In this episode of Room at the Table, Betsy is joined by Kelly Mitchell, CEO and founder of impactHR to candidly discuss the realities of burnout and stress in the entrepreneurial world. They delve into the unique dynamics of managing burnout as a business owner versus an employee, talk about the telltale signs of burnout and how it can impact leadership and decision-making abilities, and discuss the importance of effective stress management.
About Kelly Mitchell:
Kelly Mitchell is the CEO and Founder of impactHR, a pioneering human resources consulting firm based in the heart of innovation. With a passion for transforming organizations through people-centric strategies, Kelly has made a significant impact in the field of HR and business management. Beyond her professional pursuits, Kelly is actively involved in philanthropic endeavors, supporting causes that champion education, diversity, and community empowerment. She serves on the board of several nonprofit organizations and believes in using her success as a platform to create positive social change.
Kelly holds a B.S. in Psychology from Towson State University and a M.S. in Human Resources Management from Widener University.
Episode Transcript – Navigating Burnout and Stress
Welcome to Room at the Table, an opportunity for you to join me, Betsy Cerulo, and my guests for conversations about creating equitable and inclusive workplaces where leaders rise above mediocrity and our teams thrive. Pull up a chair, there’s always Room at the Table.
Welcome to another meaningful conversation on Room at the Table. I am Betsy Cerulo, your host, and welcome to my guest today, Kelly Mitchell, CEO and founder of impactHR. Kelly is an award-winning CEO recognized for her leadership and ethics. She brings to each client her ability to listen, assess and develop customized solutions for effective employment management and workplace strategies that enable her clients to focus on the financial growth of their businesses. So today, we are talking about burnout and stress. What does it look like? And how do we make friends with it as we operate in a fast-paced work environment? So pull up a chair, enjoy your favorite beverage, and let’s get started. Welcome, Kelly.
Hi, Betsy. Thank you so much for having me this morning.
Oh, my goodness, I have looked forward to this. We have known each other for a long time, operating our companies, watching each other grow and expand. You and I know nothing about burnout and stress.
Oh, yeah. Right. I wish that was the case. Right?
Oh, yeah. So I wanted to have this topic in the podcast because whether you own a business, whether you work within a company, or for those of us who are stay-at-home parents, there’s burnout and stress.
I wanted to talk about it because it’s very real and we don’t have the luxury to take endless vacations. So we have to really know how to work with it. I wanted to be able to give our listeners some tips, some things that we’ve encountered, and maybe some times that we haven’t been so good at it.
I would agree. Like you said, being a business owner, versus working with companies with employees, burnout exists in both areas, but I think it’s managed a little bit differently, right? Because as a business owner, it’s not just about yourself. You have everybody else that you need to be responsible for and that you’re trying to take care of, versus an employee, of course, they also have folks that they need to take care of like their families and such, but it is a different type of management, I think, with the burnout, for sure.
Absolutely. From your perspective, running an HR consulting company, you can see with your customers, and I’ll say we as in me, when the leader or a decision maker is under a lot of pressure and really tired, that’s when we can make mistakes. That’s when we can say things off the cuff that maybe we don’t mean, we can be a little sharp, and we can miss details in a document that can be costly. You’ve seen that.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. What I like to tie into their presence, in the moment as business leaders, is all of that pressure and that stress and that burnout effect that trickle effect in the organization can become a disaster. The executives having to manage that well is definitely key. Yeah.
So in your experience, what does burnout feel like?
For me, personally?
For me, I know when it’s getting to that point when I’m checking out. What I mean by that is that I’m not spending time keeping my employees engaged, or having the level of conversations for that support and being a resource for them. I’m mentally, I don’t want to use the word shutting down, but it’s more like checking out. I’m kind of in a blank slate, if you will, which again, as I mentioned, can become disastrous. My employees are looking up to me to give them support and encouragement and be a resource for them. And when I’m in that state, it’s not good. It’s not a good place for sure.
It’s not. I can tell you, I’m actually in burnout right now. I can be really honest about that. We’ve been fortunate, a lot of wonderful things going on in the company, but my wife and I are also moving. So preparing to put the house up for sale, and getting ready to move. Where I would normally take a week off during this time, I haven’t been. And any time I’ve had, it’s been towards working on the house and doing those types of things. So I’m definitely tired. But what I’ve noticed is I’ll go back and look at emails and say, “How did I miss that in the email?” Or some mistakes in the email, so I can kind of feel myself get a little droopy if you will.
Yeah, for sure. Speaking of emails, one of the things that I’m finding when I’m also in burnout is I go through my emails, and I say, “I’ll take care of that later. I’ll take care of that later.” And to your point, you ended up missing something that you probably needed to address at that time, but because, again, going back to checking out, I’m like, “Oh, I’ll just deal with that later.” And so that’s definitely not good. I started my firm in 2020. I was fortunate, I had a business partner for the first several years when we started, but since she has left and retired, it’s been me. I tried to wear all the hats, like most small business owners, you’re wearing all the hats. And people would advise me to take a break, go do your vacation, take a couple of days and just go hide and hide away in your bedroom if you have to. But I believe that’s easier said than done for most business owners because you do have that pressure of making sure that things aren’t falling through the cracks, and you’re wearing the operations hat, you’re wearing the accounting hat, finance, marketing, right? So it’s not like you can say, “Well, I’m going to step away from the CEO role for a day”, because what happens to operations and marketing and finance? And so that definitely leads to quicker burnout for folks like us.
What I have learned is I’ve been really fortunate to have an amazing team, and we all ebb and flow, just like leaders, there’s an ebb and flow. And the team I have now is just magnificent in handling whatever’s on their plate. And there have been many times when they see that I’m tired because I’m the one that says, “Go take off. Shut down, do not touch your email, if you touch your email, I’m going to be mad at you.” And so there have been times when they come back to me and say, “Look, we’ve got this. You’ve got to go take a break, and just let go.” Different times when I do that, when I come back, you know what they say to me? “We are so grateful you trusted us.” And when I hear it put like that, I think, “Oh my gosh, I’ve always trusted you.” But you need to delegate. So I work with an executive coach. And she’s really worked with me on better delegating. Delegating is not pushing off tasks so I can go play golf.
I haven’t played golf in years, but that’s what people do. When I delegate that means I’m doing something else, another initiative, and the more I delegate, the more visionary work I get to do for the company and for the different organizations that I’m part of. So I feel like I get to be more expansive as far as my leadership, as far as fulfilling, but sometimes I get caught in that cement and I can’t get out of it. It’s almost like you need a blowtorch to get me out of it.
I recently actually promoted one of my employees to be my Director of Client Service Operations because what I found over the years and with the advice I was getting from my coaches and my advisors, I needed that person. The day that I made that decision to have that position filled by an internal person that’s been loyal and just a great employee, for me, I felt this breath of fresh air, like something just lifted off my shoulders. And I think it was because I was able to get myself out of that cement a little bit and have this person take on some of those tasks that were just kind of keeping me down. I’ve been trying to focus a little bit more on myself as well, like exercising a little bit more, eating better, and doing meditation, so that some of those techniques that we hear about all the time can help with that emotional imbalance or burnout feelings. I try to relay that to our customers when they’re dealing with employees that are clearly stressed. They’re clearly burnt out. And there are signs of all of that. As employers, we should be looking out for those signs. And then what can we be doing to support them? To your point, make sure that they are taking that time off. Do not be emailing them when you know they took a PTO. All of that builds up, and then it gets them to a point where they’re like, “I’m checking out, I’m just totally burnt out right now.”
Yeah, we’re really mindful about email, especially through the shift in the workplace through the pandemic. We don’t have in-person meetings the way we did. So we send out check-in emails, but we’re very considerate when someone’s on vacation or out of the office that day, they are not included in that string.
Yeah. Good for you.
Emails just take way, way too long to go through. It’s cumbersome having to look at the computer all the time. It’s not a good thing. So if we’re going to promote balance and well-being, we all know we have to act that way. So one of the things too, when you used the term the trickle down effect, I’ve also then guided the team, “Okay, those around this role, now, you need to delegate here. Why do you think we have an intern? Delegate that work to the intern.” So it’s not as though only the CEO gets to delegate, everybody gets to delegate because there are people in certain roles that are meant to carry certain pieces of the puzzle. I mean, probably the way I was raised, it’s just, “Oh, it’s easy. I’ll just get it done.” So then here you go, I get this done, get this done, and then there are these layers where by the end of it all, you just think, “Okay, now, what did I do today?” One of the things we talked about at work, too, was the to-do list. So we send out, in the morning, critical tasks. “Hey, look, I feel like a warrior when my checklist, my long list is checked off.” That adds to burnout. You don’t have to have that long list.
Absolutely. It’s funny you mentioned that. I was just holding a training session, and it was a leadership training session, a couple of days ago. And one of the things I mentioned to them is that I do feel like I’ve accomplished something when I’m going through my checklist, right? Oh, I got that accomplished. I got that accomplished. But you’re right. At the end of the day, I look at that and go, what did I really accomplish today? Because as business owners, we should be looking at growth and strategy all the time. If I’m sucked into those daily tasks, and I’m just checking all the boxes, at the end of the day, I do feel a little deflated because I’m like, what did I actually truly do for the business? You mentioned a little while ago about the trust factor. And I just wanted to add, like you, oh, my gosh, thank goodness for my team. They’re just phenomenal. But I was actually, in a very, very long time, I took short vacations here and there, but last year, I actually took, I would say, 12 days, to go to Ireland with my family. My team said, “We got this. Do not check in with us. Don’t email us, we got it and unless the place is burning, you will not be hearing from us.” And it was just a fantastic moment for me because of the word trust. You mentioned that. I had to trust them. Not that I didn’t. But I had to trust myself to trust them.
We’re not used to it.
Right. Yeah, absolutely.
Yeah. What I’ve gotten used to doing is where my number two person says I know how to reach you so if you don’t hear from me, go have a good time because you, meaning me, do not reach out to the team when they’re on vacation. I’m really strict about those boundaries. So then that’s why they’ll reprimand me, seriously, they’ll reprimand me and say, “You know what, if you don’t reach out to us, then we don’t reach out to you.” So you’ve got to let it go. Once in a while, I’ve had an employee who has crossed that boundary because it was easier to get an answer from me. And then I just started to say, “Guess what? I’m not going to respond. You need to go through the chain and who you report to, to ask that question.” And then after a while, when I stopped responding, then they realized either figure it out on your own, or I’m going to reach out to someone else on the team for the response, and then that practice stopped.
But I think what you’re alluding to is definitely key for all of this: how you’re building your culture, organizationally. You can’t say to your employees, and communicate with them and say, “Go take the day off, don’t check your emails,” but then your actions contradict what you’re saying. That’s certainly not the culture that you want to build. You want to build a culture where you are truly doing what you say to your employees, and then set up a culture where employees feel like, “I have other resources that I can tap into.” It doesn’t always have to be Betsy, it doesn’t always have to be Kelly, there’s the team, and once you set up a culture and an understanding, that certainly helps those employees as well, in your absence, especially.
I’ve noticed some of the things that we do as leaders, we may think that some of those tasks are rote. Not that they’re menial, they’re just rote. So I started taking some of those tasks and delegating those, and came to find out that the employee who took that on thought this is really interesting. I never thought about it that way so I would start moving other things off my plate, and it gave people an opportunity to learn and to grow. Once in a while, I say, we don’t like to say this, but once in a while, we do say, “Hey, if one of us gets hit by a bus, the ship needs to keep moving.” So that’s why it’s dangerous in an organization for one person to be the keeper of the knowledge. Look, when you own a company, there’s always a lot that’s going to be kept upstairs. You have to share because other people get to grow.
Absolutely. I think one of the reasons why most folks, most employees especially, get burnt out is because they’re not feeling that challenge. They’re not feeling like there are any opportunities for growth. And I’m not talking about promotion from this level to this level type, but intellectual growth, expanding or enlarging their job responsibilities so that they continue to feel like there’s some value to what they’re doing. But if you have someone and they’re kind of stuck in that job, or those daily tasks, day in and day out, and if there were not enough resources, because we know, right now, a lot of companies are kind of short on resources, it takes them to that point of burnout and not being mentally well a lot quicker. So to your point about giving them opportunities for that growth and development is definitely important.
Absolutely. Something simple that can help one move through burnout when you do take the day off or whether it’s a week off, a day off, or even at night, don’t check your email. I’m bad at that. I will check emails sometimes when I shouldn’t. But I do notice that when I take my eyes away from the email, not only does it let my eyes rest, it lets my mind rest because I immediately go into strategy and start formulating a solution or a plan because that’s typically what people in leadership do, managers do that. Email, I think, is one of the worst problems out there for burnout. It’s excessive. You get it from everywhere. And because you respond to something, people think, “Well, that means she’s available 24/7.” No, it doesn’t. But I’ve set it up that way. So now I have to do it a little bit differently.
Absolutely. I always have to remind my employees as well as my kids, sometimes, be careful about what you say in those emails because it’s all about perception. How is that other person going to receive it? I’m very short and brief in my emails, and sometimes that’s not received very well on the other end. And so you kind of have to think about, how is this going to be perceived? Is Kelly annoyed? Is she not happy today? What’s going on? Because a tone might be, like I said, perceived in a different way.
Well, since you and I work together on projects when you respond to me like that, I love it because I gotta move on to this. So someone like me, I appreciate it because you get to the point, and okay, move on. And there are times that I will send emails like that. You stick to the facts. Even my customers, I’ve noticed, don’t want a soliloquy. They want facts and solutions. Sometimes, they don’t care how you feel. It’s not that people are insensitive. We need to cut through all that stuff to just get to what the facts are so we can resolve the issue or lay this to rest so we can check that off the list. But people get really sensitive.
Absolutely, absolutely. I was just about to share, someone mentioned to me that they were offended by an email that they got because it didn’t start with something like, how are you today? Or that nicety, I guess, about the emails and all I kept thinking to myself, was that really necessary? To your point, Betsy, did they get to the point? Did they tell you what they needed? But yeah, it’s interesting how different, like, I would have read that email and thought, oh, that’s great, I know exactly what they need and move on, versus the other person thought, there’s something wrong with that communication.
And you know what? I’ve noticed that when I am feeling tired, I will pick up the phone and call a customer or whomever, and sometimes I will say, “You know what, I just thought I would just pick you up. I’m a little toasty today, I’m tired. And I didn’t want that to come across on email. So I just thought, “Let me pick up the phone, let me call you.” And they were like, oh, my, and then you have this wonderful conversation that leads to something richer, that doesn’t always happen over email, and I think it gives the other person permission to say, “You know what? I’m exhausted too.”
And I was going to bring in these video calls now, in today’s world. When someone requests a meeting with me now, I’m like, do you want to talk via Zoom or do you want to just talk on the phone? Because I think a lot of people are now finding this to be stressful and the video calls to be a little bit stressful. And I think it’s because we got into the habit now of working remotely, being able to do this so quickly and easily to have video calls that we’re finding that we’re doing back to back to back video calls now. And then by the end of the day, you’re just wiped out.
Tell me about it.
Which is something important for employers to also think about when you have remote employees. You cannot schedule them back to back to back to back video calls because that will burn them out very quickly.
Yeah, it does. And as leaders, we have to go back to our teams and say, what do you need? How are you today? It’s okay to ask. I think sometimes what I find in certain people that I’ve come across, they don’t want to ask the question, because you really don’t want to know. And to me, as a leader, especially if you’re in a small business, you have an obligation to know. You have an obligation to make sure your employees are okay because we can’t assume if someone says, “I’m fine,” you don’t know what’s going on. And I’m not saying that they have to bring in the whole bouillabaisse of what may be going on. But if your employee is really burnt out, and burnt out doesn’t have to mean that they haven’t had a vacation in a year, it could just be whatever’s coming at you could be all at once. You have to strategize and work with them to make one small thing that can come off their plate that might make them feel better.
And as leaders, we need to be tuned into our people. You need to understand and realize when there is that behavioral change. So if someone is not as vocal or someone is not as engaged in a conversation with you, and typically they are, that slight behavioral change should trigger, as a leader, to say something is not right. And what do we need to do about that and have that conversation?
Figure it out before it gets to a point where that employee is like, “I’m done. This isn’t for me anymore.”
And then I’m calling you to say, “Help me fix this.”
I know. And it’s a small investment of time in the beginning that really makes a lasting impression for not only the employee, but for the company, to have that peace, because the more ease we have, sometimes, the less likely the burnout will just engulf you.
I would agree. Well said.
As we bring this to a close, I want to ask you, what would you like to leave the listeners with, either from a leadership perspective or something they can do to make their workplace better when it comes to burnout and stress?
Great. Let me start with the leader piece. I think, as leaders, as I mentioned, we need to be more aware of our employees. We need to understand what they need to be fully engaged and in their presence in the workplace. A lot of times, leaders, I think, are so busy that they just assume that their employees are all okay, and that’s not necessarily the case, as you and I both know. So as leaders, we need to put some strategies in place to say, how are our employees doing? Do they need more from us as leaders? And if so, what are they? And can we make these incremental changes in our organization to support the needs of our employees so they can be more engaged, more productive, and be in the moment and present there? For employees, I think communication is key. How are people going to know that you are maybe not feeling it, finding that you don’t have the right training or the resources to be effective in your role? Maybe you have all of these personal things going on, no one knows that unless you’re communicating and letting other people know, especially your leaders, and sharing what it is that you need and to communicate that and not get yourself to a point where there’s no return. Once you start feeling like there needs to be more for you, you need to communicate that and share it with your leadership team.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And piggyback on that, I think one quality that’s really important is just to be human. As the leader and as the employees, however we all work together, we’re all in this together with a common goal of whatever success one wants to feel, whatever fulfillment one wants to feel. And when we can have some open conversations to ease the burden of being tired, then that really helps everything overall. So my wish and my want for all of the listeners out there is to take care of yourself. And even if you see that you’re the leader of your organization, or whomever you report to seems to be going through a tough time, I bet if you approach them and say, “Hey, are you okay? How are you feeling today?” you might be surprised how that opens up and helps to lift something for somebody else because you care.
Right. And one final thought on that, to piggyback on that, be genuine about it, be authentic about it. Don’t do it because you feel like it’s something you’ve got to do. Truly feel like it’s something you should do and be authentic about it. So, good point.
Well, Kelly, I’m really glad that you joined me today. I wish for both of us some respite and some loving time with our families and for ourselves so that we can keep doing what we do. But I just want to tell you, I appreciate you. And I really appreciate that you were able to give a piece of your heart today to have this conversation. Thank you for being here.
Thank you. Thank you, Betsy. Thank you for asking, and thank you for having me this morning.
My pleasure. So, listeners, you have a great day. Do something special for yourself. Turn off the email and just go outside and just go hug someone you love and forget about burnout and stress. It doesn’t exist at that moment.
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