Written by Melissa Summer. 1 min read.
In this episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, we’re joined by Dr. Christina Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), professor of psychology emerita and a core researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the new book The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs.
When it comes to the workplace, some occupations have a higher rate of burnout than others. In addition, the pandemic has added new stress and a litany of changes to people’s lives, as well as a lot of changes. Unfortunately, burnout still holds a lot of stigma when people believe there could be negative consequences to admitting that you’re actually burned out. And that often means employees, instead of getting the help they need to mitigate the problem, end up disengaged and leaving their jobs.
Dr. Maslach knows all about these issues, and in this episode of the podcast she shares the biggest hurdles that individuals and companies face when it comes to reducing workplace burnout.
Listen to this episode to learn:
- What we get wrong about burnout
- The relationship between personality and burnout
- Tips for employees who are feeling burned out
- The impact of remote and hybrid working on burnout and more.
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Intro: Welcome to The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, where we bring together thought leaders, psychologists, and personality experts from around the world to talk about work life, home life, and how to get the best from life.
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Melissa Summer (MS): According to the World Health Organization, burnout is defined as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It’s characterized by three dimensions.
First, feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. Second, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job. And third, reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to the phenomena in occupational contexts and shouldn’t be applied to describe experiences in another’s life.
So while you may have heard the term burnout being used loosely to describe something like parenting or caretaker burnout, what we’re going to talk about today is specifically workplace definition burnout. And when it comes to the workplace, some occupations have higher rates of burnout than others. And the pandemic has added new stress to people’s lives, as well as a lot of changes.
And unfortunately, burnout still holds a stigma when people believe there could be negative consequences to admitting that they’re actually burned out. To learn more about burnout, today we’re talking with our guest, Dr. Christina Maslach, whose latest book talks about just that. She’s a professor of psychology emerita and a core researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Maslach pioneered research on the definition, predictors, and measurement of job burnout. She’s received her bachelor’s from Harvard and her Ph.D. from Stanford. Her research measure, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, or MBI, was used in much of the 40 years of research that the World Health Organization, also known as WHO, considered for their 2019 decision to include burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
She’s written numerous articles and books, including the new book, The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs. Welcome, Dr. Maslach.
Dr. Christina Maslach (CM): Well, thank you for having me. I’m pleased to be here and talking about a topic that I think – I hope – I know a lot about.
MS: I’m excited. I’m pretty sure you know a lot more about it than most people – probably most of our listeners do. So earlier I shared the definition that the World Health Organization has for burnout. But what else is there to that definition? What do we get wrong about burnout?
CM: That’s an interesting question because, in fact, I think for most people what they get wrong is they just focus on the individual person and assume, “Oh poor baby, you’re burned out. What’s wrong with you and how come you can’t handle it? What do we do to take care of you, make you better, get more resilient?” All that kind of thing.
And what we’re doing is – in a sense – neglecting the environment, and the situation in which people are working. We’re blaming the person, but we’re not looking at the job. And the World Health Organization makes it pretty clear it’s a response – an individual response – to chronic job stressors that have not been successfully managed.
So we should be spending as much time, if not more, looking at what are the chronic job stressors? How could we manage them more successfully? How could the individual manage them? But also, how could the manager, the unit, the entire workplace, the professional organization? What could be done to create better environments for people to do their job and to thrive rather than get beaten down into burnout? So the message really of our book, The Burnout Challenge, is just that – in some sense saying let’s look at the job, but not forget the person.
What we really want to focus on is the match between the person and the job. It’s both. It’s not either or. So to get it right, we need to add more to it and look at what are the nature of the chronic job stressors and how does this give us insights into how we can rethink [or] design the work so that people and the workplace are more in harmony with each other.
MS: Speaking of the workplace and people, I know there’s a lot of things that have changed over the years, especially technology, globalization – lots of things have changed in the workplace. Have you found in your experience or your research that workplace burnout is becoming more or less common, or has it kind of stayed the same over the years?
CM: It’s hard to tell exactly, because you really need good broad, you know, thousands and thousands of people, like epidemiologists do too, to really show that. I think what we are seeing now is burnout. First of all, burnout has been around actually as a term for a long time.
I mean, there’s been 40 years of research, but it was being used before that. People were talking about burnout shops when Silicon Valley was just beginning. There’s a book, A Burnt-Out Case, that came out back in the sixties. Burnout is a term that’s common in engineering. And so you’re seeing this when people talk about stress, you’re talking about burnout.
Also it comes from sort of the engineering language. It really predates the research. So it captures something in terms of the vision and the imagery of that. But it’s, as you mentioned earlier, there’s a stigma that has been attached to it by people thinking, “This is a bad thing. I don’t want people to know I’m feeling this way” and that sort of thing.
There’s this interesting situation where we don’t always know how much may be happening because people don’t want to talk about it. Or they’ll say things like, “Oh, no no, I’m fine.” Not realizing that there are a lot of people saying, “Oh, no I’m fine.” And actually, it’s “Oh my God, I’m the only one who’s not fine because everybody says they’re fine and I’m not really feeling [fine].”
There’s this pluralistic ignorance that we have difficulty with. But at some level, it is part of what is a normal response to stressors. Thank God human beings do have a response to stressors so that if you are in danger or there’s some threat or something like that, you know to run, you know to fight back, you know to change course. And that makes changes in your body and how you’re functioning and so forth.
One of the things that’s important about job burnout that we haven’t acknowledged as much recently is that these are, like the World Health Organization said, chronic job stressors. That means high frequency. They’re there all the time. They’re not like occasional crises, a big emergency. This is everyday pebbles-in-your-shoe-dragging-you-down kind of thing.
And so that I think we’ve begun to understand and that it’s not a disease, it’s not an illness. People say, “Oh, burnout should be like depression. We should have a number for it. And it should be diagnosed as a psychiatric disease.” Psychiatrists say it’s a normal stress response, but again, it’s the situation. These chronic job stressors that are just coming at you all the time and you can’t help it or you can’t manage it well or other people can’t.
And we need to focus on how do we make that better match so that the stress response happens appropriately when there’s a big stress thing to deal with, but you have a chance to recover and get better and start over again and, that kind of thing. So the optimistic note is it could be better managed. There are those chronic job stressors, but you don’t just have to just put up and shut up and take it. There’s a sense in which no, we could come up with a better idea.
And so what has happened over the years, like when you have more technology, it begins to change the workplace. And sometimes that makes it a better fit and a better match between people in the job. Other times there are negative consequences: “Oh my gosh, I have to stay up and take calls and orders from people across the world in the middle of the night. And that’s not what I like doing” or that kind of thing.
It’s kind of a long answer to your question on that – that I think people are more aware of it now. They certainly talk about it more. But there is still a stigma. It’s not like, when people say, “Oh, I’m so burned out by this job,” they’re often willing to say, “It’s because I’m working so hard and so long and I’m so exhausted.” That’s the stress response.
But the other parts of burnout are those other two things: getting that cynical, hostile “take this job and shove it” attitude about the workplace and beginning to feel “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I handle it? Why can’t I take it?” So it’s negative to my effectiveness, professionally, I’m beginning to question.
And so if you leave out those two parts, you’re not really getting at the full burnout syndrome. You’re just talking about the stress response. As I said, that is not a new thing. That’s a very old, kind of basic part of the human condition. But to have it be not only are you exhausted, but you’re beginning to hate the job and you’re really beginning to despair about yourself and how good I am. That’s the full burnout experience.
MS: When it comes to personality, whether it’s personality type like Myers-Briggs or other measures – I know you have your own measure for burnout specifically – but do you know if personality type has anything to do with burnout? Or are some types more likely to be burned out than others?
CM: Yeah, it’s an interesting question, and the research that’s been done on it usually comes up with an answer of, “Well, you know, people who are more at risk for having problems and not being able to cope well and different personality – not the MBTI so much as others like the Big Five or something like that.”
So someone who’s more prone to get upset, depressed, can’t handle things: are they more at risk for burnout? Yeah, maybe. But in general, there aren’t these big sweeping results like, “It is this type or these particular kinds of things that make you more at risk for burnout.” So it depends, again, on that match between the job and the person.
For example, if people are Introverts, are they more at risk for burnout? Are Extraverts more at risk for burnout? Well, the answer tends to be: it depends. I mean, if an Introvert is working in a kind of environment – a kind of job that has more quiet time, more time to think and focus, and do a lot kind of thing, they may feel fine. They’re not going to burn out. Put them in a different job situation. Oh, God, yes. They’re going to have problems. And ditto for Extraverts.
I mean, if you have to say “it depends,” then in a sense, you’re saying there’s other things besides just a particular individual difference or a particular set of preferences. But a set of preferences which allows the notion of how you might handle different things can kind of give us insight into what makes you better able to cope effectively or manage the stressors effectively. It could give us some help, but it’s not like a one size [fits all]: “This one is not so good. This one is really great.” What I would prefer is to expand it beyond the individual difference of personality and incorporate more looking at what are the other things about a person’s life and life choices that may be important.
For example, it’s hard to make a statement like and people often ask, “Are women or men more likely to be burned out?” Well, again, it depends. And often people say, “Oh, more women [are burned out] here in this particular sample.” Well, if you track it back, often, it’s women are more likely to be taking care of young children than men.
So they are balancing different kind of things in their job. And whether their job gives them the flexibility for childcare, for picking up – I mean, jobs don’t often end when school does – and these kinds of things. So there could be things about and not just your age and your gender, but what kind of life do you have outside of work? How does that fit or connect with what you’re doing?
If you’re having a huge commute, that’s a different thing than if you can just bike to your job or you can do it at home. So what we find often is that there are there can be a lot of important individual factors that may play out differently for some people than others.
But the basic point, I think, is the match between people and the job. And the better fit you have – not that it has to be perfect – but the better match, the sense of it helps you thrive, it helps you do good things – you’re going to be in better shape regardless of all of these other kinds of things.
That flexibility, that ability to change, to adapt, the job begins to change. How do you change? What we talk about in the book is that we’ve identified at least six major areas where matches make a huge difference. And what we’re looking at on the person’s job match side is things that have to do with basic psychological, social needs that all of us have to live a good, healthy life.
And it can be true for your home life, your community life, but it’s true for work life too. And so it has to do with: is there good matches in workload, in how much control you have over the job you’re doing, the kind of reward and recognition you get for doing something well, what that workplace community is like in terms of support or throwing people under the bus and incivility.
Or what about fairness? How are people being treated? Are they being treated fairly? And what are the values? I mean, am I doing something that I’m proud of and feel good about? So all of those areas potentially can have really bad mismatches that create what we sort of think of as “the burnout shop.” And again, those mismatches can be better managed so that they get to be a better match. And it just sort of helps people feel good about the job, feel good about what they’re doing, have the motivation and the incentive to keep at it, and do their very best and bring their best selves to the work.
So basically, what we are trying to do is get people to understand what it means about the situation, that environment, the chronic job stressors. But how do you manage it to make it a better match for the people who are in that particular place?
MS: You mentioned previously that it’s not just on the individual when it comes to burnout. It’s really the individual; it’s also the manager; it’s also the organization and the workload. And we know that because of the pandemic, a lot of people’s work has changed. A lot of how people are managed has changed. A lot of where they come into work has changed.
I’m just curious: does burnout look different for in-office workers versus remote workers or hybrid workers? Or really, what things have you seen, given the pandemic and kind of the shift to more remote and hybrid working?
CM: Right. Well first, let me say that in general, it didn’t affect people across the board in the same way. There were some real major, major differences. For example, healthcare got hit badly. And people were just saying, “I’ve never been so burned out in my life and I’ve been in medicine for 25 years.”
And these are part of the first responders who I think – beyond medicine as well – who had to be there, had to deal with all kinds of other issues in healthcare with the patients, with the COVID problem, then worry about bringing it home to themselves. All of those things. But police, other first responders, they have the same kind of issues.
Then we had other people who got essentially thrown into the deep end of the pool, meaning that without warning and without prior preparation or training or design, they suddenly could not work the way they had worked. And I think schoolteachers are probably the prime example of that kind of thing. Suddenly you couldn’t teach the way you knew how to teach.
You couldn’t be in the classroom, you had to do it remotely. And that has a whole set of problems in terms of whether or not students can get to you, and being supervised by parents or whether they have access, and whether they respond to that. I mean all of these kind of problems. We are seeing, I think, huge problems in terms of what they went through.
For other people – more office workers in general, but not always – had an, “Oh, my gosh, we’re going to have to do this differently. You can’t come in.” It turns out that the office arrangement, especially for those big open offices where everybody has desks all piled up next to each other is very bad when you have a virus like COVID. There was a big shift among a lot of more white collar, office, tech, all kinds of things to working remotely – which is a different kind of remote than the schoolteacher. That’s why I wanted to call that out as something different.
But working remotely, sometimes that worked well for people; sometimes it was awful. It depended a lot on what your remote home – or wherever you were doing this – was set up, and how good it was. You had to provide your own equipment, your own chair, your own whatever those kind of things are. It was clearly difficult for people who had young kids or who I think there were some important income issues in being able to do this. But what happened, I think, is that overall – but certainly for people working remotely – the big thing that happened because of the pandemic is that people realized work could be done in a different way.
Before that, I think the mantra was always, the job is what it is. You just have to put up with it. You have to be here. You have to do it. You know, it’s up to you if there’s a mismatch, so to speak, to make up the gap. So it’s your problem. You have to figure out what to do. You have to be more resilient.
When the pandemic changed the world of work, suddenly we realized it could be done differently. It doesn’t have to be the way it is. And if it can be done differently, oh my gosh, why do I have to commute all the way to do the work that I can do at home just as well? What is the value of being in this other place?
And so what I think has happened for a lot of people in certain kinds of occupations is they are saying, “I’m looking for a better option. I don’t have to add the commute, which has costs. I don’t get paid for that and it takes up my time, and I can’t do things I want to do in that time. It’s just a waste.” So that’s probably the most obvious example.
But if we could do it differently, can’t we come up with a better way of figuring out what it is we’re trying to achieve and what do we need on this? Now, it’s not to say it’s not important for people to come to a place, but it has to be specified: Why? When? What do we do where we need people in their physical presence as well? And could we rethink the number of days or the kinds of activities, the kinds of things that we need rather than just working from home?
In some cases, people found that working from home, they could actually do better things remotely in terms of reaching people, talking to people, interviewing people that they needed to interview for their job and all that kind of thing. The remote work has both pluses and minuses, which is probably a truism for anything in life. There is the upside and the downside. But we should learn from this. At this point we should be thinking out of the box a little bit more about what would be better ways for doing X job, Y job, Z job.
And the answer is not always going to be the same. What you’re going to do for teachers is going to be different than what you do for tech workers, which is going to be different from meatpacking plants, which is going to be different for you know . . . So that’s why for us, thinking about what is the basis for trying to get at better matches on these core things that motivate us, that make us tick, that make us work well, be innovative and committed to our work.
We know it could be better. We know it could be better managed. How do we begin to think about it, and think about it in ways other than – or in addition to – “Well maybe people just need to take off work and leave early on Fridays and that’ll take care of it.” The answer is no. If they come back to the same old stressors, it’s going to keep going.
So this is really an opportunity. This is not the first time we’ve had to adapt the workplace to new challenges. Like you said, we didn’t have technology before and now we do and we didn’t have other things before, and now we do. We always have to adapt. It’s kind of like how do we continually kind of say, “Okay, given where we are now, what would be the best way to get these things done? How do we support people in that too?”
So that’s a long prelude to your question, but we don’t really have good data on if you’re working remotely or not, burnout rates are higher or lower. Again, it’s the big “depend” answer. Well, it depends. Some people are thriving working at home. It’s kind of like, “How cool is this?” And other people are saying, “Oh my God, this is not working!” And they have these other reasons. So how do we think of- where are the pain points?
I mean, is it an issue of workload? It might be for some, but for a lot of others, that’s not the main one. Even though people think of it first. It’ll be, “Working with these other people has just been socially toxic; being in the same room because of the incivility and the, you know, being nasty to each other and not helping and supporting each other. And, you know . . .”
And people are feeling great not to have to deal with that anymore. Or deal with it differently. So again, there’s no one best practice that if you simply do that, that’ll be the end of that kind of stress. It’s more complex. It has, as I said, at least these six basic areas.
But the good news about the six areas is there are six areas where you could have real problems that could be a risk, that could increase the risk for having burnout and make it less likely you’re highly engaged with a job. But you pivot on each of those six areas and find the ones that are most relevant and say, “We could move in a more positive direction.”
And it’s not just one thing, like workload. Oh, my gosh. It could be about the recognition reward. Oh, my gosh. It could be about the fairness. This is where discrimination – this is where glass ceilings live – when people feel they’re not being given the opportunity, that ought to come their way. And so it offers six paths to begin, to sort of say, “How could we begin to improve things here so that people will really love being here and feel good about it and work hard and do their best? And we’re going to take great care of them and support what they’re doing – create the environment that really, you know, makes that possible.”
MS: It’s interesting with that, when you’re talking about the remote work hybrid and some people really enjoying it and some people really missing being in the office. The Myers-Briggs Company recently put out research and the overarching message from it is for organizations, we found that the worst thing people can do – the worst thing organizations can do is put out a blanket back-to-office work policy.
But what we’re finding is that there’s a lot of managers who, that’s what they prefer. And so they want to see everyone in the office. And like you said, people who are more comfortable working at home, they’re finding it’s less stressful for people who don’t want to go back. And a lot of times, organizations are just leaving it up to the manager’s discretion, where everything we found in research is that that’s one of the worst things that you could do. But really just ask your employees.
CM: Exactly. I think you’ve raised a number of good points there. One is that any blanket thing usually isn’t a good idea because it ignores the fact that not everybody does the same job and people are in different situations. I mean, you have people out on the road doing sales. You have other people doing tech. You have other people who are . . .
Again, one size does not fit all. But the other thing is and I think people are beginning to ask more about that: what is the purpose of being in the office or being together? It’s not about whether I feel like it or you feel like it. Because we might end up saying, “Okay, I’ll come in one day.” If you’ve got to come in at least one day, well, I might come in on Tuesday. You’d come in on Wednesday. I’d go in, nobody’s going to be there. And then what’s the point?
The preference is kind of like, when do we need to actually benefit from the physical presence and the back and forth that is better than – or can’t be done by – Zoom or some other remote kind of thing? Make it so it’s a plan: “So okay, Thursday is the day where we’re going to have some team meetings and break up into different groups and give feedback. And we need something more.” I’m sort of making this up, but “Here’s the reason to be there.” And then make a plan so that everybody shows up or everybody’s ready to go do this kind of work at that time.
Or maybe you have it, not everybody. You have it like different teams or different units or different partnerships or whatever it is. But begin to be creative about this and say, “What is the benefit of the fact that we are working and talking and seeing and interacting with other people that are in our company, and how can we promote that? And when is it- and just show up, so I can see you.”
And managers, I think, can be a critical pivot point here. Some people are saying, “Well, managers are worried about losing their job because if they don’t manage people who are there, I mean, they want to see them and talk to them and all that kind of thing.”
But they, more than a lot of other people, can help manage those chronic stressors there. They can talk to people. They can talk to the upper management. They can [say], “Here’s the problem that is driving people crazy about this particular process that we’ve designed for dealing with customers.” They could play a really important, pivotal role in helping to make the matches better by identifying what are the pain points, where are the problem areas, and then really working with people to say, “Okay, let’s come up with five, ten different possibilities. Let’s figure out pros and cons. Let’s- what would we do so that we’re sort of all on the same page and understand how we get this done in a better way that’s not driving us crazy.”
But there’s still, I think, the sense of managing, which is looking at the individual and how are they coping? Are they taking care of themselves? They don’t have what it takes and all of that kind of thing. So it’s still this very fixed world view or mind view about people doing work. And we still focus on the individual in many, many ways rather than realizing, yes, there’s an individual in a context, in a situation, and the situations could be different, even with people working in the same job.
So how do you get the best return on the investment that you’re making in the people you hire? And what are the kinds of things that could be flexible and give people a little bit more choice. Like coming in, working early and then being able to leave when school ends so they can actually pick up their child. Or wanting some time off, wanting to do a different set of days or different kind of things so that they have a chance to visit their elderly parents or something.
And given that technology can help sometimes enable us to do that, we can be visiting our parents and still check in for a Zoom meeting or get the thing done and sent off, depending on what it is. Teaching a child, working with a sick patient, that’s a different ballgame. And you have to think of those really differently in terms of what the possibilities are.
MS: Well, you partially answered one of my next questions that I was going to ask, which is: what can managers do if they think their employees are burned out? And I’m realizing in this, as you’re saying it, that if part of it’s the employee and part of it’s the manager and part of it’s the organization, that a lot of it comes down to who has control over what.
CM: Yeah, because I was going to say one of the six areas is control. I can’t tell you how often people are saying, “I’m an engineer. I’ve been trained to deal with this stuff. And I can’t tell you how demoralizing it is to be told that now we’re going to do X instead of Y without any input from any of us about if that’s really the best way to handle this problem. Or have you thought about these other consequences. It’s kind of like we have no say, we have no input. And yet we’re the ones who have to do this work and presumably it’s because we’re good at doing this kind of work.”
It doesn’t mean you have total control. People tend to go to an extreme: “Oh, you mean people want to make all the decisions for their work?” No. It’s finding that middle ground, that better match. Where do you, in fact, profit from people having some discretion, some choice, some ability to course correct and do things a little differently? Maybe because it’s a different situation. Maybe that’s how they can innovate. And where do we have to say that the decision and the control lies in the CEO – this is the kind of thing that that decision, or the financial officer . . .
But what are other things in terms of the work to be done and what we want to see happen, where people have that that kind of notion that, “I’m coming in because I know how to do this, I’m able to practice that, or whatever. [For example] I’m in a restaurant because I’m a good cook. I can work really well with clients in a hotel or something like that.” But at least then trust that the people that you’ve hired are doing the job well. Let them know and give them some appropriate level of control over how they do their job.
When people talk about high workload, that usually means the demands are really high. And the resources, time, equipment, people is low. And you just can’t get it all done in time. What people often complain about more is uncontrollable workload – that they don’t have enough say, choice, control over what it is that they’re doing. And that double thing is not just the workload. It’s really almost the uncontrollable aspect of it. You don’t know when it’s coming, what’s going to hit you, you don’t have the resources you need, etc.
So I was saying some of those six areas people don’t always think about. They think of workload for sure. But it turns out, in many cases that’s not the big problem. And if you can find there’s issues around fairness, there’s issues about how people work together in a community, how can we improve that? And sometimes that fixes some of the other problems anyway because they’re better organized to handle the workload. Or we know that we can talk and work out a better way to approach it and have some choice over that.
MS: Yeah, speaking of solving problems in different ways, you had a great example in one talk about a river.
CM: Oh right, yes. Yeah because again, that speaks to that general theme of we just tend to always focus on the person, the people who might be experiencing burnout. And we’re not focusing on what are those chronic job stressor kind of things. Years ago, I was in Sweden and I was talking with a number of people there about what they were seeing as these major upticks in what they were thinking of as depression, but realizing it was burnout among people in healthcare and in the tech industry.
And so we talked, we looked at the results, we were talking about the data. And I was asking about the jobs that these people were coming from. In fact, people even approached me on the street because they recognized me from a newspaper article saying this person is here talking to people about burnout and saying, “We’re some of those people and this is why we don’t want to go back to that job.”
Anyway, so this Swedish colleague said, “This reminds me of a folk story we have” in which people are out hiking in the wilderness along a rushing river which comes into a huge waterfall. And they’re enjoying the scenery and the river. And then they notice that there are little children, little babies, who are floating down the river and about to go over the falls.
And they’re all like, “Oh my gosh, somebody is going to drown. They’re going to die. We’ve got to jump in. We’ve got to help them!” And then you see more of them coming and they’re saying, “Oh my gosh, there’s more children, there’s more little babies floating!” And people are calling other people to go in and grab these children and pull them out.
Finally, one of the people starts running upstream and people say, “Don’t go! Help us, help us!” And he said, “I’m going to go and find the bad guy who’s tossing them in!” So it’s kind of like, who are the bad guys that have made it possible for all these children to be tossed in, slide in, accidentally fall?
So again, it was an interesting kind of folk story he told because it really was saying, find out what’s causing the problem. Don’t always just say, “Oh my gosh, let’s help people who’ve had the outcome.” So there’s a cause. There’s an effect. And it’s not that you don’t deal with both, but if you’re only looking at the effect of burnout and saying, “Okay, how do we give them therapy? How do we give them resilience? How do we give them time off from work? How do we fire them and say nevermind, you can’t do this job?”
Upstream, what is happening to cause that problem? And they were seeing in Sweden these huge spikes, as I said. So yeah, thanks for reminding me about that. I mean, it’s a vivid vision of how that is and why you sometimes have to break set and really come at a problem in a different way.
And if you think about it, a much more minor but perhaps well-known example of that, is if you’re flying in an airplane and they say to check out the exit door and it may be behind you, the nearest exit door. As everybody’s looking forward, how do I go this way? And they’re saying it might be right back of you. So what’s that saying? Break set. Think of what else is going on. And if you were in an emergency, you might have a much safer way to get off the plane.
I’m hoping in some sense that the book that we’re doing is giving people another way to break set and say, how do we look for the people, the people who are making the problem or the organization rules that make the problem, or whatever it is that is making the problem – and not simply how do we help the people who have the effects of that problem? Not to not coping, but if you don’t prevent, then the coping is just going to keep going up and up. The job will change. They’ll say, “Yeah sorry, the job is what it is. It’s worse now. Okay. Yeah. Got to work a little harder. Sorry. That’s it.” And we could do it differently. The silver lining of the pandemic is: we can do the job differently. And how do we do it differently? There may be lots of possibilities.
MS: And I think too, what you’re saying about not putting all the responsibility on the people, that there’s finding the source of the problem. But the people’s stress that they’re exhibiting, stress response behaviors, is what we try and immediately fix first. And that that’s not the way to do it. But when we’re talking about people in general, we know there’s been this big turnover tsunami.
I’m doing air quotes: turnover tsunami, or the Great Resignation, from all of that and that the cost to replace employees. I think the last data I looked at, it was anywhere between 150 percent to up to 300 percent if you’re talking about executive level.
That doing something like making sure, going upriver, to use your example, and seeing where the source of the problem is coming, that it sounds like it would take more work and it might take some resources. But if you look at the alternative of replacing employees.
CM: Yeah, I think somebody was making that argument. They’ve made it before, but somebody was make that argument, for example, with regard to physicians, for example, and nurses and what it would cost to replace people. And what they’re often asking for is, can we fix things and change the job in ways that we can work smarter instead of working harder?
And that’s a sort of good way to do it. I mean, working smarter means we get rid of the stuff that takes up time, energy, is really not useful, is outdated, that there could be a better design for how you make this connection with these other experts, or whatever it happens to be.
I recently got an email from someone working in a hospital who was saying that [they experience] “More issues around burnout, more issues around the job being difficult and so forth. And yet all we get is self-care. ‘Take care of yourself.’” There’s a huge industry out there of all kinds of ways to take better care of yourself. And there’s some good things there. But it’s clear she was saying that’s not it. That’s not all there is. Clearly, we want to hear a different message and can you come talk to us.
Now, I can say I have a book. It’s coming. And hopefully what I know, what I’ve distilled there along with my coauthor Michael Leiter, will be valuable for people to kind of rethink what they could do so that, in fact, that goal of working smarter, working in a better way, working in a way where we thrive rather than just harder where we’re not getting anywhere and we’re feeling terrible and it’s kind of like this is not a life, this is not why I went into medicine. This is not why . . .
The collateral damage, if I can use that word, that that comes because of, “Oh my gosh, people just have to work harder” or in ways that are not as helpful, it can cost a lot.
MS: I know I am looking forward to reading your book, so I hope all of our listeners will be able to find it, get their hands on it. Because if our conversation is any indication, it sounds like it has some fantastic information for individuals, for people managers, for people who lead organizations.
But it also sounds like it’s very data driven. I know even just in this interview, you are not going just give answers that you think work, but you’re really focused on data. So I’m excited to read about that too, to read that in your book.
CM: I think it’s important to be able to feel confident in what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, what we’ve tracked and followed, and be able then to share it more widely and say, “This seem to be a good strategy. Here’s the problems with these other these kind of things. Here’s a better way to understand it. And actually, you could probably come up with other things that we haven’t thought about.”
What we’ve been able to get from the research is kind of the general principles. For example, the value of having really good relationships with the other people you work with – in the same room, remotely, your paths cross only occasionally, but you work together in some way.
What that will look like in a hospital setting, what that will look like in an office setting, what that will look like [is different]. I talked to somebody who is a screenwriter who always works from home. They all do. They never get together and see each other until they’re on strike. And so she was saying, “Okay, so how do we have more of a sense of community because it’s actually valuable?”
They came up with a whole different solution of how to do that, given their situation and given the terms of essentially how they do their work. It’s not like, “Okay, here’s something that worked over here. You have to go out and have dinner with your colleagues at a restaurant and the company pays for the bill and you have a chance just to talk and enjoy each other’s company. And then you’ll feel better about knowing each other.”
And some people will say, “Oh, great, we could do that.” And others will say, “I’m going home at that time to be with my family. This is not a good solution.” But you think of a different alternative. What would be another way to begin to build more trusting, positive, “we each have each other’s back” relationships because I know you better now?
There’s a principle there, but there’s many ways that would work. Bring one’s wisdom, but also creativity about if we could make this a little bit better, what are the pebbles in our shoe, the chronic job stressors? Some of them are little, but they are chronic and all the time.
Just being able to identify some of those and a better way of managing those is like saying, “You know what, if we could fix that, we could fix this other thing over here that also gets people complaining all the time and avoiding.”
So we’re hoping that the book will be able to pass on a lot of the information and the knowledge and the ideas in a way that people can adapt and create and find ways to [say] “What would that look like here for us or our team? Wouldn’t work for that clinic, but [what if] . . .” So we do have examples that we’ve picked up along the way just to illustrate some of those ideas.
MS: Well, I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much Professor Maslach, for your time and for being on this podcast. We really appreciate it.
Outro: Thanks for listening to The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast. If you liked what you heard today, please share it with others, post on social media, or leave a rating or review. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.
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