Question: Bringing Mindfulness to Staff with High Burnout and Turnover

We received a great question through our contact form last week from someone whose staff suffers from high burnout and turnover. They understand the importance of mindfulness in combating those issues but haven't had success with the resources they've brought in so far.

Simple, daily practices can help all of us when the stress is too much or when we're struggling to bring our whole selves to our work every day. See what tips we offered below, and let us know if other things have worked for your team. And if you have any questions, ask away. That's why we're here.

(Related posts that might be of interest: Make Your Workplace a Grateful Place and 5 Moments to Practice Mindfulness in your Workday)

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Question: I work at a Community Action Agency with passionate, hardworking, dedicated staff. We suffer burnout and high turnover in staff. We had a teacher-only professional development day this week with the entire afternoon dedicated to Mindfulness. It was a very bad presentation and very scattered message. What can I say or do to convey Mindfulness to my teachers, besides sharing your blogs?

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Answer: I'm so glad you asked this question because what you talk about is a real thing - for nurses, teachers, social workers and others.

I have written three tips below that I think your team could put into practice today. It’s important, though, that we recognize the type of culture that keeps people engaged and emotionally supported, has to be created at the top and reinforced at the bottom. Leaders have to be supportive, team members have to commit every day to being present and compassionate with each other.

1. Give yourselves a break

It’s so important that you recognize that their/your job isn't easy. Stress is inevitable. Feeling like it's too much is understandable. It’s all OK. Repeat: It is OK to feel those things. Don't beat yourself up about it. Everything else is already beating you up.

What you can work on is catching these feelings as they come up, and eventually before they come up so that you don’t get to the point of exhaustion and failure.

Quick exercise: Set an intention to notice when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. How does your body feel - your head, chest, stomach, hands? What are the thoughts on your head? Take note of these sensations, then take three slow, deep breaths. Don’t try to send the stress away or tell yourself not to feel anything, just focus on your breath and be present with it. If you have to remove yourself for a moment, calmly ask for someone to assist or take your place.

Once you can better recognize negative feelings, you can begin to notice when they’re coming up, and what sorts of things trigger them. From there, you have more control over how stress controls your day-to-day life. (Useful once you have some experience.)

2. Practice gratitude every day

When we’re in a stressful environment all the time, it can be easy to focus on the negative - angry parents, difficult kids, moody coworkers. Unfortunately, in doing so we’re only training our brain to have more negative thoughts. We then trigger the release of stress hormones, putting us in a downward spiral of feeling bad (terrible for our health and people around us).

But we can reverse this by choosing to focus on positive things. We’ll fortify connections in our brain that reinforce positive thoughts and hormones, breaking that cycle. And yes, it sometimes can be that simple.

Quick exercise: Every day, list 3 things you’re grateful for. Make at least one of them something super basic that many of us take for granted - the wind on your face, the amazing fingers you type with. When you notice negative thoughts, remind yourself of these things or peek at your list. Replace the negative self-talk with positive feelings of gratitude.

3. Say thank you

This involves adding a teamwork aspect to the gratitude exercise. Remember you’re all in it together - from the top boss to the newest member of your team. As one succeeds, you’ll all succeed. The best teams show appreciation for each other and support everyone on the team.

Unfortunately, we’re failing as a culture to show thanks on a regular basis. Some studies show only 15-30 percent of people say thanks to their coworkers every day. We all need to feel appreciated, feel valued and feel accepted, and it doesn’t take much to show others how we value them.

Quick exercise:

Easy: Every day, make an effort to say 'thank you' 5 times to people on your team (bosses too!) or people you encounter at work.

Harder: Make a gratitude board in the office. At least once a week, every person has to write down why they appreciate someone else on the team, giving a specific example, and read it to them in person. Every note is hung on the board to show it off.

Bonus: Give a reward to the person who shows the most gratitude every month.