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How Toxic Work Culture Leads to Burnout

Mary Grothe September 29 2022

Meet Host, Mary Grothe

Mary Grothe is a former #1 MidMarket B2B Sales Rep who after selling millions and breaking multiple records, formed House of Revenue®, a Denver-based firm of fractional Revenue Leaders who currently lead the marketing, sales, customer success, and RevOps departments for 10 companies nationwide. In the past year, they've helped multiple 2nd stage growth companies between $5M - $20M, on average, double their MRR within 10 months, resulting in an average ROI of 1,454% and an average annual revenue growth eclipsing $3.2 million.


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Mary Grothe: Hey, Revenue Radio®. It's Mary Grothe. I have a guest, and I'm very excited. We’re filming a new season. I get to do things differently this season, so I'm very excited. I'm going to welcome Chelsea. We met on LinkedIn. I don't know how, but I probably, in my blind connection, was just finding every revenue leader I could find in Denver. I do that a lot to grow my network. Suddenly, the LinkedIn God said, "I think these two people…”

Chelsea Stewart: “…need to connect."

Mary Grothe: Yes. Suddenly, all her stuff is showing on my feed. All my stuff is showing on her feed. We're completely aligned in everything. That's it! So, Chelsea, welcome to the show. Tell everybody who are you?

Chelsea Stewart: Thank you for having me. I am so excited. When Mary said, "Oh, I have a podcast." I'm pretty sure I invited myself onto it. I said, "Can I be on it?" because we are just soul sisters aligned. My name is Chelsea. I work in staffing and marketing. We focus primarily on marketing in any sort of capacity. Whether it be creative or marketing design. We focus on pairing a company with a person, an individual. That is what we thrive on.
I, as an individual, am just such a connector, and I believe in every aspect of my life that when you have something genuine true, authentic, and it connects. It's inevitable. It's going to manifest in the most amazing ways hence, why I'm here.

Mary Grothe: Yeah, it's so true. I know somebody may listen to that and say, "Well, yeah, isn't that what a recruiting firm does? It places people with companies." When she's talking about the individual and the human, there is an alignment, and finding the right fit is important.

One of the pieces that define a right fit is culture. When we were initially brainstorming what we would talk about today, a recent post and a poll that Chelsea did on LinkedIn were talking about wing culture versus comp. We saw some surprising results on that. You should go to her LinkedIn to see it. We thought, "Well, do we talk about that?" We said, "No, let's just hit culture between the eyes today."

Culture is an idea that is not defined, and it is entirely up to the person in it to determine if it's good or not. A CEO, a leader, could set the tone of a culture, but it's the people within it, how they engage in it, and how they perceive it.

It's crazy how much focus there is on culture, but I don't think anybody can define a culture. Culture is one of those that it's not the like intention. It's how it's received. So, we're going to go on the opposite end of this conversation of what we can define as toxic culture. We believe that toxic cultures lead to burnout. I'm guilty. I've been a part of it. I created it.

Chelsea Stewart: It's crazy because, in a toxic culture, you do not only lead to burnout, but that's when you see turnover. That's when you see your profits drop. Everything is a snowball effect when you have that toxic culture, especially now.

I talked to a few girlfriends when COVID hit, and everyone was working from home. You thought, "Oh, now I'm going to work less." But in fact, it was kind of the opposite. Everyone worked more than they've ever worked before. By working so much, we were just building this hole for ourselves that we were sitting in. We were creating this crazy burnout, working 24/7 for companies we weren't passionate about. That's when you saw the great resignation where people left all these companies because they were like, "This does not serve me.", "I am completely burnt out.", "I am driving myself into the ground."

Now, we see this shift of people saying, "All right, I want to work for a company that respects me, and my time, with a great culture that fits or jives with my daily life. That's what we're really seeing. People still want to work from home but work from home in a manageable way. That will not lead to the burnout you and I both have experienced.

Mary Grothe: Well, yeah. I do it to myself. I'm going to take full responsibility for it. I'm going to build on what you just said. When I started this company, just conditioned to say four and a half years ago. But we're only a couple of months away from our fifth anniversary, which is amazing.

Chelsea Stewart: Amazing. Congrats!

Mary Grothe: Thank you. When I started this company, I thought the only way to be a successful entrepreneur was to grind and hustle. That was at the end of 2017. I had just come off my second stint as a high-performing sales rep at a Fortune 1000 company. The culture in a Fortune 1000 sales org is Grind. Hustle. Compete. Win. So, guess what I did? I built a company with the same thought. A professional, that's how I grew up. I thought that was the only way to win.

Chelsea Stewart: Yeah, that's what we're told, right? We're told the harder you work, the more you work, the longer the hours, the more successful you will be. To an extent, that may be true, right? Because you did build these amazing sales teams, you did increase revenue. But what did that do to you? What did that do to your family? What did that do to you as just a whole? It not only led you to burnout, but then you stopped doing what you were doing, and you completely shifted. So, it's like, "Okay, are you going to take that super-fast approach where you just go full steam ahead, you burn out.

Then, you have this hard stop, and then you must restart. How do you build a slow momentum and a growth that led with passion, heart, soul, and something that will fuel you for the long-term instead of these short bursts like, "Let's just work 24/7. Grind, grind, grind, grind, grind." Then, you burn out.

Mary Grothe: Okay, I must ask you this question, though, because I talked about this with myself on my "Destination; Remarkable." podcast. I got to get your perspective. We refer to "sprints" because they sound better than what you said. It's the same thing, but we call them sprints. So, grind and hustle.

When you're working in a small business like we are at House of Revenue®, I know you've worked for companies on your own where you've had to just sprint and get it done. Is there not, though, a good reward on the other side? That's the part that's hard for me.

We can't go and swing our pendulum and be like grind and hustle. It's the old way of doing it. But trust me, you can get the same phenomenal outcome by doing less work, not putting forth your all, being all in, and making these sprints. I'm okay to have my mind changed. But I sit here and go, "I have because I did." I have in the running list is like, "Holy smokes! Everything I have in my life, isn't that because of the hustle now?"

The challenging sentence is I believe that what I'm discovering is the middle ground. It's to have a medium where, that's why I think sprints are okay, but to have a constant sprint. That was my life for the first two and half years of this business when COVID hit. I needed sleep for three months to recover. But what do you think? Isn't this grind and hustle, in a way, good?

Chelsea Stewart: Yeah. So, listen, I think grind and hustle are amazing. That is what I think you and I can agree on. It's built into us innately. But I think what it comes down to is intentionality. The intentionality behind that grind and hustle. If you are grinding and hustling for something you're passionate about, it will not lead to burnout as fast. If you grind and hustle for something, you're like, "What is the greater good of this? Is there any sort of purpose behind this? Or am I just spinning my wheels over and over again? With not really action plan or end in sight?"

You're grinding and hustling if you have something exactly like what you said. Not only do you have that intentionality, you have that purpose, but there is a goal, and I am 100% on board with that. I think those intentional sprints are exactly what you need to focus on, but less of what you were saying, 24/7 sprint. You can't sprint forever.

Mary Grothe: No, you can't. Let's talk about it from a CEO's perspective, even a CRO, as they're building their revenue organization. You see a lot more grind and hustle in revenue roles, especially when you get down to salespeople or anybody working toward a Comp Plan, KPIs, metrics, et cetera. I know that some grind and hustlers work in operations and leadership roles. But from a CEO's perspective, one of the biggest challenges I had when creating a toxic culture was that it wasn't just the words coming out of my mouth. It was how I was showing up.

For that, it has way more influence than I think CEOs realize. I was the first one in and the last one out. It didn't matter if it was a blizzard with three feet of snow. That just means I left at like 4:45 in the morning to get there on time for the workday.

I had no mercy for anybody who missed work because they were sick, had to take care of a child, had to drive in the snow, or anything else. I was raised professionally to show up no matter what. I was single through most of those years. So, becoming a mom in my early 30 years, I had the most amazing support team at home, with my mother-in-law and my husband. Because I was an entrepreneur, I immediately said, "Well, parenting comes second." Everyone else can take care of my kid. I got to do this thing first, which has been corrected. I know it is not right. My son is here today. [laughter] So, it's slightly different now.

I set the tone in just how I was showing up. Also, I didn't have a lot of mercy for people or grace. At that point, I was a Christian woman, but I was not combining being a Christian woman, believing in faith and the fruit of the spirit, and being kind and gracious. That wasn't showing up in my leadership because I still had this perception that I was supposed to be this like grrr… you know.

Anyway, talking out of one side of my mouth, showing up another way, and my actions, so without me even knowing, I had created this toxic culture where people felt that the only way to keep their job was to work as hard as I did and to show up as I did. Not only was I a workaholic, grinding myself into the ground and neglecting my family, but I set the precedents that if you were going to work at my company, you also had to do those things. I was just breeding more of what I was doing. Well, that's not good.

Chelsea Stewart: No. Gosh, everything that you're saying, I'm like, "Oh, my. I wish I had a notepad." I'd be writing all these notes down because there are so many things that I want to touch on. We'll start with building...

First, I want to say, "Thank you for being able to admit and say I created a toxic culture." That is not easy to say because you take on this big burden, like, "I did this." And just being able to acknowledge that is huge. I think very importantly within any sort of company. With toxic culture, you are so correct. It comes top down because you have these CEOs. Now, I do understand that people that create companies, especially within startups, are working a lot. That's how you get your business started, especially someone who is the founder, who is the CEO.

It comes down to the grace, empathy, and expectation that you put on your employees. That is what's the biggest toxic culture, I think, missed. You see all of your employees when you are working 12 or 16-hour days in the office. They're like, "Oh my gosh, I too have to do a 12-to-16-hour day. How am I supposed to keep up with this?"

As long as you set the precedents, "Hey, I'm the CEO. It is my job to do this. All I want from you is when you're here to show up with intention, be purposeful, do a great job, lead with that grace and compassion, and build that not-toxic culture. You aren't working 16 hours a day. Then, this may come as a hot topic, but being women in the workplace, we are seen as nurturers. We are empathetic. When we show up like that at work, it's almost seen as a curse. "Oh, you're being too emotional." Yeah. Right? [laughter]

Mary Grothe: On that note, yes, being too emotional. I'm a very passionate person, and I can keep, curb it, and put that passion into more of a very loving and exciting nature. But when I'm challenged, triggered, and dealing with adversity, I have to be super conscious because that passion turns into fire.

I recovered from the toxic culture in 2020. I'm super proud of how we rebuilt. We were one of the few companies that respect start and end time with going to work-from-home. I think that's because we were so bad at working 24/7 until COVID hit. That part of rebuilding and resetting our culture meant we wouldn’t do that. I became so intentional about the 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. work schedule and honoring our team members who had kids and significant others.

Also, just a heads up, one of my former employees she's listening to this because she told me she loves Revenue Radio®. She was on a podcast, and on the podcast, she said that she, as a single woman with no kids, never set boundaries. I know she's listening.

Chelsea Stewart: That is me. I'm a single woman with no children. I work all the time. Now, granted, exactly like you, I kind of do it to myself. I love what I do, so I'm grateful for that aspect. But it's almost like, if you’re a woman, you have to put in so much more work to get, even like slightly, the same credibility. Yeah. I can't imagine what it would be like in a CEO position.

Mary Grothe: It started off rough. But now, at this point, I've just adopted the "I don't give a hoot" mentality because I'm whole and right with myself on the value that I provide. I also know that God has just proven to me that, no matter what, even when I falter, He will work all the bad into good. Because I have that faith, I know that even when I screw up, I'm a human, which means that all good intentions aside, I will make mistakes. As a CEO, I'm going to mess up. Through that grace and humility, I've learned that if I can extend that to my team, guess what? It comes back. Yes. Now, we have even more of a transparent mindset. We used to have a middle layer of management. I had the most phenomenal executive team last year when we were at our high point of 28 employees and at a $5 Million run rate as a business.

Of course, we had an executive team because I could not manage that alone. We indeed had a remarkable team. But there was friction that occurred at the beginning of the year. I showed up as the worst version of myself to my two male counterparts. Going back to that fiery passion, I was conflicted. I didn't know how to work through my emotions. So, rather than doing the work I needed to do to be correct and a great leader, I allowed myself to show up in the worst way possible. It's one thing to admit once that I created a toxic culture. But it's quite another for me to realize that’s probably a quality that's just a part of who I am because of my intensity, passion for doing remarkable work, and being brilliant in business.

A bad side of me was showing up to work consistently. That was a slow drip on my executives, who weren’t receiving the best version of me. I'm creating friction and conflict. They're doing the best that they can to run the company. We had different visions. Here I am thinking, "I'm immune to this." It's interesting being a woman. It's interesting being a passionate woman. It's interesting being a young woman. I mean...

Chelsea Stewart: A woman in business.

Mary Grothe: Right. I'm only 38. I started this thing when I was 34. There was this whole thing of... I still felt young, and now I'm like, "Wait, I think at 38, you're supposed to be doing something with your life. It changed a little bit, but I'm still learning. I'm still figuring this thing out. I have led my team to burnout. And now, upon this third rebuilding time, I've committed to my team that we're not doing it anymore. I broke down the walls, and we have full transparency in this company. Everybody knows every penny coming in, every penny going out. They know everything that I'm dealing with. How was I expecting my team to be in an empathetic state with me, with my challenges, if they had no idea what was going on? So, we're not doing that anymore.

Chelsea Stewart: I think that point of transparency is crucial. Just with being in staffing and doing a bunch of research, listening to podcasts, talking to people, what is happening the most, especially with Gen Z in the millennial generation that's coming into the workforce, that is that big candidate talent pool. That's what they want. They want transparency. They want clarity. If you are transparent in your brand, even if, let's say, someone is working for a company, they don't necessarily think, "Oh my gosh, this is my biggest dream ever."

If they see the transparency, they see that connection, clarity, and toxic culture not only go away, but they're able to connect. They're not seeing you as this surface-level person, feel like you're hiding something, feel like you are constantly just being micromanaged, or that you will get fired. You have transparency. You have clarity. You feel comfortable. You feel confident. That toxic culture melts inevitably.

Mary Grothe: Yeah, I agree. I want to go back to what you said about being a single woman and not having boundaries because I think we skirted past that fast. I want to just dig in on this. A toxic culture like... I just went to this route of extreme ownership. Admitting, as a CEO, even on my faith-based CEO with a huge heart, I make mistakes, but at least I have the awareness to own it. But I can't...I am not entirely responsible for everyone's well-being in this company and for the culture. I can set a precedent and set the tone. You said top-down, but I'm going to say it's also bottom up. Sure. I can't reach out to every employee at 6 p.m. and say, "Hey, I just want to make sure you're logged on for the evening, taking care of yourself, and doing everything you need to do."

As a single woman, you are such an achiever, you're so talented, and you've got such an amazing track record. How do you manage it? Because you must take care of yourself. You're bringing that on yourself. So, what are you doing? You've got a good culture now. You've got an amazing team that you're a part of. They're doing it from the top down. How are you meeting them from the bottom up?

Chelsea Stewart: Great question. I love that challenge of being like I think it's bottom up. That's exactly what it is. It's that self-accountability. Can you be self-aware when you're like, "I've just worked 12 hours?" That's good. I am good. I think for me, being someone that's a super high achiever, that is single, doesn't have kids, doesn't have someone that they must be accountable for or to, you must hold yourself to that standard. It's super hard. It's a daily practice, but you also can expect, especially if you're working for a company that’s more than three people, for your CEO to check in every day and be like, "I want to make sure you're okay." [laughter] It's funny, and we laugh. But sometimes, "I wish they would do that." And I'm like, "No, you don't." because you don't want that handheld.

You don't want to feel micromanaged. So, how do you change your habits? That's what it comes down to. It's self-awareness, changing your daily habits, acknowledging, “Hey, I am burning out." Let me take an hour or two off the workday if you're working 12 hours. Maybe not cutting it drastically in half because you're going to be like, “Okay, I just went from 12 to 6." Then, you're going to feel like you're not doing anything, right? Maybe go 12 to 10. Then, you're going to feel so much better.

So, to answer your question, bottom-up, how do you do it? Honestly, it's a daily practice, a daily habit. Can you check in with yourself? Maybe if you're like me, you have a very detailed Calendar color-coded down to the hour.

Mary Grothe: Me, too.

Chelsea Stewart: Yeah, right? Maybe schedule 30 minutes in that day to go for a walk. Yes. Get outside. Grab a coffee. Whatever it is. Do it. Don't say, "Oh, I don't have time for that." Yes, you do. You do have time for it.

Mary Grothe: So, that is exactly what my former employee said on the podcast she was on. Rather than making a cup of coffee and starting to grind in the morning, walk to go get the cup of coffee. Get the outside time. Have the moment. Does it hurt your workday to go walk for 5 minutes? No, but that sunshine, vitamin D, being outside and just having that time to walk and not be in front of a device set your day in that right tone. It made all the difference for her.

By the way, I agree that a CEO can’t check in every day and do this. But I will say that we've transformed how we do 1-on-1s here. Now, it's me in the world. I feel like because I don't have my big executive team anymore. I have biweekly 1-on-1s. When I sit with team members, I shut down my electronics and just look them in the eye. "How are you as a human?" What's going on in your life?

Chelsea Stewart: It's that purpose. It's that intentionality.

Mary Grothe: It is. We have enough meetings throughout the week, and we feel great. Paths, visibility into the data that I need to know and be aware of so I can manage the business. But to have a 1-on1 where they must tell me one more time about their business and what they're working on, did we not just have this meeting on Monday?

When I get the 1-on-1 time, I have a mom who works here. She's amazing, with two young boys. I remember the last one. I think we were 15 minutes in, and we hadn’t spoken about work. It is hard to be a wife, a mom, a business professional, and everything that comes with that. It was amazing to just have camaraderie. I know I'm the CEO, and she's my direct report, which is amazing to have time with another mom that's passionate about the work we do and can share in the same life. The fun thing we were talking about was the opportunity to have hybrid workdays and lunch with our sons. How special is that in the middle of a workday?

That's what the 1-on-1 was. That’s good culture. People realize my CEO just spent 15 minutes talking with me about how much we share the passion and love of having lunch with our sons. You looked at me as a CEO in 2019. You would have never heard it. If I heard that you had lunch with your kid in 2019, I would be ...

Chelsea Stewart: ...may be working the rest of those hours?

Mary Grothe: What were you having in those 30 minutes you took away? You're working late, then, tonight. That was how I was raised. That was my mentality, and I didn't know any better. So, I'm thankful for the grace that has come back to me. Anyway, Chelsea, we got to put a bow on this. So, the last words of wisdom come from you on this topic.

Chelsea Stewart: Last words of wisdom, I think everything that you just said into a summation, when you approach your day, your work, your career, and your search for a great hire, you do it with intention, grace, and purpose. You are going to not only find the perfect hire, the perfect company to work with, the perfect company to work for, but your day is going to feel a lot more in control.

To eliminate that toxic culture, it's being intentional, purpose-driven, and making sure, if you're working for a bunch, is it because there's the intention behind it? Is it because you are doing it with that purpose and with that idea of no more toxic culture? Let's make sure that we are connecting. We are collaborating. We are in this together. That's what's going to get you to an amazing place with your company, an amazing rapport with your employees, and an amazing quality of life at the end of the day.

Mary Grothe: It was so beautifully said. Revenue Radio® audience, thank you so much for tuning in today. Chelsea, thanks for coming on with us.

Chelsea Stewart: Thank you.

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