Burnout is a serious problem that organizations across all industries face. The World Health Organization declared it as an actual syndrome. Penny Zenker wants to address that topic with a guest who has resilience and courage to share her experience. In this episode, Danielle Cobo, a Fortune 500 Senior Sales Manager, discusses how to avoid burnout. Building a support system is one of the steps to avoid burnout. Furthermore, Danielle explains why people are afraid to ask for help and how reframing can turn that around. Tune in to this episode for a more insightful talk with Penny Zenker and Danielle Cobo.
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How To Avoid Burnout With Danielle Cobo
I’m excited to talk about burnout because many people are talking about burnout. Many people are burnout. Deloitte did a study and said that one-third of people were currently experiencing burnout symptoms. That’s who reported it. We can all feel the weight, the emotional and physical drain that’s happening, and that burnout is a real thing. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization declared it an actual syndrome. It’s important that we address this topic.
I’m super excited to have Danielle Cobo with me. She is going to share her story about burnout and help us to understand what she has learned in the process. Let me give you a little introduction. Danielle’s clients know the power of developing the grit, resilience, and courage necessary to thrive in complex and changing markets.
She has been a Fortune 500 Senior Sales Manager. She has led poor-performing teams to number one, from zero to hero here, through downsizing, restructuring, and acquisitions. We know those are all stressful times. Leading during those stressful times is key. I’m going to let her tell you more about her background. She’s a rockstar. She’s in the middle of writing a new book. You are going to love to hear from her. Welcome, Danielle.
Thanks, Penny, for having me on the show. I’m excited to talk about burnout prevention because there are so many of us that are going through it.
I’ve bitten off a little bit more than I should have for the start of 2023. I’m feeling that. I’m feeling to step back and need to reset those priorities again. Why is this topic near and dear to your heart?
I spent my career in medical sales. For so long, I focused a lot on my career. It took me a while to get to the point where I got married and became a mother. There were many times when people would ask me, “When you have kids, are you going to quit your job?” Even when I was at our national sales meeting, one of the most common questions that I get is, “Where are your kids?”
First of all, I want to say that it sounds judgy to me. Why can’t you have kids and also be a successful leader in an organization?
I get that question all the time. I remember at one point, I was in an interview and was interviewing for a lateral position. At the time, I was covering five states and leading a sales team, and my travel would have been reduced to one state. In the interview, this gentleman asked me, “How are you going to do this job with kids? How are you going to manage this travel?”
Knowing that I was a military spouse, he said, “What if your husband deploys? Are you going to be able to still do this job?” All questions you cannot ask in an interview. Will I put the company at a risk? It opened my eyes to this perception that some people have that you cannot have a successful career and be a parent. It couldn’t be further from the truth because it was interesting enough that I didn’t get the job.
You didn’t want the job. Let’s face it, you don’t want to work for somebody who’s going to question you like that either.
We know our capabilities. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation if I knew I couldn’t do it. It was very surprising to me that he knew I was covering five states, so he was reducing this travel quite a bit. Interestingly enough, a year later, my husband got deployed. He was deployed for an entire year. He went to Iraq. Our twin boys at the time are these thrill-seeking high energy boys that require a lot of active attention. They were two years old at the time, and I was still leading that sales team across five states. I had weekly overnight travel and I was still able to do it successfully.
When my husband first told me that he was going to be deployed, my immediate thought was, “I have to quit my job. I have to quit. There’s no way I can do this.” It took me some time to get to a point to process this. I thought, “Why would I quit on myself before I even gave myself a chance to start?” I went into this mindset of saying, “I’m going to take it day by day. I’m going to try to put it out there. I’m going to build the support system that’s going to help me through this one year, which was a temporary situation, and I’m going to take it one day at a time.” That’s exactly what I did.
How do we get to burnout? Did this situation burn you out? Is this what you learned and did to keep yourself from burning out?
I experienced postpartum depression when I had my twins. I did experience burnout at that point. I learned through that experience of overcoming postpartum depression. That’s what provided me with the tools to thrive during this one-year temporary time. Some of the steps that I implemented were, first and foremost, building my support system around me.
I was very fortunate. I had in-laws. I had reached out to friends. There were times when I would be gone for one week for a manager’s meeting, come back for a week, and then be gone for a national sales meeting. I’d be asking my family out to help. The first thing I did was build my support system and learned how to ask for help. I know that there’s this fear that we have sometimes inside, “They’re too busy,” or “I don’t want to ask anybody.” I’ve learned that a lot of people want to help. They just don’t know how, and it takes us asking for it.
I was hoping that you were going to get to that point. Why are we so reluctant to ask for help? Not just ask for help in a situation like that where you need someone to watch your kids, but to ask for help on an assignment that you don’t clearly understand or ask for clarity. It might not be help, so to speak, but it might be asking for clarity. You might be overwhelmed and feeling burnt out because you are not clear on what it is that you are working towards. What do you think is the reason why people get stuck in not asking questions and not asking for help?
It’s because we have these two approaches to it. One is we have this perception of, “They’re already busy. I don’t want to put more on their plate.” I’ve experienced that firsthand as a manager. There were many times when I was extremely burnt out as a manager. I didn’t want to put more on my team’s plate so I wouldn’t ask for help.
It was reframing this thought process. It’s not a matter of delegating tasks to other people. I’m giving people on my team the opportunity to grow, learn, step up into leadership positions, and help them develop their careers to that next level. If somebody on my team wanted to step into a leadership opportunity, maybe I’m going to give them the chance to lead a particular workshop at our national sales meeting. It might be that we have an event coming up. Is there somebody that enjoys planning events and wants to take that on?
There was one person on my team who we coined the hype cheer person on our team. She enjoyed bringing the team together and creating fun within the team. I would say, “We got a region meeting coming up. I’d love to have a theme. Make it fun.” She was like, “I want to do it.” She would volunteer. Often, we have this thought of, “I don’t want to delegate. I don’t want to put more on somebody’s plate.” It’s reframing and thinking, “How can I use this as an opportunity again to help people develop, grow, learn, and step into their power?”
It’s so true. It’s a great reframe to see that you’re giving people an opportunity that they want to help. It also creates a greater connection if it’s personal help that you’re asking for. That’s a great point. I also think that we feel like when we ask questions, it shows weakness. We say, “We’re not clear about this,” or”We need your support.” That’s also something to reframe.
It has nothing to do with weakness. The best leaders and the most successful individuals ask tons of questions. They want clarity. They want people to support them. They want to get people’s ideas. They want to be challenged. That’s also important for people to keep in mind. Coming back to the point that we’re talking about, it takes all that stress that you’re putting on yourself and it relieves it. It’s not necessarily the workload that is creating the burnout. It’s how we feel about it. It’s what we’re holding onto, the stresses.
Talk about asking questions. The key to connection is curiosity. It’s being curious about how other people are doing. Asking the question beyond, “How was your weekend?” “It was great.” “What was the most exciting thing you did this past weekend?” It’s reframing these questions. Anytime that you’re proposed with a particular project, say, “Can I ask a few questions? Let me get some clarity on what this means to ensure that I’m doing this the right way.” Maybe, “I’m thinking about approaching this project XYZ way. What are your thoughts on that? Any direction that you want to provide me?”The key to connection is curiosity. Click To Tweet
What else did you find through your experience? That’s one big thing that we unpack. Let’s take another big one and help people to see how that could support them as well in this process of avoiding burnout.
The other one is giving ourselves grace. Right before my husband got deployed, I bought a Peloton. I said, “I’m going to workout. I can’t necessarily go to the gym because it makes more sense to workout from home.” I bought a Peloton and that year, I probably rode it 25 times. It wasn’t that much.
What I also realized is giving myself grace because at that moment with the full schedule of the kids and my career and everything that was going on, that extra 30 minutes of possibly working out, I needed to sleep more. I also believe that giving ourselves grace and taking those expectations off of what we think we should be doing, and truly listening to our body and saying, “What does my body need?” It’s not my expectations of what I think I should be doing, but listening to my body.
That is so important, especially if you’re feeling that burnout. You need more sleep. You’re lacking in energy and some movement would make a big difference. We need to listen to those signals. Maybe that signal is telling you to ask for support. Going back to the first point, it’s telling you do have too much on your plate, and you have to reduce and set priorities.
As much as we’re saying, “Ask for help,” I also believe in asking for what you want. There was this big conception that was out there. I started to notice that particular year. The previous years, I was always asked, “Do you want to be part of this special project?” I was on advisory boards. I was always stepping up into additional leadership opportunities because I was on track to getting promoted within the organization.
That year that he was gone, I started to notice that I wasn’t being asked to get involved in as many special projects. I brought this to the attention of my vice president of sales. I said, “This is something that I’ve noticed. Is it something I’m creating in my mind? What else can I get involved with?” His response was very genuine. He said, “I know that you’re busy. I didn’t want to add more to your plate.” I said, “I appreciate you taking that into consideration. Can I share something with you?” He was like, “Yeah, of course.”
I said, “I would love the opportunity to take on more projects, and here’s why. Every night my kids go to bed at 7:30 and seven days a week I sit at home by myself. There is only so much Netflix I can binge on. Sometimes it gets quite depressing when I see that, ‘Are you still watching?’ I much rather use some of this time to also have a blend of those times of relaxation but also get fired up in using this time to develop my career. I want the special projects.” In the same sense, as much as you’re asking for help, also ask for what you want.
For those who are on the other side of this, do not make assumptions. You might be thinking you’re doing someone a favor but you’re not. We have to go back to asking questions. Instead of assuming, ask more questions. That’s important. That’s a great point so that people see that you know what you need and what you want. Sometimes people don’t see it. What have you seen? Maybe it hasn’t been for yourself, but seeing it with people that you’re working with, clients, or whomever. What is it that helps people to see that they are in burnout, and they are not recognizing that they’re spot on like a railroad train that’s about to hit something?
I distinctly remember this time when there was somebody on my team when I was out. I was on the plane to meet up with her. We’re going to be going into the field and meeting some of our customers. She sent me this text and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I responded back quickly, “What’s going on?” She says, “I can’t do this anymore.” I said, “Cancel all of our appointments. As soon as I land, let’s go to lunch. Let’s talk this through. What can I do to support you?” She picks me up from the airport. We go to a restaurant, and she’s in absolute tears. She’s completely burnt out and exhausted.
She was newer to her role and was trying to navigate through how to be successful. She had a large geography. She’s doing a lot of overnights while also being a mom of two. We sat down and I said, “Let’s look at your calendar, first and foremost. You are in overwhelm. Let’s talk through it, and I will support you either way. If this is not the right job for you and you’re unhappy, then I will help you find a position that you will be happy in. Ultimately, that’s what I care about the most. Let’s also take a different approach and look at what’s causing the burnout and maybe some changes we can make. After our conversation, you can decide which direction you want to go. What’s most important to you? With your core values, what’s most important to you?”
She said, “My family.” I said, “What is the number one thing that you enjoy?” What was important to her was she wanted to be able to take her kids to school. She wanted to be able to be there for sports. I said, “Let’s look at your schedule and prioritize that first.” The second one was she wanted to take care of her health. She had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I said, “What is important to you?” To her, it was, “I want to be able to go on a morning walk.” I said, “Let’s prioritize that. Instead of starting your day at 8:00 AM, can we start your day at 9:00 PM?” We first started by prioritizing what was the most important to her to prevent burnout. You got to take care of yourself first, your family second, and then your customers and sales.
There is time for all of that. We think that we have to put ourselves last. When you organize it in the way that you’re saying where you do customers first, then family, and then you, it’s the wrong order. What I’m hearing from you is to change that order. Let that sequence be clear to identify the things that you need to feel good, grounded, and connected with your family, and then the customers. You work that and schedule around everything else that you need.
If we are burnt out, the residual effect is we are irritable. We lack focus and clarity. We’re not at our optimal peak performance. We’re not at our best. What’s the result of that? If I am burnt out, then I become irritable, then I’m going to be taking that out on my kids. If I lack focus because I’m not getting enough sleep and I’m not taking care of myself, then I’m going to have a hard time focusing and delivering on the deliverables that I have for my customers. You have to take care of yourself first to be the best parent, the best friend, or the best employee. It’s got to start with taking care of yourself first.
We’ve talked about a number of different things, so I want to keep in mind that people’s attention span these days is not apparently less than a goldfish. I want to keep this short. Let me ask you, what didn’t we cover that you think is an important part for people to consider if they feel like they might be burning out, and we didn’t cover it, or they have someone close to them who they think is burning out?
Be in tune with your body. Your body is a great communicator. It’s got a lot of signs that are going to let you know if you are burnt out. One of the exercises that I take myself through is I stand in front of the mirror. I start at the very top and work my way down every week. Is my hair dull? Is it thinning? Is lifeless? That could be a sign of burnout. Is my face dehydrated? Am I breaking out? Do I have acne?” That can be a sign that I’m burning out.Be in tune with your body. Your body is a great communicator. It has many signs that will let you know if you are burnt out. Click To Tweet
Next, it’s your shoulders. Are your shoulders constantly raised? Do you have tensions? Are you getting migraines? That can be a sign of burnout. Your stomach knots all the time. You’re lethargic. You’re nauseous. That can be a sign of burnout. Our body has a great way of communicating when we’re burning out. We get to take a pause each week and check in with ourselves. I called it the weekly body scans and checking in with yourself.
I haven’t heard that from a burnout perspective to talk about that. That’s a great way. Our body gives us these signals. We also can check in with our emotions and identify whether we’re feeling frustrated a large portion of the time. What are the changes in our mood? How are we showing up? Are we being our best selves? Those are some great tips. I know you’re working on a book and you’ve got lots of good stuff going on. Where can people find out more about you?
Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you all for being here. This is an important topic and Danielle has brought up some great points in her own story and the story of people that she worked with, just understanding how you can look for the signals, and how you can ask for support. That’s ahead of time. Don’t wait until it gets to a point where you find yourself on the edge of burnout.
Be in preparation knowing that there’s a lot that’s vying for your attention and that there are a lot of things pulling your energy in different directions. This is an area where you want to be forward-thinking and planning ahead so that you can avoid those things and avoid those symptoms of burnout that are only going to frustrate you, and also make you less productive and less happy with what’s going on in your life. That’s it. Thank you for being here. Put one thing into practice that’s going to help you to Take Back Time. That’s the name of the show. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Danielle Cobo
Danielles’ clients know the power of developing the grit, resilience, and courage necessary to thrive in a complex and changing market.
Danielle’s own resilience and courage led her to leave a highly successful Fortune 500 sales career to start her own business. She now shares the strategies from her award-winning career with others who want to excel in the workplace.
As a Fortune 500 Senior Sales Manager, she led a poor-performing team to #1 through downsizing, restructuring, and acquisitions. Lessons she learned along the way will help you to create high-performing teams and award-winning results. Her 20 years of sales experience was key to developing her expertise in leadership development, change management, and burnout prevention.
Danielle has a Bachelor’s in Communication with a minor in Psychology from the California State University of Fullerton and Certification in Inclusive and Ethical Leadership from the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.
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