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Demystifying Burnout: Identifying burnout and how to counteract its effects

PMI Basel Event on 9th May 2019 on "Identifying burnout and how to counteract its effects" presented by speaker Dina Blanco-Ioannou

Author: Pierre Aichinger, PMP

Attracted by the prominent topic, we listened attentively to our speaker Dina Blanco-Ioannou - and received a truly passionate, dynamic and inspiring talk loaded with highly interesting and valuable insight. The interactive presentation was blended with exercises, in which we were invited to experiment and experience at various points.

Dina took us through the subject out of her own intense experience, having used burnout as an opportunity to re-evaluate, re-vision and re-ignite her life through ‘Lessons-in-Self’ her Education for Life programmes, which includes ‘Burnout to Brilliance’.

Dina started by providing information on burnout for context, then shortly outlined key concepts with a new theory of well-being from Positive Psychology which supported and linked to the last part focusing on practical applications: interactively sharing five strategies with tools that Dina implemented and is still using in her life.

Burnout, with various definitions presented, can be seen essentially as a state of exhaustion and can be heard as ‘that voice finally telling us what we are doing or being is no longer serving us – whether this is within our professional or personal life. It’s telling us to stop, to rethink and find a new way forward’. Nearly everyone can be affected, with those likely to be most prone to burnout who are driven to evolve, perform and achieve the most - and might expect and see it coming least.

It happens for a reason, with this reason lying (and hiding) within ourselves, and not seldomly it is about our beliefs, self-esteem and self-worth - with work as a coping strategy, an escape from our self. It does not happen overnight but develops over time, as illustrated by the 12 stages of burnout after H.J. Freudenberg (with the stages not necessarily happening sequentially and to the same extent, depending on the person):

Stage 1 - A compulsion to prove oneself (to others and oneself, doing whatever is needed to be acknowledged).

Stage 2 - Working harder (having high expectations of oneself, taking on more than one can do).

Stage 3 - Neglecting one’s needs (work comes first, own needs come second or are ‘non-existent’).

Stage 4 - Displacement of conflicts (something not right, but not listening to it, ignoring the signs).

Stage 5 - Revision of values (dismissing important things, self-worth determined by work only).

Stage 6 - Denial of emerging problems (viewing others as incapable, becoming intolerant, losing one’s temper easily, becoming quite cynical).

Stage 7 - Withdrawal (reducing social contact, personal relationships becoming a strain; escapism).

Stage 8 - Obvious behavioural changes (others noticing the change in one’s person, no longer being the person one once was).

Stage 9 - Depersonalization (losing contact with oneself, valuing oneself less and less).

Stage 10 - Inner emptiness (seeking other ways of filling the void that one feels, or rather ways to ignore the signs that one needs to stop and listen).

Stage 11 - Depression (becoming overwhelmed; becoming indifferent, hopeless and exhausted, not daring to think about the future; life loses meaning).

Stage 12 - Burnout syndrome (‘Almost all burnout victims now have suicidal thoughts to escape their situation. A few actually carry them out. Ultimately, they suffer total mental and physical collapse. Patients in this phase need immediate medical attention.’).


To counteract and prevent burnout in daily life, Dina presented the following strategies and tools as bringing numerous benefits and positive effects:

  1. Mindfulness meditation: being aware of the present moment, present, mindful. We tried ‘the three minutes breathing space meditation’ as an exercise.
  2. Obstacles to well-being: taking full responsibility for our life, making choices. With the visualization technique tried in an exercise, and the use of responsibility stem sentences (for taking small steps to gradually remove the obstacles to well-being) and the focus on the good things in life presented as tools.
  3. Believing in yourself: with the power pose as a tool, which we tried out in an exercise, whereby you stand up and assume the wonder woman/superman pose (with 60 seconds generally already being effective in increasing confidence and making one feel stronger).
  4. Acknowledging yourself: with acknowledging our strengths and successes as another tool. We did the pairwise exercise of having one person describe a success and the listening partner note the strengths applied for ensuing feedback.
  5. Gratitude: capitalizing on the power of acknowledging the good things that happened, which needs to be done consistently to get the positive effects. For instance, every evening when going to bed, focusing on three good things that happened or went well during the day and reflecting on why we are grateful for these.


At the beginning, Dina had highlighted burnout as being an opportunity. In the end, she also said that we do not need to burn out before doing small changes. For projects, it is recommended best practice to consider existing lessons learned. How about our own lives?

Video of the session:


With a big and cordial thank you to Dina – you can contact her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and please consult her website (and her blogs posted thereon) for reference:

Critical Conversations

Gabriele Filieri
Author: Gabriele Filieri, PMP 

Project Managers spend 90 percent of their time communicating based on what many books state and based on the everyday experience. They communicate with many stakeholders such as the sponsor, project team members, business and procurement departments. In many cases conversations are easy and pleasant, working for the same goal is exciting and fulfilling. However, sometimes they might be challenging and risky, especially when things do not go as planned and the budget is running short, or the scope starts expanding.

I would like to offer some tips I've gleaned from the book Crucial Conversations on how to handle critical conversations. The most dangerous risk is to avoid them, in one way or another troubles will come and find us unprepared! That’s what I used to experience when I was at the beginning of my career. Another option is to face them and try to handle them well.



When approaching a critical conversation, the first thing to do is to appreciate the value of dialogue and think of it as an opportunity to get as much information as possible to make good decisions. It is the starting point to elaborate and analyze options to come up with the solution. Useful takeaway for project managers is to always step in to facilitate meetings to gather any kind of information, especially when the situation is not clear.

The second aspect is to focus on the real problem, instead of focusing on fixing other people. How many times do we deal with colleagues or clients that are so different from us? Sometimes we have the impression that they manipulate us or they behave in a selfish way. Consequently, during the conversation our effort is mainly concentrated to protect ourselves from them, instead of solving the real problem. During critical conversations let’s not slip away from the goals we have set but, instead, let’s stick with them and focus honestly on what we really want for ourselves, for the other person and for the project.

Another important aspect is to look for signs showing us that the dialogue’s safety is at risk. When stakes are high and emotions become strong, it is easy to lose focus on the main topic of the conversation. Silence and the raising of one’s voice are evidence that emotions are taking over and they might go down an unsafe path. In essence, we cannot control others but we can control ourselves.



As a consequence of the previous point, it is recommended to keep the conversation safe. When at risk we should step back and bring the conversation back to a healthy dialogue. Understanding and acknowledging the other person’s feelings might help in delivering delicate messages. In a safe conversation there are two fundamental conditions: mutual purpose and mutual respect. The first one allows the two parties to perceive that the conversation brings them to common ground. Otherwise, when there is a lack of respect in the conversation, the two parties are more interested in defending their dignity than resolving the conflict.

During conversations, we should pay attention to what happens between the moment we feel something, because of the other person’s action, and the moment we react. What do we feel? And what do we do next? Between the two actions we should be careful on how we interpret the situation, we tell ourselves a story that sometimes does not correspond to reality. For example, during the project status meeting, the boss steps in and makes decisions on a particular issue. Is that because he or she does not trust us or is that because the issue has become so important that it has to be escalated to sort things out?

Now we are probably at the most important part of the article. Dialogue is a useful process to get as much information as we can but, at the end of the day, we have to make a decision, otherwise the conversation will end up fruitless. There are four common ways to make a decision: command, consult, vote and consensus. The decision on which method to choose has to be made based on who wants to be involved, who has the expertise on that specific topic, who has the influence to decide (and therefore may be better to involve) and the number of people that should be involved. And finally, after the decision is made, good project managers make sure that tasks have been identified and they have been assigned with due dates.

In the end, project managers must appreciate the value of dialogue, as it provides useful information to make a decision. They have to safeguard the conversation when the risk of slipping away from the main goal arises, being able to make a final decision and put it in action.


Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2012.

Risk Management in Clinical Trials

Geetanjali Bhat
Author: Geetanjali Bhat, PMP

The success of a process or a project depends on how well it is planned, organized, implemented and managed. Project managers in clinical study operations take on many challenges including multiple stakeholders, budget control and stringent quality and regulatory requirements. This event’s key note speaker Ms Gessami Sanchez Olle who brings along her tremendous knowledge and experience gave us a very interesting session of Clinical Trials in Project Management.


Clinical trials are highly complex enterprises that demand professional management at every stage and level. Utilization of the project management methodologies along with the conventional techniques would increase the chances of execution of clinical trials in a cost and resource effective, and time-efficient manner.

Although my background is not in pharma and I do not have much knowledge on clinical trials, I was glad to attend this event because I could gain great insights on how risk management can be applied to clinical trials.

The night began with a definition of “clinical trial” as any research study that prospectively assigns human participants or groups of humans to one or more health-related interventions to evaluate the effects on health outcomes. We then went through the process of discovery to commercialization of clinical trials.  

Phase I to Phase IV is a complex journey of a clinical trial. The journey to Phase IV involves the internal and external stakeholders.

Project management becomes more complex due to known risks (known-unknown) and unknown risks (unknown-unknown/unforeseeable risks). In the pharma industry there are added uncertainties from the process of scientific research.


The PMBOK defines risk management as the identification, analysis, assessment, control, and avoidance, minimization, or elimination of unacceptable risks.

The application of risk management in a clinical trial is implemented through the process of risk management from the identification of a risk to its monitoring.

Risk management has immense impact on the success of a project, along with risk-based monitoring methodologies (RBM) that can be applied in a clinical trial that include centralized off-site and adaptive on-site. RBM is a clinical trial-monitoring technique that fulfills regulatory requirements but moves away from 100% source data verification (SDV) of patient data.

At the end of the session, we learned how Phase Study I, Phase Study III and Phase Study IV were conducted for a clinical trial along with the challenges that are faced therein.

along with other applications can go a hand in hand to

project management in clinical research

along with other applications can go a hand in hand to

I would like to summarize that project management along with other applications go hand in hand to enhance the process of clinical trials. Risk management can be applied well in the processes mentioned in the PMBOK for clinical trials to achieve most of its success factors.

Message from the board - August 2019

Julia Posselt

Author: Julia Posselt, PMP

Dear fellow Project Managers,

Showing up together to share real cases, ordinary moments, and innovative sparks.

Join us at the Swiss PM Conference 2019. Zurich on September 5 it is!

Strengthen your connections within the project management community. You will be offered cutting-edge learning opportunities around the theme "Innovation in Project Management. Apply Inspiration!" Find details about speakers and topics on

Be an early bird until August 18

This is your last chance to register for the conference at a discounted price. Save your Swiss PM Conference 2019 early bird ticket now!

Celebrate with us PMIs 50th anniversary

We are thrilled to announce that we made 50 Special Evening tickets available. Join us for the conference from 4 pm (registration from 3:30 pm) for the closing keynote and the highly entertaining "Innovation Games” we will play during the evening. At the evening reception, mingle with your peers and the conference speakers.

Let's be proud to hone our profession that transforms the way we work. Let's get together to share our talent, our ideas, and our passion.

We look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Julia (VP Special Projects), Martin, and the Swiss PM Conference Team

PMI CH Conference Banner


PM Conference 2019 Speakers

Newsletter Editorial June/July 2019




Adi Muslic 100x100





Author: Adi Muslic, PMP

Summer is here!

Last week was an extremely hot week and I hope you did not need to be outside for a long time. However, if you indeed had to do your work outside I would be happy to hear from you how did you manage to work in such hard conditions. Actually I am not sure how many of PMI membres in Switzerland actually work in sectors where working outside is a standard working environment. Would be nice to hear their stories.

Lat week I was working in Geneva's city center. Besides many people that were dressed very light there were those who were fully dressed up, so a full suit and a tie. Yes, they were people working in the private banks and there are many of them in Geneva. A traditional banker's uniform. Every day we are hearing a lot about digital transformation; the standard banking model is more and more challenged by fin-tech and online banks. It made me wonder whether there was the time to change the dress code in the banks.
There was time when taxi drivers were wearing suits and ties. Today, anyone hardly cares whether the taxi driver has a suit or not. But what I think we all care about is whether the car is clean or not. This is why I appreciate the digital model where you can easily leave a note or a comment. In the standard taxi car model I am not even sure what is the way to report someone who provides a bad service.
And there is also a world of private limousines with a very strict dress code, not to mention state of the car. 
Going back to the banking world, does the dress code and business model make standard banks look like taxis and private banks like private limousines. Using this comparison it is clear that there is a place for fully digital banks. Whether all 3 business models will all survive or not, we will need to wait and see.
This reminds me of another sector where the dress code is important. The car sales. Looking forward to see how this sector will change with digital transformation. Have you been already engaged in such transformation? Please share, this is the right place.
Wish you a beautiful and not so hot summer,