The Easter and Passover season is a time of personal reflection for many, as well as a time for renewing one’s spirit and celebrating cherished ancient traditions with family and close friends. In this same vein, I’ve been reflecting on the question of “renewing one’s spirit” from a professional perspective.
Getting a “Fresh Breath”
On Sunday mornings, I enjoy listening to “Sunday With Sinatra” on the radio. Recently, they played a clip of “The Chairman of the Board” chatting with the audience in between songs. In the clip, Frank Sinatra was talking about how, after singing his huge hit “My Way” for many years, he got a bit burnt out on the song. But his audiences always asked for it, so he kept singing the song. Then one day, he got what he called “a fresh breath,” and it was as if he was singing the song for the first time again.
As an HR professional, you often have to do the same thing over and over again — such as training new supervisors on exempt/non-exempt and overtime pay issues, for example. You have to “keep singing the song,” even when it has gotten a bit old for you. What can you do to “get a fresh breath” and keep going?
Several years ago, I was responsible for managing the HR side of mergers and acquisitions for our division. Since our primary growth strategy was based on acquisitions, it was quite a busy period. I looked up after two years or so and realized that I was pretty burnt out on what I was doing. Though each deal was unique, we had worked hard to refine the process to the point where we had a pretty good grip on how to approach things each time out. The fact that we had “solved the problem” from an intellectual perspective, combined with a very hectic pace, caused me to feel that I was ready for a new challenge.
I approached my boss about the possibility of changing assignments, but she wasn’t very open to the idea. While she was otherwise a highly-skilled VP of HR, she sometimes had a few “EQ” (“emotional quotient”) blind spots — and the thought of moving someone out of a function that he was handling well just to help him avoid “burn out” wasn’t high on her list of priorities, I’m afraid. Lesson: No matter how old you are, listen to your dad. Hearing this, my father didn’t need to know anything about HR to know it was time for me to seek greener pastures outside of the company — a lesson I was not to learn for several more years.
The situation eventually evolved to where we hired a small staff to work on acquisitions — allowing me to shift my focus from “doing” to “teaching” and mentoring, which provided at least somewhat of the “fresh breath” that I was looking for. Yet and still, I stayed in the same general function for too long, I’m sure. How I can tell: Even today, more than a dozen years later, hearing the words “mergers and acquisitions” makes me smile in happy remembrance — and wince at the same time, still recalling the unpleasant feeling of having nothing left to give to the tasks I was responsible for doing.
Moral of the story? Everyone’s organization and opportunities and stress levels and burn-out points are different. When you feel yourself approaching that point, though, do everything that you can to seek out and take advantage of the opportunities available to you — or create your own. Find a way to get that “fresh breath” however you can. You’ll thank yourself years later.
Post Script: Your Thoughts
Whether it goes under the heading of “career development,” or “rotational assignments,” or “internal job postings,” or various other terms or forms, your organizations may have a number of approaches to helping employees avoid burn out by taking on new and different responsibilities. Ultimately, of course, the primary responsibility is on us as individuals to manage our own needs. What ways have you found to find the “fresh breaths” that you need?