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Women’s Forum: goalsetting and burnout

​With remote working removing the line between our home and working lives – not to mention the stresses of a global pandemic – the danger of burnout is greater than ever. Melanie Robinson from Investigo’s Women’s Forum and Luke Badiali from our Engagement Committee hosted a webinar on Tuesday 27th October to discuss how we can identify burnout, and set and measure our goals more effectively. They were joined by a panel of Kieran Dines (Investigo), Jane Hannah (Director and Owner, Healthier Happier You) and Lisa Egan (VP, Head of Indirect Procurement at Pearson).

Measuring your goals

Kieran, the Director of Property, Facilities and Workplace recruitment at Investigo, stressed the importance of breaking goals down into small subcomponents that are actionable and measurable. “You can’t get a pat on the back from your colleagues or your boss. You need to make sure you’re signposting success to know you’re making progress and stay motivated. Some things you can achieve on a daily basis, some weekly, monthly, quarterly, but you need touchpoints to say what you’ve done by when. SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound).”

While “You need little things to tick off along the way,” it’s also important to “think about the why,” added Lisa. “You want to lose 10 pounds, but why? It’s the motivational factor that keeps you going and driving and committed to your goals.” Understanding our capabilities is another crucial part of goalsetting. “Too often I see people set unobtainable goals and lose motivation really quickly,” said Jane. “They need to be small enough and manageable enough that you can give yourself a small pat on the back every time you achieve something.”

“It’s about controlling the controllables,” added Jane, who’s a strong believer that personal goals are healthier than external ones. “I’m a triathlete, always trying to put goals against myself rather than other people. If I aim to win and Alistair Brownlee turns up, it’s a pointless goal. I’m not saying you have to win and achieve your goals all the time. You win or you learn, but you never lose as there’s always something to take from it.”

“It’s not how big the goal is, but the process of hitting that goal,” said Kieran, who extended the sporting metaphor. “Harry Kane aiming to score 50 goals a season might be too much, but 10 shots a game is controllable.”

Changing direction

There’s a saying that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how well we plan for something, it can still turn out a way we didn’t expect. “When it’s something uncontrollable like an injury, we need to take time to re-evaluate our goals,” said Jane. “The lockdown provided a forced opportunity to reset our goals and what’s realistic. We’ve got to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to improve. If you retrofit your goals to achieve what you’ve always done before, you’re only cheating yourself. It’s important to surround yourself with people who give you encouragement, support and belief.”

Is it more important to achieve longer term objectives or the milestones in between? “It depends how well you truly understand your goal,” said Kieran. “Why do you want to lose weight? Maybe to feel good about yourself. You might have to pivot that and do charity work. What’s important isn’t losing weight, it’s feeling good about yourself. Really understand what the goal is. Why do you want to be successful in recruitment? Is it to earn commission? Or is it to see your parents, go on holiday, buy a car? If people get to why, they will go the extra mile to hit the target.”

While it’s important that each member of the team understands their contribution to the overall business goals, personal and work goals can work alongside one another. And sharing your goals with others can create accountability that helps to drive and motivate you. “You’ve got to start with yourself before any other goals,” said Jane. “It’s the same with your personal and work goals. Once you say you’ll do something, say it out load, tell somebody as you’re more likely to do it. Supporting each other will cement the steps along the way as well.”

Battling individual burnout

The “plan, do, check and act” procedure is a useful way of recognising burnout and that your goals need to be shifted. “Have a plan to review,” said Kieran. “You can only understand how to achieve it by reviewing it.” Jane’s found that the best strategy to help her succeed is to think about what’s stopped her and what challenges she’s faced in the past. Talking to different people with different skills, finding out what they’ve tried before, can help you to set more realistic goals. But these goals need to be closely tied to everything you do. “It’s got to be something that’s with you, not just at mid-year review time or New Year’s Eve,” said Lisa. “You should constantly be mindful of it. What you want to accomplish, what things are going to drive you.”

“I only ever recognise burnout about two weeks too late,” said Kieran. “When I’m burnt out, I’m less motivated. I normally keep motivated with a to do list that I cross off. I become less strict, I waver more, I get more tired as I’m making tiny progress in every direction instead of meaningful progress in one direction.” Organisation is key to directing your efforts – and your energy – in the most productive way. “The distance between work and home is more blurred than it’s ever been. Break your workday into half-hour chunks, what to do and when, and once you’ve done it, stop. Be disciplined. That break makes a huge difference.”

“Holistically look after yourself – sleeping, exercising, eating and drinking appropriately,” said Jane, who has experienced physical burnout through her athletic endeavours when she “didn’t have goals.” She added, “I was training as much as I could. Working hard, not sleeping enough or eating the right food.” Then there came a point where she “got up, made it to the sofa and stayed there for a week. I thought, ‘this has got to change, I can’t get like this again.’ The change was to set goals and ask for help. Something we don’t do enough of.”

Approaching an expert in the area in which you need support can also provide accountability. It helped when “There was somebody looking after me and seeing if I was doing too much,” added Jane. “I knew it was coming and I was looking around, but there was nobody to tell me to stop. It was about putting me first, as I’m the only one who can control the time I go to bed, what I’m putting in my body.” Though it might not currently take the form we always like, relaxation is so important. “I just worked,” said Lisa, who was forced to cancel her March and June holidays. She took time out by “sitting with a stack of books, unwinding and not focusing on everything.”

Our panellists were in agreement on the value of deferring or delegating work when you’re becoming overwhelmed. “Many people are being kinder to each other,” said Kieran. “Clients respond well to honesty if you can’t take on a piece of work.” Lisa added, “Don’t try and take everything on your own shoulders. It’s okay to say no.” Jane stressed that you always need to be “Managing people’s expectations. Planning helps protect that. Your line manager can see what you’re doing.”

Battling team burnout

How can you support your people when they’re suffering from burnout? “Firstly make sure the person feels supported, with no judgement,” said Lisa. “Make sure they understand the options – whether there’s an employee assistance programme, anything external that they need in terms of support. Work together and build a plan to make sure you’re not putting them under undue pressure. We’re responsible to make sure the people reporting into us are happy, safe and well. We’ve done a virtual scavenger hunt for things most people have in their homes, like an item of sports memorabilia. We’ve hosted a Halloween quiz, virtual art classes, wine, beer, cheese tasting. Having that sense of team.”

Being a role model for the team can steer them away from potential burnout and help them look after their wellbeing. “Not just talking about wellbeing but being proactive,” said Jane. “Conduct walking meetings, encourage teams to get out and get exercise.” But at the same time, it’s important to be “mindful on what caused burnout. It might be personal stuff.” Some employees might be uncomfortable talking to their line manages about personal challenges, due to fear of judgement and stigmatisation. That’s why you need to offer them external support – and managers should be offered training on how to support people’s mental health and wellbeing. “Sharing with your colleagues is really important,” added Kieran. “You need to schedule in time for those little interactions that we miss.”

Kieran has found meditation useful. “If you told me a year ago I’d be talking about meditation, I would think you were mad! The busier I get, the less room I feel I have for personal time. Nine times out of 10, the first thing to get sacrificed is the exercise, but sometimes it’s the exercise that keeps me sane.” Lisa recommended an app called Pause, which offers guided meditation and breathing exercises. “Take some time out to be kind to yourself,” said Jane, who tries to fit in 10 minutes’ yoga whenever she gets the chance. “You need to do things for yourself so you can do things for others. It’s the opportunity to reshape our own normal.”

See the signs

When you’re completely immersed in your work, it can be difficult to notice that you’re burning yourself out. But it’s important to recognise those little pointers that tell you to take a break. “I get suddenly irritable,” said Jane. “My sleep’s affected. I can’t physically see people to pick that up. Not hearing from people when I normally do. Phone somebody who you think could do with a home call to see how they’re doing.” Kieran added, “Tiredness, lack of motivation, imposter’s syndrome. When my boss says, ‘when are you going on holiday?’ Other people usually recognise it before you.”

Shared accountability is also important. Feeling comfortable enough to share with a colleague that you failed to achieve a goal means you have someone to tell you it’s okay. But that’s only useful as long as you pick yourself up and go again. Many people are more likely to be successful when they’re told they can achieve something – although some are motivated by the challenge of being told they can’t. “We’re our own worst critics,” said Jane. “Getting other people involved brings a positive angle as well.”

In order to ensure you’re bought into it from the start, a goal has “got to be something you believed in,” said Lisa. “If the goal set was ridiculous and you didn’t believe in it, you were never going to achieve it.”

Summary – tips on goalsetting to prevent burnout


  • Work out what the goal is and ask yourself why you want to achieve it

  • Make it SMART

  • Share it with somebody else


  • Make sure you’ve got the motivation

  • Understand your ability

  • Make sure there’s a trigger or prompt to make you do it


  • Be kind to yourself – just because you’ve fallen off the wagon, doesn’t mean you can’t start again

  • Don’t give up when you fail to hit a milestone

  • If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, why say it to yourself?

​If you’d like to attend our next Women’s Forum or you’d like to talk to one of our experts about avoiding burnout, please contact us. To find out how Healthier Happier You can help you find your happiness through mindset, motivation and movement, please contact Jane at