February 21, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we share insights for assessing and dealing with burnout, conflict, remote teams, the discomfort of bold plans for change, and anticipating customer needs. Enjoy!


1. Burnout and the Pandemic

Burnout, not unexpectedly, is on the rise as pandemic uncertainty is prolonged.

There are anecdotal reports, and LinkedIn tallied a 33% increase in survey results from last January to August, suggesting it affects more than one in 20 employees.

Margaret Luciano and Joan Breet, professors at Arizona State University, delineate two types of burnout in a Harvard Business Review article:

  • Passive forms stemming from low-arousal emotions such as sadness and fatigue.
  • Active forms driven by high-arousal emotions such as frustration and distress.

To spot passive burnout, look for despondency as employees disengage from work because they feel like a failure at everything they do. Apathy might be another clue, as employees lower their usual standards of performance — reducing effort, missing deadlines, or becoming more overtly cynical.

“If allowed to fester, burnout can result in extreme avoidance behaviors, such as sidestepping interactions with coworkers, not speaking up when they have an idea or when something’s wrong, or letting problems slip by that they would usually address,” they write.

Active indicators of burnout might be revealed as they avoid coping behaviours, neglecting workouts and hobbies or succumbing to unhealthy eating and drinking habits. Patient, diplomatic employees might become easily annoyed and express impatience and discontent.

Countering Burnout:

Support them in their struggle. Coach them on how to gain perspective, reframe problems, and choose which requests they can say no to and which actions they can defer. More generally, to ease pressures, combat the culture of immediacy in your organization.

Test Yourself:  Check whether you are showing signs of burnout with the self-assessment questionnaire below in Item 6 — Today’s List.

2. How to Build Culture on a Remote Team

Author David Burkus says the best study of remote teams was conducted a few years before we heard of COVID-19. It focused on virtual teams from multinational organizations that were also cross-functional — the epitome of boundarylessness.

Two elements were found to be critical to remote culture:

  • Shared Identity: This refers to the extent to which an individual feels the team of people is a real team — a bigger hurdle in a work-from-anywhere environment. He recommends creating buffer times around meetings when people can come online early or stay late to chat. Or go a step further and plan shared meals or other unstructured times for socialization and bonding.
  • Shared Understanding: This refers to an individual’s understanding of the team — the knowledge, skills, and abilities of others, including communication preferences and work styles.

A team leader might suggest a virtual office tour where everyone shares the context of their workspace. They pick up the laptop or move the webcam around to show the team where they work, explaining why they chose to build that environment.

“This is great because you not only get a sense of the context that people are working in, but you get a sense of what they use to stay productive,” he writes on his blog.

Virtual teams are a fact of life for many organizations. Come up with ways to build shared understanding and shared identity to boost effectiveness.

3. Great Businesses Anticipate

Here’s a test: A woman is in your fashion store when you notice her two-year-old son’s diaper is dirty, poop running down his leg. The mother doesn’t have any clean diapers. You’re the only staff member present. What do you do?

When that happened to Donald Cooper, he put the woman in charge of the store, drove to a nearby drug store, bought diapers and returned. Three customers had come in during the interval and his stand-in sales lady was doing a fine job.

Good businesses respond to crises with top-flight customer service, he says in his newsletter. The woman probably told 100 others about his actions and he picked up new customers.

But great businesses anticipate what customers will need.

He began to stock diapers for customers, and added free beverages, electric reclining massage chairs for husbands and boyfriends, a Pirate Ship Play Area for kids and a friendly sign that said, “Please take as many items in the change room as you wish!”

So, how can you better anticipate what clients might appreciate?

(And, by  chance, do you have diapers on hand?)

4. How to Handle Arguments

In the heat of an argument, surprise the other person. Go where they aren’t expecting. Lower the emotional content.

“The rule of thumb is: the louder your opponent becomes, the softer you should be in reply. And the faster the tempo they try to establish, the more you should take your time in answering,” speaking coach Gary Genard notes on his blog.

“It can sure put the opposition off of their game, and fast.”

This protects you by allowing you to maintain control of your emotional response and focus on your purpose in participating in the encounter.

5. Zingers

  • Who Is More Expensive? An employee who is stuck is more expensive than one who is learning and growing, entrepreneur Seth Godin points out. What are you doing to help your employees improve? (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Returns on Reading: The best way to learn, journalist Steven Kotler suggests, is through books. If you spend three minutes reading one of his blog posts, you benefit from three days of his effort. Twenty minutes of reading one of his typical magazine articles returns value from four months of his time. Reading his book The Rise of Superman costs you five hours for 15 years of his time. Blogs seem condensed, but he argues books are the most radically condensed forms of knowledge on the planet. (Source: The Art of Impossible)
  • Capture Team Ideas:  Don’t let your team’s ideas slip away. Set up an idea file on the computer network, or an idea board or idea bin in the office, advises consultant Wally Bock (Source: Three Star Leadership)
  • On Humble Leadership: The strength of humility is openness to learning, says leadership coach Dan Rockwell. Arrogance knows. Humility learns.  (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • Designing Comparison Tables: If you have comparison tables on your web site – for example, comparing three different service packages – don’t assume users will read it like a book. Eye-tracking studies show a lawn mower pattern: From left to right, then down to the next line and returning from right to left. For long tables, therefore, use fixed table headers, so that column titles are always visible. Ensure that each cell can stand alone whenever possible, its meaning understood without flipping to the right or top. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)


6. Today’s List:  

    Questions to Self-Assess Burnout

If you worry you might be burning out, here is a simple test of 10 questions that residents of Surrey, B.C., find available for self-assessment on their city’s website.

Think about the past three months and score the questions according to how often you have experienced the listed symptoms:

0 = Never
1 = Very Rarely
2 = Rarely
3 = Sometimes
4 = Often
5 = Very often

The Questions:

  • Do you feel fatigued in a way that rest or sleep does not relieve?
  • Do you feel more cynical, pessimistic or disillusioned about things you used to feel positive about?
  • Do you feel a sadness or emptiness inside?
  • Do you have physical symptoms of stress, such as insomnia, stomach pains, headaches, or migraines?
  • Is your memory unreliable?
  • Are you irritable or emotional, with a short fuse?
  • Have you been more susceptible to illness lately, such as colds, flu, food allergies, or hay fever?
  • Do you feel like isolating yourself from colleagues, friends or family?
  • Is it hard to enjoy yourself, have fun, relax and experience joy in your life?
  • Do you feel that you are accomplishing less in your work?

Interpreting Your Score:

0 –  15   You are doing well.
16 – 25   Some attention needed; you may be a candidate.
26 – 35  You are on the road to burnout. Make changes now.
36 – 50  You need to take action immediately; your health and well-being are threatened”.

7.  Around Our Water Cooler: 

Aim for confidence in your plans, not comfort.

We once picked up a great quote from Sally Hogshead:  “If your goals are comfortable, they’re not big enough.”  (Rob has it taped to his computer screen as a daily reminder.)

Recently we’ve been working with leadership teams as they edge out of their comfort zones —making planning decisions they experience as both thrilling and terrifying. There’s no doubt that bold steps into uncharted waters can make you feel uncomfortable.

As our friend Amanda Van Halteren from Selah Consulting suggests, it can help to reflect on how you handle uncertainty in your personal life. For example, are you the type who likes to make detailed plans in advance or do you just jump in, “building the bridge as you walk it”?

Here are seven questions we often ask when leaders need to diagnose the roots of their discomfort with a plan:

  • Are you perfectly clear on your goal, what’s to be achieved and why?
  • Do you believe your goal or desired outcome is actually achievable?
  • Do you know how to start, and can you see the path forward?
  • Is it that you lack critical information about the problem or your options?
  • Are you worried about disrupting a crucial relationship?
  • Is your “spidey-sense” tingling because of a conflict between your head and your heart, your logic and your intuition, that needs to be resolved?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed by a dream too big for your budget, experience or expertise? Can you pare down ambitions or add resources?

Change is often necessary or desirable, but it can be uncomfortable, especially when your goals are ambitious or take you into fog-obscured territory. As you consider these questions, focus on building a final plan that leads you to a place of confidence rather than comfort.


What We’re Reading:

  • Rob’s Pick:
    Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It is easily one of the most practical and applicable books I’ve come across. Chris Voss, a former lead FBI hostage negotiator, explains how to inject emotional intelligence and empathy into negotiations — that sets these strategies apart from an outdated view that negotiators solve problems logically and in sequence. His mastery tips touch on using tone of voice and the types of questions you should ask, but my favourite involves getting to “No”, not “Yes”. In a past 8020Info Water Cooler post, we shared his advice for high-stress situations.


  • Harvey’s Pick:
    In Conflicted, New Statesman columnist Ian Leslie notes that evolution has not equipped us to disagree with others in a productive way. He dives into techniques we can use to get the marked benefits of disagreement in conversations and groups, identifying what he calls a universal grammar of productive disagreement.  The research literature and actual negotiations include a fascinating look at what went wrong at Waco, Texas in the 1993 talks between the FBI and Branch Davidians.


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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support strategic planning and change processes, marketing communications and research / stakeholder consultations. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.

8.  Closing Thought 

“Weekends don’t count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.”

Bill Watterson