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Episode #539: Burnout: How to Spot It and Take Action, with Jenni Poulos

A third of your life will be spent at work. When you consider this, preventing job burnout is one of the most important things you can do. If you’re already experiencing burnout, it’s not too late! To help you spot it and take action, Kirk Behrendt brings back Jenni Poulos, one of ACT’s amazing coaches, with advice for understanding its causes, symptoms, and the best ways to manage it. Don’t let your job chip away at your health! To learn what you can do to avoid and cope with burnout, listen to Episode 539 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

“Job Burnout: How to Spot It and Take Action” from Mayo Clinic:

How Should a Company Share Its Values? by Simon Sinek:

Atomic Habits by James Clear:

Main Takeaways:

Understand the main causes of job burnout.

Eliminate dysfunction in your workplace.

Create rules and boundaries for work.

Maintain a good work-life balance.

Give team members predictability.

Have a support system in place.


“The World Health Organization has officially classified burnout as a medical condition. People often say, ‘Oh, it’s just stress. It’s just being tired. It’s just fatigue. You just need to reset and relax.’ That’s not true. It is an official medical condition that affects your mental and physical health.” (2:40—3:00) -Jenni

“One of the first and most important things is unclear expectations existing in your workplace, in your day-to-day. This is one that we can actually have a lot of control over for both ourselves and our team members. We can take action on this one right away. And it really can cause horrible days when we don’t know what to expect. When we have no predictability, it can be demoralizing.” (4:27—5:07) -Jenni

“[Your team] should be welcomed into an environment where you can say, ‘This is what you can expect.’ And it starts with something as simple as a job description, ‘Here’s what we expect. Here’s what you can expect.’ It starts with job descriptions, but it also goes into systems. The more that you can have this in writing for great team members when they can come to work, the higher chance that they can succeed.” (5:14—5:40) -Kirk

“It’s providing expectations for your teammates. It’s also setting clear expectations for your patients, how we expect and accept to be treated from our patients on a day-to-day basis.” (6:30—6:44) -Jenni

“When we have our team meetings now, I love coming to work because I know the rules. I know what to expect. When you walk in the door and you’re like, ‘Well, who knows what today is going to be?’ you’re immediately in a place of stress and walking on eggshells. When you have clear rules, boundaries, expectations are set, you can come in and say, ‘You know, there might be some struggles today. I might see some difficult patients. I might have to have some hard conversations. But for the most part, 80%, I know what to expect. I know what my day is going to bring, and I know how to manage it.’” (6:49—7:30) -Jenni

“It was great to hear from [Brené Brown] that we have billions and billions of data points that point to something that helps mental health. Do you know what it was? It’s called boundaries. Boundaries around social media consumption, boundaries around work, boundaries around behavior, boundaries around what we do and what we don’t do, boundaries have been proven to establish . . . cognitive mental neural pathways . . . The whole idea is, you start telling yourself a better story around how days work. Think about it. If I don’t have any rules or boundaries around social media consumption, what I eat, when I sleep, when I work, I just work. That creates a pattern in my brain that tells me I don’t have any control. And therefore, I tell myself a terrible story about this thing called work.” (9:42—10:34) -Kirk

“When we don’t have boundaries, when we don’t have clear expectations, we have a lack of control. A lack of control in our days, those days when we walk in and it’s like, ‘I’m just along for the ride. I’m saddling in, and I hope that it goes okay because I don’t have accountability. I have no control over my team. My patients show up sometimes, pay sometimes, which leads to me not knowing if I have a healthy business, not knowing if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, not knowing if I’m going to keep my team members. Am I going to be hiring?’ All of these things without the expectations, without the clarity, we get into this place where we have no control.” (10:41—11:29) -Jenni

“One of the really important things is that we have a support system. We need to have people that we can lean into, that we can talk to and say, ‘I’m struggling,’ or, ‘I need an outside perspective,’ or, sometimes, just an ear to chat about life. It’s really important that we have social support, emotional support around us, people that we can trust and be vulnerable with.” (12:48—13:14) -Jenni

“You have to have a coach because the worst person to talk to about your business is yourself. Or therapy. Therapy is a wonderful thing. You see a lot of wonderful, healthy people, and they’ll tell you, ‘Therapy was important to me because I was actually able to verbalize some of the things I was experiencing so that they didn’t become behaviors that were unhealthy.” (13:32—13:52) -Kirk

“You also need a support network, a social support, of other people that do what you do. That’s why you have to be in a study club. A study club, a great study club, is not about the information. It’s about keeping the fire lit and realizing, ‘Hey, I’m normal.’ And you have other people that are doing the same things as you are, and they’re looking out for you. They have your back, they know you, and you feel connected. And it’s in sharing that information in proximity — there’s power in proximity, being with other people — that you feel like, ‘Wow! This isn’t so bad.’ You actually leave a social support network with hope.” (13:52—14:30) -Kirk

“Community is so important because we get things off of our chest. And sometimes, it’s even just, ‘Other people are going through this. I’m not alone. I’m not crazy,’ and we learn from each other.” (14:31—14:43) -Jenni

“One of my favorite quotes that [Brené Brown] has is, ‘We can’t do it all alone, and we were never meant to.’” (14:46—14:52) -Jenni

“One of my biggest things that I push with everyone that I coach, doctors, teammates, that I reiterate over and over and over again is that asking for help is a strength. It’s something that we oftentimes see as a weakness. But saying, ‘Hey, I need some help here. Hey, I don’t get this,’ that is a strength that we need to lean into that is going to help us work through stress and not fall into burnout.” (14:58—15:28) -Jenni

“This is one of the main things that people come to us for: ‘My culture is falling apart. People are at each other’s necks. It’s not a good place to be.’ And lack of control, unclear expectations, not having support, not having people to talk with and vent to, all of these things result in these dysfunctional workplaces. And not really having your purpose, having your why, and saying, ‘These are my values. This is what’s important to me. This is why I come to work,’ when you don’t have that solidly in place, it’s hard to create a really great culture and a really great environment.” (17:10—17:57) -Jenni

“Having a dysfunctional workplace can make you hate dentistry. It can make you want to quit.” (19:36—19:43) -Kirk

“Having really clear expectations goes a long way towards eliminating dysfunction in your workplace, because when I know what’s expected of me, I can focus on it, I can execute it, I can ask questions. One of the most important things is having an environment of psychological safety. Google actually did a study of 40,000 teams, and they found that the number-one thing that existed in all highly functional teams was an environment of psychological safety. And that means that team members felt safe to make mistakes, be vulnerable, say, ‘I need help,’ without fear of retribution from their leaders or their teammates. And they felt appreciated. So, as a leader, let your team members be vulnerable. Be vulnerable with them. And I’ll tell you, you need to appreciate people. Saying thank you is free.” (20:32—21:32) -Jenni

“In our leadership meetings, we sometimes have heavy conversations, and we hash it out. But we feel safe to bring our voices to the room and say what we believe. Everyone is vulnerable with where they’re coming from and what they believe, and that doesn’t always exist.” (22:20—22:39) -Jenni

“Better practice, better life. It’s that work-to-live and live-to-work, all of those things. We talk so often about planning our lives first. One of the exercises as coaches that we go through with our teams and our docs every year is filling out something that we call the Better Life Planner, in which they look at the entire year ahead of them and plan their year. And the first thing that we plan is our life. We plan our time away. We plan our family time. We plan our reset time. It’s so important that we give ourselves space to live.” (23:12—23:54) -Jenni

“You spend 30% of your life at this thing called work — 30%. Don’t up it to 40%.” (25:35—25:42) -Kirk

“You could make a ton of money. You can have a lot of fun. You can serve people with a unique purpose. You can love what you do. But you’ve got to have a life, at the end of the day. And having boundaries around work is critically important.” (25:52—26:07) -Kirk

“You know who makes the rules? You make the rules. Patients don’t make the rules. You can’t say, ‘Well, this is the only time my patients come in,’ and it’s 7:00 p.m. Don’t say that to yourself. When you start to say that, you now have no life because you’re serving a patient base that you believe will only come in at their easiest time of day.” (26:09—26:29) -Kirk

“To really avoid burnout, you need to have a plan and boundaries at home and at work. At home, it needs to look like quality family time or quality social time with whomever it is that’s important in your life. It looks like having a schedule for good, restorative sleep. It looks like exercise and healthy eating. These are all things that we know, scientifically, that impact burnout that we can put into place to help it. At work, it’s having a plan. It’s saying, ‘These are our expectations. This is what we’re going to focus on. These are our rules. These are the boundaries.’ And having those plans at work and at home, it works together very beautifully to give you the life that you envision.” (27:22—28:15) -Jenni

“If you’re feeling exhausted — not just stressed, but exhausted — talk to somebody. And don’t feel like you have to suffer through this alone, because there is a way to the other side. There is a better life. There really is. We just have to be intentional about it, and we have to plan for it. A great life doesn’t just happen. It’s something that we make. So, be intentional about making it a great life.” (30:00—30:29) -Jenni

“Burnout creates exhaustion. You’re tired. And I’ll tell you, when you’re fatigued, you make bad decisions.” (30:33—30:40) -Kirk


0:00 Introduction.

2:26 Burnout is a medical condition.

3:42 Causes of job burnout: unclear expectations.

6:22 Provide expectations and predictability for team members.

8:54 The importance of having boundaries.

12:45 Causes of burnout: not having a support system.

16:42 Causes of burnout: dysfunctional workplace dynamics.

20:22 Create an environment of psychological safety.

22:53 Causes of burnout: work-life imbalance.

26:43 Have boundaries at home and at work.

28:17 Work-life balance, explained.

29:50 Last thoughts on burnout.

Jenni Poulos Bio:

Jenni brings to dental teams a literal lifetime of experience in dentistry. As the daughter and sister of periodontists and a dental hygienist, she has been working in many facets of the dental world since she first held a summer job turning rooms and pouring models at the age of 12. Now, with over 10 years of experience in managing and leading a large periodontal practice, she has a firm grasp on what it takes to run a thriving business. Her passion for organizational health and culture has been a driving force behind her coaching career. She has witnessed firsthand how creating an aligned and engaged team will take a practice to levels of success that they never believed possible!


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