• October 22nd, 2019

Remembering when and how to fight


Lawrence Kamwi

I had a hectic schedule last week, the ultimate in helter-skelter. I was on my feet every working day. And you need to understand early on, that I was not acting on carefully drawn plans. I was haphazardly responding to the pressure of circumstances. As I approached midweek, I realized that I was going to woefully fall short of my targets.

 I still tried to contend with the deadlines that were yelling at me. Sadly, I had once more overlooked the tyranny of time. It is instructive that leadership coach John Maxwell has these sobering words on the subject: “time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have.”

In Mark Cole’s poetic words, “the things I hoped wouldn’t happen did happen – and occurred with greater frequency than the things I had hoped would happen.”

 My clearly disorderly and hurried week got me thinking about a much bigger problem – the cunning and insidious burnout, and its possible effects on the worker. The scientific and medical communities note that the failure to spot the onset of exhaustion (or overtiredness) has led psychologists to coin the term, Planning Fallacy.

In explaining their thinking, they argue that the 40-hour week is a myth. Further, they suggest that our tendency to imagine that we have more time than we actually have, may be a cause for the burnout that is silently affecting growing numbers of workers.

Burnout is defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. Some of the manifestations of the condition are a feeling that every day at work is bad; getting progressively overwhelmed by your responsibilities; growing impatient with colleagues, and ultimately seeking refuge in escapist behaviour like excessive drinking.

Overtiredness or fatigue is blamed for “everything from late midterm papers to billions of dollars of unexpected costs on airports, opera houses, and other development projects. It’s a serious issue, and one that we have to work through if we’re going to do good, focused, meaningful work.”

“For decades, psychologists have called this behaviour Planning Fallacy – our bias toward being overly optimistic when it comes to how much time is needed to complete a future task. In other words, we are notoriously bad at looking into the future and figuring out how long a task will take us. The average knowledge worker (someone who deals with information for a living, like a writer, developer, designer or manager) is only productive for 12, 5 hours a week. That’s roughly 2, 5 hours a day.”

Quite often, in a world that thrives on achievement, we are tempted to parry away warning signs of a burnout as minor distractions. But research suggests that repeatedly poor results at performance appraisals; unmet deadlines, and missed sales targets may just be the reality check that spells the difference between timely remedial action and complete ennui.
Sarah Tottle of Lancaster University says the ruinous effects of burnout “include possible long-term health risks and, due to its contagious nature, a toxic working environment of low morale, scape-goating, and increased office politics.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that risks may include “headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, muscle tension, hypertension, more susceptibility to colds and the flu, and sleep disturbances. In fact, burnout has been characterized as a diagnosable mental health disorder by the World Health Organization.”

The Guardian newspaper (of 21 February 2018) reported that burnout is worrying because “it encompasses a spectrum of experiences: at the extreme end there are people who entirely shut down and end up in hospital having physical investigations; at the other end is someone showing signs of anxiety, low mood and feeling detached from day-to-day life…the condition is described not as a single event but a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental and physical health.”

A psychoanalyst captures the dangers of burnout in the following manner: “it is a drip, drip, drip. Patients will say I didn’t know this was happening to me. It’s like a mission creep of sorts, where you find yourself working a bit later, taking calls on weekends, being less inclined to play with your children or feeling more isolated and irritable.”

 I find it interesting and obviously challenging that behaviour change expert Ron Friedman recommends the limited use of digital devices after hours: “for example, you can place your smartphone in a basket or drawer when you arrive home. This will prevent any temptation to pick it up and check your email or text messages.”

Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson adds that, “you may also want to consider implementing rules like turning your mobile devices off past 8 pm. Put away your phone. Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.”

Inherent in these suggestions – and this is my challenge - is a revaluation of workplace relationships. While seniors may successfully alter their ways, I am not sure that junior employees would find it easy to implement the recommended measures. Are they practical, can they ever be, for those jobs which do not have recognized working hours? The kind of employment we variously refer to as on-call, shift work, or irregular schedules?  

APA suggests that people should be given the opportunity to rest, recover and restore the balance to their work lives: “if they do not have that rest, their risk for burnout increases. This restoration period also allows for the development of new skills and the refinement of existing ones.”

 This view is supported by Sarah Tottle who notes that “emphasis on the employee has led to psychometrically profiling those that may be at risk of burnout due to their psychological make-up, rather than organizations taking responsibility and making systematic changes to reduce stress caused by structural level problems. This blame game is often unhelpful.”
Allow me to go straight to the point and offer this suggestion: “there are only twenty-four hours in the day. If the day is long, the night must be short.”


New Era Reporter
2019-03-29 10:33:05 | 6 months ago

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