Burn-Washing Job Burnout: Close, But No Cigar

in burnout, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

 

Cigar with smoke

A lot of employers offer pseudo-interventions I call “burn-washing” — they give employees a week off, for example, and proclaim themselves mental health heroes — to deflect accountability for job burnout.

I’m all for time off, but it doesn’t do anything for burnout if workers return to the same job conditions — or conditions that are worse because workload accumulated while everyone was kicking back for a week.

In a recent post, I shared the American Psychiatric Association’s latest tips on how to burn-wash. Yeesh.

A new vision of burnout solutions will have to address not just individual treatments and not just organizational interventions… but requisite changes in how our society views work, merit, and leisure. More on this in a future post.

Psych Group Is Blowin’ Smoke with Burnout Remedies

in burnout, Featured, industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized

Person veiled in smoke to represent APA "blowing smoke" about burnout

The media and self-help industry offer a lot of bad advice on how to ease burnout: Be here now. Suffer through a resilience workshop. Dance to your favorite song (no, really — I witnessed a PhD-level psychologist prescribing this as a burnout remedy in a webinar for mental health coaches).

Now, in a post called Burnout: Small Changes Lead to Big Results (soon to be followed by an infographic), the American Psychiatric Association weighs in with its own tepid, unfounded advice, cloaked in a veneer of evidence: “Remind leaders…; Find opportunities…; Remind everyone…; Find ways…; Evaluate and ensure…; Consider part of the job… Find ways.”

Small Changes, Big Impact“? Well, the first half is true.

There’s no reason to think the Association’s tips will lead to any impact at all — big or small. To suggest otherwise is as dismissive of the pain of hardworking people as… well, as advice to dance to your favorite song.

I don’t mean to throw shade on the American Psychiatric Association. They don’t have much to work with. Nearly 50 years ago, psychologists came up with some compelling ideas about burnout. All these years later, we have no meaningful advice to offer employers — and no response to the folk remedies hawked by the self-help, HR consulting, and burgeoning mental health industries — because the research has been nothing other than a hot mess ever since.

Maybe it’s time for a reset? I’ll say more about this in a future post.

We have to do better than “Find ways.”

 

 

Corporate Cultures Too Wrecked To Be Fixed?

in Featured, industrial organizational psychology, total worker health, Uncategorized

shipwreck symbolizing some corporate cultures

 

I loved reading Implementation of an Organizational Intervention to Improve Low-Wage Food Service Workers’ Safety, Health and Wellbeing. As someone who has an interest in psychosocial (and physical) risk, and who has years of experience in the bizarro world of corporate dining, I find this study (which I’ve followed since it was first announced) to offer a window into what happens when worlds collide.

Many of us interested in organizational psych or corporate culture may poo-poo trendy behavior change programs, as if our organizational interventions are the panacea. This study reminds us, however, that organizations can be intractable beasts — rife with competing interests, diverse and intense demands, egos, inertia, turnover, and, of course, bureaucracy — not to be trifled with.

Comments from this publication that leave a lasting impression:

  • “…fissured work environment, with blurred accountability for worker health and safety.”
  • “…communication barriers between organizational units.”
  • “…no site manager completed the action planning tool for any of the modules, citing lack of time and job demands as barriers.”
  • “’…adding a chair and a mat for the cashier. For aesthetics, the client won’t allow this.'”
  • “Research team members… were not invited to attend huddles for the other two modules due to the sites’ time constraints and competing demands…”
  • “…challenges of a complex system with various interacting elements… The environment was characterized by low profitability, low wages, high turnover, conflicting demands, and limited potential to modify the workspace.”

A fascinating read with important lessons about the elements of organizational intervention… presented in the context of an eyes-wide-open look at the modern workplace.

A Doubt About Burnout

in burnout, Employee Wellness Programs, Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

silhouette and flame representing burnout

I have doubt about burnout.

Understand, not only do I feel certain that employees experience exhaustion, cynicism, disengagement, self-doubt, and depression often as a result of work stressors, but I’ve spent the better part of my career spotlighting these processes in my work as a well-being practitioner. Further, if an employee says they’re burned out, I believe their experience is credible — it should be accepted, respected, and addressed.

Continue reading »

The Great Resignation May Be a Thing. Here’s What We Really Know.

in business, Data, Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

 

The word "job" going out the doorThe data is starting to support the hype about The Great Resignation.

Don’t be too awed by media reports of “record-breaking” resignations. Record-breaking quit rates were entirely predictable based on their upward trajectory over the last 10 years. What changed was a steep drop in those rates early in the pandemic. Data released today (November 12, 2021) shows a rate (indeed, record-breaking) of 3.0% for September and, yes, this trend looks to be ramping up.

Until now, we’ve known only that there’s been a Great Compression of Resignations — an inordinate amount of resignations in a short period of time. It’s a distinction of little consequence to employers, as they still have the operational hardship of a surge in people heading for the door, regardless of whether it’s a new trend or simply a snapback following the unexpected freefall of resignations that occurred at the outset of the pandemic. Continue reading »

“The Structure of Work Could Be Damaging Employee Well-Being”

in burnout, Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

BandAid

 

“While some employees may benefit from using a meditation app, text therapy or other digital solutions, she cautions employers against stopping there without investigating how the structure of work itself could be damaging to employee well-being”:

From our perspective, you can’t tackle something this significant and immense just by simple Band-Aid solutions.

 —  Tara Thiagarajan, founder of nonprofit Sapien Labs

From CNBC:

Companies Prioritized Mental Health During Covid, So Why Are We Still So Burned Out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What If The Great Resignation Isn’t?

in business, Data, Uncategorized

There’s endless talk in HR circles about the Great Resignation. A report by McKinsey & Company, for example, sounds the alarm because “more than 15 million US workers—and counting—have quit their jobs since April 2021, a record pace disrupting businesses everywhere.”

The McKinsey report is fascinating for its survey findings comparing why employees say they leave to why employers believe they leave, with some stark distinctions.

But the report, and just about all of the endless accounts about an employee exodus, falls short by failing to provide context for the so-called exodus. Specifically, they ignore the fact that quit rates plummeted in the Spring of 2020. McKinsey blares, “The Great Attrition is happening—and will probably continue.”

But is it? And will it?

Here’s a graph of quit rates — number of quits as a percent of total employment — from 2011 through July of 2021 (The blue line is turnover; the dotted line is a trend line for the entire period.):

Quit Rates 2011-2021

US Quit Rates (and trend) as % of total employment, 2011-through July 2021.

Pent-Up Attrition?

“Quits are voluntary separations initiated by the employee,” BLS explains. “Therefore, the quits rate can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs.”

It sure looks like the current rate of resignation is fairly close to trend. In fact, the quit rate for July 2021 was unchanged from the previous month, and the last three months were all lower than April 2021. The data suggests that some of what’s being called The Great Resignation is actually pent-up attrition. We may — may — just be on the tail end of a dip.

When we hear “15 million workers have quit their jobs since April 2021,” we should question whether April 2021 is the proper baseline. This shouldn’t diminish some of the dynamics currently taking place in the labor force, but at least suggests that it may be quite a while before we really know — based on data — what those dynamics are.

Good Work: Getting Real About Job Characteristics, Job Design, and Job Crafting at “Impairment Without Disability” 2021

in industrial organizational psychology, job crafting, job design, Uncategorized, Wellbeing
Impairment Without Disability logo

I’m honored to be among the distinguished slate of speakers presenting at Impairment Without Disability 2021, where I’ll discuss the science behind “Designing Jobs People Want To Do.”

IWD 2021 promises “No fluff, no fodder.” YES! We need more conference hosts that respect our work — and the employees we serve — enough not to waste our time with celebrities, motivational speakers, athletes, and new-age wonks who have no idea what we do. Those speakers may give attendees a lift during the hour of their presentation, but the growth that comes from information, case studies, and idea-sharing can last a lifetime and facilitate results that spread exponentially.

If you’re interested in supporting the wellbeing of sick or injured workers, join us at this year’s all-virtual IWD Conference 2021, November 18. Register here.

Check out conference organizer Jason Parker’s LinkedIn post, below, for more info.

There’s Mental Health in Them Thar Workers

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Workplace Mental Health Resources

woman with gold face

In the red-hot employee mental health industry, two of the reddest, hottest companies — Ginger and Headspace — announced their merger. As reported by Stat:

The new company, called Headspace Health, will have a reported value of $3 billion, placing it in the top echelon of companies vying to own significant chunks of the mental health market….Headspace, which sells directly to consumers as well as to businesses, is focused on self-directed meditation and mindfulness…Ginger also offers self-guided treatment in addition to text-based coaching and video-based therapy and psychiatry.

Oliver Harrison, CEO of digital mental health competitor Koa Health, magnanimously blogged that the merger represents “a tremendous moment signaling the growing market demand, innovation and transformation for digital mental health and wellbeing.”

This might be true, but we might also conclude that this is a moment in which two unrelenting enterprises join forces to, as Stat said, “own chunks of the market.”

Innovation? Later in the post, Harrison quotes HR expert Josh Bersin:

“Bigger companies with thousands of customers try to innovate, but the demands of their large, existing customers distract their engineering teams and they can rarely innovate like they did when they were small.”

A colleague recently described employee mental health as a modern day gold rush, with money gushing into it from exuberant employers — clawing for precious solutions, while surrounded by barkers hawking unauthenticated replicas — and venture capitalist prospectors jumping aboard the gravy train.

Tremendous Moment? Or Wild West?

Headspace and Ginger are joining hands as they stake their claim in the mental health landscape. Good for them. We can only hope it also turns out to be good for care seekers, employers, and mental health in general.

In other news, in-person therapy is now available at Walmart. Find it somewhere between the ammo, tobacco products, and baby strollers.


“Gold face” image courtesy John Vasilopoulos via Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/users/sjv_john-9645453/

The Truth About Mental Health First Aid Training

in Featured, Mental Health First Aid, Uncategorized
The Truth About Mental Health First Aid Training

As a certified Mental Health First Aid™️ instructor, I was delighted to see this critical analysis of MHFA posted by distinguished professor of Organizational Psychology, Rob Briner…

Should Mental Health First Aid Be Required?

One of my LinkedIn connections recently posted a poll asking whether employers should be required to have a certified MHFA person at the workplace. More than 1000 folks responded, and 70% said “Yes, it should be required.” Some commenters asserted that anyone answering “No” had never experienced mental health problems and/or didn’t care about them.

In addition to revealing naïveté about workplace regulation, the responses to this poll exemplified

  1. The limited understanding of MHFA possessed by people advocating it
  2. Employers’ and HR leaders’ eagerness to solve complex problems with simplistic, trendy solutions, while ignoring substantive evidence-based strategies.

MHFA Cons and Pros

In the US, employers would have good reason to proceed with caution when implementing MHFA in the workplace.

  • MHFA certification seems unnecessary — having more to do with protecting revenue and intellectual property rather than mental health
  • As for the virtual training, to quote the CEO of National Council of Mental Wellbeing (from his “Happy New Year” email to instructors): “To put it simply, the technology just didn’t work.” (I chose not to offer virtual training until the tech problems are addressed. But NCMW was undaunted, continuing to charge thousands of dollars for virtual training that the organization acknowledged “caused countless frustrations.”) 

MHFA’s greatest potential is to play a supporting role in a comprehensive solution — albeit, I’ll maintain, a role likely to prove valuable when implemented in the proper context and with realistic expectations.