Q&A: Early Professionals on Burnout, Approaching Difficult Conversations with a Manager, Best Career Advice, and More

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Whether you’re starting your first job after graduation or you’re advancing in your organization, a number of you have either proposed a topic idea for a post or sent me questions about how to effectively navigate various scenarios in the workplace. I’ve got you covered!

Thanks to the following All-Star cast of tremendously talented and thoughtful individuals from a range of industries, we’ve provided you with a Q&A that answers common questions we hear from early professionals…answered by early professionals themselves.

Dana Gittings (Washington DC) — Higher Education Marketing Manager, American Psychological Association

Liz Moses (Austin TX) — Principal, Bespoke Partners Andrew Bagnato (New Orleans LA) — Advancement Operations Manager, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity Mariah Brown (Denver CO) — Clinical Research Coordinator, UC-Denver School of Medicine/Children’s Hospital Colorado

How do you avoid or deal with burnout at work?

Gittings: Particularly during the pandemic, I find it critical to take mental health breaks and remind myself that there’s more to life than my job. This could mean taking 15 minutes to straighten up my place, stretch, breathe deeply, or meditate, or if I have more time, to get outside for some fresh air or do something creative or intellectual that isn’t work-related. Actually, with remote work, taking breaks has become easier — it was difficult (and not really encouraged) to do so in our physical office. I’ve also found that open and frequent communication with my manager about what’s on my plate has helped create transparency around my workload and when I can (or can’t) take on more projects.

Moses: One of the most important ways to mitigate burnout is to ensure you have work life balance in place. The best way I’ve found a balance when my job allows for it is to work when there is work to do, and relax when there isn’t. In a job where you have a salary and flexibility in the hours in your day, be sure to recognize when things are slowing down and take that time off, whether it be an hour or two for lunch or a walk when you have 30 minutes. In a role where your position is hourly or you don’t have the ability to have a flexible schedule, make sure to log off when you are home or not in the office. It’s important to set aside time to unplug, especially in today’s work from home environment.

Brown: I believe strongly in a healthy work/life balance and chose my line of work based on this. My job offers more flexible hours than the majority of positions and I work on a team of incredibly understanding women, though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some weeks can be chaotic, demanding, and stressful. It’s important that I know my personal limits with workload and am realistic with how much time I can commit to a certain task, to avoid “biting off more than I can chew”. I would rather commit to less and do an excellent job, than be firing on all cylinders only to produce a less-than-optimal result.

Bagnato: Sometimes I feel pressured to say yes to everything, even when I’m swamped. I’ve never wanted to come off as lazy or incompetent so I would say yes to every task asked of me, even when the person has specifically told me that it’s okay if I don’t have the time to complete it. I’ve even moved plans around when I’ve been asked to work late or work a last minute after hours event. Learning to say “I’m sorry no, I don’t have the time or I’m sorry no, I already have plans this evening” was not only empowering by setting boundaries, but was also just one more tool in my chest to help me overcome burnout.

How would you suggest approaching difficult conversations with a manager, such as about a promotion or feeling micromanaged?

Gittings: I think sandwiching is really important — packaging the request for more pay, a promotion, or a more stable workload within some positives about what you really like about your role and work environment. Make it clear that you appreciate the efforts your manager has already put in to make your work feel meaningful and to create a work-life balance. Also, carefully consider (even write down and memorize) some of the things you want to say during this conversation. If you’re asking for more pay or a promotion, go in with specifics — for example, a range of pay you think is reasonable based on your skills, informed by research on similar jobs in the field. Have a high-level list of how you’ve excelled lately on hand — but don’t overdo it on the details. If your boss asks, you just want to be armed with information to back up your request.

Moses: Approaching promotion or raise conversations are always challenging! In my experience, the best way to approach the conversation is to be clear about what you want. Even if your manager doesn’t think you’re ready or you have a while before you’ll receive a promotion, being upfront about your goals allows you to work together to achieve them. A low stress way to approach this is to set up a goal setting session with your manager mid year, end of quarter, or another period of time where you’re not actively in a promotion cycle to give you an opportunity to bring up your intentions with minimal pressure. When you have the conversation, if you come to the conclusion that you’re not ready for a promotion, be sure to leave the conversation with clear goals on how to achieve your next promotion.

Discussing micromanagement with a manager, especially if there isn’t a cadence set for meeting in a one on one format, can be even tougher. If you do have regular feedback or check in conversations with your manager, try to set a standard where you provide feedback both ways in every meeting so if micromanagement comes up, it’s not necessarily a surprise. I also try to frame the conversation more from the perspective that as an employee, you’d like to take on more responsibility or you’d like to take on more projects independently. I would start with this approach and if your manager doesn’t change his/her behavior, it’s definitely an acceptable conversation to have with your manager’s manager. If you don’t have regular meetings with your manager, I would suggest setting time for a “Goal setting” conversation. It’s always good to set up time to discuss your goals more generally, and then you can work in comments about wanting to work more autonomously or taking on more responsibility.

Brown: Gather as much information as you can before having a difficult conversation with your manager. I am a huge fan of lists in general, but I would absolutely recommend spending time on compiling a list of the main points you want to touch on, as well as practicing the conversation so you have excellent delivery. If you are coming to management with a problem, it is important that you also take the initiative to offer a solution. In the case of a pay raise or promotion, you should contact your HR department to get information on the salaries of those working in similar positions to you to help support your case. I work for the state, so position salaries are public information, but I realize not all positions are like this. If you are unable to get exact salaries, you can always use job search sites (such as Indeed) to see what the typical salary is for someone in your position with your level of experience. You are your strongest advocate, and with difficult conversations you need to be able to support your case with as many examples as possible to strengthen your argument and help the change you are hoping to see come to fruition.

Bagnato: I’ve found that it’s best to address these issues head on. When I’ve needed to have difficult conversations, I’ve asked my manager if I can get on their calendar and I tell them that I’d like to discuss a work-related issue. In my experience, I’ve found that this is a better approach than just popping in and catching them off guard. Establishing a time to talk will also help ensure that you’ll have their undivided attention and that you’ll have enough time for the two of you to address the issue(s) at hand. When having the conversation, it’s important to be direct, but also respectful. If it’s a micromanaging issue, hopefully you’ll be able to come to some kind of understanding. If it’s a promotion or salary issue — the worst they can say is no. It’s important to speak out when something’s bothering you and it’s also important to advocate for yourself when necessary. in the end, your manager is likely to respect you more for it.

Have you ever felt impostor syndrome in your job? If so, how have you dealt with that?

Gittings: Absolutely! I experienced this more often early in my career, and still feel it occasionally. In a way, we’re all “faking it until we make it.” We’re always learning — and everyone else is too. But we need to remember that we’ve worked really hard to get here, that our unique experiences and education make us quite competent. I have to remind myself of the spotlight effect, which is a phenomenon in which everyone feels they are at the center of the universe, with the whole world watching them — their actions and mistakes magnified. But each of us is only at the center of our own universes. No one else is watching us that closely. We’re causing ourselves a lot of unnecessary anxiety when we worry so much about our every move!

Moses: I felt a little bit of imposter syndrome when I first moved into my role as a Team Leader. I had been very successful in my role as individual contributor and had a lot of experience managing difficult client situations, but moving to a new business unit and being placed in the role for the first time made it hard to seem like I had all the answers for my team. I dealt with it by being authentic to my team and learning as much as I could. In most cases, I feel like imposter syndrome shows up when you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, and it can be overcome by rising to the occasion and learning the skills or information you need to succeed. As a Team Leader, I would ultimately flag a lot of questions up to my manager, but once I had the answer I never asked the same question twice and in a matter of 2–3 months was able to really overcome the initial setbacks I faced.

How do you overcome the stereotypes that young professionals often face in the workplace?

Gittings: Frankly, I’m not sure I did a great job of overcoming these in my first few years of work. I feel more confident in my skin now that I’ve been in the workplace for longer and have dealt with more in the realm of office dynamics. But at first, I felt cut off from important strategy and decision-making conversations where participation would have enriched me, and often felt sidelined doing menial administrative work. I think advocating for yourself, in addition to demonstrating a hard-working and dedicated attitude on the daily, is critical to overcoming harmful stereotypes about young professionals and to pushing for your own advancement.

Moses: In my first role out of college, I was an Event Manager at a hotel, responsible for overseeing banquet team members who were in their 50’s and 60’s. Needless to say, it was tough to be taken seriously as a manager. While at first they saw me as a young, inexperienced employee, I was able to get them to respect me and trust me by holding them accountable while also remaining caring and dedicated to our clients. There was definitely a little bit of earning my stripes but it was more about proving to the team that while I may be young, I was a fast learner, hardworking and smart. Overall they could see I was genuine and they grew to respect me for it.

Brown: I’ve been very fortunate to not feel judgment based on stereotypes of young professionals in my career thus far. Advice I can offer on this front is to work hard, admit what you don’t know, and to actively seek out more experienced coworkers who can serve in a mentor capacity to you. Prove the stereotypes wrong with a strong work ethic and dedication to grow in your abilities.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

Gittings: Be more concise, and don’t take things personally. I’m an empath, which can be difficult when dealing with a wide range of personalities in the office — some kinder and softer around the edges than others. I also tend toward wordiness — I’m a good communicator, but sometimes I include more information than someone needs. Together, these tips have helped me to “think, but not overthink” — both about the task at hand, and about the dynamics between me and some of my coworkers who are more blunt in their communications. Now, I let things roll off my back and am better at understanding others’ perspectives and challenges. It’s another case of the “spotlight effect” — not everything is about us!

Moses: Surround yourself with good mentors.

Brown: I can’t recall if anyone has ever directly said this to me, but the cliché “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is what comes to mind as the best career advice. I got my first job as a research coordinator based on word of mouth — the MD/PhD student I worked under doing research during undergrad connected me to other members of the lab I worked in to help me secure a post-grad job before I had even graduated in May 2015. The hiring process was extremely informal as her recommendation held a ton of weight. It is important to network, build strong connections with those you work with, and to never, ever burn bridges. References are so important to advancing in your career, so be sure to always have this thought in the back of your mind, particularly if you are about to take an action that may have a negative impact on your reputation, because it really DOES matter.

Bagnato: Work to live, don’t live to work! We’ve been conditioned as a society to put our blood, sweat, and tears into our jobs — even if it’s at the expense of our mental and/or physical health. Prioritize your well-being and utilize your PTO. It’s ok to take a day off, even if you’re not sick! Self-care is paramount!

I am very thankful to each respondent for sharing their thoughts and experiences and to those of you who sent in questions you wanted answered! Feel free to connect with the respondents here:

Dana Gittings: LinkedIn

Liz Moses: LinkedIn

Mariah Brown: mariah.n.brown@cuanschutz.edu

Andrew Bagnato: LinkedIn

And you can connect with me here.

Please leave a comment and share any helpful tips you’ve learned for tackling these issues in the workplace!


Have a blog post topic you’d like me to write about? Pitch one here.

Originally published at http://nextgentoday.wordpress.com on December 5, 2020.