepreneurs and high-achieving workers say yes to every assignment or project that comes their way. This is a recipe for burnout.
#6. Enlist an Accountability Partner
The value of having an accountability partner is to not only help you stay on track with projects and commitments but also to strategize difficult situations and to celebrate wins. As I’ve described above, the added benefit of spending time with others is the release of happiness chemicals.
In a report entitled “Why We need Best Friends at Work,” Gallup found that 63 percent of people who have a best friend in their workplace are twice as engaged in their work. Otherwise, without a colleague in the company to commiserate with, work can seem lonely and isolating.
Describe a typical day in your life; from when you arise to when you retire.
Upon awakening, I try to remember to drink water and to get outside. During the spring and summer I enjoy the flowers and vegetable plants growing in my garden. I check on them, groom them, and water them. This brings me joy.
Then I eat breakfast and check my email, trying to address any important follow-up items.
First and foremost, I work on any upcoming workshops. This includes not only customizing each Banish Burnout workshop for my client’s industry and particular needs, it also includes interviewing a handful of employees to become intimate with their concerns and stressors. Then I work their particular stressors into the workshop.
I get a lot of requests to appear on podcasts. I say yes to all of them.
I would not be in business if I did not market. So I also reach out to prospects to see how I can help them move forward in the sales cycle. I also visit Linkedin to strengthen relationships in my industry or post an article.
From there I usually have a number of Zoom meetings. During the pandemic I realized that filling my day with Zoom meetings was overwhelming, so I began to block off my time. I saved mornings for my work and afternoons for meetings when possible. And my goal is no more than three meetings per day.
Furthermore, I spend some amount of time every month mentoring new emerging speakers.
Finally, I am always researching the latest trends and findings in workplace wellness and stress / burnout.
Since I like to move I not only take little breaks throughout the day, I also exercise. I either take a walk in my neighborhood, or teach one of my two weekly Zumba Fitness classes. I also teach or take a BodyPump class, which I love because it’s important to strengthen muscles.
The other benefit to taking mini breaks is connecting with my husband or adult son (a rapper named Leezythegifted), so we can chat or have a laugh. We often cook together or walk together and encourage each other, and celebrate the wins in our business. Just last week I engaged my son in his career by inviting him to present his ideas on social media to the Golden Gate Breakfast Club of San Francisco.