Episode 178: How to keep mentally fit, move from surviving to thriving and avoid burnout – with Al and Leanne Elliott of Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Yet it’s still common for people to spend an hour at the gym each day to look after their physical fitness without giving a second thought to their mental fitness. 

Leanne and Al Elliott are hosts of the Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture podcast where they simplify the science of people to help business owners uncover the truth about finding, keeping and motivating great people. 

They explain how people can maintain good mental health, avoid burnout and recover from burnout experiences. 

They also talk about the signs someone you know is experiencing burnout, how to help people who are going through burnout and different ways to improve your communication skills. 

Today’s guest

Leanne Elliott and Al Elliott of Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture

Website: Oblong HQ and Truth, Lies & Work

LinkedIn: Leanne Elliott

Twitter: Leanne Elliott

Instagram: The Truth, Lies & Work Podcast

Leanne and Al Elliott are the hosts of the hugely successful Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture podcast. 

Leanne Elliott is a business psychologist with fancy letters after her name and real-world experience…

Leanne is a fully-qualified business psychologist, with over 14 years of experience in developing high-performance cultures in leading private and public organisations, including the NHS, Department of Work & Pensions, Pinnacle People and Arielle Executive.

Leanne brings the science and best practice to each episode, drawing on her years of practical experience building outstanding cultures.

Al Elliott is definitely NOT a business psychologist.  Instead, he has real-world experience of building several businesses…

For the last 20+ years, Al (Leanne’s husband) has been an owner-leader of multiple businesses, and has vast experience in clarifying objectives and thinking creatively about processes for organisations like Salford Council and FC Utd, and has been featured on both BBC News and in the Financial Times.

Al’s job is to ensure that every episode of the Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture podcast contains practical and implementable advice that any leader can immediately use to improve their workplace.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [1:50] How Leanne and Elliott help create positive workplace cultures. 
  • [3:23] Why mental health is such an important issue in today’s society. 
  • [6:06] What the term ‘mental health’ really means.
  • [8:20] The disconnect there is between mental health and public discourse. 
  • [9:46] What burnout is and the difference between burnout and stress. 
  • [14:06] The three symptoms that signal burnout. 
  • [15:52] How common burnout is and how to know if you’re burnt out. 
  • [18:27] What to do if you’re experiencing burnout. 
  • [20:32] Signs that someone is experiencing burnout. 
  • [23:25] How to support someone who is going through burnout. 
  • [28:29] The different ways extroverts and introverts communicate. 
  • [30:42] What burnout recovery looks like. 
  • [33:54] The dangers of comparison and how to avoid making negative comparisons.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

Episode 178: How to keep mentally fit, move from surviving to thriving and avoid burnout - with Al and Leanne Elliott of Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture

Jeremy Cline 0:00
As people realise that it's as important to look after your mental fitness as it is your physical fitness, what are some of the things you can do to maintain good mental health? How would you avoid burnout, and how do you recover from it? Well, these are some of the things that we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:36
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, the show where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, you're in the right place. It's been four years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And one of the shifts we've seen since then is an increased focus on mental health and well-being, both in the workplace and more generally. Whilst the pandemic might, hopefully, be behind us, the importance of taking care of yourself mentally, as well as physically, is still front and centre. To discuss some of the ways you can look after your own mental health, as well as recognise when things might be going wrong, I'm delighted to be joined by the hosts of one of my favourite podcasts. Al and Leanne Elliot are the founders of Oblong, the one-stop shop for business owners who want to build a great culture within their team. And they also host the Truth, Lies & Workplace Culture podcast, which provides advice on everything people and workplace related. Leanne, Al, welcome to the podcast.

Leanne Elliott 1:38
Thank you so much for having us.

Al Elliott 1:40
Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it's great. Great to be here.

Jeremy Cline 1:43
So, who are this powerhouse couple? Why don't you give us a quick introduction to who you are and what you're about?

Leanne Elliott 1:50
Powerhouse couple, I'm not sure I've been described as that before, but I'll take it, Jeremy, thank you. My name is Leanne Elliott. I am a business psychologist and leadership coach, as you introduced beautifully there. We help organisations simplify science people, create awesome workplace cultures, and that includes creating organisations and environments where people experience positive mental well-being.

Al Elliott 2:11
And I am Al, I'm Leanne's husband, I am a business owner, had some great businesses, had some terrible businesses, been bankrupt, and also done quite well. So, I think that I've got an experience of the highs and the lows of business. But essentially, on the podcast, I'm there to sort of ask Leanne the questions, so she doesn't get too much into the science weeds and say, 'Look, what are the practical applications of all the stuff that you know in your amazing brain?'

Jeremy Cline 2:36
Fantastic. All right, I wanted to focus in this conversation about mental health. I'm aware that whilst both of you are very knowledgeable on the topic, neither of you are specifically mental health practitioners. I'm certainly not a mental health practitioner, and no one listening to this should take this as any kind of medical advice or anything like that. As they say, this is for entertainment and information only. Also, it's a topic which people could find a little bit triggering. So, if anyone might find this a difficult interview to listen to, then do whatever it is that you need to. With that out of the way, I mean, mental health is something that you talk about quite a lot on your own podcast, so what is it that makes it such an important issue for you?

Leanne Elliott 3:24
Why is it an important issue? I mean, currently, why it's an important issue, as you said, the pandemic four years ago, man, I can't believe it's that long, for a long time, and certainly accelerated by the pandemic, the state of mental health in the UK has been unacceptably poor. And a lot of that is down to how people operate in the workplace, the environment that they're operating in, and the responsibilities leaders have to create organisation's environment in which people don't experience adverse mental health. So, I think for me as a business psychologist, organisations and people can thrive together. But to do that, we really need to consider that dynamic, the individual and the organisation. Businesses will always do better, they will grow faster, they will be more profitable if they create environments where their people thrive.

Al Elliott 4:16
Yeah, and I think the other aspect in terms of the individual mental health, I'm Gen X, male, the stats tell me that I'm probably the one who's, in the group of people who are going to have issues with mental health, less likely to be open about them. And what's nice about the new generations, the Zeds and the millennials, is that they do tend to talk a bit more about their own mental health and make it much more of a commonplace discussion. So, I've spoken to a lot of people on the podcast, who are kind of my age as well, who've said, I spoke to a guy yesterday, and he was like, 'I just had this breakdown, I thought I was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be a panic attack. And I didn't want to tell anyone because I was just frightened they'd think I was weak.' And I think that kind of seems to be a little bit a theme amongst, particularly men, particularly of my age upwards, I think. The other part of it, which I think we have talked about before you pressed record was that we're both Samaritans in the UK, and that's how we met. The very first moment that we met each other, we were both obviously very aware of adverse mental health and wanting to do something about it.

Leanne Elliott 5:21
Yeah, I think we'd both have experiences leading up to that point where we had our own challenges with mental health, we'd found our own ways to get support or developed our own coping mechanisms, and we realised that, you know, often acknowledging these things are challenging, and as Al said, talking about them, being open about them, seeking support makes all the difference. So, yeah, that's probably where it started, and truth and lies in workplace culture is probably where it currently is.

Jeremy Cline 5:47
I'll certainly put a link in the show notes to the episode you did where you talked about your experience with the Samaritans, because that was an absolutely incredible story. I won't spoil it. But definitely check out that episode. It's absolutely fantastic. A very broad question. What do you understand by the term mental health?

Al Elliott 6:06
I'm probably not qualified? Leanne is qualified to talk about what mental health is. I think from a layperson's point of view, mental health always seems to have a little bit of a stigma attached to it. Wherever you talk about mental health, then you tend to say, 'Oh, it's adverse mental health, he's got mental health problems, she's got mental health issues.' It's nice to see that now the conversation is moving towards just positive mental health as well and mental health just being part of the conversation, as said before. But I understand mental health to be something which is so vitally important to both work, life, marriage, fun, everything, and that is so massively complicated, because it doesn't seem to be balanced. Because if you're doing really well at work, and you're working hard at work, it might have an adverse effect on your mental health. If you aren't working hard at work, and you're doing something else that might have an adverse effect on your mental health. So, I think the summary is, mental health to me as a layperson has stopped becoming something that you need to worry, that is a bad thing, and something that really everyone suffers from mental health issues at some point. And so therefore, it's something which I'm glad is back in the conversation.

Leanne Elliott 7:09
One hundred percent. And I think, as a psychologist, there is that distinction between normal and very much in inverted commas, 'abnormal' psychology. Abnormal psychology might look at mental health and look at clinical conditions, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or the whole list that they have. And I think where the conversation is, as Al said, thankfully headed, is putting the spotlight on mental health from a normal psychology perspective, or what has probably become more popular in the past few years, of positive psychology perspective. So, rather than thinking about how do we get people from a point of illness to a point of surviving, how do we actually talk about mental health or mental fitness in a way that most people are surviving to thriving, because that's when we'll really see the benefits in terms of our businesses, in terms of our society. It really is endless, the amount of improvements we will be able to see if we can move that needle to thriving.

Jeremy Cline 8:12
Really interesting. As you were talking, I was thinking about the distinction between physical health and mental health, and how physical health is something which people can brag about improving, oh, look, I'm entering into this marathon or this ultra marathon, or I'm now going to the gym three times a week and look at my washboard stomach, that kind of thing. You know, it's something where you can talk about what you're doing, talk about the effects, but mental health at the moment, I don't think there's any conversation around, hey, look what I'm doing to improve myself mentally. Maybe I meditate a bit.

Leanne Elliott 8:50
Yeah, I think there's signs. Even those meditation apps are becoming much more popular. I think people are talking more about mindfulness or yoga or breathing exercises, it is becoming much more mainstream. We are seeing that pop up. But I think the disconnect for me, and I guess this is probably the journey that physical health has gone through in the past 200 years, is that connection between the what and the why. Why does mindfulness work? What actual impact is it having on our mental health, mental fitness well being? And I think that's what I'd like to see, both for individuals and organisations as well, is that curiosity, that passion that we see here, as you say, people that are in the gym, running marathons, that passion extending into mental wellness as well, because we should show about it, we should brag about all the things we're doing to build that muscle strength in that way. That'd be cool. I'd like a world where that's the case.

Jeremy Cline 9:45
One of the aspects of mental health which, again, has come to the forefront quite a lot, especially when people were combining home-schooling, home working, when we were all locked up in our houses and couldn't go out, and everything just seemed to be closing in, is the question of burnout. I'm curious as to, again, what you understand by the term burnout, and perhaps how you distinguish it from just having quite a lot on.

Leanne Elliott 10:16
I think the distinction, the definition always to start with is the clinical definition which the World Health Organisation offers. And I think the key part of that distinction, there is the three main symptoms, but it's how they're prolonged. So, that exhaustion, that detachment being prolonged over time. Like you say, it's not a case of having a bad day, a bad moment, it's that period of time where your coping mechanisms are no longer are effective. And I think that's where we see people burning out. And I think when people truly get to the point where they burn out, it's called burnout, because it is a crash, it is an explosion. You'll hear so many people talk about their own personal experiences, and it manifests in these physical ways where people are literally crumbling and collapsing. And I think it's that connection we often don't always think about when it comes to mental health, is the mind and body connection. And they are so intertwined. I think that's also often where people will, perhaps miss signs of burnout, because they will associate it with the exhaustion, with this cynicism, but it is also about the physical signs you can see as well, in terms of poor digestion, headaches and vertigo. That was a big symptom I had when I had my experience with burnout. And I think that in itself is important to remember, and again, if it is extended over a period of time, going back to what you said before, if you are experiencing any physical symptoms, do go see a doctor, rule that out first. But yeah, I think that for me is a difference with burnout, is the length of time and the severity of the symptoms and the ineffectiveness of coping mechanisms that probably previously worked quite well.

Al Elliott 12:00
Yeah, and I think you said something before about physical health. And so, there is a difference between being overwhelmed, and then being burnt out. And again, I'm not a mental health practitioner or a GP or anything, so this is just my opinion. But if you took a physical health, and let's say you want to do weightlifting, you're taking your muscles to the point that they just about, like there's too much, and then they break down, build up and become stronger. So, there is an element of that, if you're feeling stressed, it may not necessarily be burnout, it may be that you're actually just making yourself mentally stronger every day because you are experiencing that stress. So, I think, from a practical point of view, we've got to make sure we don't go too far the other way and go, just because you're having a bad day, 'I'm starting to burn out.' Now, of course, what I'm not saying is that burnout is just having one bad day. The answer is prolonged. But some stress is good. And I think we just need to be sort of aware a little bit that having stress in our life, we're not going to eliminate stress completely, just like we wouldn't eliminate stress at the gym, because you wouldn't build any muscle, you wouldn't lose any weight if you didn't actually push yourself. So, I think it's just important to consider that there's a spectrum, and at one end is burnout, but you can get somewhere along that spectrum and still grow and still be relatively healthy, as long as everything else is in balance, and it's not prolonged.

Leanne Elliott 13:24
Absolutely. I'm loving this analogy, because I think the difference is, what makes that muscle stronger, and any gym buff will tell you it's rest and recovery. You have to have your rest days, you have to have that recovery time, you need to eat well, you need to complement it with other holistic ways of building strength. And I think it's the same with mental health. It's the same in terms of having positive stress. And you're absolutely tight, Al, if we don't have enough stress, then we become detached in a way that's called a rust out. We're not fulfilled, and we're not happy because of that. So, yeah, I love that analogy. And the only thing I'd say is the difference is building in that rest and recovery time.

Jeremy Cline 14:05
You mentioned the World Health Organisation's definition of burnout and three symptoms. Can you talk a little bit more about that for those who haven't come across that?

Leanne Elliott 14:15
Yeah. So, the World Health Organisation gave us the official definition, and I guess, a way of diagnosis. It is controversial, because a lot of practitioners don't agree with it. The World Health Organisation sees it very much as a workplace phenomenon. It happens in work because of prolonged workplace stress. There are plenty of practitioners that will quite rightly argue it's not restricted or confined to the workplace and can give many examples, in terms of parents, caregivers, will probably experience burnout at some point. So, yeah, but the definition is a good place to work from, recognises three main symptoms or main challenges somebody may experience. The first is exhaustion. And that's not just necessarily feeling tired. It's feeling that energy depletion, really that sense of, in the truest word, exhaustion, and again, for a prolonged period of time. Cynicism, which is often one that isn't talked about very much, we often focus a lot on exhaustion, cynicism, being negative, seeing just barriers in the way, not being able to dream, not being able to be positive or have hope or be optimistic, that cynicism creeps in. And the sense of detachment from work, so feeling no meaning in your work, no point to it, is another symptom as well. So, yeah, the World Health Organisation offers that definition. Some agree, some disagree, but I think it is a useful starting point.

Jeremy Cline 15:50
I remember reading a book, or maybe it was a podcast interview with a chap called Ben Goldacre, who's written a couple of books about medical industry, medical science, how badly reported it is, that kind of thing. And one of the things he commented in the interview was, when he was starting out, training to be a doctor, he'd learned all about these illnesses and symptoms, and suddenly, he'd become the world's biggest hypochondriac, because he saw all these symptoms in himself. And I'm just kind of looking at these, exhaustion, cynicism, and attachment, and I reckon there's an awful lot of people who go, 'Yeah, okay, that sounds like me.' So, does that mean everyone's burning out? Or is there a level you need to get to, if you like? That sounds like a terrible computer game, where you kind of get to burn out.

Leanne Elliott 16:46
I mean, the latest stats are showing everyone's burning out. It's been coined like the new epidemic. Because so many people are reporting the signs and symptoms of burnout. Of course, like anything, there is severity to it. I think this comes down to how prolonged the symptoms are, your opportunity to rest and recover, and how effective your coping mechanisms are. And I think, yes, there are plenty of people who will feel tired, who will feel a bit negative from time to time, who will feel that sense of lost meaning in their work. Are those symptoms debilitating? Are those symptoms at a point where you can't even think about a world where you would enjoy a job or you would enjoy work? Is it that you don't even have the energy to try and be positive? The world is rubbish, and there isn't any way of changing it. I think it's how debilitating those symptoms are on your ability to cope and change, and I think it's that lack of agility and resilience at that point to make the changes you need to without that it results in burnout. And I think a lot of people do hit a rock bottom before they will realise, or will catch themselves somewhere on the way down. I think if anyone's experiencing those symptoms, maybe consider that, do some reflection and think about how deep rooted those thoughts and feelings are. I think if anyone is truly burned out, they will probably already know. They will be feeling various negative impacts in their life, on their career, and on the people around them.

Al Elliott 18:27
Obviously, what Leanne says is just perfect. I think one of the things that we both discovered is that, I don't want to get old Rudyard Kipling on you, but kind of those things you can't control, just almost like put them in a balloon, Leanne talked about putting things in a balloon, letting it go, and that can help a certain amount. Because then, you're just left with those things you care about and you can control, like a Venn diagram. And that certainly helped me in some of the times when I just felt so overwhelmed, was just going, 'Well, I can't control that. And I can't control that. And I can't control that. So, why am I even worrying about it?' And almost just by writing on a piece of paper, sticking on the door, and never looking at it again, it was like, 'Oh, this feels was really good.' And I'm not saying this is, oh, you solved burnout by doing that. But there is a lot of overwhelm in life, and I think that a lot of people care about things they can't necessarily control. And one of the first steps that I personally have found really useful is just to let go of some of the stuff. And I don't look at the news anymore, because it just makes me feel sad a lot of it. And so, there's that sort of sort of strategies that, again, we've all said, not mental health practitioner, not an expert, so I'm not saying these are going to fix things, but if you're not careful, you walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders, in actual fact, there's very little of it, you can control, just concentrate on the stuff you care about and you can control, and life can certainly seem a little bit lighter.

Jeremy Cline 19:52
One of the best things I think I did was delete the BBC News app from my phone. Because I found out I was just looking at it three, four or five times a day, and the news was never getting any better, and it was never really changing. And now, just avoiding daily news is actually really helpful. I found myself much calmer, much more peaceful about things now I've done that. To the external observer, so the concerned husband, wife, work colleague, what sort of things might they see in someone who is possibly starting to experience burnout?

Leanne Elliott 20:33
Changes in behaviour, changes in mood, mood swings, unpredictability, irritability, are all going to be signs that somebody is potentially struggling. Detachment from things that they used to enjoy, hobbies, people socialising, friends, family, not wanting to go to places they used to go to, that sense of wanting to isolate socially is a big, a big red flag, usually. And I think, any signs that might, I guess other things could be a lack of sleep, maybe looking for those more physiological symptoms, again, with caution, because of course, it could be something else. But yeah, insomnia, not being able to sleep, hypersomnia, wanting to sleep all the time, changes in appetite, that type of thing can be a sign as well. There's quite a lot, actually. Some great resource, just Google it, you'll find lots of different sites, positivepsychology.com is one of my favourites, to just give you those kinds of red flags. But I think changes, it's as simple as someone going to be just not themselves, and there's a stacking number of ways that they are not the person that you know and love.

Al Elliott 21:48
And I think also, Leanne alluded to before, the not wanting to dream anymore. So, whether it's you just go, 'What are we doing in the weekend?', or 'What are your goals for 2024, 2025?', if someone's unable to answer those goals, 'I just haven't got the time to think about that right now.' That, from a personal point of view, I noticed that in Leanne when she was burned out, and we didn't talk about this on the podcast, that she just wasn't, she just got irate when I said to her, 'So, what are we going to do next year', which was a couple of years ago, 'what are we going to do next year, where are we going to live? What do you want to see?' And she was just like, 'I just don't want to talk about it.' Which is not like Leanne. As I think you mentioned before, we travel, and we have travelled full time for 10 years, so we basically had a new address every three months. And this was just like Leanne was just not interested. And so, I think if anyone you are talking to, your partner, spouse, kids, friends, and the answers, they feel like they're not going to shine on the things they used to like, but also, they don't want to dream any more, is probably, from my personal point of view, or my personal experience, it was a sign that Leanne was burnt out.

Jeremy Cline 22:51
Then, if you see those signs, Al, like you, I'm a Gen X male, so my natural inclination is, how do we fix this? I want to fix that, how do we fix this? But I'm conscious that if I start trying to 'fix', quote-unquote, someone, it's probably not going to be very well received, and I'm just going to end up putting my foot in my mouth or something along those lines. So, yeah, if you've got concerns, a feeling that maybe someone isn't quite themselves in the way you've described, I mean, how do you approach it, how would you support them?

Al Elliott 23:26
I mean, obviously, Leanne's going to come in with some really good techniques. I can't talk to that, because Leanne's the expert here. But I think from my experience, and it's just sitting down, and first of all, realising it's not about you. And that's very difficult. I mean, as you said, you've hit the nail on the head there, as a male Gen X, you just want to fix things. And I'm just totally taking that out of the equation. First of all, just realising it's not about you. So, when someone says something like this, first of all, it's no slight on you. Secondly, it's not your problem to fix. Leanne often says to me, 'I don't want you to fix it. I just want you to listen.' Because Leanne's so brilliant and amazing as a wife, she will say that, rather than going to sleep at her mom's for a week, because she's upset with me. So, no, she couldn't go to mom's 2000 miles away. But yeah, so first, we'll start off saying it's not about you. Secondly, just listen, and then they might not be ready to talk about it. But just give them the opportunity. And we talk about in podcast, and we talk about these golden silences, where you ask a question, the person answers it, and then you stop. The natural inclination from the interviewer is to jump and ask the next question. You just leave the pause, like you do, Jeremy, leave the pause, and often someone will say something else and add to it, and that's the real gold. That's what I found, when you're talking to someone close. Ask them a question, when they're finished talking, just stop, don't say anything. And if they're looking a bit weird, then you can always reflect back the last thing they said, so they said, 'Yeah, just tired all the time', and you stay quiet, and they look at you and go, 'You're weird. What are you doing?' And you go, 'Tired all the time?' And they go, 'Oh, yeah, yeah. So, what it is, like yesterday, I just couldn't get out of bed. I had all these things to do, and I just couldn't get myself out of bed.' And you go, 'Yesterday?' 'Yeah. Oh God, do you know what? It happens about once a week, twice. Do you know what I mean?' And that's sort of like, just by reflecting back or just saying back the last few words of them, will often let them to open up. And just shut up and listen, because that's the way you can help to fix it, just by listening.

Leanne Elliott 25:29
Yeah, when we trained at Samaritans, there's a really good analogy that was used in training about the power of listening, the power of guiding somebody through the thoughts in their mind just by asking questions. And it was analogy of a tumble dryer with lots and lots of clothes spinning around. And to ask somebody a question, 'How are you doing? Tell me about this', is like stopping the tumble dryer, and then allowing that person to speak freely and reflecting back to them, what you're basically doing is allowing them to take out one jumper at a time, fold it, and put it in a pile. One more jumper, fold it, put in a pile. Are you taking the problems away? No. But you're helping to organise them into something that seems more manageable for that individual. So, yeah, I wouldn't ever underestimate the power of just listening to somebody without agenda, without judgement, and without trying to fix it. That is probably the most effective thing you can do. And as Al said, and it's so hard, try not to take it personally. It really isn't about you. More than likely it isn't about you at all. And if you are feeling that, make sure you've got somebody to talk to as well, about how you're experiencing that loved one's current adverse mental health or burnout. You're also going to need that support and that outlet to provide that to the person you're trying to support.

Al Elliott 26:47
And it's worthwhile spending time getting good at listening, because it's got so many amazing upsides. So, for example, if you're negotiating, just listening and shutting up, you're much more likely to get what you want. If you're at a party, or you meet someone new, if you just shut up and listen and ask them questions, reflect by what they said, they will walk away thinking you're the most interesting person they met at the party. It happened at a wedding when Leanne and I were there, and this guy would come up, and he said to Leanne, 'I've just met this guy, I think you'd really like him. He's really interesting', and pointed me out. And Leanne was like, 'That's my husband.' He was like, 'Oh, right.' The point is that I didn't say anything. I just kept asking him questions, repeating back, and he came away thinking I was the most interesting person in the room. I've said nothing. So, there's so many upside and advantages to getting good at listening. And I'm not saying go and volunteer at Samaritans just to get good at listening. But if that is, if you are thinking of volunteering, Samaritans is an incredible organisation, because of the work it does, but also the training and the work it does on you. That's just transformational.

Leanne Elliott 27:44
It is. It really is. And I think other things you can do that might feel a bit more practical, a bit more tangible, try and encourage that person to engage in the things that they love, do it with them. If they used to love going for walks, suggest that you go for a walk on a certain day, plan it in advance, so somebody also has that mental time to prepare for that activity happening. People who are experiencing symptoms of burnout probably aren't going to like surprises or ambiguity or any feeling of a lack of control, because that's what they're experiencing, is that lack of control. So, I think anything like that. If they enjoy cooking, suggest you go out for a nice meal. Just try and find things that can reconnect with the hobbies, the activities that used to bring some joy.

Al Elliott 28:28
I think also, we tend to, as humans, skew towards introvertism, that's not the right word, introvert or extrovert. Just bear in mind who your partner or the person you're speaking to is. And if they're introverted, then there's going to be a lot of things that they need to think about before they say it out loud. If they're extroverted, they might say it out loud without even thinking about it. I'm extroverted, so I definitely say stuff like that. Just bear that in mind. If someone says, 'I'm going to quit my job.' If they're extroverted, they might be just saying that to test it out in their ears and listen to themselves saying and go, 'Do I want to?' So, don't jump on that and go, 'Oh, no, no, no, don't do that direct because you've got this great career.' Just, if they are introverted, let them think about it, if they're extroverted, let them speak, and then they'll think about it.

Leanne Elliott 29:13
That's a really good point, the 80-20 rule, right? So, if you're introverted, and you're trying to think through a problem, and I'm introverted, I'll probably think through 80% that problem in my head, and then speak about the last 20%. So, I pretty much made my decision, and I'm using that extra 20% to test the idea and validate it. Which is also why I can find it very difficult if it turns out that solution isn't the best one. And I feel for Al in those moments. Al's the other way around. Al will think about 20% of the challenge in his head, and then 80% he'll want to talk about. So, I think it's even just having that understanding of which one you are, and which one the other person might be, will help you navigate that situation when they come to you. Because if your partner, if your loved one is burnt out, and they say, 'I want to quit my job', your immediate reaction is going to be, 'Yes, do it!' But that in itself then causes a barrier, because if that person then goes through that thought, that cycle, and thinks, 'Actually, no, it's probably not the right thing for me,' you've now put that barrier up where they're going to think that, 'Well, you think I'm wrong, because you told me to quit my job, and I didn't.' And any barrier to communication is the last thing you want when you're trying to support somebody who's going through a tough time. So, yeah, I think that 80-20 rule is worth remembering. And try not to have too many opinions early on.

Jeremy Cline 30:31
Leanne, you've touched on your own experience of burnout. What did recovery look like for you, and what enabled you to kind of get through to the other side?

Leanne Elliott 30:43
The universe did me a favour, to be honest. I burnt out in February 2020, which is when the world shut down. So, my schedule cleared up quite nicely. I had plenty of time to rest and recover. I couldn't go out and be forced to socialise. I say forced, because that was an energy drain for me. So, yeah, I basically had the opportunity to switch off for six to 12 months. So, in terms of the opportunity, pure circumstance and luck, which sounds daft to talk about the pandemic in that way, allowed me the time and space to really consider how I was feeling, what I was experiencing, and how I could get better. On top of that, being honest, a big thing was changing my work. I completely changed what I was doing for a living. I went back and focused more on psychology. I'd worked remotely, and again, circumstance helped. I'd worked remotely since 2013, and all of a sudden, there are people asking me how can I help them manage their teams remotely during the pandemic. So, consultancy became something that I could do and supporting business owners with this transition. So, yeah, finding more meaning and purpose in my work definitely helped with the detachment side of it. The pandemic, not being able to go anywhere, helped with the exhaustion side of it, the rest and recovery. And in terms of cynicism, that's probably the thing that took the longest. And I think really what helped me with that was engaging in exercises around positive thinking. No one is default positive; we're all just for evolution default negative, to protect ourselves, to survive. There are things that we can do to train our brain to be more positive, whether it be things like gratitude practice, whether it be things like mindfulness exercises. I started a journal, I started to engage in these things, I started breathing exercises, I started getting out more with the dog. And that helped, but that took a lot of time. That took a lot, a lot of time. And I think it was just practice. And then, getting to the point where I was gaining more energy from other aspects of my life, so I see more meaning in my work, therefore I had more energy to put into those more positive thoughts and feelings. And then, of course, things like diet helped, sleep, investing in those sorts of self-care aspects as well. So, yeah, that was my personal journey. The thing I would say is that everyone, it's wonderful to listen to people's individual experiences with something like burnout or mental health challenge, but it is my individual lived experience. Are those things exactly going to help somebody else? Maybe. Maybe not. It's figuring out exactly where the route for you is coming from. For me, it was definitely my work, I wasn't finding it fulfilling. That was the main source of my stress. So, yes, by all means, it's great to listen to people and take inspiration. But I think, as we've all said at this point, if you can seek some kind of professional help or support, then that is the way to go. Everybody's journey is different.

Jeremy Cline 33:50
Another aspect which is kind of related is, let's call it external pressures. So, comparison, so I don't know whether this might contribute to burnout, but I think it can definitely contribute to feelings of inadequacy. I'm thinking of two aspects of comparison. There's the Instagram lifestyle comparison. So, oh, look at me on the beach. Oh, look at me with the new car. Oh, look at me with whatever, whatever, whatever. So, that's the kind of the 'look what I've got' comparison. And then, there's the, 'look what I did to get there' comparison. So, it's the, look at me, I'm up at five o'clock every morning and I start with half an hour's meditation, and then a four-mile run, and then I eat banana and goji berries for breakfast, and you know, all that kind of thing. I remember reading a book called the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, where he has these six practices to start with, and I sort of read it and thought, 'Now, you've got to be joking, there's absolutely no way I'm going to do that.' Interested to know your thoughts on comparison, the dangers of comparison, and avoiding it?

Al Elliott 35:00
Well, funnily enough, one of my favourite quotes, and I think it might be Roosevelt, is comparison is the thief of joy. And I mean, we're talking about probably 80, 100 years ago, he said that. And it's exactly what you said there. There's comparison with others, as in what they have. There's comparison as in what they do, like you said, the Gary Vaynerchuk, who works 29 hours a day, and he's always, 'Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' And then, there's also the comparison, which could be a bit healthy, the comparison of yourself to where you were maybe five years ago. So, there are some aspects to comparison that are good, because you can see growth. But social media tends to have a broad-brush, oh, it's bad, because we're all looking at these beautiful, healthy, fit people on a beach, don't seem to work, and they're earning millions of pounds a year. But also, it does help us in some ways to compare our situation with others, if they are being very authentic about it. So, for example, I talked about Gen Z before and TikTok. I think they are now starting to be much more open about the issues that they're dealing with, in which case comparison can be good, because you can go, 'Well, if this person who's got 20,000 followers, 200,000 followers, is feeling burnt out and down and just has bad days, maybe it's okay that I do.' So, I think that we are moving slightly towards a more positive social media. But there's that other quote, isn't it, that people buy things they don't want with money they don't have to impress people they don't even like. And that's one of the things, one of the reasons we found moving to Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and the Adriatic side of Europe, it doesn't seem to be that pressure for kids to go and buy a brand-new BMW on finance. There doesn't seem to be a pressure for them to have the latest iPhone. People just seem a little more relaxed about here. And kids live with their parents to their 30, and then get married and go and find their own house, or move downstairs to the house underneath their parents, and live there for the rest of their lives. I think some of the countries, particularly North Europe, the US, North America, Australia, we've gone too far, because we're not only comparing ourselves to people on Instagram and go, 'Why can't I have that life?' We also compare ourselves to the person next door who's just bought a new car, who's probably comparing themselves to a person at work who's just bought a new car, who's probably comparing themselves ultimately to the person who's just got a garage full of Lamborghinis. It's just this chain that, if you're not careful, can be so, so damaging. What do you think, Lee?

Leanne Elliott 37:27
I agree. And I think the antidote is maybe thinking about what do you actually want. We spent a lot of time going through the motions of going to school, going to university, getting a job, working our way up in that job, getting another job. And I think it's surprising how few people actually take the time to think, 'What do I want from my life? What are my values? What are my goals? What are my interests? Where do I find my joy? What do I find fulfilling? How do I want to contribute to the people around me, to my community?' And I think, if you take the time, and I would always recommend coaching as a way of supporting that guided reflection, if you know what you want from life, and what you're willing to sacrifice for that life, then all of a sudden, comparisons become, as Al said, the more healthy ones. Because you're comparing like for like. It's easy to sit here and go, 'Oh, look at this really rich billionaire who has three Lamborghinis and a beach house in Malibu, but they work 18 hours a day.' Personally, I'm not willing to work 18 hours a day. I want a more holistic experience for my work. So, I think that is what I'd encourage people to do. And again, that's probably where some of the cynicism might be coming from, is that comparison and that feeling of, it's unfair. So, yeah, my thought would be, if you are maybe finding yourself in the trap of those comparisons, or rolling your eyes when you see somebody on social media, maybe try that, if you haven't before, think about what it is that you actually want.

Al Elliott 39:07
Exactly. Envy is not a good look on anyone. And it just shows that you don't value what you've got. And I think that, if you want to start comparing yourself, then go to the majority of the world who live on like $1 a day or don't have the brand-new phones. You can compare yourself downwards, and you'll realise you're in the top 10% of the luckiest people in the world.

Jeremy Cline 39:30
Love this idea of comparing yourself to yourself. So, looking at where you've come, where you were, and where you are now. Because people often will say, 'Oh, you know, I'm 30 years old, I've done nothing with my life, I've just wasted it, having done lots of travelling and taught English abroad and that kind of thing', but they're not verging on partnership in a law firm, which their friends are, that kind of thing. Whereas if you look at yourself, what you've done so far, where you're going, and then keep on looking back to see how you've developed, yeah, that strikes me as a heck of a lot healthier and more encouraging as well.

Al Elliott 40:11
Yeah, well, we both got a perfect experience of that, because we've been out the UK for 10 years, been travelling for 10 years, we've got an iPhone full of amazing photos, a head full of amazing experiences and memories. But if we were to compare ourselves directly to our peers, they are probably 10, 20 times further up in their career. They might have bought their third home, which is now a huge mansion. And so, if we start comparing ourselves, then yeah, like you say, you're going to be unhappy without thinking about actually what's the cost of that. What was the cost of getting the beautiful house in the suburbs with the three BMWs on the drive? Well, the cost of that was not being able to go out and travel the world for 10 years. Not saying that everyone wants to do that. But we decided that's what we were going to do. And the cost of us having that amazing life is that we don't have, we're not, like you said, top partner at a law firm with cars coming out the wazoo. So, it's just down to the cost and the decisions you make, I think.

Leanne Elliott 41:11
Yeah, I think that's why we've seen a lot of people hit their mid to late 30s, and want a career change, not find the work as fulfilling anymore. Financial well-being is a key part of well-being, but all the data shows that up to about, or after about 50,000 pounds a year, money doesn't equal happiness anymore, it doesn't really have an impact. So, I think that's where we see lots of people look for those career transitions at that point where they realise, yes, I have achieved these great things in my career, but I feel I am lacking in terms of the amount of time I get to spend with my family, or the experiences I get to have, or how much I get to travel. It's all a trade-off. And I think it's really just understanding what you're willing to sacrifice for. And I think with that, when you know what those things are, and you reflect, like you said, like for like, on your achievements over the past five years, 10 years, by doing that, you're starting to internalise those achievements, you start to accept those achievements. And that is not only brilliant in terms of building resilience and optimism and what we call psychological capital, which is a key part of protecting our mental health and well-being, but it also keeps us away from the risk of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is an inability to internalise our achievements. And feeling like an imposter, I think is probably another way that you can end up making comparisons, because you don't feel that you deserve to be there. So, I think that can help with that as well. But yeah, I think there is something really powerful in that comparing like for like.

Jeremy Cline 42:44
This is a subject we could probably talk for hours on, but I feel like I probably do need to bring it to a close. If someone wants to find out more about any of the topics that we've discussed, what resources, tools, have helped you, as you've considered all these issues?

Leanne Elliott 43:00
There is an awesome psychologist that helped me massively, particularly with the journaling and addressing my cynicism, and that's a psychologist called Dr Audrey Tang. She is awesome. She has three incredible books that are very practical. Yeah, she does talk about some of the theory, because she wants you to connect the what and the why, but then it's really practical, lots of great exercise in there. Just three books, The Leader's Guide to Resilience, The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness, The Leader's Guide to Wellbeing. I'd recommend all three. She also has her own podcast as well, called The Wellbeing Lounge, which is pretty awesome. So, yeah, that would be my default, particularly for anyone who might be experiencing some symptoms of burnout at the moment. That was hugely helpful for my personal journey.

Al Elliott 43:43
Yeah, I think anyone who's feeling overwhelmed, then one book really helped me massively was, I forget who the author is, it's called The ONE Thing, and basically it teaches you, you don't even need to read the book, it says, write down what you would want to achieve in 12 months, then go, what's the one thing I have to do in the next month to get that, what's the one thing I have to do in the next week to get that, what's the one thing I have to do in the next day, in the next hour? What's the one thing I have to do right now to get there? It just breaks down these huge big problems into something you can actually go and do. A practical, that's a brilliant, brilliant book. There's loads of stuff online if you want to search for it. There are great people on Twitter who share their stories of burnout. And I will email you the name of the guy, I can't quite remember right now, but he's just so open about everything. He's just a great person to follow. And then, just practical stuff like Leanne and I, the other week, if you can't see in the camera, but there's a door behind us with loads of post-it notes, and we were both feeling overwhelmed. We just wrote down all the things we were being overwhelmed by, stuck them on the door. And then, when the door's open, you don't see him. You just go every week, and go, 'Oh, I've done all of these, I've forgotten about them.'

Leanne Elliott 44:47
Yeah, and I think in terms of podcasts as well, particularly with burnout, there's two that spring to mind. Cait Donovan has a podcast called FRIED. The Burnout Podcast. Phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. It has so many great experts on there. She herself is a speaker, and coaches as well, that's really good. In terms of men's mental health, I think we have to give a shout out to Expansive Intimacy by Jim Young. Jim is a coach, Gen X as well, and he's trying to very much change the conversation narrative around men's mental health by creating these spaces for intimacy. It's a game changer. It blows my mind being able to hear these conversations that I feel like I shouldn't be allowed to hear. It feels too intimate. And I learned so much about how to support Al by learning more about Jim's work as well. So, I think, particularly if you are a spouse or a partner of somebody who is suffering, and that partner is male, then I would check out Jim.

Jeremy Cline 45:45
And for people who want to find you, find out more about you, where would you like to send them?

Al Elliott 45:51
That's easy. Just go to Google and type in Truth Lies & Work. We should be all over page one. Podcast Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture, which you'll find in every single app. Go on to LinkedIn, you'll be speaking to Leanne, because I'm Gen X and can't be bothered with it. And then, I think we're also on Instagram, are we on TikTok, are we, Lee?

Leanne Elliott 46:06
We're on all the socials, yeah, Truth Lies & Work. But yeah, LinkedIn is probably the best one, just search for Al and I. Yeah, drop us a message.

Al Elliott 46:15
Yeah, we'd love to hear from you.

Jeremy Cline 46:16
Fantastic. As always, links to those in the show notes. Al, Leanne, thank you so much for coming on the show and for sharing your experience.

Al Elliott 46:25
Thank you for having us.

Leanne Elliott 46:26
Thank you.

Jeremy Cline 46:28
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Al and Leanne Elliott. What I particularly enjoyed and found interesting about this episode was hearing Al and Leanne's personal experience of burnout. I'm really grateful that we've got people like Leanne, who are prepared to be so candid about their own experience, and the fact that we've got the two of them who can then talk about the effect on other people. If someone you know appears to be experiencing burnout, then how can you help them? What are the right and wrong things to say? And I absolutely loved what they were saying about comparison. This has been really one of the themes from my own personal development over the past few months, how it doesn't serve me to compare myself to others, particularly as I start my own business. But I'm much better off comparing myself with my past self. What progress have I made? Where have I improved? To use a sporting analogy, I'm not trying to beat other people, but I am trying continually to improve my personal best. So, do visit the show notes page for this episode, which you'll find at changeworklife.com/178, that's changeworklife.com/178. And something which you can do, which would really help me out and raise awareness of the podcast and important interviews like this one, and that's to leave a review. My preference would be for you to leave it on Apple podcasts. But if that's not available to you, and if you'd like instead to leave a comment on something like Spotify, then that works just as well. Your reviews will help others to find the podcast, and they will help let people know that, you know what, there's actually some pretty good content. Now, I don't often look at specific careers in this podcast, but one that stands out for me is data science. It's just one that I hear talked about all the time. So, I figured, you know what, let's find out a bit more. So, in two weeks' time, we're going to be finding out just what data science is, what careers are available, and how you can get into it. So, if you want to hear that, make sure you've subscribed to the show so you never miss an episode. And I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.

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