The Power of the Window of Tolerance

burnout window of tolerance Jan 16, 2023
employees through window


In the last few decades, we've learned a lot about how the brain works thanks to improvements in medical technology. We know that when people feel threatened - physically, emotionally, or socially - the central nervous system becomes dysregulated and the creative and rational part of the brain shuts down. We go into flight, flight and freeze modes, we get sick, or we fawn - disingenuously people please in an attempt to gain safety. This is bad for business as employees who do not feel safe or accepted will have a much harder time generating good ideas, being collaborative, being creative or being productive. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to the place of regulation as the window of tolerance and it's essential that organizational leaders understand how to design systems that expand that space.

People will not bring their best self to a workplace that does not feel safe. If leadership rewards bullying or threatens employees with layoffs, it makes it impossible for employees to bring their best ideas or most collaborative selves to the job. Even the "most professional" person who works hard to compartmentalize work stress will burn out over time. This creates talent gaps and leadership gaps that are very expensive to fix.

Progressive companies are starting to realize that it's important to create the kind of environment where people feel safe. Wellness programs are important and can give employees tools and resources to help them expand this window of tolerance but no amount of breath work or yoga will counteract a toxic workplace. It's important for organizations to review their systems and processes using the window of tolerance lens. Job security, career path planning, boundaries around work hours, manager training, compensation plans that reward supportive behaviors, and team building exercises that create social safety can help expand the window. This is not some woo woo let's be nice to everyone initiative. This is creating the ideal environment to help employees work better and innovate more. The ROI on this is strong.

To listen to the podcast episode on the window of tolerance, listen here

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