Saturday, October 30, 2021

On Burnout

Dr. Alok Kanojia is a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction treatment. His videos are fantastic for some everyday issues as well, like this one on burnout. The most impactful line from this video is that burnout tends to happen when, "people who want to do a good job are placed in situations in which doing a good job is very, very difficult." It's not because you're lazy or a bad fit with your career, but that your workplace isn't acknowledging their part in making a job unnecessarily difficult. And it tends to happen more to people who actually care about what they're doing, not people who are just putting in hours. He says,

"One of the biggest scams that's currently being perpetrated against people about burnout and mental wellness . . . that's subtle and society wide . . . people are placing the responsibility for burnout on the individual. . . . . Burnout affects the individual . . . so there's a subtle scam going on that once you label it as an individual problem . . . then you work on it as an individuals. It's a catastrophic shift of responsibility from the workplace to the individual."

He explains how this same thing happened with addiction forty years ago with a mistake that was either a sign of very real ignorance or an avoidance of a systemic responsibility: "The opioid crisis in the United States is not there because of a failing of millions of individuals, but was created by doctors overprescribing opioids from an industry that says, 'Everything is great and you should use this'." Similarly, when people report burnout,

"HR folks don't know any better, so they give access to a meditation app or send emails. But the burden of responsibility is on the individual, so the industry is getting a pass. . . . The truth about burnout as [Dr. Christine] Maslach determined -- not empathic, loss of motivation, have difficulty doing things -- is it has a fundamental root in workplace things and interactions. . . . But when we start diagnosing people with burnout, we're still shifting blame to the individual as opposed to the workplace." 

Wellness doesn't come from an app or email, but has to be more systemic. Meditation apps are on the rise and are far more accessible than ever, but we're seeing an increase of burnout. The problem is that all those solutions aren't targeting the root of the problem.

It's often not the number of hours that's the problem, but the kind of work. He gives an analogy of burnout in doctors who are fine working 60 hours/week with patients, but get irritated with the 10 hours/week they have to argue with insurance companies or have to write notes for people. A true wellness solution is to hire a scribe to do those jobs, which then frees up the doctor for treating more patients while decreasing the level of burnout in the field from tasks that are a bad fit for their skillset.

For educators, the additional workload is around getting kids to keep their masks on, to tolerate an open window because our ventilation is so bad, and with coping with a double mask so we can hide a respirator beneath our legislated mask, all under a schedule that makes for long days and disjointed classes that happen on alternating weeks for absolutely no reason since our students in the morning cohorts mix thoroughly with very different cohorts in the afternoon classes. It's hard to follow rules that make no sense.  But beyond all the Covid issues, the big thing they could take off our plates is chasing kids who don't come or who do no work. This used to be admin's job, but it got bounced back to teachers. 

Instead of emails with smiley faces and funny videos, we need administrators that will back up teachers when students are negligent and a government that put a priority on ventilation two summers ago. The biggest impact they might have right now is to allow people to work from home during their prep time. It happens in many other countries where teachers aren't policed when not in class. Currently we have to sit in the building for three hours per day, every other week, in case we're needed for an on-call, even on days with a supervision (so an on-call isn't possible), and for online staff meetings. 

Dr. Kanojia says, "as long as this is going on, we can have as many meditation apps as we want . . .  Until employers start to accept responsibility . . . this problem is going to continue to get worse." 

Here's Maslach's Burnout Inventory for educators (MBI-ES) from here. Flip the scale for questions number 4, 7, 9, 15-17, and 19 for a total possible burnout score from 0-132. And then we have to get more vocal about the toll this is taking on our profession.


ETA: We just had a staff meeting. No announcement about teachers working from home (LOL), and we're reminded to be in the building for the 2-hour meeting that happens after the end of the official school day. One full hour was all about the fun activities happening in the school and all the wellness initiatives coming our way. Then the second half was about making sure every minute of prep time is spent on school work. Don't go on social media at all during prep, AND don't go on social media even at lunch using the school's wifi - it's a misuse of school resources!  So, be positive and fun and artificially enthusiastic while we watch your every move, and no more funny videos to keep you from jumping off the flippin' roof!

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