Burnout: Don’t Be Fooled Again

in burnout, Employee Wellness Programs, industrial organizational psychology, Stress, Uncategorized

Magician holding fireThe prospect of organizational burnout interventions has finally caught the attention of thought leaders. When reading articles comparing organizational approaches (ill-defined strategies targeting workload, job control, rewards, community, fairness, and values) to individual approaches (like mindfulness and resilience training) I’m reminded of The Who’s classic lyrics:

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

We’ve gone from the “superstition” of self-help, to paraphrase Jonathan Malesic in his brilliant book The End of Burnout, to the Gospel According to Maslach. Continue reading »

Emotional Labor, Great Expectations, and The End of Burnout

in burnout, industrial organizational psychology, Stress, Uncategorized

Venn Diagram

Emotional labor was conceptualized by sociologist Arlie Hochschild as work that requires the job holder to fake (surface acting) or modify (deep acting) their emotions. It’s often misinterpreted to mean emotionally intense work.

For example:

Service industry employees instructed to smile and pretend to be upbeat under high-stress circumstances — like interactions with hostile customers — typically engage in surface acting, which has been implicated in burnout.

Relatedly: Jonathan Malesic, in The End of Burnout — besides tracing burnout to job conditions and “work culture” — proposes that consumers, and even co-workers, hold ourselves accountable:

To beat burnout and help others flourish, we need to lower not only our expectations for our own work but also our expectations of what others’ work can do for us.

The book cover for "The End of Burnout"

Click to purchase. (Affiliate link)

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.

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.

Podcast: Wellness, Job Insecurity, Unemployment, and Authenticity

in industrial organizational psychology, job strain, Uncategorized

This episode of the Redesigning Wellness podcast (below) is brilliant. Kudos to Chrissy Ball, Michelle Bartelt, and Scott Dinwiddie for having the courage to share their experiences and feelings around job loss. Thank you Jen Arnold for organizing and facilitating a bold conversation.

My take: As much as we wellness pros talk about “authenticity,” we rarely display it. Perhaps we feel obligated to project a veneer of exuberance. Indeed, this often seems to be expected. (I had a boss lament that she’d always imagined her wellness director would be “peppy” — which I proudly am not.) These panelists model real wellbeing as they describe hard times — anger, sadness, fear, and separation (as well as resilience, connection, and growth).

This conversation reminds us of the psychosocial influences on wellbeing that too often are obscured by our preoccupation with behavior change. Key amongst these is *job security*, as well as employment itself and role identity.

As we listen, we’ll do well to think of workers who are struggling — single parents, folks living on the poverty line, et al — and how their wellbeing is threatened by job insecurity and unemployment. How can we, as wellbeing leaders, help?

225: Job Loss During a Pandemic with Chrissy Ball, Michelle Bartelt, and Scott Dinwiddie

Meaning and Purpose at Work — Recommended Reading

in industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Nietzche quote: He who has a Why to live can bare almost any How.Meaning and purpose at work go far beyond the simplistic “Find your why” self-help trend that’s made millions for certain marketing gurus (though it would be more properly attributed to Nietzsche) or the appropriation of ikigai that’s the latest buzz.

There are no simple answers to meaning, only explorations. I suggest seekers take a look at Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and, for contrast, Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Then bring it into the modern work context with Job Crafting and Cultivating Positive Meaning and Identity in Work, by Amy Wrzesniewski et al.

Supporting worker sleep is good for business

in industrial organizational psychology, job design, job strain, total worker health, Uncategorized
Don’t sleep on the job.
Matthew Jacques/Shutterstock.com

Leslie Hammer, Oregon Health & Science University and Lindsey Alley, Oregon Health & Science University

A long-haul truck driver fell asleep during his shift in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 13. Heading north on Route 147, he drifted into the eastbound shoulder for almost 375 feet, struck the side of the road and flipped his rig. Thankfully, the driver only suffered a minor injury and nobody else was harmed.

Poor sleep affects up to 70% of Americans and increases the risk of shortened lifespan and death. This includes deaths and injuries related to road accidents, stroke and reduced cardiovascular health. Continue reading »

Hire Based on Facts, Not Feels

in Data, humor, industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized

a heart, symbolizing the error of hiring job candidates based on subjective observations and feelingsIs it enough for a job candidate to “show up” for an interview?

A prominent voice on LinkedIn recently garnered more than 17,000 likes with a post that read, in part:

We just hired a Gen-Z candidate with zero experience. Here’s why… They arrived 10 min early for their morning interview (respect ✊), pronounced my name correctly (major kudos), had a firm handshake, dressed sharp, and brought a hard copy of their resume (I didn’t need it). During the interview they smiled, made eye contact, and were honest about having zero experience (we value honesty). They asked me questions, they wanted to learn, they showed up! To all the hiring decision makers out there, don’t disqualify candidates because they don’t have “experience.”

By all means, don’t discriminate against Gen-Z or any other Gen, or against candidates who don’t have experience if the job doesn’t require it. But be smart about hiring, based on Continue reading »

The 4 Steps Wellness Organizations Must Take to Move Our Industry Forward

in Employee Wellness Programs, industrial organizational psychology, Uncategorized

what's next for employee wellnessThis is based on a response I wrote to an astute new leader of a wellness industry organization who was asking, “What should be next for the organization to move wellness forward?”

  1. Broaden the base. Reach out to professionals trained in fields other than exercise, nutrition, and HR. Especially, bring in folks trained in the relatively fast-growing field of I/O Psychology, who have a deeper, evidence-based understanding of wellbeing and also tend to be well trained in analytics. Speaking of which…
  2. Train wellness professionals in analytics. HR finally seems to be getting serious about data, and wellness will be left behind if we don’t have stronger competency in this area. We don’t need to be data scientists, but we should be able to direct analytical work and speak the language. I’ve been studying statistics, business analytics, and advanced Excel, and it’s already added value for my clients.
  3. Help us understand the wellness needs of employees. Because wellness in the US has been market driven, we give most of our attention to what purchasers (employers) will buy, rather than what employees want. Unfortunately, these are rarely the same thing.
  4. Help identify and then advocate for where wellness fits in an organization. As long as we’re tucked away in benefits departments, we’ll be undervalued and weighed-down by healthcare cost-reduction fantasies.