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Called to Coach
How to Overcome Burnout With Strengths
Called to Coach

How to Overcome Burnout With Strengths

Webcast Details

  • What's a good definition of burnout?
  • What are some ways people choose to cope with burnout?
  • How can your strengths inform the way you deal with burnout and help you prevent or overcome it?

Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.


Burnout has become a frequent subject of discussion during the pandemic. How does Gallup define burnout, and how and why does burnout happen? What strategies are people using to cope with burnout? Gallup has recently conducted research that sheds further light on this important topic, and Jim Asplund, Chief Scientist for Strengths at Gallup, joins the webcast to share insights from that research. Learn from Jim how your strengths connect with burnout prevention, providing clues that will help you successfully deal with burnout in your own life -- or in the lives of those you coach, manage or work with.


Anytime you can give the employee a little autonomy on how they handle this thing; that alone is worth something. ... it gives them a way to kind of reduce that feeling of burnout a little bit.

Jim Asplund, 23:09

Sometimes people get burned out because they think what they're doing isn't useful ... or ... [is] trivial. ... Most people would find that that's not the case, if they could reframe their job around kind of a larger purpose.

Jim Asplund, 21:34

Jim Collison 0:00
I am Jim Collison, and welcome to The CliftonStrengths Podcast. On this podcast, we'll be covering topics such as wellbeing, teamwork, professional development and more. Now enjoy this episode. This episode was previously recorded on LinkedIn Live.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode 

Branden Mills 0:18
Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining our LinkedIn Live today. My name is Branden Mills, Talent Development Specialist here at Gallup. Today, I have the pleasure of hosting today's session. And we have a very, very interesting topic today. Today's session is focused on how to overcome burnout with your strengths. Our fantastic guest today is an expert. His name is Jim, Jim Asplund, who is our Chief Scientist for Strengths here at Gallup. Jim, it is such a pleasure to have you join us today.

Jim Asplund 0:48
Thanks, Branden. It's great to be here.

Branden Mills 0:49
Absolutely. You know, as we're starting to wait for a few people to join in to our chat here today, I'd love to throw this question out for everyone. What are your Top 5? Go ahead and throw them in the chat. And the question being, Have you felt burned out at work before? And what did you do to help with that burnout? Jim, I'd love to just kind of start to chat with this just a little bit, if you don't mind telling us your Top 5. And then, Have you ever felt burned out at work before? And what did you do to help with that burnout, you know, before a lot of the research that you've done?

Jim Asplund 1:22
Sure. Hello, everyone. So my Top 5 are Analytical, Ideation, Individualization, Strategic and Maximizer. So I feel like, you know, those are fairly obvious to the people I work with. I had a manager tell me years before I worked at Gallup that he loves all the ideas. And he, it took, it took him a while to realize that he had to hear 40 of them to hear the 2 good ones. And so he was accurate. So that was good advice early on. So I think, you know, I'm, sure I've felt burned out. I mean, I think it happens to all of us. And I think, you know, in my case, a lot of it is probably been self-imposed. Because I say "Yes" to too many things for whatever reason, because I'm interested in so many things.

Jim Asplund 2:07
And so my version of that was, I've been, I've had too many things to do and too short a time. So it was a transient sort of burnout. It was an achievable thing; it wasn't the sort of overwhelming, you know, more horrible version I think some other people are experiencing right now. I mean, it's definitely up in the U.S. and has been all the way kind of through the pandemic, as engagement has dropped for the employees as well -- and wellbeing more, more recently. So, so I think, you know, most of us are probably familiar with, one form or another.

Defining Burnout

Branden Mills 2:41
Yeah, you know, one of the greatest things about it, too, and, you know, we kind of just had this conversation. But, you know, for me, you know, I just started out here in my career, and I have to say, you know, I haven't had the opportunity to feel what it is to be burned out completely. But it's one of the things that you got to stay a little bit interested in, right. But you know, because just because I don't know too much about it doesn't mean that it's not going to be great to learn more about it, just so I know how to cope with it correctly, how to deal with it correctly, and really what that really looks like for some people who may be my age as well. So, Jim, to kind of get into the conversation here, you know, how does Gallup define burnout?

Jim Asplund 3:18
Well, you know, so there's, it's a sort of chronic stress, I suppose. You know, there's, there's a global definition of it that we hew pretty close to. We really think of it as more sort of emotional exhaustion or can be physical exhaustion. It's kind of usually accompanied by reduced feelings of accomplishment -- you know, you're not getting anywhere. You know, you feel like you're, you're maybe spinning your wheels, wasting your time or not making any progress. And so there's that sort of physic -- almost physical or emotional feeling of being burned out. And then that sort of mental cognitive piece of, of starting to doubt yourself and where you're going, and that sort of thing, as a, as a sort of corollary to that.

Preventing Burnout

Branden Mills 3:58
Absolutely. And, you know, one of the greatest things too, so when it comes to burnout, too, you know, I love how you just said it, you know, it could be different things there. What do you think is the best way for you to prevent burnout, then? And why is that so important for preventing burnout?

Jim Asplund 4:14
Well, I think it's helpful first to know, kind of how it happens. Right? So I think, you know, we've, so we've done other -- I haven't, but other colleagues have done research on kind of how most people get there. You know, and most people kind of cite a few things that are in common. You know, they're doing things that are hard for them. I mean, it sounds kind of trivial. But if you're doing things that are easy for you, it's a lot easier not to feel burned out, right? And so things are unnatural for you come a little harder. If you also have unclear expectations about that, often because you don't know it as well. Or if you feel like you don't have the time or support you need to kind of get it done. Those things can all accumulate, and then that can proceed that into feelings of unfairness. If you feel like you're doing more work than other people or harder jobs than other people. And, and, you know, the common one is just basically people feel like they have too much to do and they can't catch up, you know, that sort of drowning quote you hear from a lot of people, where they feel overwhelmed or exhausted, or they're drowning or they can't catch up. Those are kind of what you run into.

Jim Asplund 5:15
And so I think, the, the, there's two pieces to this: There's how do you plan, you know, to avoid that in the future? And there's, there's, How do you cope with it when it's already happening? Because sometimes it's kind of unavoidable; you don't know it's coming. And there's, most of us are gonna experience it one way or another. I mean, I grew up on a farm, and sometimes, you know, animals do things they're not supposed to do. That's what makes them animals. And, you know, it's not really gonna cause burnout. But it can cause a lot of stress in a short period of time if that, if that happens. So, so one thing we did was, if we want to get into it, is a research study with people who were in our strengths database, to see how they cope with, with burnout -- how many of them are experiencing it, but also how do they cope with it? Because we wanted to be able to see if they're doing different things, but also how well are those things working for them?

Coping Strategies 

Branden Mills 6:04
Absolutely. And did you see a discrepancy, Jim, in the differences in, like, ages or anything like that? You know, like I said, going back to me being like younger, someone older? Did you see different types of coping strategies with that at all? Or did you guys --

Jim Asplund 6:16
Not big ones. Not big ones. The strengths variable was actually a little stronger. I think the age thing -- well, I'll get into the research study in a minute -- but the, I think the age thing becomes more of an issue in kind of how you do those things because -- and how effective some of the strategies are. Because you just, you know, there's one advantage of getting older is you have, you've had a few trials on these things. So we did actually ask several thousand people, you know, Do they, are they experiencing burnout or being overwhelmed at work? And if so, how do you cope when you're overwhelmed or frustrated? We actually gave them 20+ options to select, and as many as they wanted. So, and almost everyone picked several.

Jim Asplund 7:00
And so, you know, just to give you a flavor, the most common thing people said they did was they thought about how they handled it before. So you think about being young, if this is your first time running into that wall, it's a lot different than the 17th time you run into the -- that or a similar wall, right? Not only do you know what you did, but you also know that you got past it and that you were able to overcome that and deal with it. And it wasn't the end of the world. And so that was one of the, again, benefits of kind of experience and age. And 85% of the sample said they do that. So people know, you know, the first think, OK, how did this, how did I deal with this last time it happened?

Jim Asplund 7:35
A similar percentage of people said that just gave themselves positive talk, like, you know, sports psychologists tell you to do, right? You remind yourself that you can do this, you can handle this, you're capable of doing this. That will sort of interact with you've handled it before, because if you have handled it before, you obviously, you did do that. And then actually another high-percentage answer was people just talk to or vent with their friends or colleagues about it, to air it out and maybe get some advice. We did actually prevent some -- provide some negative options for them too. Most people -- and I think this is honest -- didn't, a third of them did pick these. So they did say they look for ways to avoid doing it. And half of them said they spend more time with their family and friends; those are actually kind of on a less common scale. So this is a kind of a -- that one was a little disturbing to me. I would think, you know, getting support and spending more time with those people that kind of help you bridge this is something more people need to do more of. But we, but we did, so those are the common ones. And then we, we did look at people by sort of their strength profiles to see, you know, if they're picking different ones. And, and they were.

Coping Strategies by Domain, When You Know Your Strengths

Branden Mills 8:38
Yeah, no, absolutely. And Jim, you know, you know, I'd love to get into, you know, your study that you guys, that you actually just did as well. And I'd love to just talk about, like, what were some of the, you know, you kind of just talked about it; what were some of those biggest outcomes that you've seen within this study that you conducted? And you know, how can people who know their strengths approach this a lot differently now, now that they know these coping strategies?

Jim Asplund 8:59
Well, I mean, I think the first thing is to understand that that informs kind of how you do this, and lean into those things, when they're the ones that work. You're going to do them, so you might as well learn how to do them better. So for example, I'm, I lead with Thinking themes. I mean, like, we gave them my Top 5, and that's where I come from. And I'm fairly typical of what the people who are like that in the study said -- that in general, what we tend to do is we give ourselves space to think about the problem, because that's what we want to do. We want to think. So we're actually pretty good at stopping and reevaluating, Am I doing this the right way? Could I do this a better way? Is there a better way to get here? How do I solve my problems? You know, timelines overlap, some things come over the transom and surprise you to pile on to your work and get in the way of what you're doing. And so then, how do you, how do you manage all those things? And then the other thing that actually people with Thinking themes tended to say they do and which also did lower their feelings of burnout is they, they take a break. They take more breaks and relax, to kind of clear their head and reset, in order to deal with the burnout. And so we have those natural tendencies. They fit kind of with what our strengths themes talk, say about us. And they also do work to help us with burnout.

Jim Asplund 10:18
Now, people who lead with similar or with different themes have similar predilections that are mostly good for them, although not entirely. I know, you said, you lead with Relating -- Relationship themes. And so people with those things, when we ask them what they do, they, if you had to look at all the answers, they're more likely to kind of reframe the stress or burnout from the perspective of other people. Because you're always talking to people; you got a lot of friends, you got a lot of colleagues. And the upside of that is, you know, that makes you responsible employees is you think about how does your work affect others? That helps people understand how they're going to power through. One that actually is counterproductive, that a lot of people with Relationship teams do, is they actually think about how would other people feel about the same situation? Which actually builds them into a little, it probably puts them into a little bit of a cycle of, I can't believe I'm stuck doing this. And you're kind of reinforcing it by tweaking how other people would be similarly depressed or burned out by that thing.

Jim Asplund 11:16
So just to kind of close the loop, you know, people with Influencing themes, they were kind of more likely to do something more future oriented and, or try to make an impact on others or interact with others. So they are actually the ones who are most likely to spend more time with their family and friends. So they actually were doing sort of this, I think, very proactive management of their burnout. And also, they were just thinking about how their work contributes to their future goals. So giving themselves a higher-order purpose, to make it worth the effort to get through it.

Jim Asplund 11:47
And then with the people looking at, who lead with Executing themes, their instincts were clearly they just keep doing something. And that could be anything that gives them a sense of accomplishment. So it could be getting back to work or just soldiering through, if you will, or that could be doing some physical activity. So if they don't feel like they can do the work right now, they go off and run or, or bike or whatever, to give them that sense of accomplishment, like they're doing something that can help them just reduce those feelings of burnout and get back to work.

Jim Asplund 12:19
With the exception of that one sort of Relationship theme I, that thing I mentioned, all those things were helpful. So everything people kind of were inclined to do, did reduce their burnout, or their own cited sense of burnout. But there were other things that I think, and so the lesson of our research was, if you understand yourself really well, would, it would be good to know some things to try that maybe don't come as naturally to you that will be effective. So for example, when we looked at the data, and the impact on reducing burnout in the sample, the people with the Executing domain were very likely to go try to do something. One thing that actually would really help them that they're probably not as inclined to do -- and in fact, weren't inclined to do, according to themselves -- were stop and take time to think through their situation. So I think, you know, generalizing grossly here, that can feel, I think, to some of them like they're not doing anything; that they're, because they're not actually doing something right now. I'm actually stopping to think through the situation that can actually help them reduce their feelings of burnout, and I think we would see in a lot of situations, help them do a better job, once they understand that situation better and feel better about it.

Jim Asplund 13:28
People like me, who lead with Thinking themes, you know, the stuff we tend to do is pretty helpful. But other things that would actually be more helpful, according to the data, would be reframe the situation as a challenge and find a way to succeed. So make it more of a challenge or a game or something that engages our thinking in a different way. Or actually take that break idea, where we take breaks, relax, and bump it out a little bit, and spend more time with our family and friends, to clear our heads, to recharge and all the good benefits. So that sort of thing.

Jim Asplund 14:02
The Relationship Building people, if you look at things that would work generally, again, better for them. This is, again, growth, grossly generalizing. Rather than always worrying about other people actually, they got a big benefit from relaxation and mindfulness techniques. You know, anything from meditation to prayer to yoga -- I lump them all together. So, you know, depending on who they were, to take them kind of actually into themselves and kind of figure out how to work through that stuff without always worrying about how they're affecting other people.

Jim Asplund 14:32
And, and similarly, for people in the in the Influencing Domain. They were actually helped quite a bit by actually going out and doing the physical activity, as if they were kind of people who wanted to go get a sense of accomplishment, too. And so you find that these things, you know, that maybe don't occur as naturally to you can sometimes be very helpful. And so I think, you know, as a as a premise, you definitely want to lean into the things that you're going to do anyway, and figure out how to do them better. So if I'm going to take a break and reframe my situation, I should get good at that. But, you know, I have a nice family. Now that I know that that actually is an option that's not dereliction of duty, maybe that's something I can think about spending more time doing, because we've found that people who lead with these Thinking themes -- and actually everyone; I'm just, you know, these are more sort of targeted to the sort of theme profiles. But most of these things that help any of us will help all of us; it's just in to varying degrees, we're less likely to try them. And I think, you know, probably less prone to do them.

Jim Asplund 15:38
We found a similar thing, by the way, when we looked at remote work early in the pandemic. We looked at how people were dealing with it for the first time. And I think the assumption a lot of us had going into it was that the, the high Relationship people like you were having a harder time with it, because they were working at home alone. And in fact, in the overall sample, that was the exact opposite was true -- that people who lead with Relationships were actually doing pretty well. And I think, you know, reading into the data, and in talking to some people, I think it makes a little sense that you guys all have the instincts and the tools to reach out to your friends, call grandma, and talk to your coworkers and do all those things that are going to keep you healthy in that situation. Whereas people who are high in Thinking or Executing theme people, we can tend to be on our own a lot and be just fine with that. But that sort of the negative end of that piles up.

Jim Asplund 16:28
And so we found that people actually who were sort of more introverted, if you will, or on the Thinking and Executing end of the spectrum were having a harder time separating work from home, when they were doing both in the same place for the first time. They were having a harder time staying in touch with coworkers and keeping on top of things and doing that sort of team stuff, because they didn't have the instinct to reach out and do that when it wasn't right in front of them all the time. And so sometimes you, you find that there are assumptions about these things, while accurate, lead to sort of different conclusions than you, than you might think, so --

Branden Mills 16:59
Oh, absolutely. And I think, I think that's some great insight, Jim. One of the biggest things I kind of want to circle back to really quickly, I just made a quick note here. So when looking at Executing, right, one of the things that you said, I'm over here looking at the instinctual type of coping strategies, and then the recommended, right. So with the instinctual ones for Executing, you know, I would like to kind of just phrase the question, I guess, if I had to say this, is with people who are, you know, leading with Executing Domains, you know, one of the things that you said is that they start to get back to work as quickly as possible. Do you think that's almost gonna, basically, you know, relapse them and being more burned out later in that time frame? Do you think that would help out in that sense?

Jim Asplund 17:40
I think that's a definite risk. Yeah. And, you know, lots of reasons people, you know, feel that inclination. And I don't want to read too much into it. But, you know, it's like, I have a mother, who cleans constantly. She's a high Executing person. And so that's her default movement all the time. But, you know, if, and, you know, she's 83 years old, so she's not working anymore. But, but, you know, that, that can be a stressful thing, when you kind of just keep doing it in the absence of having much else to do or feel like you can do. And so, you know, you can, if you have a lot of work to do, you can feel very unproductive if you're not, if you don't just keep going at it. And sometimes, you know, it is actually more productive to stop and rethink about the situation. And even if it's not, and that is even in the short run, then that can be a benefit. And definitely in the long run, if you can keep yourself from being exhausted and not being able to take it anymore, you're going to be more productive in the long run as well.

Jim Asplund 18:44
And so it's, it's a hard thing to learn, I think, you know, for a lot of people. But, and that awareness, you know, is a big piece of it, to understand yourself, but also to be able to explain that to people around you, so they can spot you when you're doing it, and you don't necessarily know you're doing it, either, to help you say, Hey, you know, why don't you take a break? It's, it's not immoral to take a break, you know, you know, 10 minutes or walk around the house or, or do whatever you need to do to kind of recharge yourself, but that's OK. And in fact, not only healthy, but also productive in the long run.

Overcoming Burnout

Branden Mills 18:51
Absolutely. A great, great, great, great summary for that one. And thank you for clarifying that. And, you know, one of the greatest things, you know, you're talking about, I love how we're having this conversation of what is recommended and what people actually do instinctually versus what, you know, should be recommended for people who have these strengths in these different types of domains. So, Jim, what can individuals do to basically just overcome their burnout with their strengths? What type of advice would you give out to everybody here?

Jim Asplund 19:43
Well, so we're actually building a downloadable guide so people can kind of work through this with themselves. That should be available pretty soon. So we've got an article that you, you've seen a draft of, I think. And then we're gonna have an accompanying guide, so people can work kind of a worksheet through of assessing themselves about the kind of things they tend to do, and then showing them the research here in more detail so that they can understand what the options are, if you will. Because I think sometimes we just get stuck. And, you know, the older you get, the easier it is, I think, to get stuck in this habit of whatever you've done, and because, you know, it got you there so far.

Jim Asplund 20:19
And so I think the first thing to do is, again, understand your strengths, and then also understand its implications. And then communicate those and try to work with people. Now it's, I know it's easier said than done. So there's a piece on this that's incumbent upon your coworkers and your managers, I think, that the environment is a huge piece of this. And so, you know, because, again, you need to have kind of a safe space to talk about this stuff and work through it, and not everybody has that. And so, you know, you know, it might require, you know, building, doing a little groundwork there, and, and do the best you can. I think anybody on here who's a leader or manager, it helps, I think, if you can set the environment, again, to help people do more of what they love at work, what gives them energy to the extent possible, you know, what parts of the job are not burning you out? How can you do more of that and less of the stuff that are, within reason? How do you set clearer expectations and goals for people, so they don't have that mystery of wondering if they're doing the right thing, and you burning a lot of time and energy worrying about that?

Jim Asplund 21:19
Supporting them, talk to them often; check in with them often, to, and listen to any problems they've got. You know, encourage them to find partners and people on the team that can help them and vice versa, where they can help other people. And, you know, try to make the work as purposeful as you can. Sometimes people get burned out because they think what they're doing doesn't, isn't useful, or it doesn't have any import or, or they're doing something trivial. And I think that, you know, most people would find that that's not the case, if they could reframe their job around kind of a larger purpose. And then, you know, if you can get to know their, the, your, your employee's strengths, help give them feedback that reinforces that part of them and develops them, so they can handle this stuff better and better on their own as time goes forward. But, so some of this is incumbent on the on the environment that employees are in, absolutely.

Jim Asplund 22:05
And because, you know, you don't want to put people, put people in a situation where their options are to take a lot of sick days, because they don't want to come in. Because that definitely happens when people get burned out; they're a lot, a lot more likely to quit if they get burned out. And then you're dealing with a labor shortage again. Sometimes they, you know, an early sign is people lose confidence, and they kind of shut down their communications. And so, you know, if you got to try to catch it early, so if you're in more contact with your employees, you're in better communication with them, you'll spot this stuff earlier, when it's easier to kind of course correct.

Jim Asplund 22:37
And then, you know, just, you never want them in a situation where they pick, they pick the stuff that really doesn't work, which is lowering your expectations or avoiding the problem. And those are the things you really don't want people doing, and they don't want to be doing, because it's not gonna help them either. So some of this is again, incumbent on the, on the, on the workplace itself to help. But the employees, we hope that within kind of whatever environment they're in, they can understand themselves a little better and learn to communicate who they are and what works for them and what doesn't work for them a little better. That should give them a little more room to manage this. I think anyplace, anytime you can give the employee a little autonomy on how they handle this thing; that alone is worth something. Because that sense of sort of control or power or agency over what you're doing is worth a lot to people for a lot of reasons. One of them is they have more control over their circumstances -- it gives them a way to kind of reduce that feeling of burnout a little bit.

Burnout by Generation

Branden Mills 23:30
Awesome. No, I love that. You know, we, I'm looking here. It looks like we have a question down below. It looks like it's from Tim here. What impact does strengths approach to burnout have on different generations? We kind of talked about this a little earlier, Jim, but versus like Gen Z burnout, versus, you know, Gen X or millennials -- what would you say about that?

Jim Asplund 23:52
Well, I think the strengths effects are fairly similar across the thing. I think the way they manifest in how you might deal with them is different. You know, the, for people who work in this kind of environment, if you're an older person learning Slack® for the first time, you're probably going to have a little harder time with it than, than a younger person who's more sort of digitally aware and savvy and that sort of thing. But I think the biggest advantage older employees like me have, again, it's just experience dealing with this stuff. I think younger employees, especially the youngest employees, you know, we were having a little chat before this, you know, we think, you know, our, our generation's probably sold them a little bit of a fantasy story about what their work life is going to be like when they got out of college, and how much easier we thought it might be. And, and I think, you know, dealing with the pandemic and going to school, if you look at the sort of even just, even a little younger than that now, mental health crises going on in universities right now. The higher burnout we see in younger employees -- it's more common and they have less experience dealing with it. And they're gonna be less self-aware, on average, just because they haven't been through as many things.

Jim Asplund 25:06
On the upside is, I think, you know, 6-700,000 or more students go through strengths in universities in the U.S. and Canada already every year. So you've got a cohort of people coming in who actually do know something about themselves. Schools are doing a lot better job, I think, every year at managing, you know, kids getting stressed and burned out by that, as well as understanding themselves better. So I think for those of you who haven't tried, you might find that younger employees are actually pick this up pretty fast. The flip side of that experiencing is they haven't developed as many bad habits as a lot of us do, right. And so I think if you give them the space to work on this stuff and teach them kind of how to do it, they'll probably pick it up pretty quickly. So, but I think, you know, they are having a harder time right now; all the data show that. They have a lot less to fall back on. They have, you know, they don't have the social support, typically, because they're a lot more likely to be living on their own, and all the other stuff I already mentioned. So I think that's the biggest difference. So I think you'll find that the high Executing kid and a high Executing person my age might have some similarish predilections and responses to this thing and things that get us into trouble. But we might have slightly different ways of getting out of it, based on kind of how we deal with other things.

Branden Mills 26:23
Absolutely. Awesome. Well, Jim, thank you so much for your time today. If you guys are interested in learning a little bit more about what me and Jim was talking about today, it looks like we threw into the chat here his paper a little bit on, you know, how you can overcome burnout by using your strengths. And such a great read, by the way; definitely recommend you guys all to going in and, and taking a look. For all of our listeners, if you guys are interested in more of this content, check out our CliftonStrengths Podcast on any of the available app sites. Feel free to check out our YouTube channel as well. And if you aren't following the CliftonStrengths LinkedIn page, feel free to do so. Once again, Jim, thank you so much for your time today. And for all our listeners, see you again. Of course. See you guys.

Jim Collison 27:09
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of The CliftonStrengths Podcast. Make sure you like and subscribe wherever you listen, so you never miss an episode. And if you're really enjoying this podcast, please leave a review. This helps us promote strengths globally.

Jim Asplund's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Analytical, Ideation, Individualization, Strategic and Maximizer.

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