“Fighting Fatigue & Burnout as Employee Resource Group Leader”: Emily Garcia, Google; Janice Litvin, Banish Burnout Toolkit; Angie Chang, Girl Geek X (Video + Transcript)

June 7, 2023

Emily Garcia (Head of Pixel Supply & Demand Planning & ERG Leader at Google), Janice Litvin (Speaker & Author of Banish Burnout Toolkit), Angie Chang (CEO & Founder at Girl Geek X) explore strategies for sustainable ERGs, motivating/rewarding volunteers, and preventing burnout.


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Angie Chang: Welcome today a fireside chat / panel of women in tech to talk to us about fighting fatigue and burnout as an ERG leader. I wanted to kind of talk really quickly about why we thought about this. We are at the tail end of a pandemic. We’ve seen a lot of women take on extra roles on top of work, and we’ve heard a lot about ERGs and how great they are at building inclusion and feelings of belonging at the workplace. And at the same time, we’ve also heard about women taking increasing roles and feeling burned out and really fatigued and wanting to do good and make an impact while also wanting to take care of themselves. This is an evergreen topic.

Angie Chang: We’ve invited some really relevant and excellent women who can speak to us about their experiences running ERGs and fighting fatigue and banishing burnout. I’m gonna first let them and ask them, introduce themselves since reading their bios will do no justice to them. Please welcome Emily, and if you can share with us about your background.

Emily Garcia: Thank you so much for having me, Angie and the Girl Geek team. My name is Emily Garcia. I run the supply and demand management team at Google for our Pixel products within the devices and services organization. As a planning team, what we do is we make sure that we have inventory and revenue for our Google phone product launches worldwide. I’ve been supporting our Pixel phones for now seven years in my time at Google.

Emily Garcia: On top of that, I also run an employee resource group (ERG) called Women in DSPA, being the Devices and Services organization. This is a global women’s group across all of our sites where the devices and services organization is formed. And I run the Senior Leadership council for that ERG. And what we do is we set up events across our strategic pillars. Every year, I make sure to onboard and hire new council members, set the strategy for the year, and make sure that we can land amazing events to serve our community.

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Emily Garcia: On top of that, I’ve been an industrial and operations engineer for over 12 years, uh, most of my work in tech and now residing in the Bay Area. Thanks for having me.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Emily. And that was a great introduction. Next we have Janice Litvin, who is an author and speaker. Why don’t you tell us about yourself?

Janice Litvin: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Angie. I’m so happy to be here. My name is Janice Litvin. I’m on a mission to help leaders and teams banish burnout in their organizations. I came to this with a background tech. I started out as doing software development, then I did software consulting because I loved working with people.

Janice Litvin: I became a software trainer, and eventually I became a software recruiter for 20 years. During the recession of 2008, I needed something else to do because there was no hiring. Through a circuitous route, starting with Zumba Fitness, I am where I am today, which is speaking and sharing ideas about how to help people overcome and prevent burnout in their organizations. I love the Girl Geek community because I have a tech background and I love working with groups like this.

Angie Chang: That’s really awesome. Thank you, Janice. I was curious today, so I wanted to hear from Emily about how your work in employee resource groups or ERGs has moved or evolved over time.

Emily Garcia: I’ve been running this group for a little over three years now, and every year has been drastically different because when we first formed, you know, we’re at the beginning at the height of the pandemic. It was a very, very small team. We were really only serving Americas, more specifically just Mountain View where we’re headquartered. And everything was being done virtual. It was a very, very tiny team. I think when we did Women’s History Month, I was pretty much running it solo with some support from Yvette production. Um, and I was, I was dying <laugh>.

Emily Garcia: And then the next year, we became a lot more structured. We created a solid council. It was our first year that we also expanded into some countries in EMEA and APAC, and it was our first year doing summits. Summits is a really big moment because then we can come together, but they were all virtual. Now this year it’s our third year running. We have a very large structure council of around 15 people. We have executive sponsors in each region. We’ve developed a really key strategy, and we’ve expanded in each of the regions as well. This is our first year in India, and our first year really supporting Dublin and doing in-person as well as livestreaming summits as well.

Emily Garcia: Now in a full hybrid world, things get a lot more complex from an event execution perspective. And as we’ve gone bigger and bigger and we serve a bigger population, a bigger community, we’ve also been really, really focused on what is the strategy, how do we wanna serve the community? And then how do we create the right structures and systems in place, one, to avoid burnout, but also to make sure that the people that are doing all this work who is, which is completely extra. It’s not their day job, it’s not what they get hired for. They really do see the value and the recognition in doing that work. It’s been a massive year on your evolution, and I still feel like we have tons to go, but when I look at, when we started three years back, I was like, wow, okay. We’ve done a lot. So I’m really, really proud about that.

Angie Chang: Yeah, it sounds like ERGs do great work and you do great work at your ERG. How do you create the incentives for people to work in an ERG? Um, I personally heard from different companies, ERGs, where some people are pushing to get paid. Is that like the frontier for their work? So how do you look at creating incentives?

Emily Garcia: Our current structure at Google is that you may have dedicated HR or people ops people that support DEI but they’re not necessarily running ERGs that are more serving as consultants. You may also have full-time employees that are helping on production and execution. But the ERGs are fully volunteer positions where people are taking extra time out of their work to be doing this. And that this happens across all of the different employee resource groups as well as all of the different sites globally.

Emily Garcia: One of the things that we’re doing this year that is different than previous years is we really, really push to solve for three things – visibility, recognition, and accountability. The first one is, visibility. Oftentimes, managers don’t know what their employees are doing within the ERG work because they’re not directly involved, and so they have no idea what their employee is doing, how many hours they’re consuming.

Emily Garcia: We asked to involve the ERG work in as part of the expectations that the employee set at the beginning of the year and as part of the quarterly checkpoints with their manager. You are creating a conversation and making sure that the manager is acknowledging and supporting and really understanding that a chunk of that time is being dedicated to that.

Emily Garcia: The other part is accountability, because you are asking the employee to have that handshake with the manager. And because you’re asking them to involve it as part of their expectations or quarterly checkpoints, it puts the accountability on that employee so that if they’re signing up to be on a council, they know that they have to deliver and they know that they need to be there for their council to be able to support these initiatives.

Emily Garcia: In the past, we’ve had people that join with all the great intentions and then they drop off, they can’t do it, they burn out, they disappear, and the rest of the council just still needs to do all the events and just creates an even bigger potential for burnout for everyone else. And so making sure that everyone’s really being held accountable for their roles in the ERG.

Emily Garcia: And lastly, but definitely not least, this recognition, right? Making sure that that work is very heavily recognized. When we have a big moment like a summit, we will do a round of recognition, whether it be just email blasts or it be monetary small gifts, end of the year, for all of the employee resource groups. We also do some sort of recognition, monetary, small bonuses, whatever it can be, and making sure that not just the manager, but the senior manager and the leadership chain, gets information what their employee did in the ERG and is helping celebrate the work.

Emily Garcia: These three things are really key, and structural, to making sure that, one, you avoid the burnout; two, you have a really strong counsel, and three, that people see that their organization and their company values the work that they’re doing, especially knowing that it’s volunteer work on the side. Oh, I see a comment, visibility, accountability and, uh, recognition.

Angie Chang: I had to highlight them. I was like, I love this. I’m gonna put this on a poster on my wall or a post-it <laugh>. Those are really great pillars. I’m gonna just make a note of that. Now pivoting to Janice to speak about burnout, which is what we wanna avoid as we work on so many initiatives. Actually, sorry, back to Emily, I forgot.

Angie Chang: How have you avoided burnout or learned from it since you have been doing so much?

Emily Garcia: Yeah, I went from solo running every single event to not individually running any event and just kind of program managing the council itself. I think creating the structures and making sure that I went to my executive leadership and said, we need at least x amount of people on the council.

Emily Garcia: We need to divide and conquer. For example, in our strategies for this year, one of our pillars is leadership and development. I have two people there so there’s a buddy system and they’re only focused on that pillar. They’re not focused on anything else. Making sure that people have digestible chunks of ownership where it’s manageable as well as either a buddy or a support system in place. That’s helped me a lot.

Emily Garcia: It’s establishing boundaries as well. Like there’s a million things that we would wanna do as a community, but there’s a limit as to what I can do and what my council can do. And setting those boundaries and saying, we know women’s history month is really important and we’re really gonna do three amazing events. I’m sure we would love to do 47, but we do not have the time and space and money and <laugh> the the support system to be able to do that much and really, really figuring out, let’s do less and let’s make those moments way, way, way more impactful and let’s really pick our battles and really figure out where we make a difference.

Emily Garcia: I think the third piece in myself of avoiding the burnout is understanding when to say no. ERGs do a lot for the company and do a lot for the community. It’s very easy to be like, oh, can you guys do this? Can you guys do that? And really just saying, no, this is the extent of what we can support and it, it sounds amazing, and we will add that for our strategies for next year ,and like really trying to scale responsibly and not feeling bad for not being able to do everything that you wanna do on day one because you wanna serve the community and knowing that the more responsibly you scale year over year, the better services you provide for that. Protecting yourself from burnout is also doing a better service for the community overall.

Angie Chang: That’s a great reminder. Boundaries are very, very important. So back to Janice. Why are burnout rates so high right now?

Janice Litvin: There’s so many. Thank you for that question, Angie. And Emily, that was brilliant – all of the things you’ve said about burnout, and I will reiterate those as I go through. First of all, I don’t know if you knew that burnout was already on the rise before the pandemic to the tune of 66% of American workers approaching burnout then. That was in 2018. Then as we all know, two years later, all hell broke loose and the pandemic hit and having to manage children, especially those of you who have school aged children, whether they’re in high school or whatever age, they were making sure that they’re getting outside because I remember a young friend, teenager locked up in her room like she was in a cave with the curtains drawn so she could see her screen for hours and hours and hours and days at a time not getting outside, not seeing friends.

Janice Litvin: We forget that we could go outside, six feet apart. She forgot that sadly, but I was there one day working when my internet was down and reminded her to get outside. The pandemic made us all crazy. Women also took, as I think you alluded to earlier, Angie, women took on the brunt of the responsibility for children, and so after dinner they would go back to work till midnight and just got so overworked.

Angie Chang: How can you coach someone to push back when they’re feeling overwhelmed?

Janice Litvin: I was listening to Emily and thinking back to my own work as well as what Emily was sharing. Everyone, first of all, when you begin to feel overwhelmed, the key is to stay in touch with yourself. How are you feeling physically, emotionally? What’s happening to your body? Like, are you starting to have eye twitches? Are you starting to breathe heavier? Are you sweating more?

Janice Litvin: Are you angry? And are you clutching your desk cuz you’re just so angry at things that are happening? Are you taking things too personally? Are you snapping at your beloved family members when really they don’t deserve it? Pay attention to what’s going on with you and then what’s going on with your team. Ask your boss, how can I best be of service when I am working 45 hours a day or, or whatever it is, 15 hours a day and show your boss a a business case.

Janice Litvin: Research shows that after 50 hours of work per week, you are less productive. Our bosses don’t want us to burn out deep down. They want us to be productive. When they come with you, come to you with a new project like, oh, I want you to run the ERG and you had nothing to do with it before. Say, “wow, that sounds really exciting. I love the idea of a women’s ERG. I’d love to be involved. Which of my other projects would you like me to offload to someone else so I can join you on this new project? I already work 50 hours a week. That really is my limit. I love the idea of what you’re offering me. And yes, I would be happy to be involved.” That’s a way to say no without saying no.

Angie Chang: That is excellent advice. I love that. So one more question for you is like, what is your advice for reducing burnout for ERG leaders or affinity group professional association leaders?

Janice Litvin: What is my advice for ERG leaders? Is that what you’re saying

Angie Chang: For reducing burnout for ERG leaders?

Janice Litvin: I wanna reiterate a little bit about what Emily said – making sure leaders know what employees need, so whether it’s the leaders themselves or your team of ERG participants, making sure that recognition is a normal part of life for your culture. Making sure employees are seen and heard, making sure they have a voice, giving them as much control as possible over their work and their ERG work. Making sure they have time for themselves and their families throughout the day. Sometimes I need several breaks throughout the day cuz I’m a workaholic. I love my work, self-employed, so I choose my own schedule.

Janice Litvin: But one day recently I noticed my eyes were twitching and I thought, wait a minute, I need to live my own preaching. And I went outside for 30 minutes and just sat out in the sun. The minute the sun hits your skin, vitamin D is released and you begin to experience dopamine and other happiness chemicals. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and communicate to the company leadership that our culture is one of caring for employees. If you love your employees, like you love your children, they will give back and they will be more productive for you. They want to feel a purpose and they wanna feel appreciated.

Angie Chang: I’m curious, Emily, have you been coaching people who have been working on your ERG about how to avoid burnout, how to tune into their bodies? Or what is your approach to this helping your team avoid burnout?

Emily Garcia: Yeah, I think the important part here is when you are working in, in an ERG space, it’s a very unique experience compared to maybe your technical job. And so finding other people that are in that same space. For me, and maybe people in my own council, but we also have other ERGs for example, we have a Latin ERG, we have a Pride ERG, uh, we have Black employee ERG, and they also have their own leadership. And so connecting with those people, not just from a coordination perspective on like, how are you doing? How are you feeling? How are you managing this? You know, sharing best practices. Like we meet monthly and I’ll share what I’m doing and they may say like, oh great, I’m gonna do that in my ERG.

Emily Garcia: Connecting with other people to see how they’re feeling and making sure that people understand that no one is in a vacuum and feeling that way is really critical. Being able to share those best practices with other people and then supporting each other wherever you can. You’re most likely not gonna be the only person in that whole company that’s doing any kind of ERG work. Finding that support system, even if it’s just an emotional support system of people that can relate to you and can support each other and, and really share different tips and tricks that have worked with one another. That’s been really helpful for me.

Angie Chang: Okay. And I’m also curious, so how do you, when you like, meet these touch points? Are they like messages in a slack or are they small coffee chats? Are they small? How, how does this tactically happen?

Emily Garcia: From a structural perspective in my organization, all the ERG leads will meet monthly. And then I also meet with my council at least monthly. On top of that, there’s a lot of, yeah, like Slack, we use Google chat coordination. Then there’s a lot of like meeting in person, having a coffee. Like not just talking about like how we’re gonna do event A, B, C, and D more like, well how are you feeling? How’s this going on? Sometimes it’s just a straight up bend session and you like breathe and you get over it and you move on. All of the above, like any way to connect is gonna be a good way to connect and definitely leverage them.

Angie Chang: Thank you so much. These are all really excellent tips for our people looking to avoid burnout. Since we hear about it, we know it happens, it sneaks up on you. Please take care of yourselves, push back, have boundaries. Thank you so much ladies for joining us and we’re gonna be moving to our next session. And yes, Janice has written a toolkit in case you’re interested. There’s a website. Please check it out. Thank you.

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