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Feel the Burnout

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Besides foggy glasses from mask-wearing, and the scent of hand sanitizer wafting through the air, one of the almost universal experiences of the pandemic was burnout.  Between trying to make sure children were learning while trying to manage work, the additional stress of having to plan errands and meals during a pandemic, and the lack of safe options for recreation and social outings, or even a trip to the gym, burnout was almost unavoidable. If you lived alone during the pandemic, no doubt people with busy households assumed your life was easier, but the forced isolation was its own steady drip of stress, a perfect echo chamber of every negative thought you’ve ever had, every anxious thought you could produce, that was difficult to explain to those who didn’t experience it.

Burnout isn’t a new phenomenon, and it has perhaps affected workplaces since the time of the Industrial Revolution. It’s understandable that management wants as much productivity out of their workers as possible. After all, that’s what they’re paying for. And new and better technology has skyrocketed our productivity with each passing decade.  But at some point, no matter how much easier we’ve made it for people to be productive, we all hit a wall, if not physically than mentally and emotionally. If you push people past that, you start to get diminishing returns, an unhappy workforce, and you start to lose your best people.

Among professions known for pushing people past the tipping point, sales is notorious. During the pandemic, with nothing else to do but look at their homes and furniture, furniture sales and real estate saw surges in activity. Furniture stores could only do so much, with their supply chains decimated by the pandemic. But real estate had no such issues, and with massive commissions on the line, brokerages found themselves flooded with calls.

The Midwest especially saw a surge of interest, as burned out workers from both the East and West Coasts wanted to take advantage of work-from-home opportunities, and trade their overpriced condos for the simpler lifestyle that the flyover states still provide. Kris Lindahl’s brokerage, Kris Lindahl Real Estate (KLRE), was only founded in 2018, and business had already been booming pre-COVID. In fact, Lindahl was already rapidly expanding from his Minnesotan roots to include agents in Wisconsin and Colorado. 

And after the pandemic hit, his realtors worked harder still, as shockingly low interest rates and low inventory drove especially first-time buyers to a frenzy. Lindahl worried that his team would start to feel the effects of burnout. Kris Lindahl has been a pioneer CEO in many ways, from his aggressive billboard campaign that made him a household name and an internet meme throughout the Twin Cities overnight, to his scholarship offer, where he offers free materials and training to promising recruits to get their real estate license for free.

But now that burnout was looming, Lindahl decided he needed to offer more. He hired a chief culture and community officer, whose sole responsibility it was to maintain employee engagement and morale. Jaws dropped when that officer, Cesar Cesar Castillejos, suggested implementing Mindfulness Mondays throughout March, where a professional mindfulness expert would offer hour-long guided Zoom sessions to help his employees meditate, journal, and just de-stress. But Lindahl accepted the proposal, and now his agents talk about how much that hour, and also the kindness behind it, has meant.

Lindahl frequently hears how agents with competing brokerages are reacting to the stressful market. He states, “My agents are telling me all the time now how they’re seeing other agents lose it in front of clients. It’s a stressful time, but that absolutely shouldn’t be happening. I’m sympathetic to those agents; I am. But it’s also validating that when you listen to your employees, and respond to their needs, it matters. It matters to them, but it also matters to your clients.”

As it’s tempting to suggest that a return to some form of normalcy is on the horizon. But even if that is possible soon, we’ve all gotten more used to this pandemic more than we’d like to admit. A change in that routine will be yet another source of stress, and employees will again have their lives turned upside down very quickly. Another flare-up of burnout is to be expected, and a company who responds with understanding, and proactively provides some resources–even small ones–will be rewarded in tangible ways.

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