Is “Burnout” Real?

Industrial-Organizational psychology (“I/O” for short) is a branch of psychology that studies what work means to us and how it affects our lives. I/O psychology introduced a phenomena that’s been referred to commonly as: BURNOUT.

Burnout is that feeling that you just can’t do anymore.

When you experience burnout you feel tired, exhausted, uninspired, frustrated, overworked, and under-appreciated. Most workers can remember at lease one case of burnout.

Burnout(edit)

The dimensions of burnout can occur in any order and be experienced simultaneously

Maslach describes the dimensions of burnout:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization
  3. Low Personal Accomplishment

These dimensions can occur in distinct stages or overlap.

The effects of burnout are disastrous. You’re more likely to produce poor work if you are tired and inattentive. You’re more likely to take a few sick days if you feel run down. If you feel cynical and hopeless, you will start “checking out” of your work environment.

We learned in our previous post that our mental health is the lens through which we experience the world. Burnout is relevant because it affects our mental well being. The frustration and hopelessness of a stressful jobs can spill past the borders of our workplace and into our personal lives.

Let me be clear: burnout is not a mental disease. Burnout is not a indication of unhappy or listless workers. Burnout is usually a symptom of larger problem. It can occur for a number of complex reasons. It can happen when the job isn’t really a great fit for the person hired to do it, alternatively it can be a reflection of a particular field, specific job/title, or management issues.

When I worked as a claims adjuster – it was daunting. Adjusting claims for any type of insurance is super stressful. Your customer’s first contact with you as an adjuster is always after something horrible has happened: someone hit their brand new car, they hurt themselves at work, their house was broken into, etc. You’re working with the general public – many people purchase insurance without understanding their coverage. Their first crash course is when they’re angry and need to use this invisible “product” they’ve been putting money towards for months or years. The natural frustration of an accident coupled with lack of consumer education means claims adjusters must be extremely empathetic and gentle. So why do claims reps have the stigma of being a cold-hearted bunch?

Part of it is burnout. Often claims adjusters are overloaded with claims. They hear tears, frustration, screaming, and cursing through their entire work day. Receiving 20-30 voicemails daily is common. Handling lengthy investigations that end up being fraudulent is common. And though adjusters don’t sell the policies – it’s their responsibility to educate consumers on the details of coverage purchased years prior. That’s not to mention the often complex and specialized laws/state regulations one must learn to be compliant in the industry. I truly did enjoy the human contact of my job in claims – I like to help and coach people, that’s why I’m a counselor now! However there’s no denying that working claims is a perfect storm for burnout: (1) high claims volume (2) pressure of legal and organizational restraints and (3) helping those who are emotionally distraught and angry.

Let’s look at some solutions for both the burned out employee and the organization at large.

(1) Seek better training. (Management: OFFER effective training.)

Once I learned the systems and process better, I became more efficient at my claims job. Taking extra time to learn a new skill or master technology may seem counter productive – after all, you’re already overloaded with tasks you don’t have time to finish, right? Well, view training as an opportunity to learn how to work more efficiently. Tasks that once took an hour were completed in 10-15 minutes after training and practice with the right tools. This freed up more of my day to get tougher things done. If there’s no formal training – take initiative to find someone in your department or team that’s performing well. Ask for time to sit with them or observe them.

(2) Participate in team building. (Management: Encourage fun team building.)

As mentioned earlier, some fields or particular jobs are just going to be stressful. If you are a nurse, a social worker, or working in retail during Christmas – no amount of training is going to make your job less hectic. It’s the nature of your position and industry. So if you can’t change the situation, what can you do? Embed yourself positively in your workplace. The support of friends at work who best understand what you’re going through can make or break you during tough times. Participate in team events if you have the time. Better yet, make the time. Finding a coworker to meditate with during breaks or someone who can lift your spirits at lunch is very valuable. Get to know your team and have fun with them.

(3) TAKE TIME OFF. (Management: ALLOW TIME OFF.)

I realize this isn’t available to all workers/managers. But if you have the opportunity to take a short break – seize it. Plan a vacation or “stay-cation” over a weekend to unplug and come back refreshed.

(4) Have a constructive conversation with your boss. (Management: Seek feedback.)

Complaining to coworkers and friends outside of work may feel cathartic but once it becomes too frequent and too negative it can turn toxic. You’ll recognize a toxic conversation because these interactions make the speaker and listener feel worse afterward instead of relieved or uplifted. Everyone needs to vent, but sometimes communicating to the right people in the right way can be more constructive than daily rant sessions around the cooler. Talking to your team members about the issues and brainstorming solutions to present to your manager might be the key to changing things.

If things still don’t improve?

Ask yourself if you’re truly a good fit for your job. Does it intersect with your knowledge, skills, interests, and personality? Only you know the answer there. If the answer is “no”, consider making a game plan to change things. You may not have the luxury of landing a new job immediately once you realize this. But you can take small steps in the right direction – try to incorporate more of your style into the position you’re working to increase happiness. My friend and ex-coworker Chris is a guest writer  for this blog. When we worked together he started a weekly email chain with funny clips and hilarious inter-office quotes. What started off as something goofy became this wonderful thing that everyone started to look forward to. He got to uplift the team, express his personality, feel valued, and become more embedded. All of that made working harder feel easier. If you’re are looking for a more concrete change: consider moving to another department or saving up to take time off for a serious job search. Vocational counselors use different methods to help you find and secure a job that’s better suited for your skills and interests. Many community centers have free vocational counseling and job training programs.

Stay sharp and fresh out there,

Websign Full Color

Advertisements

Comparison in the Social Media Age

Theodore Roosevelt believed that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

With this in mind – I unplugged from social media a few years ago.

In the beginning it was weird living without my timeline and a place to post all my happy photos and exciting news. But eventually it began to feel more organic. Phoning a friend with good news became less awkward. Arranging a dinner party through physical invites less tedious. I began to look forward to going over photos in person while laughing and telling the stories behind them. After a while I wondered why I previously posted photos in a frenzy as if I were releasing a CD be reviewed, admired, and critiqued.

This isn’t a rant about the evils of social media because we all know the ways in which it enhances our lives and increases inter-connectivity. Facebook makes it effortless to connect to far away friends and relatives and give them a glimpse into your life that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Social media can bring awareness to incredible causes like activism, charity, and education.

But, there can be a dark underbelly to the act of constantly polishing up our online lives for consumption and viewing the meticulously polished lives of others.

A few studies have been completed on the subject, one notable one by Jordan, Monin, Dweck, Lovett, John, & Gross in 2011. Their study found that heavy social media use can lead to symptoms of depression and inadequacy:

People tend to underestimate others’ negative emotions…  those afflicted with emotional difficulties may fail to recognize others’ internal struggles, which may compound feelings of loneliness and isolation.  – Jordan et al., 2011

Comparison happens. We ALL compare ourselves to others and it’s not always a bad thing! I compare my actions to those I admire or deeply respect. I ask: I am being as inclusive and kind to others as my personal idols? Am I being open and curious or am I closing off because I’m afraid of the unknown? Holding yourself to a standard that you truly believe in is a good thing. But comparing things like looks, lifestyle, career, and money can lead to depression and anxiety.

photo-1415035008535-7ecdfd6d45b8

Below is an excerpt from Alice Walton’s article about Facebook and Depression :

“You should feel good after using Facebook . . .However, the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”

For me, the constant status updates, tweets, and throwin’ photos on “the gram” felt a little forced. By only uploading my bright happy smiles I ignored the valuable lessons attached to the tears cried along the way.

I’ve learned so much from those less glamorous, quiet moments that aren’t captured on the “highlight reels”. And I’ve accepted the fact that I am not grandiose. I don’t value fame and fortune above all else and I am not overly concerned with status. I still cry at sad movies and hold the utmost respect for my parents. I like things that are deemed too pedestrian in a culture that’s more obsessed with shock value and entertainment than actual substance and kindness. I am plain and unimpressive at times and don’t need to constantly buzz, sparkle, rebuild, attract, network, consume, and react. Often times, I simply enjoy just BEING.

BEING (instead of showing, watching and obsessing) was easier to do sans social media, for me. But quitting isn’t necessary if you don’t want to. Here are some tips I suggest for social media users who desire happier more fulfilling interactions:

1) Commit to being CONSCIOUS of how and when you use social media.
Are you building others up? Are you encouraging and connecting with loved ones? Or are you being your worst critic and lamenting over perfect photos of people who really may not matter? Do you only run to social media when you’re feeling down in the dumps? If yes – do know that logging on and comparing yourself to others is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse? Being conscious means using social media and interacting with intent.

2) Create and enjoy content that’s REAL and true to you!
Are you allowing your self esteem to be measured in clicks and likes – or are you creating and sharing content that truly enriches people’s lives? Are you being respectful of your morals and ideals while online? Better yet – are you being respectful of others? Making content that’s true to yourself and not solely designed to garner attention is a surefire way to feel good about yourself. People feel better when they are authentic. Bonus: authentic people are received better by others as well! So be yourself, always.

3) Limit your usage when dealing with a depressive episode. 
If you’re having a depressive episode – consider steering away from social media until you feel more stable and positive. Viewing photos of your friends having the time of their lives while you feel down in the dumps is not going to cheer you up. Even if those photos are carefully crafted, curated, and/or photoshopped. Instead of passively consuming media during these episodes – I suggest engaging mindfully in your favorite healthy hobby or activity. Do something you know will improve your mood. Talk to someone about your feelings and get it all out. Then unwind and watch your favorite show, learn a new recipe, go for a quick jog.

Conscious usage of social media is something we could all engage in to create a happier (online) world!

Websign Full Color

 

Additional reading: I suggest reading Essena O’Neill’s story about quitting social media after being an “instagram celebrity”.

Introducing Guest Writer: Chris Haney

Today I’d like to feature a guest writer and close friend: Chris Haney. We have a running joke that we’re in each other’s karass (“soul tribe”), which is defined as a set of kindred spirits meant to inspire and motivate each other to reach the next level. In addition to being a fantastic friend he’s also a music enthusiast, cat expert, and all around lifter-of-spirits. He reigns as the resident Tupac and Eminem scholar, too. Chris remains one of the things I miss most in Texas! Believe me, you’ll see plenty more of him featured on the happier world blog in the coming weeks.

Hello,

My name is Christopher Haney, I am 30 years old – and I am just getting started. Well that was a weird way to start right? A proclamation? Maybe. This comes from an exercise that Rob Bell presented about a 92 year old woman he met who said this to him upon their first time meeting. What an idea. You likely won’t see any breaking news on these individuals. Some lurk in the shadows and some are probably in your face every day. Honoring an intentional existence that happiness is a choice in this shitty world. They invest in their mind, attitude, and approach. They are conscious. They know that the reward of happiness and joy is worth filtering out the negativity blanket that is constantly trying to wrap itself around you every day. Why do they know you ask? Because the deeper the trench – the HIGHER the peak. If you’re like me you’ve been on your own journey trying to find the right formula. You have a unique story and I have mine. Share your story with the people that deserve to hear it. I imagine that if you’ve found your way to this page it’s not because you clicked a spam button, but made an INTENTIONAL choice. There is a kindling beneath your heart and mind awaiting to be lit. Let’s set it on fire. Let’s invest in the movement.

I look forward to seeing Tiffanie’s mission develop this year and cannot wait to contribute in any way possible. Why? Because it matters.

-Haney Strong

“It is not only possible that you have your dream – but its necessary.” -Les Brown

January 2016 Quote of the Month

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 

-AnaÏs Nin


This quote absolutely has special meaning to me, and seemed perfect as we kick off a new year!

Staying in the bud may seem safe – but the cocoon is only a small part of metamorphosis. In your cocoon you may feel safe, secure, comfortable. You’ve surrounded yourself with a shell or an armor that keeps you from being disturbed. But while the cocoon is vital for growth, eventually you have to break out and try your brand new wings. You have to show yourself that you’re no longer the awkward caterpillar and that you have grown!

Have the courage to try new things. Have the guts to define and chase your dreams. 

 

5526aac5c8026b4123b8852d7d205513

Don’t stay cramped up in the cocoon! (Photo: HRB.org)

I encourage you all to blossom this year!

 

Websign Full Color

What is “Mental Health”? Why is it Important?

Your mental health is your psychological, emotional, and social well being. It’s affected by many factors including your past experiences (particularly abuse or trauma), your biology (genetics and brain chemistry), and your current environment. Your mental health can be affected by where and how you grew up, your current physical state (certain illnesses affect your emotional state), and the structures and chemicals in your brain.

Your mental health is the lens through which you interact with the world. It affects how you react to new situations, how you work with other people, and what you think of yourself daily. Your mental health affects how you perceive and react to stimuli like stress, joy, pressure, and romantic attachment. It’s super important – yet there is a lack of accurate information available on mental health illness.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a guide called “Mental Health Myths and Facts” to help combat the many misconceptions surrounding the ideas of mental health.

They share,

Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.

Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common. In 2014, about:

  • One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression

 

That information might surprise you, but doesn’t surprise me. In my years of working with a wide range of people I’ve met many wonderful and resilient souls who’ve battled severe depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other illnesses. There shouldn’t be a cloud of shame hanging over anyone who is experiencing a mental health issue. In addition, it’s important to know your current mental state may not be long term or permanent.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines:

Myth: There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover.

Fact: Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.

Again: your mental health is the lens through which you see the world. The world is colored with many shades – the highs of love, security, and interconnectedness balanced with the lows of sadness, grief, and failure. The good and the bad make up the human experience – but can appear distorted without a healthy lens.

Cheers to a happier world and healthier lens to view it,

Websign Full Color

2016: A New Adventure

In 2015 I decided to stop playing small.

For the first time in a long time I took a huge life shifting risk.

I moved back to my hometown to finish my Bachelor’s in a field I’m truly passionate about and decided to commit to getting my master’s degree as well.

It’s surreal. Leaving the safe “could have made 6 figures eventually” and “everyone loved me” type of set up at my old job. I really enjoyed my job and was good at it! More importantly, I loved the incredible people I was privileged to work with. And I left this for what, you ask? Well, to move to a troubled city, return to my loving but demanding family, and see friends I felt I no longer knew.

I had a life that was comfortable before this. A good job, great friends, dinner parities and people to celebrate achievements with. I had memories of familiar places and a lot of firsts. But I hit a plateau. I couldn’t move forward in the way that meant most to me. So I took the time to unplug, analyze, trust my gut and plan a huge change.

I decided I needed to finish my degree and complete graduate school for the purpose to working in my chosen field. Not for looks or brags – but to truly do the work I dreamed of.

My move in summer 2015 back to Baltimore was a rough transition. Bright sunny Texas was replaced with less lush streets laden with potholes and litter. Switching majors pushed me further away from graduation. And even though I was earning A’s in every class (for the first time ever!)… I was a 27 year old returning student who was studying alongside teenagers; kids who never worked and knew little about their surrounding world. Returning to school full time after working, paying my own bills, and living alone was… well, quite humbling.

I felt old. I felt insecure. I felt invisible and I was hard on myself because I knew these negative perceptions clouded to great opportunity I chased in moving back. During this time – my personal growth was evident. Upon the first week of moving back I found out my arranged job opportunity had fizzled. So I did what any responsible adult would do: waited until the last possible minute to stalk indeed.com and craigslist at 2am. There I found a few “This is my DREAM but don’t have the credentials” type jobs… but went for them anyway.

In September I started working during school as a PRP (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program) Counselor for a local agency in Baltimore City. I love my work. I’ve been the “go to” girl for life advice for years and have encouraged and coached friends, relatives, partners, co-workers, the list goes on. I took immense joy in mentoring for Big Brother Big Sister and always stayed up on research in psychology and public policy. However this was my first experience counseling in a professional 1-on-1 setting. Heart wrenching stories of failures and triumphs provided context to the people and communities that once depressed me. I started to realize Baltimore wasn’t a city of failures- but really a collection of survivors. Tough, gritty, real life survivors. I learned to face the things I ran from;  the crime rate, drug use, poverty alongside my clients. Things I left behind for the sunnier side of life in Texas. And I am loving every minute of it.

I got a great start on 2016 by beginning the process of working toward my dream in 2015. Who knows what’s in store for the rest of this year but I know I’m ready to grab every opportunity with confidence and grace.

Cheers to a happier world for both you and me!

Websign Full Color