Burnout in Professional Services, with Dr. George Vergolias, R3 Continuum
Dr. George Vergolias, Chief Clinical Officer at R3 Continuum, joined host John Ray to discuss burnout in solo and small firm professional services providers. Dr. Vergolias described the stages of burnout, differentiated between stress and burnout, and offered tips and strategies to mitigate its effects, particularly when your firm is small without a lot of big firm resources. He also discussed building resilience in recovery from burnout, broaching the topic with someone you think might be suffering, and much more.
Behavioral health is fundamental to workplace wellbeing, culture, and performance. It is also the key to resilient and thriving employees, organizations, and communities. For over thirty years, R3 has been a workplace behavioral health pioneer and innovator, providing rapid response and ongoing behavioral health solutions that help people and organizations recover, perform, and thrive in the wake of disruption and stress.
Dr. George Vergolias, Chief Clinical Officer, R3 Continuum
George Vergolias, PsyD, LP is a forensic psychologist and threat management expert. As part of his role of Chief Clinical Officer of R3 Continuum, he leads their Threat of violence and workplace violence programs.
Dr. Vergolias is also the founder and President of TelePsych Supports, a tele-mental health company providing involuntary commitment and crisis risk evaluations for hospitals and emergency departments. He has over 20 years of forensic experience with expertise in the following areas: violence risk and threat management, psychological dynamics of stalking, sexual offending, emotional trauma, civil and involuntary commitment, suicide and self-harm, occupational disability, law enforcement consultation, expert witness testimony, and tele-mental health.
Dr. Vergolias has directly assessed or managed over one thousand cases related to elevated risk for violence or self-harm, sexual assault, stalking, and communicated threats. He has consulted with regional, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Prisons.
He has worked for and consulted with Fortune 500 companies, major insurance carriers, government agencies, and large healthcare systems on issues related to work absence management, workplace violence, medical necessity reviews, and expert witness consultation.
John Ray : [00:00:00] Hello, I’m John Ray on the Price and Value Journey. As we pour our passion and energy into serving our clients and growing our respective businesses, we often find ourselves walking a tightrope, you might say, balancing multiple responsibilities in our firms and with our families, of course, and pushing ourselves to meet the ever-increasing demands of entrepreneurship. Those never stop. The risk of burnout is ever present in that kind of situation and understanding its causes, its consequences, and most importantly, prevention strategies is essential for our well-being and our long-term success.
John Ray : [00:00:44] So, to address the issue of burnout, I’m privileged to have Dr. George Vergolias join us today. George is a doctor of psychology. He’s a workplace resilience consultant. He’s an expert in workplace well-being. He’s got quite a CV, you might say, in this area. And he is the chief clinical officer at R3 Continuum, and R3 Continuum is a worldwide leader in providing tailored behavioral health solutions for organizations that help people manage through workplace disruption and stress. George, thank you for joining us.
George Vergolias: [00:01:23] Pleasure to be here, John. Thanks for having me.
John Ray : [00:01:25] Yeah, thank you so much. So before we get going on burnout, let’s talk a little bit about you and R3 Continuum and the work you’re doing.
George Vergolias: [00:01:34] Certainly. Let me start with talking about R3 Continuum. We’ve been in business for about 35 years, and as you said in the intro, we really offer tailored behavioral health solutions to workplaces to help promote well-being, help mitigate disruptive events. Those could be anywhere from a natural disaster like a fire or tornado, as well as manmade tragedies like an active shooter situation, an accidental death, a suicide at the workplace. We respond to almost 3000 individual events every month. We have an international network of providers that we leverage to do that. And our goal is in that front to really help people recover and bounce back from those events in a way that kind of maximizes their resilience and allows them to get back on their feet.
George Vergolias: [00:02:21] We also offer a range of psychological evaluations that might be required in the workplace, fitness for duty evaluations, pre-employment screens that help reduce risk and help, again, get people back on track that may be struggling with some issues. And then, we do workplace violence solutions as well because unfortunately, we see a rise in those across the workplace, across all sectors.
George Vergolias: [00:02:46] And then, we have a leadership program and executive optimization, leadership wellness program, where we work with high-level leaders and a number of organizations, both small and large, around helping promote their well-being and their leadership skills. And part of that is leadership wellness, support as well as performance coaching. So, it’s a wide range of activities that we engage in, but all of it is geared towards offering those tailored behavioral health solutions to the workplace.
George Vergolias: [00:03:14] As far as my background, I’ve been a psychologist, initially a clinical psychologist, and I did my post-doc in forensic psychology at Notre Dame many years ago, longer than I care to admit. But I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. And early career, I actually did a lot of traditional forensic work. I did a lot of work with the courts. I did a lot of assessments for people not guilty by reason of insanity and so on.
George Vergolias: [00:03:39] And then, at one point I started moving into doing school violence assessments and school shooting assessments right around the time that Columbine hit and when that occurred, because there were so few specialists doing that, you were thrust into being an expert. A few years later, I transitioned that expertise into the corporate setting, working with workplace violence, and I’ve been doing that now for 20-plus years.
George Vergolias: [00:04:01] It was about 10 or 12 years ago that I really felt like when I joined R3 about 12 years ago, it was right around that time that I began to realize that dealing with individual threats, I still do that, by the way. It’s an important activity. There’s a lot we can do to mitigate threats if we’re aware of them. But I felt like it was whack-a-mole, like you would deal with one threat and mitigate it and then another would pop up somewhere else and another would pop up somewhere else.
George Vergolias: [00:04:28] And I began to ask the question, “What can we do at scale? What can we do larger? And I was watching a documentary on the Dalai Lama, ironically, and it struck me, John, that the Dalai Lama is probably close to 0% risk of engaging in a mass shooting because the Dalai Lama it’s because he’s living his life, maximizing a sense of emotional and psychological well-being. He’s living a really sharp, well-honed life of resilience and compassion. And that got me thinking. If we could build workplace cultures, and let’s be honest, we spend about a third of our life at work, if we could build workplace cultures that foster well-being and resilience, we at scale can really start moving the needle towards more people being somewhat inoculated from engaging in heinous, violent acts. That’s what got me into understanding psychological resilience and well-being. I approach it from a kind of a tougher edge. I don’t approach it from the let’s-go-to-a-mountain-top-and-do-yoga approach. I find it’s really useful. And then, of course, the pandemic hit and the awareness of employee well-being skyrocketed. It had to.
John Ray : [00:05:40] Yeah.
George Vergolias: [00:05:40] And that finds us here today. So that’s my trajectory with a lot of details left out. But that’s a larger part of my story that brings me here today.
John Ray : [00:05:48] Yeah, that’s really helpful. And that could take me on a bunny trail we don’t have time to go down, so I’m going to the Dalai Lama piece of that particularly, but we’ll let that go for the moment. But maybe that’s another episode. But let’s talk about burnout. And maybe what we can do is start by defining burnout, because everyone’s got their own idea of what that means.
George Vergolias: [00:06:10] Yeah. And there are many definitions of this, by the way. When I think of burnout, I think of feeling overwhelmed, right? And by the way, I’m stealing some of these ideas from Brene Brown. She does wonderful work. Many of your audience may know her. She does wonderful work on resilience and vulnerability.
George Vergolias: [00:06:25] So when we speak of overwhelm, it really means an extreme level of stress and emotional or cognitive intensity that really evolves to a point where we’re feeling unable to function. We’re immobile. Even if we’re somewhat functional, we’re just clearly not near the top of our game. What’s interesting is we can function with stress. We all have stress. We have stress every day at various levels. And some of that stress is good. When we think of negative stress we don’t want in our life, the word stress captures that.
George Vergolias: [00:06:25] There’s actually a psychological concept that’s not often used. It’s called eustress, E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S. And this stands for stress that we actually embrace or choose. Think of planning a wedding. Think of planning a large family reunion, of preparing for the birth of a first child or a second child, and the nesting that comes with that. These are very stressful events. Building a new home, which I’m doing right now. These are very stressful things, but they’re exciting stress. So there is a difference there. The key is we all experience that.
George Vergolias: [00:07:26] But when we get to burnout, really what we’re talking about is there are three stages we tend to think about. And the first is normative. We’re not even necessarily – I call it pre-burnout, right? It’s stage one. It’s stress. We feel increased arousal, increased demands on us, both personal and professional. We have some irritability and we might have some anxiety. We might wake up in the night and we can’t get back to bed.
George Vergolias: [00:07:50] Stage two, we actually go into almost an evolutionary defense of starting to conserve energy. We might be showing up to work late. Even if we’re working remotely from home as I do, we might be waking up later. It’s harder to get out of bed. It’s harder to be excited in the morning. We procrastinate a little more than we normally would, and that eventually could lead to presenteeism or quiet quitting.
George Vergolias: [00:08:16] Stage three, we get to a place we are psychologically and physically exhausted. In addition to that, there’s a disengagement from the work. The passion just is no longer there anymore. And that could also then lead to or spill into clinical levels of sadness, depression, and anxiety, among other things, which can lead to increased substance abuse if someone’s trying to cope or combat those.
George Vergolias: [00:08:40] That is my definition. But the stages I think are helpful because it helps people understand where they might be in that process of evolving or – I don’t like evolving – progressing into more and more burnout.
John Ray : [00:08:54] Yeah, that’s very helpful. But let’s dive into that a little further. These are signs or symptoms. But how do I self-identify? Particularly, our audience is particularly solo and small professional services providers. You know, the question of self-identification of where you are in those stages can be hard, right?
George Vergolias: [00:09:18] Absolutely. It absolutely can be. And what’s tough is when you are a solopreneur, right, a solo entrepreneur or whether even just a small group, most people that are running or leading those companies, they’re in it at some level because they feel some passion for it. Not always necessarily. It might be, I just got connected to a job, but often there is some degree of feeling some ownership, especially owners of these groups and solo folks.
George Vergolias: [00:09:46] And so, what’s interesting is, what I like to ask, is there a passion that has been lost? I remember a quote I heard a while back that said this, the reason that you feel burned out is not that you’re doing too much. The reason that you feel burned out is that you’re not doing enough of what really gets you excited. And what happens often with solo entrepreneurs or really small companies, especially leaders in those companies, is they go into the business because they love being an architect.
George Vergolias: [00:10:22] I love being a psychologist, but then once I start a group practice and I got four or five people under me and I’m running it, now I’m a business person, now I’m an H.R. director. Now I’m navigating malpractice insurance premiums. I’m navigating marketing and sales if I want to grow. And most small companies don’t have separate divisions for all of these functions. And it takes a while for that person to realize that I’m no longer doing the thing I love doing at the beginning, which is being a psychologist. Being aware of that, being aware of where has that passion gone and how has it been lost is the first step.
George Vergolias: [00:10:52] I think it’s also important to just be aware of how we feel emotionally and physically. And I know that sounds so easy, but for most people, and there are some gender differences, especially for men, we’re not very good at that. And entrepreneurs that maybe are a little type-A personality, maybe high motivation that goes, it’s really hard to slow down and take inventory around how we’re feeling. So, things like meditation, journaling, doing gratitude practices, they are helpful in their own right by slowing us down, but they’re helpful because they allow us to self-reflect and get an idea of where we stand. So that helps with that identification of that first stage of burnout even going into that second stage. It comes with awareness.
John Ray : [00:11:43] So, I would think a lot of professionals have the feeling, look, it’s supposed to be stressful. I’ve been in a stressful profession my whole life. I think of accountants, the tax deadlines and having to deal with that. Just, for example, attorneys with court filings and deadlines they have to meet and so forth, they are – stress is part of the deal. Right? And so – and how do I incorporate some sense of awareness when my default has always been stress?
George Vergolias: [00:12:19] Yeah, that’s a great point. So what I like to do to break that down, because it is hard, right? Because again, when you’re high performing, when the whole company lays on your shoulders or you feel like it does, it’s hard to turn that off. And the reality is you may not be able to, right? You just may not be able to. There’s people that depend on you, not only your family, but other workers that depend on you.
George Vergolias: [00:12:40] What I like to do is I like to look at barriers and goals. And what’s interesting is when people start out any kind of new business, even a new job, they tend to be focused on goals, right? How do I improve? How do I get these sales? How do I build this new production line? How do I grow this practice? Whatever it may be. And there’s excitement with that often. At some point, for many of us, what happens is we transition and we have to deal with the barriers that get in the way.
George Vergolias: [00:13:08] When we are focused, when we are waking up every day, or for me at times in my life, waking up at three in the morning and just focused and obsessing over the barriers and not focusing on the goals as well, I start asking for me at least, am I now entering some realm of burnout? Because the goal is what sustains us. We could be stressed and as long as we’re still focused on that ultimate goal, getting through law school, getting through med school, whatever it may be, even more benign issues like planning a wedding, that’s stressful, but there’s that ultimate goal that kind of sustains us.
George Vergolias: [00:13:45] When we start focusing just on the barriers, and I don’t mean just our attention emotionally, we’re just emphasizing and obsessing over the barriers in a way that we feel like we’re stuck in a sandbag or in a mud pit, the inertia, then I start asking the question the people I consult with, “Are we now in a burnout stage? And let’s reassess where we’re at.”
John Ray : [00:14:07] Right.
George Vergolias: [00:14:07] The question is, what can you do to reignite the spark? And that’s where – I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole because we might get to it, but just at a high level right now, that might mean time management. It might mean we have to give up some control and delegate so that we can get back to doing some of what we really love. And that doesn’t mean we’re doing it 50% of the time.
George Vergolias: [00:14:28] I remember when I was at the height of growing my hospital practice, I got to a point that 10% of my time was what I love doing, 90% I just felt like a daily slog. I just offloaded maybe an additional 20% to some key people and I paid them well to do it, and I still do. So, I didn’t go from 10% of what I love to do to 70%. I literally went from 10 to 30%. That made all the difference in the world. That sustained me. So, it’s finding that balance and then reigniting what it is that brought you to this work and what used to get you excited in it.
John Ray : [00:15:04] This is a really important point here because I think a lot of professionals, service providers, think of outsourcing as something that’s purely economic, that, hey, my time is worth more when I’m working on a case or I’m working on a client issue than it is when I’m doing the social media, or I’m doing the bookkeeping, or I’m doing administrative tasks in the business. And so, they think of it in economic terms purely as opposed to self-care terms, which is what you’re getting at.
George Vergolias: [00:15:36] Yeah. And I would even push back a little. I absolutely am getting at that about the self-care because, again, as leaders, we are not optimizing our performance. We are no different than a track star or a hockey player or an NBA player that is coming off an injury and trains or forces them to play the next night. We know that doesn’t happen, right? It doesn’t happen, right? Now, they have huge resources. They have massive budgets. Right? They have cold plunge baths and all kinds of technology to help recover from injury. But it’s the same logic from an emotional well-being perspective. You can’t lead, you can’t grow if you’re not working close or trying to push towards your optimal performance. And so, there is a cost from that angle: innovation, creativity, flexibility, just good management of people, all suffers, when we feel we don’t have the time to do those things or focus on those things. So, I think it is important to be aware of that from the self-support or emotional support angle to ourselves.
George Vergolias: [00:16:38] But I would say one other thing that I want to push back on only, John, is that from a purely economic stance, my time certainly is better spent seeing a client at a couple of hundred dollars an hour or whatever the rate would be than social media. But the question is, if I want to scale, if I want to grow, if I want to expand, I got to figure out how to do that. And maybe for me, it makes sense for me to do it. If maybe I’m good at it, maybe I enjoy it. I actually enjoy social media a bit myself, so maybe it actually fuels me so then I’ll just keep it. But if it is just another task that continues, I wake up every day loathing, there’s a value in offloading that in some cases. And that’s where each individual has to decide what makes sense.
John Ray : [00:17:30] Yeah. I like the way you frame that because I guess what you’re saying is there are hidden economics in there that you need to recognize and maybe they’re not – maybe they’re hidden, maybe they’re long-term versus short-term. But they have an economic impact on the business one way or the other.
George Vergolias: [00:17:50] Yes.
John Ray : [00:17:50] Ultimately.
George Vergolias: [00:17:51] The most common variation of this that I see, John, and I see it in Fortune 500 companies down to companies that have four employees, I don’t have time to really manage my people and grow them. Like, I can manage them in terms of problems. You made a mistake, let me bring out the stick and admonish you for – but don’t have time to grow them. And my rebuttal constantly is you don’t have time not to, because the cost of replacing them, the cost of building talent in your organization, whether you have two people or 2000 people, is extremely costly in terms of time, lost opportunity, lost sales and lost customer satisfaction. And so, we have to make time for these things. We have to carve out time.
John Ray : [00:18:37] Yeah, for sure. Those costs are only going up, right?
George Vergolias: [00:18:40] Especially since the pandemic hit. Because workers now are really saying, you know, the old model that I grew up in, and perhaps you and I both grew up in and certainly our parents did, you work at a place for 10 or 12 years, you work like a dog, and hopefully there’s some payout at the end. We have Gen X and Gen Z workers that want a lot out of their – they want to feel valued, they want to feel supported, they want to feel like they have a growth trajectory, they want to be compensated well, and they are not afraid to move around every two or three years. They don’t care if their resume has a new job on it for every two years. Whereas I remember coming up early on, all of my advisors were saying, “Oh, you can’t leave a job under five years because it looks terrible.” So as leaders, we have to be mindful of those new dynamics in the workforce because otherwise, we’re just going to lose talent.
John Ray : [00:19:27] Yeah, for sure. George, you mentioned a little earlier and I want to get to this before we get too far away from it. You mentioned the term stepping outside yourself. It strikes me that phrase is a vital one for people that hear the phrase mindless – mindfulness and think, I’m not that person. I’m not the Dalai Lama. You’re pointing toward something I think that may be helpful to people like that.
George Vergolias: [00:19:57] Yeah. Exactly.
John Ray : [00:19:59] Say more about that.
George Vergolias: [00:20:00] Yeah. Yeah. I have a saying and I’ve heard it around. It’s not mine. I didn’t coin it. But we are at a place, I think, in business understanding well-being where yoga does wonderful things. But the saying is you can’t yoga your way out of this. And that’s what we learned from the pandemic, right? All the stressors hitting us and even now, economic stressors, high-interest rates, tremendous difficulty getting reasonable rates on loans and lending, all of that. We’re just not going to be able to sit on a mountaintop and yoga our way out of this as leaders.
George Vergolias: [00:20:30] And so, the mindfulness isn’t necessarily just about meditation or gratitude practices. It’s about really understanding what are you good at as a leader and what are you not good at. And related to that, overlapping that, is what charges you, refuels you, and what burns you out, and then architecting, structuring your workplace, your leadership, whether again three people or a thousand people, in a way that builds on your strengths and builds on what refuels you, and then finding people to do those other things that fuel them, that they’re good at it. And that’s going to take some time to restructure that. That’s how I think about mindfulness. But it begins with really taking a deep inventory, right, of what works for you and then what doesn’t work for you.
George Vergolias: [00:21:19] And that, I think is at the core of resilience as well, is understanding where am I, what do I need to do in this situation and what’s my best plan forward, and having that approach. It can be difficult to figure that out. For many people, they’re like, “Listen, I’m not a meditation person.” That’s fine. By the way, I cannot sit and just meditate. I actually do walking meditation. I’m way too active. I have ADHD. I manage it. Sometimes it’s a superpower, sometimes it’s a liability. You know, my mindfulness is I fly fish. I go out in the river and there’s a meditative thing to that fly fishing unless I get caught in the tree and then it’s frustrating. But I don’t think of work. I come back after two hours on the river.
John Ray : [00:22:03] Yeah.
George Vergolias: [00:22:04] My family will ask, “So what’d you do? What’d you think about?” Nothing. I didn’t think about anything. But I am now ready to attack the day either later or tomorrow.
George Vergolias: [00:22:13] So, mindfulness isn’t just meditating or putting Tibetan bowls in front of you, right? It can be any activity that allows you to recharge and allows the dust to settle so you can re-approach the barriers and issues in front of you with a fresh eye.
John Ray : [00:22:28] Yeah, that’s really liberating, I think, for a lot of people because it’s not -you’re talking about practices now.
George Vergolias: [00:22:35] Yes.
George Vergolias: [00:22:35] And so, those practices can be as varied as there are human beings, right? It just – it depends on your own mindset, your own DNA when it comes to that kind of thing.
George Vergolias: [00:22:46] Yeah, absolutely. The other thing I would add, I encourage, is seek input from other people. Get an inventory around, whether it’s your workers, whether you have a business coach, whether there’s just somebody you respect in the community that is a colleague of sorts. Maybe you’re part of a business group, maybe you’re part of a church-based group and someone understands you. What kind of leader do you think I am? How do I engage with people? If you could give me feedback on improving my leadership approach or helping grow people, what would that be like?
George Vergolias: [00:23:21] You know what I did early career and I still do it from time to time, I will ask this of coaches of soccer or baseball, not necessarily super young, but grade school to high school coaches that have done it for 15 plus years, ten, 15 years, because these people that stick with that, they know how to develop kids. They know how to develop youngsters. And what I love about when I ask people that do that regularly, they’ll tell me, “I know you, George, and I think you’re too harsh on yourself and as a result, you’re too harsh on your people.” That’s interesting. And then I’ll take that back and I’ll think about that. So you have to seek that input. One of the difficulties of being a solopreneur or just even a small business is you don’t have the feedback loop.
John Ray : [00:24:05] Exactly.
George Vergolias: [00:24:06] Yeah. And so you have to seek that where else you can from people that know you reasonably well. That’s part of the mindfulness as well.
John Ray : [00:24:14] Yeah, for sure. Let’s talk about workload management, and to your point about solo and small professional services firms, there’s a heavy workload, and I’m sure a lot of folks hear tips about time management or what have you and think, “Oh, that’s great for them. I’m not sure it works for me.” So, let’s talk about how you see that for these particular professionals.
George Vergolias: [00:24:40] Yeah. It’s a great question and it’s something that really strikes a lot of people. You know what’s interesting? I consult with a number of firms. I’m not going to mention them but they are in the financial or tax arena, and they have seasons in which half the year they’re working 12, 14 plus hours a day.
John Ray : [00:24:59] Sure.
George Vergolias: [00:24:59] Sometimes six days a week. And we apply these concepts. The first thing we talk about is you have to make it feasible. And so, I’m going to start with what not to do, right? If you go on Instagram or TikTok these days, you’re going to find some productivity guru that’s going to say, you should wake up at 6 a.m., go out – and by the way, I love all of these techniques. I do. But they’re saying do this every day. Go get ten, 15 minutes of sun, then do a cold plunge, and then, or a cold shower, then do like 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Then maybe do 5 to 10 minutes of breath work, then go work out, then come back and have a nice breakfast and fuel yourself. Then do a gratitude. Who has time for that? I got kids. I got to get up and get to work. Right? Chronic, not chronically, but often, I’m up at two in the morning and I can’t get back to bed. I have mental insomnia occasionally, so I need that extra hour of sleep to compensate for what I missed.
George Vergolias: [00:25:53] So what I say is, you can’t do all of that. The question is what can your morning ritual be even if it’s really minimized down that allows you to at least get something in. Just because you can’t do a ten-minute meditation, do a two minute. Just do it. Just get it going, right? Get it started. If you can’t do a 15 or 20-minute walk, do a five-minute walk. Whatever it may be, try to find those places in your day where you can carve out the things that you feel you need to sustain yourself. There will be days that are just not feasible.
George Vergolias: [00:26:28] But what I think one of the hardest things that many solopreneurs and small business leaders do, but I also see this at higher leadership levels with big companies, is they will say, I just don’t have time for that. And I will often say, you know, you have 40 hours a week to get done your work. The question isn’t you don’t have the time. The question is how are you allocating it. A little bit about different ways to think about that and try to do that, it becomes very individualistic. Now that takes time. It takes time to architect that.
George Vergolias: [00:27:02] So one thing that I do, John, usually the first weekend of the new year, I will purposely not plan anything for the weekend. Obviously, there might be some family activities within reason, but I try to have nothing planned and I take that weekend and I do it on the weekend because during the week it’s hard. Business stuff comes up. And I really try to architect what worked for me last year, what do I need to change in my schedule this year, and let me lay that out.
George Vergolias: [00:27:31] I also go into my goals, writing my objectives, but I really try to architect my day of what habits do I want to instill and how do I do that, and then how do I set a goal for 21 days because we know that 21 days is typically your window of really solidifying a habit, and then I build on that. That takes time to do that. It takes time to build that out. I know that’s pretty high level, so we could get into some detail if you want, depending on –
John Ray : [00:27:57] I think everyone’s mileage may vary. Right? And I think to some degree, we’re not going to be able to hit all the possibilities there. But certainly, you’ve given folks, I think, a lot to think about. So, maybe we can just leave it at that because I want to get to recovery. So, building resilience as you recover from burnout, for those of our listeners that may have had an episode, a time in their life when they experienced burnout, how do they recover?
George Vergolias: [00:28:30] Yeah. So, it does begin with awareness of just being aware that I need to recover and I need – where I am today is not where I want to be. There’s a quote I heard not long ago, which I absolutely love, and it is, the reason that you’re burned out is not – no, sorry, I already said that one. Sorry. It’s – bear with me. I’ve got some notes here.
John Ray : [00:28:51] Sure.
George Vergolias: [00:28:54] And actually, I know this by heart. I don’t even need to say it. The single most important factor in determining your success in life is the degree into which you can keep a promise to yourself. And what I love about that is because think about it, how many times on January 1st we said, I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to learn Spanish, I’m going to do something else. February is completely riddled with the broken promises that we made in January for all of us.
George Vergolias: [00:29:19] But when you frame it as I am making a promise to myself, one, there’s total accountability there now. And you’re really framing it in a way that you could choose to go back on that promise. And I do. There’s things I promised, and I said, this isn’t the year for that or this isn’t the month for that. I need to reassess my goals. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s a different dynamic than I let myself down. So I think it starts with awareness and knowing what do you want to improve on. From there, I think what comes with the resilience piece, and this is pretty critical, is understanding the different components of resilience.
George Vergolias: [00:29:58] So for me, I go back to the old Jim Collins analogy from Good to Great, the mirror, the window and the interaction between. So what I like to say when I think of resilience, it’s the ability to absorb adversity and to bounce back from difficult situations. So it really has two forms. One is when I’m resilient emotionally and psychologically, I can take the blow better. I can take a punch better without completely falling down. But there are times in life that I’m going to fall down and resilience also helps me get back on my feet more quickly, right, emotionally and psychologically.
George Vergolias: [00:30:35] And so, from the mirror perspective, I ask the question, “Am I responding to this situation the best way I know how? Am I maximizing my response?” So, I’m looking in the mirror at what can I do, what can I control. It’s a very stoic kind of way of looking at the world.
George Vergolias: [00:30:50] I’m also looking out the window, which is not I’m blaming John because he was mean to me or he didn’t give me the promotion. I’m looking out the window and saying, how has this dilemma or situation been broken down into actionable steps that I can act on? Because again, now I have locus of control. I’m not blaming the world. I’m I now have some ability to control the situation, even if it’s seemingly not in control. And what I mean by that, John, is sometimes there are things we simply cannot control.
George Vergolias: [00:31:21] A great example of resilience, and this was not easy, many local, very small family-owned restaurants or bars when the pandemic hit were just completely limited when everything shut down.
John Ray : [00:31:34] Sure.
George Vergolias: [00:31:36] Bars were – in North Carolina, bars could not open. They were just stuck. But those that had food, they were starting to pivot to doing DoorDash, takeout, delivery. And for a number of them, that allowed them to barely get by. That’s an example where they looked at the situation, said this isn’t ideal, what can we do in the moment?
George Vergolias: [00:31:54] And then, the third aspect there is exploring what are the options. So what resources in me and what resources externally based on the situation and the actionable steps I’ve identified need to come together to maximize the outcome I want to drive towards, right? It’s a very analytical way of looking at it. But the problem when we get beat down or when we get knocked down in life is we tend to get stuck in the emotionality of it. And so, breaking it down that way at least gets us back on track.
George Vergolias: [00:32:25] The other thing that we have to be mindful of or just aware of is there’s a tendency when we feel broken down, beat down, to sink into a state of inertia and hopelessness. That can be very difficult and it could even elevate to clinical levels of depression or anxiety. It’s important that we try to break through and push through those, and there are a number of things we can do to do that, and we could talk about that depending on what direction you want to go in the conversation.
John Ray : [00:32:51] Yeah.
George Vergolias: [00:32:53] You want to do that?
John Ray : [00:32:54] Yeah, let’s briefly do that because I’ve got another little particular piece of this puzzle I want to get to as well.
George Vergolias: [00:32:59] So, I will say that what we saw even pre-pandemic, exacerbated in the pandemic and still lingering on, is four big areas related to burnout that affect people. One is stress and anxiety, two is depression, three is general sleep problems, and four is difficulty with focus.
George Vergolias: [00:33:17] So under anxiety, stress and depression, I’m not going to go into all of these, but it’s important to, one, deep breathing exercises can help with stress and anxiety. Doing easy stuff. Start the day if you feel like I can’t get the motor going in the morning, start with easy stuff. Wash the dishes. In some cases, if you’re simply procrastinating or emotionally avoiding a task, “I don’t want to do my taxes,” right, then start with the harder task. Do something unrelated that’s even more difficult. And what happens is in both of those scenarios, you’re actually priming your dopamine circuit. And not only is it psychologically beneficial because you say to yourself, “I just did that harder thing that was even more annoying, now I’m more open to doing the taxes. The taxes are actually a relief compared to having cleaned out the garage this morning.” But there’s a dopamine effect, a circuit of the dopamine circuit that kicks in, based on achieving those tasks. That’s why when we check off a to do, we often feel good. It’s a little win for the day. There’s actually both a psychological and a biological basis for that.
George Vergolias: [00:34:21] The other is with depression especially or withdrawal, trying to prioritize FaceTime with people. And now that we’re back to engaging, it’s important to try to get out, push past inertia and keep it simple. The KISS technique, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Right? Often people will say, “I need to paint the bedroom. I can’t get motivated.” I’ll tell you what, just paint one wall. Get started.
George Vergolias: [00:34:48] Years ago, I was quite young, but years ago, I just – I procrastinated and I didn’t floss much. Right? A lot of people. Some people floss regularly, others don’t. I had a dentist that said something amazing to me. “I don’t want you to floss your whole mouth. All I want you to do in the morning and when you go to bed is floss one tooth. You floss one tooth. Just do it for a while.” And I did. But what happened is once I got the floss on my fingers and I started doing one tooth, my mind said, “You’re already there, man, finish it. Just finish it.”
George Vergolias: [00:35:16] So when you start with small steps, it creates “All right, now, I’ll take the second. Now, I’ll take the third.” And before you know it, you’ve taken 100 or 200 steps. So that helps in terms of dealing with that bouncing-back inertia that often hits people.
John Ray : [00:35:31] Yeah, that’s very helpful. So, let’s talk about a different aspect of this burnout issue, and that’s what we see in others that we care about. So, maybe it’s a colleague, maybe it’s a strategic partner that has their own firm that we spend a lot of time with, that we refer business back and forth to each other, whatever. What are those warning signs that we need to be watching out for with them? And how do you broach that topic with a colleague that you may think is suffering from burnout?
George Vergolias: [00:36:06] Yeah. That’s a really great question and something that I think affects all of us, not perhaps just on the being burnout side, but certainly on knowing or interacting with others. So, I’ll start with the signs and they can be different, certainly, but some of what I mentioned earlier. So, people that are either more aroused, more vigilant, more emotionally volatile than they used to be, especially if they were subdued and now they’re just acting or their arousal is more, they get more upset, they get more irritable. But the flip side can happen. If you have somebody that’s normally – I’m Greek and Irish, I tend to be a little more dynamic.
John Ray : [00:36:44] You don’t have a chance, George.
George Vergolias: [00:36:45] I don’t. I don’t. Here’s what’s funny, though. I was out a week ago, got some bad news about a friend going through health issues. And ironically, I was at a bar with some friends for a Thursday night trivia thing, and a buddy came up and he goes, “Hey, George, you seem really subdued and quiet today. Everything okay?” I wasn’t, like, sad. I wasn’t crying in my beer, but I was just subdued and he noticed. So, a change in someone’s demeanor is important to notice. That’s one of the first steps. Irritability, more anxiety. And at some point, especially for smaller organizations or companies, because we interact so much with each other when it’s four or five or six of us or less, we can tell when people are off for a period of time. Now, people might be off for a few days or a week or two weeks. Typically what I like to look at is if you’re off for a week or two, I now want to start checking in with you. That’s not just a blip on the map once you get past two or three weeks.
George Vergolias: [00:37:45] What’s interesting, a lot of the diagnostic categories in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders use two to three weeks as a window by which you go from simply having symptoms of depression to now you are in a depression. So I often look at that too. And then, what I will – so, again, irritability, increased anger, just a change in mood, is there a sense that they’re phoning in work where before they weren’t? Are they more scattered with their focus? Are they more short or curt in their emails or a little more hostile? And you’re like, “God, that’s not like John. What’s going on with him?” And I noticed that for a week or one to two weeks for a while.
George Vergolias: [00:38:26] What I will do is, one, I’m pretty direct but in a supportive way. So what I’d like to do is I don’t do it in an audience. I don’t do it in a group format. Let’s say to you, John, I’ll pull you aside and say, “Hey, John, we’ve been working together for five, what, five, six years now?” And if it’s a small business, it might be something like, “You come over to the pool, I’ve come and seen your kids play basketball. We know each other pretty well. I’m a little concerned. I just noticed a change in you, and I just want to check in. How are you doing? Is there anything I can help or support with?” And I open that up not in an accusatory way, “John, you look depressed. John, what the hell is wrong with you?”
John Ray : [00:39:03] Sure.
George Vergolias: [00:39:04] Especially men, especially men. And so really, it’s “I care about you. I’m noticing a change. I just want to check in and see how you’re doing and how can I help.” Hopefully, that leads to a little more dialogue around how things are going. This gets back to what we said earlier, John, around we don’t have time to not manage and engage with our employees. It’s part of that process. The more that we do that as a baseline and we know what their baseline is, the easier it will be for us to spot that they’re sliding a bit into burnout or they’re struggling with their mental health.
John Ray : [00:39:42] Do you find that individuals like this are they’re really just waiting for someone to break that ice for them, to broach this and that by us just knowing that, if that’s the case, that might give us the courage to have that conversation when it’s needed?
George Vergolias: [00:39:59] Yeah, I think it’s one of two things, but both should embolden our courage. One is just they may not be aware, they may not be aware. They may be – their MO in life and in business might be just I am that knight on the white horse and I’m going to ride this white horse until I fall off and die. That’s just – that’s been successful for me for ten years. And damn it, I’m going to keep doing it.
George Vergolias: [00:40:22] And if your ankle was just – imagine a running analogy. If your ankle is a little sore or your Achilles tendon is just tight, maybe pushing through that and doing a marathon works. If you have a broken leg, that’s not going to work. It’s just not going to work. You have to take time away. So that’s the first bucket is they’re just not aware.
George Vergolias: [00:40:41] The other bucket is exactly like you said, they are aware and they feel I cannot slow down. Everyone is depending on me and I can’t let myself down. I can’t let my family down. I can’t let my employees down. When someone comes to you and opens up in the way I said, checks in, they still might be a little bit defensive, but it softens. It makes it more open for them to engage.
George Vergolias: [00:41:08] I heard something ironically from a cartoon. There’s a great cartoon called The Horse, the Fox, I think, the Hare and the Boy. And the fox and horse are walking along and the horse says to the fox, “What’s the bravest word you ever said?” And the fox said, “Help. That’s the bravest thing I’ve ever said is help.” What’s funny is when you ask for help or if we were to go, if I saw you struggling and I came to you and checked in and you admitted, “Yeah, I am struggling and this is what I’m dealing with,” in a way, you’re saying help. If it’s nothing more than just hear me out, just listen to me, that is decidedly not giving up because you’re still in the fight. You’re still wanting to engage. Right?
George Vergolias: [00:41:53] So I think it’s important that we try to have those conversations earlier, then better. There is a point when people get so burned out that they are now just checked out. They are just disengaged. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having. It’s just harder to get them back. But I think those are really important discussions that we don’t have enough at work.
John Ray : [00:42:14] Yeah, absolutely. So, we were talking before we came on here about just the plethora of resources that are out there that have come about here over the last few years, even really before the pandemic as you pointed out, and some innovative approaches to address burnout and workplace well-being. Talk about the ones – help people sort through those, if you will, and the ones that our listeners ought to pay attention to in your view.
George Vergolias: [00:42:47] So, I want to open this by just anchoring a critical concept and that is I do a lot of training internationally and I always ask around this topic. If I were to write a blog, let’s say, or an article on physical health, what do you think I would talk about? And typically people say nutrition, weight lifting, cardio, working out, yoga, Pilates, whatever. And if I was going to talk about physical illness, what would I be writing about? Cancer, diabetes, heart issues. Okay.
George Vergolias: [00:43:17] What’s funny is when I ask the same question about mental health, people mention anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicidality, substance abuse. We automatically attribute mental health to mental illness. We equate them in the zeitgeist, in the general culture. It’s important to know that mental health is like physical health. We are all invested in that. Some of us do better than others in managing that. Some of us do well for a while and we fall away. But every day we are invested in our mental health the way we are invested in our physical health. We all don’t have physical illness and we all don’t have mental illness.
George Vergolias: [00:43:53] So, it’s important for us to understand there’s a difference. As a leader, you have to be engaged and invested in your people’s mental health, even if they don’t have mental illness. Those are not always the same. So, it’s important for us to realize that.
George Vergolias: [00:44:04] In terms of resources, larger companies have employee assistance programs or they have internal wellness or well-being programs that are built in. Solo entrepreneurs don’t have that. Smaller companies often don’t have that. So what you can do, in some ways, maybe you could bring in training to help build on these concepts of resilience and well-being even that can be expensive. But there’s a benefit to being a small company with only a few employees, and that is if you or maybe you designate your office manager because he or she is really into well-being issues, right, you designate them to learn about some of these techniques and then you have them educate or train maybe the rest of the company or just check in with people, or you have certain incentives.
George Vergolias: [00:44:51] You can have – at a local company in Raleigh here, literally, I think they had six people. And what they did is they did a really simple thing. They said, for people that want to do hot yoga or Pilates or even CrossFit, we are going to supplement 25 or 50% of the cost of your training for two months. So it didn’t break the budget. It wasn’t like exactly, totally cheap, but it didn’t break the budget. And what they found, why two months? If you do these things for two months, people either drop out after two weeks, but those that go for two months, they tend to stick with it and they tend to find, hey, this is now is worth it to me and I’m going to pay for it on my own and it’s going to help with my well-being.
George Vergolias: [00:45:35] So, there are creative ways to think about how to connect people to resources without necessarily paying for them for the next two years. The other thing that we will do or we recommend with small companies is have occasional check-ins, right, where it might be once a week, it might be once every other week where you’re checking in with your employees in a morning huddle, and you’re decidedly, for those days, not talking about the business. You’re checking in with how are you doing, how are things at home? Not pushing for that but you’re creating a space in which people feel open to raise their hand and say, “You know what? I’m struggling. My kid’s struggling in school and there’s a lot of tension in the marriage right now and it’s adding to my overall burnout.” Sometimes just sharing that or having coworkers know what that understanding is helps a lot. And then, from there, it’s amazing that other coworkers might say, “You know what? I dealt with that three years ago, and I went and talked to this counselor,” or, “I joined this group,” or My church has a group that deals with this issue.” It’s amazing what those resources are organically if we can tap into those.
John Ray : [00:46:43] Yeah, for sure. And I want to follow up on that, just to be specific. Are you suggesting that as leaders of our teams that we should bring that up in a small group or just in our one-on-one sessions with our team members, or both?
George Vergolias: [00:47:00] No, that’s a great distinction. And I’m glad you made that because I don’t want to, I don’t want to – I was not totally clear on that. What I would recommend is if you have a concern in particular about one employee, back to your previous question, I would do that on a one-to-one basis. Again, let’s say, John, I thought you maybe were struggling. You’ve had a change in behavior. I wouldn’t call you out in front of a group for confidentiality reasons, for stigma. Sometimes people feel a little bit shamed or shameful. They shouldn’t, but they do. It’s a natural reaction. I would do that on a one-to-one basis to keep the confidentiality and the privacy intact.
George Vergolias: [00:47:34] But what I’m talking about in the group format is, let’s say I did this for a while when I was working in the hospital, we would have a Wednesday morning huddle and it was always patient care and what do we need to work on and what do we need to change in our documentation. But what I did at least once a month is I would say the first 15 minutes, no business. I’m just checking in. And how are you guys doing? Let’s just take a temperature. On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you coping? And then, if someone said – ten being bad, they might say – I’m at an eight, do you want to say anything more about that? And invariably, the first few times, no. But as soon as one person starts opening up and engaging, the other group starts feeling more comfortable. So what you’re doing is you’re creating just a safe environment for people to open up and talk and share ideas about how they’re dealing with it.
George Vergolias: [00:48:22] Often you know what one of these is, I’m working with a certain client who’s extremely demanding, maybe even hostile. And someone says, “I had that client last year and this is what I found works with him.” It can be something just really tactical like that that really can help take the edge off and give somebody some insight on how to face a certain problem.
George Vergolias: [00:48:44] So, that’s what I would do in the group format is keep it more general and then allow people to explore whatever or discuss what they feel they need to.
John Ray : [00:48:53] Yeah. Wow. That’s extremely valuable advice there, George. We’re coming up on time for sure. And you’ve been so generous with your time and thank you again for that. But before we let you go, any other success stories of individuals that have overcome burnout or lessons that can be learned that maybe we haven’t touched on?
George Vergolias: [00:49:18] I think there are a lot of success stories. None immediately come to mind. But what I would say is what’s really interesting about burnout is it’s not about – people – we keep thinking it’s about stress. It’s about our reaction to the stress. It’s fascinating how much the human individual, the human being can take in terms of managing stress if we’re managing it in a way that’s palatable. It isn’t about volume. It’s about the quality of how we’re managing that and prioritizing things. And so often what leads to burnout is we are prioritizing things in a way that doesn’t necessarily have to be put at the front of the line.
George Vergolias: [00:50:03] So a classic example for me, and I guess maybe I’m the story, is being a bit ADHD and being a bit driven, I chronically for years, I’m 54, up until literally about 50 years of age I did this, I would make a list of 25 things every day I wanted to get done, and if I didn’t get them done, I really felt like I’m a loser. What am I doing? What did I accomplish? I finally just had to make – I have three key things I want to get done. Everything beyond that is gravy. And if I only get two of those, I feel like it’s a major success. If I get one, I still feel positive about the one. I just had to reorient my sense of priority and my sense of accomplishment. It didn’t take away my drive or my motivation.
George Vergolias: [00:50:47] So, those things that I think are important to realize is that the burnout is yes, we have a lot going on outside of us, but it’s really about our reaction to that and how we’re managing that.
John Ray : [00:50:58] Yeah. Wow, George, this has been terrific. And I can’t imagine there aren’t some folks that having heard some of the advice, tips, guidance that you’ve shared would like to know more. Can they be in touch, and if so, how?
George Vergolias: [00:51:13] Certainly. One is our website, of course, r3c.com, is a great place to find more about the topics I’m talking about. You can reach me directly. It’s george.vergolias – I’ll spell that, V-E-R-G-O-L-I-A-S – @r3c.com. And I’m also, if you use that same name I just linked to you, I’m on LinkedIn, which is another wonderful way to reach out to me.
John Ray : [00:51:41] Terrific. Dr. George Vergolias, R3 Continuum, thank you so much for joining us here on the Price and Value Journey.
George Vergolias: [00:51:48] My pleasure, John. Thanks so much for having me.
John Ray : [00:51:51] Thank you. And, folks, just a quick reminder as we wrap up here, if you want to be in touch with me directly, feel free to email me at email@example.com. I’m happy to respond there. Or also on LinkedIn, John Ray, on LinkedIn. You can find me there.
John Ray : [00:52:09] If you would like to receive an update or updates on my upcoming book due to be released later this year, 2023, you can go to pricevaluejourney.com. The name of the book is The Price and Value Journey. Imagine that. The Price and Value Journey: Raising Your Confidence, Your Value and Your Prices Using The Generosity Mindset Method. So if those are issues for you, this book may be right up your alley. Feel free to be in touch to learn more on that.
John Ray : [00:52:39] So for my guests, Dr. George Vergolias, I’m John Ray on the Price and Value Journey. Thank you again for joining us.
About The Price and Value Journey
The title of this show describes the journey all professional services providers are on: building a services practice by seeking to convince the world of the value we offer, helping clients achieve the outcomes they desire, and trying to do all that at pricing which reflects the value we deliver.
If you feel like you’re working too hard for too little money in your solo or small firm practice, this show is for you. Even if you’re reasonably happy with your practice, you’ll hear ways to improve both your bottom line as well as the mindset you bring to your business.
John Ray, Host of The Price and Value Journey
John Ray is the host of The Price and Value Journey.
John owns Ray Business Advisors, a business advisory practice. John’s services include advising solopreneur and small professional services firms on their pricing. John is passionate about the power of pricing for business owners, as changing pricing is the fastest way to change the profitability of a business. His clients are professionals who are selling their “grey matter,” such as attorneys, CPAs, accountants and bookkeepers, consultants, marketing professionals, and other professional services practitioners.
In his other business, John is a Studio Owner, Producer, and Show Host with Business RadioX®, and works with business owners who want to do their own podcast. As a veteran B2B services provider, John’s special sauce is coaching B2B professionals to use a podcast to build relationships in a non-salesy way which translate into revenue.
John is the host of North Fulton Business Radio, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Radio, Alpharetta Tech Talk, and Business Leaders Radio. house shows which feature a wide range of business leaders and companies. John has hosted and/or produced over 2,000 podcast episodes.
Coming in 2023: A New Book!
John’s working on a book that will be released in 2023: The Price and Value Journey: Raise Your Confidence, Your Value, and Your Prices Using The Generosity Mindset Method. The book covers topics like value and adopting a mindset of value, pricing your services more effectively, proposals, and essential elements of growing your business. For more information or to sign up to receive updates on the book release, go to pricevaluejourney.com.