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Emotional Intelligence for the Senior Living Professional, Part 2: Burnout Prevention

October 10, 2018 by Sherpa

In anticipation of the 2018 Advanced Sales & Occupancy Summit, founded by late industry leader Tony Mullen, we at Sherpa wanted to tap into the thoughts of another industry leader, Juliana Wilhelm. Juliana is the Founder & President of the Capacity Leadership Center, an expert in training senior living leaders in emotional intelligence, or “EQ”, and will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Summit. For more information on Juliana and the Capacity Leadership Center, click here.

Note: This is Part Two in Juliana’s blog series contribution to Sherpa in anticipation of the Advanced Sales and Occupancy Summit. For Part One, click here.

Emotional Intelligence for the Senior Living Professional
Part 2: Burnout Prevention
By: Juliana Wilhelm

I have a crush on you, Senior Living…

If you have heard me speak, you know that I have fallen in love with Senior Living. You are my people! I have spent thousands of hours supporting people in therapy and have observed that so often the lack of meaningful work creates a drain in the lives of even “successful” people. Most, if not all of you in Senior Living are here because of the inherent meaning woven into your career. Because of this you are a deeply compassionate, loving and caring tribe. And this is exactly why I am also concerned about burn out for you. I only know this because of my own season of drowning in the pit of “compassion fatigue” four years ago. Those of us who are uniquely designed to serve others often have an Achilles heal: we give too much to serve others and in doing so we neglect our own needs.

Let’s look at Amy, a hard-working sales counselor at an assisted living facility who’s wrapping up a busy afternoon at the office. Her son’s soccer game starts soon, and she’s already promised him that she won’t be late. She jots down a few notes, grabs her purse and reaches for her keys just as the phone rings. It’s a current prospect letting her know his son is in town and they’d like to meet to discuss some additional questions. Several thoughts go through Amy’s head. First, the occupancy rate is lower than usual. She could use an opportunity to further a sale. Second, she reasons that she can be a little late to her son’s game. He’ll understand. She agrees to the meeting, which ends up going exceptionally well despite Amy’s anxiety about getting to her son’s game. She says “goodbye” and races to the soccer field to find that the game has ended. Her son sulks the entire ride home, despite her apology and a promise to cook his favorite meal for dinner.

That evening, after she’s put away the dishes, checked her kids’ homework, tidied up the house and prepared lunches for tomorrow, Amy finally crawls into bed. Her alarm goes off at 6:00 am, and the day begins. She sees her husband off to work and her daughter off to school, but struggles to wake an exhausted and irritable son. She’ll have to drop him off at school on her way to work, which means she’ll be late for the department meeting. She calls the executive director to explain and hears him sigh in irritation on the other end of the line. Doesn’t he realize I worked late last night and missed my son’s soccer game, Amy thinks? After she hangs up, she receives a text from a colleague reminding her to bring American flags for the community veterans event. She’ll have to make another stop.

Amy’s day has started amidst a whirlwind of obligations and negative emotions. It’s not hard to see that that work is bleeding over into her family time and vice versa. She’s on the cusp of burnout.

The signs of burnout are easy to spot, but we tend to ignore them. We refuse to admit we’re struggling, even though our patience has become thin and the things that once brought us joy have started to feel like our biggest hassles. The burnout that we ignore ends up leading to forgetfulness, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, and irritability. A person who is struggling with these inhibitions cannot effectively connect with a prospect (or a prospect’s family and influencers). Leadership, especially in a caregiving environment, requires emotional strength and physical resilience. If we cannot have enough of both for ourselves, it’s unlikely we will have enough for others. This leads to a lack of productivity and the detrimental altering of the delicate work/life balance.

How can we avoid “burnout” as leaders?

1. By being self-aware.

It’s important to reflect on one’s inability to self-regulate. If you feel yourself developing a short fuse and feeling fatigued, take time to acknowledge those feelings. If you don’t, those toxic emotions will seep into your relationships, both at work and home.

2. By practicing self-care.

Take some time to make a list of ways that you can, and would, enjoy replenishing your energy. Remember the small activities that help you find enjoyment in living your life: take a walk, read a novel, call a friend, play a video game with your son. My all-time favorite, a piece of expensive dark chocolate is xanex for me any day! Self-awareness is what leads to self-care, and self-care leads to better functionality overall.

3. By setting boundaries and learning to say “no.”

We tend to say “yes” to everything that’s asked of us because we hate letting others down. In her work, author and speaker Brene Brown found that “whole-hearted” people have the ability to say “no” because they are giving from a place of capacity, not of emptiness. If we say “yes” to everything, not only will we let others down, but our self-care will suffer in the process. Those who suffer burnout because they do not set boundaries may become hard-hearted, or worse, resort to employing multiple boundaries that prevent further connection. Boundaries are essential in maintaining our emotional intelligence and strength.

In my example above, if Amy had set boundaries for herself, she wouldn’t have become so frustrated, fatigued and forgetful with her work, and she could have avoided the guilt she felt over missing her son’s game. Her lack of self-awareness, self-care and boundaries cause her to develop the emotions that eventually lead to burnout.

Preventing burnout is crucial for leaders. They must be present and give their all every day, and also be confident in their ability to know when to set limits. Only then will their employees and team members trust their words and their actions.

Take some time right this moment and make a list of all of the activities you can do that help you practice self-care. Keep it handy! When you feel the stresses and frustrations of the day building up inside of you, choose an activity from your list. The difference between a bad day and a good day is often just one small act of self-care.

I am excited to continue the discussion in November, and encourage anyone interested to hear more to register at www.mullensummit.com.

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