Human Resolve HR

Why You Feel Stress and How to Prevent Burnout

Dr. Lisa Penney | Muma College of Business at University of South Florida

Feeling stressed? On the brink of burning out? Worried about the pandemic or your never-ending remote work situation? Dr. Lisa Penney is exactly the expert you need in 2020. 

Dr. Penney is an award-winning researcher who received her doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology and has spent almost twenty years studying job stress, counterproductive work behavior and burnout. In her current position as a Professor of Management at USF’s Muma College of Business, Dr. Penney teaches undergraduate business courses while also researching strategies to help people improve decision-making skills during stressful situations. Timely, right?

In this episode of Human Resolve, Mark Minner speaks with  Dr. Penney and First Person Relationship Manager Kristen Campbell about the damaging effects stress has in the workplace, healthy ways to address stress and anxiety, and how you can identify it in your employees and support them.

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Meet Dr. Lisa Penney

Dr. Lisa M. Penney is a Professor of Management in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, where she teaches undergraduate and MBA courses on management, leadership and organizational behavior.
 
Dr. Penney received her PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida in Tampa. She is an award-winning researcher who’s spent nearly 20 years studying the causes and consequences of job stress, particularly the antecedents and psychological processes that underlie harmful stress reactions, such as counterproductive work behavior and burnout.
 
Her work has been published in top scholarly journals, including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Leadership Quarterly, Human Resource Management Review, and the Journal of Organizational Behavior, presented at national and international conferences, and featured by national and international media, including Forbes.com, Newsweek Japan, Fox News, The Today Show, Stylist (UK), and The Victoria Harbor Times (Australia).
 
Currently, Dr. Penney is working to bridge the research on neuroscience, decision-making, and stress to develop practical strategies to help individuals improve their critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity under stressful conditions. She summarizes the basic ground of this new direction in her TEDx talk Don’t Believe Everything You Think.

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Lisa Penney

Show Notes

Feeling stressed? On the brink of burning out? Worried about the pandemic or your never-ending remote work situation? Dr. Lisa Penney is exactly the expert you need in 2020. 

Dr. Penney is an award-winning researcher who received her doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology and has spent almost 20 years studying job stress, counterproductive work behavior and burnout. In her current position as a Professor of Management for USF’s Muma College of Business, Dr. Penney teaches undergraduate business courses while also researching strategies to help people improve decision-making skills during stressful situations. 

Growing up, Dr. Penney felt that she didn’t have someone with whom to discuss her struggles with stress and anxiety. Her immigrant mother taught her the world is a scary place and that you must protect yourself, keep your head down, and be careful. While this mentality helped her survive, it created a state of anxiety that left her in fight-or-flight mode far too often. 

When Dr. Penney found her way into the field of organizational psychology, she realized a simple truth: “If you’re actually nice to people, then you see an ROI in terms of hard numbers and lower theft, lower turnover and things like that.” She found it fascinating that, by paying attention and taking actions to genuinely help and understand employees, workplaces saw significantly less negative behavior. 

According to Dr. Penney, you as the employer need to determine what’s upsetting your employees and why they’re acting in irrational or harmful ways. Then, you must solve those problems — or as Dr. Penney says, “understand, predict and control.”

“Burnout’s like a slow leak in your tires or you’re running at a deficit in your budget over time — you might be fine for the first couple of months but if you don’t do something about it, it becomes a problem,” Dr. Penney says. 

HR professionals need to consistently check in with their employees, even if everything seems “fine” on a surface level. Ask employees how they’re really doing and acknowledge any changes in workload, whether they’re doing a good job or seem to be struggling. 

“We live in a comfort culture that says we want to only see the shiny, happy things. It’s almost a tyranny of positivity in some ways,” says Dr. Penney. While it’s important to be grateful and positive, it’s still necessary to acknowledge and discuss struggles, stress, anxiety, and pain.

Notable Quotes

Attacking burnout at its source

“Burnout, historically, was looked at — at least in the field of industrial-organizational psychology — in the service profession, or the people who are working with other people. That was seen as the most demanding. Over time, these people — service workers — would become burnt out. So looking at things like taking time away, how do you recuperate, but then immediately you go back into a situation where you’re still running at a deficit over time, you’re going to get burned out.”

Emotions are energy in motion

“Emotions are transient things. They are — as I heard someone put it poetically — emotions are energy in motion and we need to let them move. If they don’t move, they get stuck and it is not benign, it is harmful. So creating the space where people can move through those places and through, as Kristen mentioned, modeling that yourself.”

Ask your employees how they really are

“Something that HR folks should be aware of is that the ones that you’re starting to see results now that are checking in — even if you’re not seeing that, it’s important to check in with people. [Ask] ‘How are you really? I see that you’re managing, and I think that’s amazing — how are you really, because that’s a lot for anybody to do.’ I know there’s other things and just acknowledging the extra life that’s on their plates would be helpful.”

Don't default to the way things were

“The way our brains are hardwired is to make fast decisions, not necessarily good or accurate ones, just to hurry up, come up with an answer and go about your day. Most of the time, that works just fine for us. But we run into problems when we’re in a new situation or new territory. Then our brains are still going to automatically just assume this is the same as it was before. … What I’ve seen is, a lot of managers when COVID first hit, defaulted to what they already knew — we’re going to do things, we’re going to proceed as if everything was fine.”

Acknowledge pain, suffering, then positivity

“We live in a comfort culture that says we want to only see the shiny, happy things. It’s almost a tyranny of positivity in some ways — oh, let’s make everybody happy, and we don’t want to hear about the negative, it’s all good! And it’s not to say that those things — being grateful and counting your blessings — aren’t helpful. Of course they are and they have their place but in my experience, until we acknowledge the struggle and the pain first, then we have to talk about that before we can get to the other piece.”

Show your human side

“We’ve all lost something. There’s been a shift, like you talked about, and [participants in a recent training] asked, ‘What is the role for leaders? How do you create space [for grief]?’ … I said, in order for that space to be created, a leader has to create that psychological safety and really take off their own armor and say, ‘Look, I’m human, too.’ If all I — I being the employee — see is a robot, somebody that maybe is trying to keep it all together because they think they need to, I then perceive it as I’m not able to then show you how I’m feeling or have the ability to feel it myself.”

Being nice has a direct ROI

“When I found my way into the field of industrial organizational psychology, what resonated with me the most, as I was reading up on these things, were injustice, actually, and organizational justice and how that impacts people. I read this amazing paper by Jerald Greenberg that looked at the relationship between organizational justice and employee theft. And the bottom line with that paper was — it was a field experiment — is that if you’re actually nice to people, then you actually see an ROI in terms of hard numbers and both lower theft, lower turnover and things like that. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is really fascinating.'”

Talking about your emotions is a sign of courage, not weakness

“I think that talking about their feelings [and] the willingness and openness and talking about these things might be perplexing for managers who are not used to that. And I think the mistaken assumption is to say that it’s a sign of weakness. That’s a courageous thing: you’re self-aware enough to understand that you’re feeling something, you’re communicating that and by the way, emotions are really important pieces of data. So I think that this generation is a little bit more aware of that, which I think is a good thing.”

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