The American workplace is under tremendous stress and burnout due to fallout from the pandemic. Recent research conducted at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy cites burnout as “a leading reason why local governments are struggling to keep workers and operate effectively.” The study revealed that racial and marginalized groups—people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community were the most overworked. The study further found that red tape compounded worker stress and if the trend isn’t reversed, the exodus of workers could threaten government’s ability to provide essential services. Business leaders have a responsibility to prevent and decrease burnout and stress while improving productivity at the same time, which can be a taller order. But innovations are looming through several modalities.
One growing solution to the burnout conundrum, especially in government jobs, is teleworking arrangements. While some companies continue to thumb their noses at the notion of remote and hybrid work and insist that employees come back into the office, data scientists at Ladders insist that the writing is on the wall. Remote work is here to stay. According to their projects, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023.
After initially opposing telework for employees, the federal government has made a major shift toward more teleworking opportunities, to Jim Perry, distinguished professor emeritus in the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. “I think we’re sort of learning from the recent past,” he said. While change might not come as quickly as some would hope, local governments “are fully capable” of adapting to today’s modern workforce expectations.
Another innovative strategy to prevent burnout is the introduction of smart offices into the public sector that offer solutions for burnout and efficiency levels. A smart office is a high tech hybrid workplace with the human touch. Ensuring employees stay productive while also avoiding burnout is a top priority for many public sectors and businesses. “One way you can achieve this,” according to Tom Ruth, vice president at Quuppa, “is by investing in a smart office space.” Smart offices are currently all the rage and promise to provide a previously unimagined level of connectivity that will help people work more efficiently and productively. They accomplish this through a variety of technologies, including automated processes, AI, analytical tools, indoor positioning and time trackers that free people to work on more high-value tasks rather than repetitive or menial ones.”
Location services, one of the connectivity technologies used in smart offices, allows employees to be tracked to pinpoint areas where time may be wasted and safely encourage social interaction. Introducing connectivity can help employees enjoy the office environment more and improve efficiency to decrease repeated feelings of burnout. “When fully implemented across an entire office space, these technologies can drastically reduce burnout rates by allowing for a more organized work environment where staff can easily communicate with one another, delegate tasks and receive notifications when they are potentially overworking,” Ruth said. “This in turn leads to a more efficient workspace that benefits everyone.”
Personalized Zoom Meditations
A few years ago, Carson Finkle, founder of Create Meditation, experienced an intense panic attack brought on by entrepreneurial anxiety. After utilizing breathwork to overcome his burnout, Finkle crafted customized meditations—both for individuals and large groups—to help other stressed professionals. Creative meditation helps stressed professionals break free from the constant hustle-and-grind culture mindset by guiding them through customized meditation sessions that combine breathwork, personalized music with mindfulness techniques into a distinctive, tailored experience. I’m a firm believer that any meditation or breathwork you do is beneficial to your well-being,” he said. “Breath has the power to calm the nervous system and bring us back to the present moment.”
Through Zoom meditations from the comfort of their homes, clients are eased into sessions to reduce intimidation (especially for first-time clients). Finkle guides breathing to help calm the nervous system, ending with a slow return to normal breath and future visualizations. What puts someone at risk for burnout? “They’re great at doingbut not great at being,” Finkle explained. “They’re so focused on the next task —endlessly climbing one mountain after another—that they forget to think about the present moment. They forget to think about themselves. They forget to breathe.”
He works one-on-one with business leaders and entrepreneurs and provides group sessions for companies, many of whom are experiencing symptoms of burnout (whether they know it or not). The hustle mentality leading to his own burnout-induced panic attack four years ago is responsible for the launch of Create Meditation. “My clients enter our sessions with stressors I’m familiar with—work stress, financial stress, the affairs of not being enough, and worry over current economic/world,” he said. “To help them relieve stress and become more present and empowered versions of themselves, I first ask them to do something uncomfortable: put themselves first.”
He teaches clients to put themselves at the top of their to-do list, reminding them that they are not being “selfish” by doing so, and they are just choosing “self-care.” He uses the Champagne Tower analogy. “They are the top glass in the champagne tower, and when they fill up their cup first, it will overflow and fill up the cups below (people closest in their life). In other words, if they take time to prioritize themselves, they will show up as better versions of themselves for the people they care about. It has a cascading effect for their personal relationships, professional ambitions and more.”
He also tries to make breathwork practice less intimidating and more connected to a client’s personal emotions. That’s why everybody mediates to music they choose. This gives them control over the session because they’re meditating to songs that bring out particular emotions and connect them directly to people and places they care about. The songs can pump them up, soothe them or bring them to tears. Sometimes clients are surprised by the emotions a certain song elicits, but it’s important because it’s their song. Having that connection makes sessions personal and visceral, giving them a way to access the emotions after they leave, and reliving the affirmative thoughts they learned during the Create Meditation session, he noted.
While nothing is a cure-all for burnout, the breathwork enables participants to recognize their own stressors, encounter their limiting sessions and develop new, empowering ones. “Just as the techniques helped me overcome my own entrepreneurial burnout,” he said, “I’m glad to help other stressed professionals confront their own stressors and become more present, transforming into the best version of themselves.”