Burnout & Belonging Keynote

Some researchers and pundits will tell you that the way to avoid burnout is to change your work habits, de-clutter your calendar and your to-do lists; take more time off, prioritize activities that rejuvenate you, and so on. While more vacation and more yoga are certainly good for us, they are not the solution to burnout. That’s because several of the causes of burnout stem from problems in our workplace community, not problems within ourselves. So while some will tell you to fix yourself in order to solve burnout, Dr. Nunn has a very different message: strengthen the sense of community with your colleagues instead.

Sociologists study communities. We study how they are built; the interactions that hold communities together; and what happens when a community fails its members. Drawing on these understandings, Dr. Nunn emphasizes the importance of feeling that we belong to the many communities we are a part of, including our workplace community. Genuine community building is a mutual and reciprocal dynamic between people and that means that each of us must take responsibility for both offering and receiving the gift of belonging.

In this talk, Dr. Nunn outlines 5 strategies to employ and 5 pitfalls to avoid, including:

Strategy 2: Move Beyond Small Talk to Get-to-Know-You Talk

Take a genuine interest in your co-workers. Yes, even ones you don’t really like. Ask a question. Listen to their answer. Share your own answer too (be brief). Not sure what to ask about? Try these topics: hobbies, books they like, favorite podcasts, current food obsessions, quirky things their pets do. Part of feeling that we belong to a group or team or school or workplace is feeling that others are genuinely interested in who we are as people, and that they are willing to let us know them a bit in return.

Strategy 4: Ask for Favors. Agree to Favors

Good relationships have give and take. We lend a helping hand and others pitch in for us when we need it too. A healthy community develops when people are a little bit indebted to one another. You covered that meeting for me so I could pick up my sick kid from school and now I owe you one. So next week I offer to proofread that report for you so you can prep for your big event. These favors bind us to each other, hold us together in a healthy, reciprocal system of exchanges. But it doesn’t work if some people opt out. And it doesn’t work if it is lop-sided. You can’t always help others and never let them help you. Nor can you always ask others to pitch in for you without returning the favor. That doesn’t foster a healthy community, it fosters resentment and awkwardness. Show colleagues they matter by routinely offering and requesting favors of all kinds, including a sympathetic ear when someone is having a rough day.

Pitfall 1: Oversharing

Initiating get-to-know talk can inspire some folks to overshare. Navigate oversharing with grace and maturity. Be truthful, caring and firm. “Thank you for this story, but I’m going to stop you there…” Then smile and move on. You don’t need to avoid that person in the future. You don’t need to pull back on get-to-know you talk with others. Keep up that work.

Pitfall 3: Outside of Work Expectations

Taking an interest in co-workers’ lives can lead to hopes for an outside-of-work friendship to develop. If you both want that, great. If not, that’s fine too. Remember that this is your workplace community, one of many communities in your life that you are a part of. It is perfectly appropriate to keep collegial relationships within that realm. You are not obligated to say yes to invitations to spend your free time together. Outside-of-work friendships are not required for a workplace community to be healthy and strong.

Pitfall 5: Insincerity

Fake, hollow attempts to make others “feel seen” and “feel valued” are insulting. It generates the opposite response than what you are looking for. Do it genuinely or don’t do it at all.