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Episode #107: Two Steps to Beat Burnout, with Neha Saxena

Grad Conn

March 30, 2021  •  21 min read

Feeling burned out? You’re certainly not alone. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that 89% of the workforce said work life was getting worse, and 85% said their overall well-being had declined. But help is on the way. Today, in our regular Monday morning “Breath Yogi” series, Neha Saxena describes how to identify burnout, and two steps you can take to minimize its impact. You’ve got this.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
Monday morning, it’s all about breathing. Got a big week ahead. This is our last week before Easter. Some of us are starting to celebrate Passover. Others are just getting ready for the spring. And we’re back with the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And today I’m back with Neha, the Breath Yogi. Neha, welcome.

Neha Saxena
Thanks, Grad. Thank you.

Grad
Do you like our new intro? It’s a little bit different from Jimi Hendrix. But it feels like the right speed for a Monday morning, I think I’m kind of diggin’ it. This is our fifth time talking. The first three times we were talking about your background, which was really interesting. I found that to be one of the more interesting hours I’ve spent in a long time. And then last week, we talked about breathing. I talked a little bit about my meditation technique and all that kind of stuff. You talked a little bit about breath, generally. I think you made the comment that people only use about 30% of their lung capacity.

I’ll give you an update on my week, what happened to me this week. And then we can, for the benefit of everybody who’s listening, go through some more breathing exercises, and you can take us where you want to take us. Because I think you also want to talk a little bit about burnout, and all the challenges people are facing at home.

So, I had a great week. I had a great week. For a whole bunch of reasons. I did get my stitches out. So, my cancer surgery is done. Cancer is all gone. They did the final check, and they got it all. My stitches out today. And I’m not overly disfigured. I think I’ll still be able to walk into a restaurant and not be thrown out. But the other thing that is really cool about this week for me is I started doing something I haven’t done in a very long time. I used to do it almost religiously, for probably nearly a decade. And then when I moved to New York, and my whole life got turned upside down, there’s a lot of disruption… I stopped going to Pilates.

Neha Saxena
Wow.

Grad
And I love Pilates. I love Pilates. And I finally started Pilates again. I’m going to Avenue Pilates in Delray Beach here in Florida. Susan is my instructor. And she’s amazing. And very good. Like very, really good. Pilates instructors are really good at that tweaky positioning. There are certain bridge positions where you put your pelvis up, and you’ve got to push it this way, or this way, or make that move, scoop it this way. They’re really good at making sure you get into the right position so that, number one, the exercise is a lot harder. But also, number two, you don’t hurt yourself.

And also, the other interesting thing about Pilates, is that Pilates is a lot about breath control. Because for most of the exercises, the breathing exercise is part of the Pilates exercise. So, breathing in breathing out. And in many cases, there’s certain moves you do that… I’ve been doing it for so long that I maybe have gotten so I don’t even know how I would do the move if I wasn’t using my breath as part of how I moved out. So, I was thinking about you the whole time. I went to see Susan twice this week. I’m seeing her again tomorrow. And I was just thinking about you and your breath exercises and the breath discussions we had. So, you’ve been on my mind all weekend. I was looking forward to today’s session, I wanted to tell you about that. I want to talk about that, and say that breathing has been on my mind, which is probably a good thing.

And let’s catch up with you. What’s your week been like and what do you want to do today? What do you think’s going to help our increasingly… I’m not sure how people are feeling these days. There’s this weird mixture of hope. Because vaccines are rolling out. More and more people I know have gotten vaccines. But also I heard today that, no yesterday, I heard yesterday about one of the world’s largest packaged goods companies isn’t going to be opening its offices until December. So, we’re still maybe even a year away from any kind of normalcy in terms of people’s lives. And I think this has clearly been a challenging year. We’re basically a little bit over exactly a year, right? It’s been a challenging year and it’s probably another year ahead. So, talk to me about what you’re seeing and how you think breathing can help.

Neha Saxena
Yeah. First of all, you look great. I love the orange on your skin.

Grad
You like the orange shirt?

Neha Saxena
Yeah.

Grad
People always tell me to wear color and I never do. But yeah, maybe I should wear color more.

Neha Saxena
It just brightens your face. I love Pilates too. I’m glad we can finally go back into the studios. That’s helpful. But yeah, I’ve been talking to a lot of people across the globe through my role here. And I think in general, you’re right, there’s this mixed feeling… like some people are even scared to take the vaccine. They’re like, is this legit, did they skimp on the trials? So I would say, I’ve been telling people go to the World Health Organization, read it, get your information from the source. Just go check the official website.

And I think a lot of people are burned out. And the World Health Organization can reclassify burnout, making it not a… it was classified as a disease state. Now, it’s something that’s an outcome of prolonged work-related stress that impacts health.

Grad
Interesting.

Neha Saxena
The onus is shifting from the individual to a thing that organizations have to get up and be a little bit more aware about, because they play an integral role in if employees are feeling burned out or not. Because the key factors that lead to burnout, in a lot of ways, are out of the control of an employee. At Sprinklr we’re getting ready to roll out a specialized initiative around it. But we’re still in the works with it. But yeah, the feedback I’ve had from people who I’ve spoken to is that it’s been helpful. And it’d be great for other people to hear that. I was thinking that it may be a good idea to talk a little bit about it. What is burnout, an educational perspective. And also normalize it in the sense that, hey, if you’re feeling burned out, you’re not alone. And it’s not your fault. The latest survey is showing that nine out of 10 people feel that way.

Grad
Really? Wow. Nine out of ten. That’s unbelievable. Wow.

Neha Saxena
89% of the people who responded to a survey done through Harvard Business Review, across 46 countries, with 1,400 participants from different organizations reported a decline in their work-related well being.

Grad
Really. Wow.

Neha Saxena
Yeah, so it’s not just you. If you’re listening to this, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s not just you.

Grad
But only if you’re from one of those 46 countries. The other 90 countries are all good. They’re all fine. If you’re in one of those 46 countries, you’re in really big trouble. Sorry about that. Hey, you know, one thing I’m super proud of at Sprinklr, and it’s something that we have not spent a ton of time talking about as a company. I think we posted it somewhere… may have been mentioned in a blog post. But we were voted one of the top 50 places to work during the pandemic, which is actually kind of amazing, given how many thousands and thousands of companies that are out there. And I will say that I think a big reason for that is you.

Neha Saxena
Oh, I’m so like…

Grad
I think you’re our secret ingredient. You made a big difference.

Neha Saxena
I’m so grateful. I’m grateful. Again, right time, right place. But yeah, this is my purpose of life. I’m here to serve people. So where better to be?

Grad
So, if you feel if you’re feeling burned out, if someone hears what you said a couple minutes ago, and is nodding their head gently right now, like, yeah, it’s been a rough year. And it’s not necessarily been a horrible year. Good things have happened this year to lots of people. People have gotten promoted, and people are continuing to… lots of people have challenges, but lots of people are at work. They’re working. Right? A lot of my friends are in the theater business.

Neha Saxena
Yeah, oh my god.

Grad
And it’s just shut down. There’s nothing else. It’s like a whole bunch of small businesses, they’ve all gone under. And so that’s an almost ridiculously bad situation that no one has really talked about. In my Facebook feed, I’d say the majority of people aren’t even working at all. So, if you’ve still got a job, you could say you’re one of the lucky ones, right? But nonetheless, even in that situation, even if you’ve got your job, maybe you’ve been promoted, maybe you’re about to get your bonus for the year. You’re still feeling overwhelmed. So, what do you recommend? And I do have one thing I want to ask you about. I’ll let you go first. But then I got a question for you. But what do you recommend? How do people manage that? That gnawing sense of burnout. What do I do about it?

Neha Saxena
Before jumping into the solution, I do want to zoom back a little bit and help people understand what is burnout.

Grad
Okay

Neha Saxena
Because you can only solve something when you truly understand it. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion, inefficiency, and cynicism.

Grad
Interesting.

Neha Saxena
It has to be all the three components together to say that I’m burned out.

Grad
Okay, interesting, okay.

Neha Saxena
Cynicism is like feeling very disengaged with work or feeling like, Oh, this sucks. I got an unfair assessment on my performance review or something like that. It’s a combination of those three things. And burnout was a problem even before COVID. I think COVID just exasperated that. There’s a lot of uncertainty. People don’t like uncertainty. There’s a quiz, actually. You could go take that quiz and figure out, are you at burnout? Are you at risk of burnout? What stage are you at? I think that’s really important to understand. Because if as a manager, you’re trying to solve burnout for a person on your team. And they’re actually feeling cynical, and not really exhausted. And you give them another app and be like, hey, go take a day off. It’s not going to help them feel less burned out.

It actually happened here at Sprinklr. We did this session for one of the teams and the manager was generous enough to come back and share this feedback with us, that he was able to have a conversation with somebody on his team who actually needed a change in job. And he’s like, I’d rather lose her to a team in Sprinklr than have her leave the company. I think identifying is very important. Where are you? And which of those three things needs to be addressed first?

Grad
That’s great. Okay.

Neha Saxena
That’s important. Am I feeling extremely cynical, am I feeling physically exhausted, or I’m just being inefficient? I roll into my bed with my laptop, I get out of the bed with my laptop, but I still feel like I have a ton of stuff to do. That’s also something I feel like a lot of people are struggling with Grad because I think COVID has blurred the boundaries completely. I think that’s one more thing. First identify, and then the way we’re planning to address that here is that we’ll have mini-modules on each of these things. And then go from there. It’s coming from this place… somebody already has access to Headspace and they have access to Virgin Pulse, and they have access to Mywellness breaks. And actually, they’re inefficient. So no matter how much we give them in terms of replenishing themselves or self care, it’s not going to help them if they don’t put a system in place for inefficiency. Or, if they’re feeling cynical, they need to address that with their manager. That’s the first step, I think.

Grad
That’s very cool. I mean, the cynicism piece, that’s really a tough one. Because if you find yourself in a very cynical place, it’s very hard to get excited about, Oh, I see, the way you’re going to help me solve this massive overwork, and the fact that I’m chained to this chair for 15 hours a day, is you’re going to tell me to breathe. That’s it. That’s your solution. Oh, okay. That’s good. Thank you. Yeah. I get it.

You know, one of the things that I have not heard people talk about as much this year, and it was starting to become a little bit of an issue, kind of a trend. And it seems to have disappeared. And I haven’t talked to you about this in advance. This will be probably not super surprising, but a little bit surprising, maybe. But we’re actually living for the first time in a situation where this particular tactic of dealing with stress is more available to us than ever and actually fairly accessible, but I’ve not heard anyone talk about it. And this is something Winston Churchill used to do. And actually many, many, many famous world leaders and many famous inventors and… the list of people who use napping as a technique for managing is extraordinarily long. Einstein and Thomas Edison, and the list goes on and on and on. Napping has always been challenging in the workplace, because it feels weird going to sleep under your desk. I think people have tried it. And there’s been little initiatives here and there, but it’s just weird. But we’re all at home.

Neha Saxena
Yeah.

Grad
We’re all at home. We could put a meeting in our calendar saying, super important meeting with a really important customer. And we could go have a nap for an hour and a half. But I’m not hearing anyone talking about doing that. In fact, all I’m hearing about is everyone’s back-to-back… yesterday, I had 15 meetings, back to back. One after the other. By the end of the day, I was only 15 minutes behind, which I thought was a minor miracle. But it was relentless. And so what’s happened? What happened to napping? And what’s going on there? And what’s your perspective on it? Because I always find I can breathe more easily after I have a nap.

Neha Saxena
In the Sprinklr “Happier Level 2” pilot that’s going on, we tackled sleep in two parts. And last week we did talk about what’s the ideal nap, depending on your chronotype? What’s the ideal time to nap? But yeah, I would say it’s a very good strategy to replenish your mental and physical energy.

Grad
Right.

Neha Saxena
And more and more so as we are moving away from more of the technical stuff that we had to do ages ago, to more information-related processing we need, it’s more important because the brain needs to rejuvenate. Up to 50% of your energy is consumed by your brain when you’re in deep thinking and doing analytical thinking.

Grad
You are full of really cool data points. You just roll them out, out of nowhere. Boom. 50% of your energy is taking out of your brain, wow. Okay. Interesting.

Neha Saxena
Well, because…

Grad
Although I do know some people that that’s definitely not true for.

Neha Saxena
When you’re doing analytical thinking, it can consume anywhere between 25% to 50%. It’s also because we’re in the midst of developing the whole Sprinklr program and giving it the finishing touches. Anyway, so yeah, napping is a very, very important strategy. It depends on what kind of office you have, what kind of space you have. And also, I think more than napping, this time is forcing us to instill some discipline, right? And forcing us to have a template for ourselves. It’s forcing us to do that. This cannot go on. If the company you mentioned is not going to open their doors until December, they pretty much have the entire 2021. And I heard Dan say on the last town hall that more than 60-70% of us want a hybrid model. I don’t know if it’s ever going to get back to the way it was.

But it depends on your chronotype. If you are a night owl and you nap, then you’re screwed. You won’t get good quality sleep at night. Generally speaking, napping is a good idea. I don’t know if you know this guy, the sleep doctor?

Grad
No, I don’t.

Neha Saxena
Oh, he’s been featured on many, many… he is known as America’s sleep doctor, he’s been to Dr. Oz, you should check out his website. And of course, all the data and the research points to that a good nap — there are different types of naps — but a good nap is at least 20 to 25 minutes. And the sleep cycle is around 90 minutes. So you want to rejuvenate enough. Either you complete the 90 minutes, or you get up after about 20-25 minutes. That’s the goal. You don’t want to take a nap too close to bedtime, because then it’s going to start impacting your sleep drive as you go closer to the evening. And it’s going to keep you awake. So you want to take a nap any time before 2pm. Ideally between 1:00 to 2:00 is a good time. After the morning cortisol has worn off, that’s when it can really give you that fresh alert energy and give you a lot of energy. Around 1:00 to 2:00 is a good time to do that. No later than 3pm.

Grad
What do we want to do today? You want to do some breathing or…

Neha Saxena
I do want to close the loop on the burnout conversation. The cynicism piece that you were bringing up, I just want whoever’s listening to this, I want you to know that if you’re feeling that way, don’t beat yourself up. Okay? Please don’t beat yourself up. It’s more likely that the person next to you is also feeling the same way. But they’re just keeping it together, right? So I would recommend a few things that can really help. First is journaling. Write it down. I do this every day. And it helps bring your unconscious thoughts into your conscious thoughts. And once you are putting it on paper, it can help. It’s out of your head and on to the paper. And you can objectively then think about things that you need to take care of.

And the second thing I want to leave you with is: be your best friend. Be your own best friend. Harbor thoughts that protect you, that empower you. And not something that puts you down. There are things that are overwhelming you, yes. Put it on the paper, energize, replenish your energy levels. And then objectively look at that list and see what can I do? It’s a slight shift from questioning and resisting what is true. Okay, this is what it is. Now, what do I need to do? Do I need to have a conversation with my manager? How can I build a structure for myself where I can succeed and help the organization succeed? Does that make sense?

Grad
Yeah, I love that best friend thing. I think you’re right, people… and I’ve been here too, sometimes get really hard on ourselves.

Neha Saxena
And a lot of the time.

Grad
We really berate ourselves. And it’s like, well, if we can’t be our own best friend, then who is? You can get into a bad spot there.

Neha Saxena
And if you think you’re depleted and you’re useless, and you’re not being able to manage, it’s not just you. Nine out of 10 people — and that survey is pretty representative — are probably feeling that way. Nobody gave us a manual and said, Hey, here’s how you survive a pandemic.

Grad
Wouldn’t that have been something Talk about a bestseller. I wish I had written that.

Neha Saxena
I think there’s still time, Grad.

Grad
Yeah, maybe there is. Yeah, maybe how to survive a pandemic. Just backdate the publishing.

Neha Saxena
Oh, yeah.

Grad
Well, that is great. Okay, what else? Why don’t we end today there. I think that’s a good idea. I like that. And we’ll come back next week with more of the breathing exercises. But let me see if I’ve got it, Neha. Make sure I’ve learned the lessons. So, burnout is a real thing. Most people are suffering from it. If you’re feeling it… and I’m going to get something wrong here. I can feel it coming here. If you’re feeling it, you can do a few things. One is journaling as a way of getting it out. Number two is to focus on your energy and make sure that you are taking care of yourself and making sure that you’re being kind to yourself and not beating yourself up, because everyone’s feeling the same thing. And the components of… and this is where I’m going to get it wrong… the components of burnout to recognize it in yourself is exhaustion, there’s cynicism… and what’s the third one?

Neha Saxena
Inefficiency.

Grad
Inefficiency. Right, right. Takes a long time to get stuff done. Okay, cool.

Neha Saxena
You don’t feel like you’re being productive.

Grad
Interesting. I like that a lot. Okay, for all of you burnouts out there, which is all of you. You know what, this is what I want to know. Who’s the one out of ten? Who’s the whack job out there who’s not burned out after all this? Come on? Like, seriously? Oh, you? Okay, great.

Neha Saxena
I think it might be me. I’m the whack job.

Grad
Being burned out. That’s normal, everybody. You’re good. You’re good. For that one out of 10 they’re the ones that are endlessly excited, optimistic, and full of energy, and super efficient. That’s not right, man. That’s just not right.

Neha Saxena
I mean, jokes aside, I think it’s people whose commute was very exhausting.

Grad
Good point. Yeah.

Neha Saxena
I do want everyone to know that this is not something that we’re taking lightly. We’re doing our best. We’re also learning. But we’re committed to doing the best we can to support everyone through it.

Grad
Fantastic. Well, Neha, that was, as always, an amazing session. Great way to start the week. I’m going to wrap today and then we’ll be back next week because every Monday is our Breath Yogi day. And thanks for coming today. I’m going to wrap. Do you have any last words? Anything else you want to add before I bring in the final close off?

Neha Saxena
I’ll just say, you’ve got this. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ve got this. You can do it. Keep breathing and we’ll be back next week with some more information.

Grad
I love that. All right, well for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and today here, as always on Mondays, with Neha, the Breath Yogi and we will see you… next time.

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Grad Conn

Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr

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