Archive for Employee Wellbeing Month

Mental Health and the Reasons for Burnout

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , , , on May 10, 2022 by telescoper

It is now European Health Week as well as “Employee Wellbeing Month” here at Maynooth University. I’m reminded that ten years ago that I was heading for a breakdown and a subsequent spell in a psychiatric institution so I always try to use this opportunity to encourage friends colleagues and students to do what I didn’t back then, and ask for help sooner rather than later.

Today my colleague from, and former Head of, the Psychology Department at Maynooth shared a piece on twitter that provided me with a new theme, burnout, which is usually described in these terms:

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

I’d be surprised if any of my friends and colleagues in the University have not felt at least some of the signs of burnout at some point over the last two years during the which the pandemic drastically exacerbated existing conditions of overwork. I know there’s a tendency among staff to blame themselves for struggling and I know that there’s a even stronger tendency for Management to want staff to blame themselves: “you need to be more resilient” is the catchphrase.

As a counter to this attitude I suggest you read this piece which explains that burnout is not the fault of employees but of the environment created by management. In particular, here are the five main causes of burnout:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

Do any of these look familiar to you? They certainly do to me! I would add a sixth: “6. management determination to make 1-5 even worse in future”. Academic staff on proper contracts are much more expensive than low-paid temporary lecturers on insecure contracts. If you care more about making a profit than providing a quality third level education, why not let the former burn out and replace them with the latter?

My biggest fear is that having seen the lengths to which staff have been prepared to go voluntarily to keep things going during the pandemic, all that has been achieved is to establish in the minds of Management an expectation that this is the way things will be for the indefinite future.

It’s not so bad for me. I’ll be 60 next year and I can see the prospect of retirement on the horizon, but I do worry about what this means for the careers of younger staff.

The Wellness of Being

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , , on April 14, 2022 by telescoper

So we’ve arrived at the Easter weekend. No work tomorrow, Good Friday, or on Easter Monday. I’ve put my out-of-office autoreply on and I’m taking a break from work for four days in an attempt to recharge the batteries before the examination and marking season. I only have two papers to correct this year, but because my Computational Physics class larger than it has been for a few years so I have quite a lot of projects to assess too. The deadline for those is in May, as are the examinations.

Today while finishing off a few things before the break – including the last Computational Physics lab test – I noticed an email from Human Resources, announcing that May 2022 is “Employee Wellbeing Month”. Among other delights we are promised a “wide range of wellbeing workshops that will run throughout May” which most of us teaching staff will be far too busy to attend.

And don’t get me started on making us come in for an Open Day on the May Bank Holiday weekend…

I wonder if there’s any empirical evidence at all that wellbeing workshops and whatnot do anything at all to alleviate work-related stress? I suspect not. It seems to me that they’re just a way of telling academic staff that they’d better get used to it because no attempt will ever be made to deal with the real causes of burnout: lack of resources, staff shortages, ever-increasing workloads, and the suffocating influence of remote and unsympathetic management.

This week though I learnt a far better way to experience feelings of wellbeing. Yesterday evening, for the first time in ages, I went to a pub for drinks with some current and former postgrads and colleagues (and partners thereof) from the Department of Theoretical Physics. Unlike, for example, Cardiff (where visits to the pubs with colleagues were a regular occurrence for me) I hadn’t really socialised with folks from Maynooth University even before the lockdown put paid to the possibility entirely. Last night was actually an initiative by some of our PhD students, and I’m very grateful to them for organizing it!

I’d been to the pub – McMahon‘s on Main Street – a few times before so when invited to go along it seemed like having a couple of pints there might be a good way of trying to shake off the agoraphobia. The evening turned out to be ideal for that purpose – the pub had enough people in it to have atmosphere but not so many that it was heaving. I went with the intention of staying an hour or two, but ending up leaving at midnight.

I hope this sort of thing becomes a regular feature from now on. Going to the pub with some friends now and then is far more likely to improve my state of mind than any number of wellness seminars. Although slightly hungover this morning I was in a very good mood, at least until my computer decided to embark on a Windows Update that took over an hour to complete…