Burnout, Wellness and the Future of Work

Glassdoor along with Indeed recently put out a joint hiring report highlighting workforce trends to watch. Three significant elements from their list include: remote work is here to stay, happiness and wellbeing matter, and the changing workforce is pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the forefront.

In many ways, all three topics are intertwined and at the heart of the current movement to transform company cultures.

What’s at Risk With Hybrid & Remote Work

As the report showed, 2023 workplace hurdles to overcome include disconnected teams. Of course, remote and hybrid work certainly offer advantages. People experiencing marginalization often feel safer working from home, workers sacrifice less time away from family, and commuters and cars are off the roads.

Yet distributed teams isolate employees, and experts agree this breakdown of community increases the chance of burnout. Last month, the New York Times mentioned burnout twice in its list of ten steps to better mental health; at the same time, they cautioned against confusing burnout with depression.

So what exactly is burnout?

Burnout Defined

Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Most often caused by workplace stress, burnout often stems from a feeling of futility and loss of control.

According to this report, incidents of burnout are on the rise–especially for middle managers, the ones trying to keep teams connected and prioritize wellness for everyone else. These are the very leaders we interact with in our Circles community of practice; indeed, when we asked one L&D leader what to watch for in 2023, she listed ‘burnout’ in her top five.

Prioritizing employee wellness initiatives is likely the best way to mitigate burnout, and employees have come to expect a focus on their wellbeing–in fact, some are taking matters into their own hands. The 2023 version of “quiet quitting” is called “the anti-work movement.”

The Anti-Work Movement

Recently, Ariana Huffington predicted that we will no longer wear burnout as a badge of honor–and the rise of the anti-work movement certainly seems to prove her point. Much like how the misnomer quiet ‘quitting’ circulated 2022 headlines, however, those spearheading the anti-work movement aren’t actually against working–they’re against workaholism. “The anti-work movement often leads to people finding ways to make just enough money to get by. They will have more leisure time, rather than working long hours to earn more money.”

Both movements consist of a groundswell of conscientious young workers banding together, committed to choosing wellness over wealth and burnout. The next generation of workers is signaling to their leaders the importance of prioritizing health and wellness.

Wellness Initiatives to Combat Burnout

To improve the state of the workplace, Gallup suggests both engaging employees and investing in their wellbeing so they can truly thrive, revealing that “Employees who are engaged at work but not thriving have a 61% higher likelihood of ongoing burnout than those who are engaged and thriving.”

Workplace wellness includes everything from expansive healthcare that includes elements like mental health benefits, to Employee Resource Groups, safe spaces where employees can connect with others with whom they have an affinity. According to the leaders in our circles, ERGs are safe spaces employees at all levels, themselves included. Glassdoor gathered their ERGs on our platform for breakouts because of our platform’s safe design and inclusive features.

ERGs remain many companies’ leading inclusion initiative, a focus which resurged during the early days of the pandemic in response to world events and social unrest.

Diversity Equity & Inclusion was not a fad

ERGs and inclusion initiatives like them are not new–they originated during the civil rights movement and have ebbed and flowed with societal influences ever since.

Glassdoor & Indeed’s joint report confirmed: the changing face of the workforce will continue organically and intentionally pushing inclusion to the forefront. “As older workers vacated jobs during the pandemic, their younger counterparts find themselves in a position to demand more when it comes to social justice.”

Due in large part to the changing demographics of the U.S. and its workforce, these initiatives will continue becoming intrinsic to who we are. As the report concludes ”The workforce of tomorrow will care deeply about DEI initiatives and employers will use these programs to continue to differentiate themselves in a continuously competitive labor market. Plus, it’s not only good for workers—it’s good for business and for society.”


Together, companies have the opportunity to reinvent themselves into something better, wiser and healthier for the world, and perhaps we can all benefit from the invitation to check our boundaries and avoid burnout. Everyone wins when we incorporate fresh wisdom from the next generation of workers. With the proper inclusion efforts, corporate spaces can lean into the wellness opportunities this next generation of workers are looking for in the workplace.

Are you looking for inclusive spaces to connect your distributed employees? Need a safe place for your ERGs to gather? Schedule a demo with one of our community growth managers today!

Why I’ll Never Give Up My Rock And Roll Dreams

Picture the scene.

I’m in the standing room area on the floor of Madison Square Garden along with 20,000 new friends.

As Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” hits its stride, the lights go out, and we send up a roar to welcome the night’s featured attraction – U2.

90 seconds later, as “City of Blinding Lights” starts up, Bono is standing two feet in front of me.  And we’re airborne.

Pure theater.  Pure joy. And made more dramatic by the well-planned flow of music – from the time we walked in, until the concert began.

Planned flow and the power of music never goes unnoticed by me – a theater professional, and at the time of the concert, Circles’ future Lead Facilitator. I was similarly struck by the learnings from a piece I heard on This American Life a few years back. It highlighted the absence of an emotional response from parents to their children’s school slideshow – all because there was no soundtrack.

Music sets a mood, infuses energy, and lights a fire.

As a theater director, I give as much thought to the “load-in” music as I do the sound design during the play.  Same for my years handling the studio audience load-in in my previous life in television.  Am I bringing the energy up, or dampening it?  What mood am I creating, intentionally or unintentionally?

We’re emotional beings, fueled by a sense of connectivity and togetherness.  Music can act like dry tinder, adding a suggested emotional connotation to what it means to come together.

I love how our technology makes it super easy to grab your favorite YouTube track and play its audio in the CircleSpace.  Too often, facilitators I train think they need to be the one getting it all done through words.  Great facilitators embody energy, timing, and flow, and nothing jumpstarts intentional energy at the start like the right opening song.  It’s like a great leading question, directing the energy and flow of the session down a pre-planned path.  It’s also an opportunity to embody inclusivity and diversity.  I pay attention to the composition of my group, and work to reflect it in my session’s “soundtrack”.

Music is also a “spark”, our term for content that catalyzes conversation.  As an experience designer, I also find ways to build a thematic experience beginning to end, including during reflection time after a prompt is offered.  Running a session on Being Present?  I like Mason Jennings’ “Be Here Now.”  Gathering CEOs to discuss generating impact on world events?  Matisyahu’s “One Day” gets them talking. Our participants frequently mention the power of a session’s music, sharing everything from “great choice of music–opened the flow of conversation” to “the use of music and poetry to cultivate powerful themes left a strong impression on me.”

Music can be leveraged to brand the experience as well.  It’s a cognitive connotation if participants hear the same track each time they enter the space.  “Oh, I remember what this is.”   It’s like a great walk-on moment from your favorite baseball relief pitcher.  It announces the experience to come. 

Because, though I may not sell out the Garden, I can still rock the house.

Seven Steps to Powering Peer Learning in Circles

Since 2016, studies have shown that when it comes to learning, rather than searching the internet or asking their boss, over half of employees rely on their peers. In 2019 Steve Galeski writing for HBR suggested activating peer learning in L&D efforts. “When you account for the fact that humans tend to learn as they teach, peer learning offers a way to support rapid, just-in-time learning, while strengthening the existing understanding your employees have about concepts.”

Of course, opportunities for standard peer connection plummeted over the past few years. Employees grew increasingly disconnected and dispersed from one another, through necessary lockdowns followed by the rise of remote work and distributed teams.

Yet peer learning continues to prove valuable for modern teams: Contemporary Leadership Advisors’ new white paper on peer learning circles (PLCs) found that employees who reach outside their function learn skills faster, and that they feel more valued at work when they’re asked to share about their own learnings. But the researchers also lament that today, “less than half of organizations institute any kind of formal Peer Learning Program, and one in three don’t have any system in place for employees to share learnings with one another.”

Luckily, peer learning is part of the foundation upon which the Circl.es platform and services were built. Read on to learn how we incorporate CLA’s seven criteria for effective peer learning.

Expert Facilitation. “In our experience, Expert Facilitation is the most important determinant of the PLC’s success.” 

CLA’s finding matches the feedback we receive regularly from our clients: time after time, participants rave about their session facilitators. Gertrude Bibi of the GenderSmart community shared: “Without the facilitator it would be just another webinar–facilitation made it personal, and I will always remember this series of conversations.”

Some circles are led by one of our dozens of Certified Circles Guides, who we’ve trained and badged to contract out to customers.

Additionally, we often train our clients’ employees to facilitate their own circles; as customers add our programs to their toolkit, more facilitators are trained each round, resulting in a growing bench of facilitative leaders inside their organizations.

What supports our facilitators in their guidance is the structured process the Circles platform and services provide.

Structured Process. “The second most common mistake  organizations  make  is  to  allow  PLC  sessions to become freeform discussions.” 

A peer learning circle is more than an unstructured small group. In addition to facilitation, circles sessions include curated agendas to help facilitators guide conversations. Agenda outlines vary, but generally consist of a check-in, discussion based on a ‘spark’, as well as a discussion/reflection time and debrief.

The result is just enough unstructured sharing space balanced within an expertly planned session, a combination that creates a safe environment for peer learning.

Psychological Safety: “The PLC space enables participants to take risks without the fear that they are being judged or evaluated while they learn.” 

Psychological safety emerged as one of the hottest workplace topics of 2022. Safe spaces are a growing employee expectation; people want to come to work as their authentic selves, and circles is a space designed to promote risk-free dialogue.

In fact, one of the top ten words participants used to describe Circles in 2022 was ‘safe,’ due in large part to facilitation, agendas, and equitably designed platform features such as random order generator, timers and hand-raises.

Not only is the experience designed with safety and inclusion in mind, but also: what happens in circles stays in circles. Each session begins with participants agreeing upon norms that include a commitment to group confidentiality. The circles safety motto is that ‘learnings leave and stories stay’.

Safe circles prove especially important as we intentionally diversify sessions.

Diversity: “PLC  groupings  should  maximize participant  diversity (e.g., gender, race), as  well as spread across the organization (e.g., function, business unit).” 

Diversification takes place during our initial sorting process. Whether circles are connecting employees across organizational departments or across companies, diversity is a proven element of excellent teams–and, research shows, it goes hand-in-hand with psychological safety. Diverse teams are only conducive to effective peer learning if they are safe; in fact, diverse teams can be less productive if they are not psychologically safe.

This obviously doesn’t make diversity or safety optional; rather, they must be prioritized together. The result of diverse sessions on a platform providing structure and facilitation is an environment primed for safe reflection and critical thinking.

Reflection and Critical Thinking: “As  part  of  the  peer consultations, participants develop and apply coaching skills (e.g., active listening, powerful inquiry, reframing) that lead to deeper discussion and greater insight.” 

Reflection exercises are recommended to help today’s isolated remote workers cope, and community reflection in Circles sessions proves even more powerful.

Agendas introduce individual reflection time first, followed by a chance to share and process reflections together. Because each participant takes a turn listening and also being heard–and interacting with each others’ reflections–members develop skills that independent reflection can’t touch. This is peer learning in action.

The right environment for safe reflection and critical thinking paves the way for real-world application.

Real-World Application: “Each PLC session comes  with  bite-sized,  curated  content  on  a topic that is highly relevant to participants and the business.”

Each session’s conversation ‘spark’ (an article, poem, video etc.) launches discussions pertaining to common challenges participants face. Inside the structured environment of a facilitated circle, groups can safely set and share action steps–especially after multiple sessions together.

This is due in large part to the human connection people experience in Circles. Participants frequently come away voicing the realization that they’re ‘not alone’. Many describe overcoming imposter syndrome after connection in circles. One executive found their cross-company peer circle to be a humbling experience, “because we shared challenges, difficulties and struggles, and everyone was honest about who they are and how they do their business.” Guards come down through genuine connection, allowing growth through real world application.

Participants bring their peer learnings from safe sessions into the real world, and as a community provide accountability for one another.

Accountability: “Leaders need to hold themselves and one another accountable to attend the sessions and arrive prepared to participate.” 

Two types of accountability ensure the most effective outcomes; the first is simply agreeing to carve out time to show up, despite full schedules and competing commitments. The best groups are the ones with high attendance–consistency helps participants build trust, and often the average value score increases with each session. Like any new habit put in place, the dividends increase over time.

A second type of accountability arises as participants bond and support each other through challenges. They become invested in each other’s growth: following up on previous sessions, celebrating successes along the way, and leaning in with curiosity and support when commitments to take action hit roadblocks.


Circles are inclusive spaces designed to help small groups connect and grow. With these seven proven principles embedded in our Circles platform and services, you’ll easily layer peer learning into programs you’re already running. Contact us to begin implementing the power of peer learning circles into your workplace today!

Keep it Real: Why Authenticity Matters More Than Ever (and how to get it)

The most brilliant being to make the headlines last year wasn’t a human–it was ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence so smart it blew our collective mind and intensified the blurred line between what’s real and what’s fake (I pinky swear it didn’t write this post).

In today’s increasingly artificial world, authenticity matters–and this applies to the workplace, too: Forbes’ list of five ways to show up more authentically at work includes advice like ‘opening up about how you feel’ and ‘sharing personal elements of your life’. But whether you’re an organizational leader or a new hire, bringing your whole self to work involves risk and requires a safe, trusting work environment–especially for those who’ve experienced marginalization.

Here are four tips for creating an authentic workplace culture.

  1. Leaders: Go First. In order to create a safe environment conducive to authenticity, organizational leaders must lead the way shaping company culture. Of course, leaders are people too; to some extent, they’re navigating their own authenticity gauntlet, deciding every day how much of themselves to bring to work. To set the tone for a transparent workplace, they need community and support first for themselves; Executive Coach Dina Denham Smith writing for Harvard Business Review suggests that peer connection in small groups helps provide emotional support for today’s leaders. That’s why this year we’re implementing both Executive and DEI Leader circles where peers can offer and find support with one another.
  2. Support Employee Resource Groups. Actively supporting employee resource groups is a growing strategy to preserve authentic safe spaces. Brie Manakal leads the client solutions team at TikTok, and says the primary way they connect and grow their employees is through ERGs. “ERGs provide us the opportunity to find more work-life balance and show up as our authentic selves at work. That’s why these groups are so important: they speak to who we are as individuals. For instance, I’m very connected with both the Asian Pacific Islander ERG and the Women’s ERG. Beyond that, I also think about ways I can be an ally for colleagues across the company.”  Protecting and promoting ERGs ensures not only a safe space for employees to be themselves, but also a way for them to support each other.
  3. Promote Psychological Safety. Is it OK to make mistakes where you work? How many? Psychological safety doesn’t mean not considering performance–in the end, work has to get done. It simply means there is enough trust and security to fail, voice dissension, and communicate out-of-the-box ideas and opinions. At the very least, ensure there is a system in place for addressing harassment and/or microaggressions–and that employees feel safe enough to use it! In addition to promoting authenticity, this recent Business Leader article describes psychological safety as crucial to high-performing teams, because it creates “an environment where people are willing to share ideas for the collective, rather than individual win.” As it turns out, creating safe work environments contributes to the bottom line!
  4. Provide Diverse Connection Groups. One benefit we’ve seen our facilitated circles providing for customers is the chance for employees at all organizational levels to connect with one another. The potential for a new hire to engage a circle with a mid-level manager–or the president of the company–communicates volumes about authentic company culture. One DuPont employee described his experience like this: “One participant in a recent circle was the VP, GM of Business. His presence didn’t inhibit anyone’s ability to share.” That’s because the circles platform and services promote safety and authenticity, allowing human connection at work.

Does an AI like ChatGPT need a safe space to bring its whole self to work? Time will tell–I’m just figuring out how to get it to write for me. For now, at Circles we’ll continue designing inclusive spaces where human beings can authentically connect and grow.