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I was recently asked to build and present a custom session for about 75 association professionals on the topics of burnout and innovation. Following represents an overview of my research and key findings. I encourage you to share and discuss this resource with your team, identify the items you’d like to explore further, and serve as accountability partners for one another as you work to implement change.
When I asked the group what word or words first come to mind when they hear the word burnout, this is what they said:
And when asked what feelings or emotions they associate with burnout, they said:
According to Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA (a book I highly recommend), burnout is defined as:
1. Emotional exhaustion — the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long
2. Depersonalization — the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion
3. Decreased sense of accomplishment — an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference
Take a quiet moment to think about:
We’ll come back to this in a moment. In the meantime, let’s turn to innovation. I asked the same two questions, starting with what word or words first come to mind when you hear the word innovation? This is what the group had to say:
When asked what feelings or emotions they associate with innovation, they said:
According to Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World's Most Creative Corporate Playground by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, innovation is defined as:
1. Top leadership who is totally enamored with and enchanted by innovation, and who expects the same from everyone in the organization, from the boardroom to the storeroom.
2. Frontline leadership who facilitates and encourages creative ideas from the entire team; a work environment that enables employees to quickly try new and innovative ways of doing their jobs, learn from their experiences, and try again.
3. Tangible measurements that are meaningful to the business process.
Take another quiet moment to think about:
Now let’s take a look at the intersection between burnout and innovation. It’s interesting to note, for example, on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that burnout is most likely to happen at the base of the pyramid when our most fundamental physiological needs aren’t met. Additionally, innovation is most likely to happen at the top of the pyramid only after the remaining four tiers of needs have been met.
The conclusion I’ve drawn here is that when we are burned out, our ability to innovate screeches to a halt. Think about your own work. Is this your experience?
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s consider the lens of meetings and events. It’s common practice after one conference concludes for the staff (including me!) to simply run to the next and not look back. After all, there are more deadlines to meet, participants to register, meals to order, and A/V to confirm. I often call this the Roadrunner Syndrome.
When this happens, we fail to collect and leverage a lot of valuable information. We don’t take the time to individually self-reflect on the event’s strengths/weaknesses nor do we complete a full after action review with the team, let alone review, aggregate, and apply the participant evaluations/feedback and/or focus groups insights.
Instead of making positive changes to future events, we default to the way it’s always been done before. Although most of us really do care about continuous quality improvement, it’s usually just easier to follow last year’s blueprint. Moreover, this means we don’t have to expend the extra energy with our colleagues and members to navigate the change management process.
But we do our organizations a disservice in the long run — they become bored with the same old program. Our sponsors and exhibitors become disinterested because they’re not seeing the same value they once did. Ultimately, over time, revenue begins to decline (often a little at a time, sometimes even imperceptible at first, but it eventually adds up year over year).
And for those of us who can’t help but make waves and go the extra mile to better serve our key audiences, that compounds our workload exponentially. We’re trying to justify changes, help paint a picture for the new/reimagined program elements, and align resources, all while being short on time, understaffed, and/or lacking key leadership support.
In this post-pandemic meeting/event planning environment, it’s no wonder the very real effects of change, stress, and mental health concerns are once again surfacing. Consider the following realities:
In support of less employee burnout and greater innovation, following are a handful of strategies for you and your teams to consider and try.
If you or your team has an idea or resource to add to this conversation about burnout and innovation, please share with us your tips, tricks, and recommendations using the comments below or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.