In this episode of Remarkable People, Guy Kawasaki interviews Christina Maslach, an expert on burnout and a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley. They discuss Maslach's new book on managing people's relationships with their jobs and reflect on the lessons learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment, Abu Ghraib, and the Elizabeth Holmes case. Maslach emphasizes the importance of prioritizing employee well-being in the workplace, and Kawasaki agrees that investing in employees ultimately leads to better results. The conversation highlights the power of learning from the mistakes of others to prevent similar atrocities from happening again.
Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Christina Maslach. You will not find anyone more knowledgeable on burnout than her.
If you don't believe me, her work is the basis for the 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) decision to include burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
Christina started her psychology research career in the early 1970s, and her work led to the co-creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. This is a measure of professional burnout that is still being used today.
She is currently a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she’s taught for nearly 50 years. She is no ordinary teacher because, in 1997, she was named USA Professor of the Year.
She is the co-author of a new book called, The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs.
Arianna Huffington stated, “The Burnout Challenge offers tips and tools to evaluate problems and implement solutions…Vital reading for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.”
00:16 to 01:59 - Intro
11:32 to 12:26 - How we learn from each other to make better choices
24:01 to 25:15 - Looking at the job and the person and what makes us do well.
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Guy Kawasaki is on a mission to make you remarkable. His Remarkable People podcast features interviews with remarkable people such as Jane Goodall, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Marc Benioff, Woz, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Bob Cialdini. Every episode will make you more remarkable.
With his decades of experience in Silicon Valley as a Venture Capitalist and advisor to the top entrepreneurs in the world, Guy’s questions come from a place of curiosity and passion for technology, start-ups, entrepreneurship, and marketing. If you love society and culture, documentaries, and business podcasts, take a second to follow Remarkable People.
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I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is a remarkable Christina Maslach. You will not find anyone more knowledgeable on the subject of burnout than Christina. If you don't believe me, her work is the basis for the 2019 decision by the World Health Organization to include burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
Christina started her psychology career in the early 1970s, and her work would lead to the co-creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. This is the measurement system for professional burnout that is still being used today.
She's currently a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley. She has taught there for nearly fifty years. She is no ordinary teacher because in 1997, she was named USA Professor of the Year.
She's the co-author of a new book called The Burnout Challenge: Managing People's Relationships with Their Jobs.
Ariana Huffington, another Remarkable People, guested, loves the book I quote, "The Burnout Challenge offers tips and tools needed to evaluate problems and implement solutions. Vital reading for today's and tomorrow's leaders."
I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People. And now here's a remarkable Christina Maslach.
I want to go back in history a little bit and I want to hear your explanation of how the Stanford prison experiment ended.
It ended when I went down to visit the prison one evening because Phil had asked me if I would come in the next day to do interviews of prisoners, guards or whatever, and I said, “Sure, I could do that.”
So, I came down the night before and was sitting, waiting for Phil to be done and chatting to a nice young Stanford student.
And later on when Phil said, take a peek into the yard, I realized that the nice young student I had talked to was actually the epitome of aggressive behavior to the prisoners. He was the guard, named John Wayne by the prisoners. And so that was like, whoa, what was that? He really had changed into a different kind of person that had put on an accent and so forth. And then later they brought the prisoners out in a line to take them down to the men's room to go to the bathroom before they went to bed that night.
And each one of them had a paper bag over his head so he couldn't see where they were and where they were going, and hand on each other's shoulder and a line and the guards snickering and yelling at them and maybe tripping somebody or something like that.
And as I watched this, I just got sick to my stomach. I couldn't watch, this is awful, people treating people like this. And everybody including Phil, but there were other people there. And then everybody was saying, what's wrong with you? You're just getting your PhD. You're supposed to be interested in human behavior. Look at this behavior. Why are you upset? Why are you having a problem?
And it all made me feel what's wrong with me, but I really just thought this was not right. And so Phil and I left to go out and get a cup of coffee and over coffee, we had a huge fight just because we, it seemed like on polar opposite sides of two cliffs over a canyon.
And we were on opposite sides and saying, who are you? Why do you do this? This doesn't seem right. And he couldn't understand why I was upset. I couldn't understand why he would do this. And as we talked, it was like saying, “Oh, maybe this guy that I was starting to get interested in is like a serious life partner. No, if this is you, forget it. We're done. Let's get out of here.”
And eventually he said, “You're right. We've got to stop the study.”
And that's what he did. He phoned the next morning, all the prisoners went and got showers and breakfast and everything and jumping around all happy. And he called in all the guards who were not on the same shift. They were all very quiet, but it wasn't what some people suspected, which was they were going to do a flip and put the guards as prisoners and prisoners as guards.
They were actually ending the study. And we ended up that day not just doing interviews, but doing all kinds of debriefing with the guards alone, with the prisoners alone, with both of them together, with all kinds of things. It would come up like the prisoners were convinced that Phil had not randomly picked people, that he had picked the biggest people, the tallest guys, the biggest guys to be the guards.
And so Phil had everybody stand up and there were short guards and tall guards, and there were short prisoners and tall prisoners, and there really wasn't any difference. But clearly they somehow had come to believe that as a result of their experience.
And my one regret is that we didn't have a videotape or audio tape of all of those sessions because it really was remarkable how they began to talk with each other and think about things and challenge each other about why did you do this, et cetera, like that. That's really you. That's not your role and all this kind of thing. So, it was quite a remarkable kind of thing.
But it ended because we started having a fight, Phil and I. But we went on to get married and we just celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary this year.
Well, I might argue that if you had not had that fight and stopped it, the whole arc of Phil's career might be different.
What if, okay.
Yeah, no kidding. Wow. What's the lesson that you take from the ability of both prisoners and guards to assimilate their pretend roles into real life?
I think the biggest lesson that came out of that pretty much for everybody by the end of the day is that everybody was beginning to realize there are many possibilities of what I could be and what I could do. And I've just seen how in this kind of situation, I became a person who did X or Y or failed to do X or Y, and what have I learned about that when I go into other situations in my life?
So, for example, when you look at the guards, basically on each shift, there was a really tough guard, the John Wayne kind of type. And there was a guard who would be kind of just going by the rules, just going by the book, not overdoing it like a John Wayne, but not being real nice and sweet either.
And then there were the, what you called the good guards, who were trying to be nice to the prisoners who might sneak them a cigarette, who would try and whatever.
But the interesting thing about them is that, and this came up, nobody stopped the bad guard, and there's three guys on each shift and why not say, “Oh, come on guys, it's late at night. Let them sleep. We just have to sit here. We don't have to do anything. Knock it off. We don't need to do that.”
And I think that was harder for some people to realize I could have taken another action than what I did. And the lesson I think often was that, wow, we should be more sensitive and be thinking about what are my other choices?
Could I have gotten together with one of the other guards and the two of us said, “Don't do this, knock it off, whatever.” Are there other ways in which we could have handle law, relationship, et cetera. And the same thing with the prisoners.
They had different reactions in terms of different things. And as people talked and remembered incidents and called out different kinds of things, I think everybody was acknowledging that, yeah, this was like, I was out of my normal space. I was out of myself in a normal way for a while, and it's over now, but what am I taking home that tells me what I'm capable of?
And not just what actions I take, but what are the actions that I did not take that I should have perhaps? And learning from that. So, it was really pretty awesome.
My take from this is that any of us reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment or Abu Ghraib or any of these atrocities, we say to ourselves, maybe those idiots and fools and bad people would do that.
But I know in that situation I would not do that. I would not be that guard. I would not be that prisoner. I would speak up, but you truly don't know what you'll do. Do you?
You don't. And in some sense, that's a harder lesson to learn because in the lesson we should be taking, say from the Stanley Milgram or the Obedience Experiment or Phil's Prison Experiment or Ashe's Conformity Study is that the behavior seems unusual that people would do that. They would say things that weren't true, even though they knew it was a lie or they would've not gone on pressing buttons in the experiment and be a guard or prisoner. And the lesson that comes out is that the vast majority of people did.
So, I probably should recognize that I might be one of those majority, and if I am more aware of the fact that I probably would be like most people. Yeah, I would, that's what I should learn because most people did that. Does that make me more aware of the possibility that I might not do it?
Because I know, I realize that if I get involved in this, I'm not going to be able to stop from doing these other kinds of things. I agree with you. It's sometimes a question on an exam in a class. If you were in the Stanley Milgram study, would you go all the way on the shock box?
And everyone's saying, “No, I would not”, kind of thing. But the lesson is most people did, and you would probably be there.
To bring us right up to yesterday. I bet you there are many CEOs and entrepreneurs saying, I would never lie like Elizabeth Holmes. But you know what? You start an exaggeration by saying, yeah, the software or the hardware or the diagnostic will be ready.
And then you tell a lie because you don't want to lose financing or something, and next thing you know have a twelve-year prison sentence. Every seal's saying, I would not be like her, but that is not true.
Yeah, it's a good point. And rather than trying to say, I would not or whatever, the more important question is why did she end up doing that instead of being more truthful? Why did she? And what can I learn if I ever get in a situation?
We try to learn from not only our own mistakes and our own successes, but the models out there of all kinds of other people and what they do that we admire or that we feel that's not so great on all sides of that, all ends of that spectrum are, there's some lessons here. What can I learn from that? And we do it in other kinds of things like, oh, I wish I could be a better teacher.
When you look at how other people do lectures or work with people in a seminar and “Oh, there's some things you say, that's great. I could never be that kind of stagey dramatic guy on the thing, sage on the stage. But I like the way he does those kind of examples and how he illustrates the point. So, maybe I could learn from that”, or “She is really great at handling tough questions and I learn from that.”
And so we can learn from each other in a lot of ways that I think ultimately it can help us hopefully make better choices in our lives as we move forward.
Okay. I don't want to stay in the past. I'm going to bring us right up to date. And Christina, I promise you we're going to talk about your book directly. I got one more orthogonal question.
Orthogonal question. Okay. Okay.
Which is, speaking of maybe this is another kind of prison. Let's say that Elon Musk listens to this episode and calls you up and asks for your help on how to make Twitter a great place to work, a good company, successful, et cetera, et cetera. So, now what would your advice be to Elon Musk?
Wow, Elon, well, if he's saying he wants to make it a good company and he's coming to me, my expertise is on burnout and the stressors that can cause things to go wrong and make it difficult for people. So, I'm hoping that's what might have led him to pick me of all people.
And what I would say is that what we are learning is that the workplace has to have as one of its core values, the wellbeing and support of the people that you're hiring to do the work that you want to get done. And you're making an investment in getting the best people to have them grow and thrive and really be an asset and give a good return on that investment.
You really have to be saying what is best for them to do the kind of job rather than doing this top down, like, I own you any hour, whatever you're going to have to sleep in the office. If I call you and say fifteen hours, you've got to get going. You go. Focusing on another goal it's not taking into account is this actually in the best interest in health and life of the people who are working for you.
I got to say, there's a part of me that believes that today's Twitter is the Stanford prison experiment revisited, man. So, we need to find a Christina to talk to Elon about this. Oh, goodness.
Okay. Interesting analogy. Interesting.
I don't know Elon, but he might take this analogy as a positive.
He's the John Wayne of the Twitter. Okay, yeah.
I don't know.
No kidding. Let's talk about burnout. First of all, what are the red flags of burnout?
Burnout is a stress response to chronic job stressors in the workplace that haven't been well managed. And chronic means they are there all the time. Most of the time people talk about it also as the pebbles in their shoe that just wear them down, erode their soul and just strip the job of its meaning, its passion. They're doing the bare minimum rather than their best.
So, the experience that people have is not only the stress responsive exhaustion, they're just getting overwhelmed with too much work and other kind of problems and just exhausted, tired. But it's more than that. If it was just exhaustion, why call it burnout? Just call it exhaustion.
There's a second part of it that happens that for me is really the hallmark of burnout. And that is that as people try and cope with all of these chronic job stressors, they begin to get more negative and hostile and cynical about the workplace.
They don't know what they're doing here. This is crazy. I can't get this all done in time. I'm going to do the bare minimum. I'm not going to try my very best, take this job, shove it, kind of thing. And that means that their performance is changing, their behavior is changing towards colleagues, towards clients, towards patients, depending on what kind of job you have.
And then the other thing that happens along with that is people begin to get negative about themselves. “What's wrong with me? Why am I here? Maybe I made a mistake, maybe I'm not as good as I think I am. I don't feel great about some of the things I've done.”
So, it's that trifecta of exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness, professional work ineffectiveness. And that experience can end up leading to health problems down the line. We know from stress, for example, that if you have chronic stress response, it's going to have that wear and tear on you. It doesn't allow you to recover and get back to full strength and health and start again.
And it leads to all kinds of health problems like cardiovascular, early heart attacks, and musculoskeletal kinds of things. And it can also lead to mental problems like depression and anxiety if you can't really get it changed in some way. It has a long-term effect in that sense, and it's hard to turn it around. So, we need to really figure out how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
You tap into a really powerful metaphor that people say, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
The kitchen, right? Yeah.
Question is how do you know if it's the kitchen or it's me.
The kind of thing that comes along with that. And that mantra has been around for such a long time that it's automatically saying the job is what it is and you are the one, if there's a gap, you're the one who's going to have to figure out how to make it up, work harder, et cetera.
And that means that in general, people aren't asking and aren't even allowed to speculate or don't even think about actually that maybe you could turn the heat down in the kitchen. Maybe you could make it a better, more healthy environment for people to do all the work of preparing and serving all kinds of food and stuff like that.
Why not come up with some changes that would make the job conditions a little bit better rather than saying they just have to be what they are. And if it's too hot, too bad, that's your problem.
I have to say that one of the things that happened during the pandemic is that mantra started to really bite the dust because guess what? The job doesn't have to be is what it is. It can change. It had to change. We had to do a lot of jobs differently.
So, now it's, oh, maybe it's not so, it is what it is. You can't touch it. You can't question it. I don't have to commute. Actually, that might be a better thing. Maybe there's other jobs where I could have a better work home balance kind of thing, or we can get the job done in these different ways.
The other mantra that I think is out there and was out there a lot before the pandemic, because burnout's been around for a long time, is the mantra that we have to do more with less. And so it's, sorry folks.
We've actually got good news. We've got some more contracts, but we're not going to be able to hire any more people or whatever. So, everybody's going to have to pick up and do more with less. And that do more with less is almost the epitome of what we talk about as a job person mismatch.
There's a lot you're having to do, but there's not really this sufficient resources, time, people, equipment, money, whatever, to get it done well and to get it done and timely, all that kind of thing. And even that kind of mantra has been focused on you, the worker have to just step up and work harder and do more and whatever, because the job is what it is.
And I do think that why burnout in some sense is becoming such a timely issue is because for many people in the pandemic, not everybody, but for some, there was a lot more with less that they were trying to do.
They were working in difficult or strange kind of situations and people have learned, yeah, but we could do it differently. We could do it better. And in fact, one of the things that we're now talking about in the book is it's not just about helping people work harder or cope with the stressors.
It's about changing the stressors themselves and making the job environment a better one that actually helps people thrive and grow and get better and enjoy their work and proud of what they do. And so we've identified areas where that mismatch between the workplace, the job conditions and the worker are more likely to lead to burnout.
And the solution is not simply to help people cope. It's not bad to help people cope. You're still leaving the stressors as they are chronic, not well managed. So, first and foremost, this is a management issue. How do you make a healthier, better environment that actually allows you to get the best from the people you hire?
A few weeks ago I interviewed Tom Peters and he said something that kind of astounded me, which is he said that the world or at least industry or business would be a lot better if there were more, or the predominant would be female CEOs. Do you think that's true?
I would want to ask why does he think that? What was his reasoning behind that, that kind of statement?
I'm putting words in his mouth. But-
I'll take a stab at it but in a cautionary note. But the idea might be that women, because of their socialization on how to be a woman and feminine and what are you supposed to be doing is taking care of people, paying attention to other people might be more likely to endorse or promote workplace policies that are more responsive to the needs and the vision and the aspirations of the people in the workplace.
I always get a little nervous when people make a difference between two sexes. Men are this way and women are that way like Mars and Venus or something like that. Because I think actually there's probably overlapping curves there. And you might be able to see some of that in men as well. And you might be able to see the more, you've got to be tough as nails and be the masculine CEO role coming among women as well.
And years ago, women used to get criticized as not being good leaders because they didn't act in that more aggressive top-down way as a leader, which was the model. And there was always this thing we were getting hit on both sides for being a woman. We don't have enough of them here, but there aren't very good anyway.
And this is not the role for them. I'm assuming he's thinking that maybe they will bring more of the values that say one of our business values ought to be the wellbeing of the people we bring into this company and make sure that they are given the best kind of environment to support the work and the ideas and the contributions that they can make.
And the analogy or different kind of analogy I would make is that of a beautiful plant, a rosebush or a tree or something like that.
And if you get one and you put it in a lousy pot too small with not really good earth and soil and you don't water it much and it doesn't get sun, I don't care how great that plant should be, it's not going to thrive. It's not going to grow. And you need always to be thinking about have we got the right setting? People are not working all by themselves in a monastic cell. There are all kinds of things about the job, other people, the goals, all of these things that you have to manage to make sure that you're getting the right things done and maybe even getting them done better.
And what are the kinds of things that matter to people? And what we have found is that having a good match between the job and the person in terms of basic, core psychological needs that all of us have in life, not just in the workplace, but anywhere.
That we feel competent, that we feel we have a control and autonomy over what we're doing, that we feel we belong to something important and are a member of this team or this group that we get along, we work well with other people, support them, they support us.
We work out disagreements and figure out how to move forward. It's fair treatment and we believe we have meaning and purpose and values that we're saying, God, I'm glad I'm here doing this.
It makes me feel proud. It makes me feel good about what I can contribute. Just like you want to match between a good chair and sitting or a good computer station set up so that you don't get carpal tunnel syndrome. You want a good match in the things that helps people tick and work well and enjoy doing it and get better at it.
That's why we have to look at the job as well as the person. It's not just squeezing the person into the job, but also taking into account what makes human beings do well and so forth, and how do we best set that up so that they can get the best out of them.
Just for the record, my interpretation of what Tom Peters said and what you said is that most men are assholes in a sentence, but we don't have to go down that path. So, let's say that you're on the outside looking in of a company and they're recruiting you, you're trying to get hired, whatever the situation is.
So, from the outside looking in, how can you tell if this is a good kitchen? Is it reading glass doors? How do you suss out the environment?
The environment? Yeah, it's a great question. I'm not sure I have all the answers on that, but I think what you want to do is look for a lot of signs of what seems to be working well and what doesn't. Are people friendly and cordial and helpful, or is it really silent and nobody wants to talk to each other or answer questions?
Do you have a chance to actually interview people or ask people who know people who work there, what they think about it? Are there signs around that, what kind of messages is the company sending? Are they having all these things about grip on the wall or they have other things that really say who we are and really matters here? And if you see something wrong, let us know and et cetera.
When people are beginning to get stressed, they often tend to pull out, pull back, not show up, be quiet, just try and keep their head down, do the bare minimum so that they can still get paid and get out of here.
Absenteeism, not showing up, errors, more problems, some mistakes. If there's not a good sense of a relationship between the manager and his or her people, is it again part of the top down or are they actually working more as an advocate for my group to make sure that everybody is getting what they need to do the job?
So, I think looking for a lot of those kinds of behaviors about does this environment really support and invite people to come in and experience some positive emotions? That's another core need that we have. Do people ever laugh, joke some fun, or is it really keeping quiet and so forth?
So, trying to look for those kinds of signs, and particularly if you have come from another environment that is different, how does that compare? Is this better? Not so much. Interesting or kind of difference. But asking questions about how do we do the things here and what happens with and all this kind of stuff, I think helps get a sense of more what that kind of culture is.
What we're seeing often in recent years, and again, even pre-pandemic, was this kind of hustle extreme culture. That was a fear culture. You don't dare say no. If someone says, we want you to do this extra work, we want you to come in on your days off where people feel afraid to talk to other people about, “I’m a little stuck on this problem. I could use some advice or another pair of eyes on this”, because immediately you're being judged as, oh, not a hundred percent, you're not so good.
And people often talk about wanting to be able to talk to someone else about the job or questions or something or a bad day or whatever, and feeling afraid and feeling that they cannot turn to anybody. So, they're very isolated and alone, even though there's lots of people around them because of the judgment and the stigma of you're not so great, you could be thrown under the bus.
And so people say things that aren't true and lie about how things are going on and looking for other things and how to get out of here or change it.
Well, one would have to conclude that Twitter is going to have a hard time recruiting after listening to
That. Yeah, when they're setting up beds in the offices, which apparently is I think not even legal to do there, they're sending a signal. That's not like saying, okay, the burnout shops in Silicon Valley, back when it was in initial startup mode, it was basically saying, we own you any day, night, hour, et cetera, and you're going to work like a dog annual burnout, and then you'll have stock options and it's a sprint because we're doing this thing and that sprint's becoming a marathon.
It's not how people function, human body, brain, and all the rest of it. You're not designed to be on high stress, high mode, not getting sleep, not getting all the things that keep you healthy. And you may not notice it immediately, but you're going to have the effects long term.
And so how do you warn people about you need to take care of how you're working and whatever else is important in your life, family, friends, neighbors, hobbies, what? And how are you going to be able to do that? If you're keeping this up at this pace because it's not a good strategy, you will see the effects for yourself, for the people who care about you and love you and all the rest of it.
Do you have any good examples of good kitchens, good companies-
A good kid kitchen?
This is a company that's doing it right?
I wish I had a lot of examples, but what's interesting is that companies don't like to share information about this. What I would find over the years is that somebody would saddle up and say, “Look, just tell me what the best practice is. Okay, we'll just do that best practice.”
And I was saying “We haven't found a best practice one size fits all, but would you like us start coming?” “Well, no, no, no, no.”
Much more in the United States than in other countries, there's a fear of litigation. If we acknowledge that it's stressful here, we're going to get sued for being an unhealthy wrong workplace kind of thing.
So, we just want to know, “Just give us a little answer and we'll do it.”
So, it's been hard sometimes, but I've always encouraged people when I talk about it to say, if you know of things that have worked well or not, if they've been a disaster, I want to learn from both, let me know.
But I'll tell you one that we spent more time with that I think is a good example because it changed. And my colleague Michael Leiter and I were doing research and we wanted to be able to do longitudinal research where we could come back in, come in one time, come in another time later on and track how things were doing over time, and could we find an organization where we could gather that kind of data in exchange for “If you let us ask questions and get data from the people who work here, we will put together reports and work with you to learn from that and do that.”
Free consulting, free data, great exchange. But this particular organization did, and it had many different kind of units in departments, it had probably close to a thousand people. And we worked really hard to make sure everybody, almost everybody, we got about 800 plus who participated, actually answered questions and did interviews and whatever.
And we asked the CEO at the beginning, what do you think of the six areas that workload control, reward, community, fairness and values? Which of those six do you think might be positive or more negative in terms of the mismatches or matches?
And he and his people said, oh, people are going to complain about the workload because they always complain about working too hard and they're going to complain about the salaries of the reward. They always do that. So, we did the data and we also made him agree that we did follow research ethics, which is to give information back to the people about what you learned from the survey.
And unfortunately in most organizations, they do a lot of surveys. They never tell people what they learned and they never get you feedback, which is not right. But anyway, he did. And it turned out that you looked at the company overall, they were on the positive side of reward and of workload.
They weren't having big problems, but fairness was a big issue. And I have to say the CEO was shocked. “What? People think we're not fair, what is going on here? What happened to this,” et cetera. And so there were things that were specific to different units, but there was also some overall issues.
And one of them was a distinguished service award and people hated that award. Hated it, didn't want to be nominated. You could see venom kind of dripping when they talked about it. And so the CEO was saying, “Whoa, wow, maybe we haven't given enough money for that award, the little bonus check that you get for doing something special.” And I said, “No, it wasn't a reward issue. It's a fairness issue. People think the wrong people are getting it. It's a rigged system, not the people who deserve it,” but somebody else who was brown-nosing the supervisor or lying and cheating over here and saying they did something they really didn't do or whatever.
There are a lot of reasons why people thought it was unfair, but it was pretty much shared across the organization that this was one of the things that everybody could say no. And they were saying, “You better do something about it, CEO.” And he was saying, wisely, “I didn't realize there was a problem, so I'm going to need your help to figure out how we do this better.” And so he set up a process whereby he was getting people, nominees from the different units to work together as a little task force, and they went out and talked to people and they came back and they tried redesigning a distinguished service award that every everybody would feel would be fair and would be good.
And it took a while. It's not easy to do necessarily. First thing the supervisors should nominate. That was part of the problem.
Supervisors didn't get around to nominating people or they nominated people who hadn't gotten the pay raise and gave them the award instead. That was part of the unfairness. But they finally got it done and the company agreed and they put in a new process for recognizing really something special and it could be a team and didn't have to be just an individual.
And when we came back a year later and we're interviewing it, that fairness issue was gone. It wasn't a problem. But there was a lot of hope and optimism saying, “Hey, if we could fix that, we could maybe fix this thing over here.” And so what they had done was taken the idea of this process of making it a positive improvement in the workplace.
They gave it a name, ‘Let's Hear It’ meaning everybody, we want to hear from you about what can we do this year or next year to make things better.
And now it's a regular part of the company agenda. And so every year or two years, I can't remember exactly how often they did it, but it was “Okay, now what? Where are we now? Now we've got COVID. What are the things we can do to do it better?” And so it became an organizational checkup. What's working well? Where are we having problems?
And the world keeps changing. And so what you had as a problem five years ago is not what you're going to have now and five years from now, it'll be even more different. But you're always checking in and saying, how can we, not just you who's burned out or something, how can we create a little bit better environment, take care of some of those chronic job stressors? What's next on our agenda? We did it before we can do it again. And so that's one of the examples we had in our book.
And it started from one place, but actually as they got into it and realized they could make changes, they didn't have to go to the top big corporation that owned all these companies and stuff like that. It didn't cost a ton of money, it customized it. And they came up with a solution that might not work elsewhere, but it works for them given who they are and how they do the things.
And it had all of these positive ripple effects. People got to know each other from different units and started having friendships or, “Oh, we were both Warriors fans, let's go to the game together”, or other things like this. And there was a sense that, as I say, the optimism that we can make changes. It's lowered down under the radar, it's under our control. We don't have to do it this way.
We could do it a little bit better. What's the problem that we need to fix? Here's five solutions. What are the pros? And they just do it regularly now as a part of how we do business. And so it's not like redesigning the business model or new vision of healthcare for the twenty-first century or something like that. It's those chronic job stressors that drive you crazy and have that eroding effect and say, how can we improve that? How can we get a better fit between what people have to do and the job conditions.
Then it makes it a we problem rather than a me problem. Well, I don't have to self-confess that I'm stressed and ask for accommodations or special things. Can we do the job differently, it's let’s get together and let's work together to figure out what would actually be a better thing?
And so in the book, we have a lot of also tips about design principles to use to rethink about jobs. And some of them are very simple but aren't followed. And I'll just mention one, but a lot of what we see is that doing more with less, it's because we're really good at adding things and we fail to subtract.
So, we are asking people to do more, you're going to have another contract to deal, you have these other clients, but we're not taking anything off your plate. We even think about it or even raise it.
So, what do you not need to do? Or what could we streamline? Or is there some stuff that now is just administrative nonsense because we've just never questioned why we do it and now we should realize we don't need it anymore?
How do we actually do a little bit more spring-cleaning, not just add, “Oh, and by the way, do this too. And now we have another form. And oh, by the way, you have to have an electronic medical record filled out by you, and by the way, and not say, and this is no longer necessary so don't worry about that.”
Man, when we get you on a roll with-
I know I go, I go.
Definitely had inertia while you change Phil's mind. But I'm not fighting you. I bet people are wondering just what are the parameters of a reasonable workload, reasonable boundaries, reasonable rewards and compensation? How do I know what's reasonable?
Yeah, it's a good question. And I think it's partly what you might expect given your other experiences or what you've heard is the norm or something like that. But it's also the case that some of this you only learn by being a part of this. And the question is, if it's not good, do I leave? Or if it's not good, can we fix it a little bit?
Can we actually change what what's happening here? For example, on reward when you think about salary and benefits, of course, but what we also find in the research is that a lot of important reward is social recognition. And the mismatch there is that you do good work and you don't get any good feedback, you don't get positive things.
And it could be, yeah, you get a raise or you get a promotion or some sort of thing like that maybe, but it's also recognition of a pat on the back, a thank you.
“Oh my God, you saved us with that client. I didn't realize how we were going to handle it when she went off the rails there.” Things that sort of say, “We're so glad you did that. You were good. Could you teach me how? I would really love to work with you on” ... That's the sort of thing.
When I talk to people about good days and bad days at work, and they say that a good day is when nothing bad happens, and that's it. That means there's no good stuff happening. It's just like nobody's screaming, there's no crisis, there's no whatever.
And that's about as good as it gets rest of the days, a lot of bad stuff. And so how do we build in meaningful ways of positive feedback that aren't like these formulaic gold star on the door or something like that. And often it involves other people, other colleagues who know the job as well as you, who have thoughts and ideas, who should be as much your best friends and not your worst enemy on these kind of things.
When I've asked people, particularly in this toxic and socially toxic community that a lot of people are working in, what kind of thing would help with regard to the stressors? And the number one response that comes up is, “I wish I had a mentor. I wish I had somebody, safe harbor, a person I could talk to who's not going to blab about it, who's not going to judge me, put me down. Who will talk with me, advise me, help, let me cry on the shoulder, give me some pointers and I'll do the same for other people. But I used to have somebody I could go to like that and now I don't know who to turn to” because it means you're automatically having to say something about less than a hundred percent, I need some advice.
“This didn't go well with this particular patient's family”, or “I'm stuck on this and I need somebody else and maybe I'm just not getting it in my first run through.”
And that kind of social relationship that you can trust and is that safe harbor kind of thing, the mentor, I can't tell you how many people have said, “I wish I had that. I don't like to be isolated and feeling that everybody around me is just going to knock me down.” I've had a very different example, medical students who have contacted me on email and say, “Okay, you're the burnout lady.” And I say, “Yes”, and “You have that measure?”
And I say “Yes”. And they say, they “Make us take your test every year, and I just want to let you know we lie. We don't tell the truth on your test.”
And I say, “Oh, okay, tell me a little bit more about that.” And basically what they're saying is “If we really say how stressed we get, if we really talk about how the patient load is out of sight and way too high for us to really do much good for the patients, nobody's going to do anything about the patient load. But if I say that I'm feeling more stressed, if I'm feeling cynical and all that kind of thing, what's going to happen? I'm going to get tapped on the shoulder by somebody who said, honey, you seem to have a problem with burnout. I think you better go see a psychiatrist and whatever. And my internship letter I know is just down the toilet right now. I going to get a good recommendation and et cetera? So, we all lie because we don't want to ruin our chances of getting out of here and getting into a good initial position or something like that we'll be marked, we'll be bad news.”
And they talk about not being able to be honest and open about their training and what's happening and they don't have a mentor but they wish they did. So, that kind of hustle culture, the most important thing is how I'm doing. And then who earns the most money and who gets the whatever? Be the person who always raises your hand and volunteers to do extra work because that'll get you ahead. Putting down other people is really gripping apart this sort of social fabric that we all know from years and years of social science research is one of the best things that keeps people well is that you have some people that you love, you like, love you back and that you help each other.
And when you can't trust people to do that anymore, people have pointed out that some of these professions where they talk about this and have burnout also have higher suicide rates. True in healthcare for sure.
Even in medical schools, tech industry, I'm sure you knew about this, but there were times where we were hearing about suicides of young men usually who were recognized as being, “Wow, this is an amazing newcomer, going to be spectacular, brilliant coming up with great ideas, et cetera, doing a startup” and then it's commit suicide at twenty-nine or thirty-three or something like that.
What is happening there? And I remember this was years ago, I was invited to speak to a conference down the peninsula, a tech conference and somebody, oh, I'm now blanking on his name, John, can't think of it. But any way, he had gotten so distressed by the suicide of one particular guy who he had talked to and was just so enamored of and thought, “Wow, this guy is fantastic. And when he heard about his death he went, oh my God, why didn't I see it? How come I didn't know? I wish he had reached out. I wish I could have spoken to him. I would've gone around the world, whatever it was.”
And making a plea to people to take care of each other. And if you're having these kind of suicidal ideation and thoughts and whatever, reach out to get some help and don't just be alone and facing all of this.
And so at the tech conference, that message got reiterated and went out onto the audience and they were talking about this most latest case and this guy working about it. And you reach out and there was this big pause and then hands started going up and people started saying, “Yeah, I reached out. You want to know what happens when you reach out like that? You get pushed down and people say, ‘Oh, we don't want to have anything to do with you. Sorry, bummer about that. When you're feeling better we'll have a beer.” And not helping.
And in cybersecurity when I've talked to people there, they're saying part of it, “The problem is us, the way we treat the newbies and cybersecurity is way down in terms of the number of positions that need to be filled. And it's really scary, but it's like we eat them up and chew them and spit them out and then people say, thank you. I'm going to get another job, not cybersecurity. Thank you. And so part of it is what we are doing to each other, to the colleagues, to the people in our community, and we are the cavalry kind of thing.” It's not somebody else who's going to come along and help us and save us.
We're the ones who really got to do something about it. So, all of that kind of social thing is a big part of this. And I hear about it even more in it as the stakes go up more hours, more work more with less.
And in China, what do we have? We have it in the book, the 996. You work from nine in the morning to nine at night, six days a week. And they have people who are doing a project 996.ICU because of the people who end up suicide, bad health, heart attacks, that it's fatal, all those kind of things.
And I remember hearing one of the people running the company saying, yeah, it should be 997, come on every day. And now you've got these people who are lying flat and not working and trying to stay longer hours in the bathroom as a way of building in breaks into that twelve hour day. It's not a human life.
I would debate that a person can be effective 996. It's just I don't think it's possible. No, don't get me wrong. When I worked in the Macintosh Division we probably put in sixty hours a week, but that's not 996.
That's not 996.
I do it for a while, I won't do it now.
I don't know if you remember back fifty years ago or more, there was attention to a phenomenon in Japan called karoshi, and that was death from overwork and it was males because men were working and women weren't at that point and they were staying at home. But they were having fatal heart attacks, heart problems in their forties. And if you look at more recently, it's not karoshi, what is it? Karōjisatsu, I think something like that, which is suicide from overwork.
And it's really interesting in Japan that they characterize these problems by the work environment that's causing them, rather than saying, “Oh, you've had a myocardial infarction and there are all these biological things and stuff like that.” They're saying it's the job conditions.
These guys are dying because they don't go home until the boss goes home. They have to come in and entertain company clients every night. They rarely see their family. And when they finally do, they are sleeping all day long because they've not had enough sleep and on and on in that way.
So, it's interesting for me is that in that Japanese culture that they've for decades before any of us were really talking about the work environment being, is it supportive of human beings doing their job? They were already tagging it that way. That's what you call it.
What is your opinion of this magic bullet called the four-day work week?
I think it's too early to tell how much of a magic bullet it is and also how it's going to be implemented. Is it meaning four days of work period and three days off and you don't, or is it four days of work in the office, but you have a fifth day at home? There's variations I think on this that we really need to understand and how that's going to work out.
Does it mean more hours in those four days so that you have more time for other parts of your life? So, what the trade-offs are and how that's done is still not entirely clear to me. But I think the assumption is that ironically, one of the best set of coping techniques for job stress is not to go to the job, don't work, take a break, take a vacation, take a long weekend.
It's all about not working, which begs the question, what is going on in the job that the best thing you can do to recover from it or to cope with it well is not to do it. So, the four-day week is another variation on some companies saying, well, we're going to just shut the company down for a week. Okay, we won't work. Everybody's off, we'll come back, burnout will be gone.
And I usually say, no. People may, if they have a better break, depending what they do during the break in terms of sleep and rest and having fun and being with their people they like. But anyways, assume they do that when they come back. If it's the same stressors, you're going to start the thing all over again. So, it's getting away from it, but it doesn't necessarily help make it more positive in terms of the chronic job stressors.
So, I think that's still, it's not just about one day less, but it's at least thinking about a change in the job working conditions. So, it's a starting point, but a serious lesson I have learned from all these years is that there are a lot of good ideas out there, but it's how you implement them that actually makes the difference.
And so people can take something that should be a good thing and implement it in a way that it becomes a drag and a bad thing and an extra burden on people. What's wrong? Was the idea not good? Was it the way it was customized? Was it the way it was introduced? There's a lot of ways you can do it the wrong way. And I remember as a little anecdote, I was with a number of people in healthcare, leading healthcare. We were doing a special symposium round table thing.
And one of the people had been doing a lot of research on burnout with physicians. And one of the things they had done and published articles on was how they had arranged something where small groups of physicians could get together after work and go out to dinner that was subsidized by the hospital or the clinic, and they had time to get to know each other better and developed some friendship and not talk about business. And they was touted as this is an interesting way to build greater support and relationships.
And one of the people who came in the morning for our morning taping session in this symposium was a woman from a hospital on the East Coast, and she was yelling at the tub voice and said, “I can't believe it. The CEO of our hospital just sent out a memo this morning saying, you've got to go out and have dinner with other people and here's restaurants and the menu, and then you've got to bring back the receipt to do it.”
And she was saying, “I have kids and a family and I don't want to go out to dinner. I could do lunch, but this thing is like, you're going to do it this way.” And this was this woman yelling, and here was the guy who had done the research and published this and he was saying, “Oh no, really it's a good thing. And she's saying, yeah, but don't tell me that I must do it and I must do it that way. And if I don't do it the way the CEO wants, what am I going to do? Am I going to get punished?”
So, any way, it's just a quick example of saying you can take something that is a good thought and an idea, but you actually want to introduce it in terms of what would work here with us? Does anybody want to say this is something we should explore?
Maybe there's some other way in which we can build in sometimes where people, because they were complaining, they never see each other in the cafeteria because they don't go to the cafeteria in the hospital anymore because they're doing their medical records in their office or they're taking a nap because they're so tired.
The last question for you is to a group of workers that I so appreciated and I think they are undervalued, underappreciated, under compensated, under loved. So, I want your advice to teachers who are feeling burned out.
Oh my gosh.
Because I think they are saints.
Yes. Wow. You want a short answer, not trying to give one. I agree with you on that in terms of all the under things that you've listed there. And also during the pandemic, a lot of those teachers got thrown into the deep end of the pool and told without preparation, without training, without support and resources, whatever, you got to teach them now, but not in the school.
You're going to have to do what online and make sure they get their math and they keep going. And it was for a lot of people, just a recipe for a disaster. And it's like perfect storm. Everything could go wrong. The technology wasn't working well, it wasn't clear how you do this in a way that actually could engage the students. Is this the best format if you're not going to be in the schoolroom? Plus the lousy salaries and then people getting all upset because the kids didn't like it or they didn't actually learn how to read. And so I worry a lot about it.
Don't forget that the politicians want to select the textbooks.
Oh yes. You can add in a lot more things there and what has happened, and I think you're alluding to it as well, is that not only was bad before it got really even worse. And what we are seeing is, and I worry about how bad it will be of teachers who were saying, “Nevermind, I'm not going back. I'm not going to go to school and teach again. I'm going to take my skills and I'm going to find another kind of job, or I'm going to retire because it's long enough. I need to find something else.”
I was talking to a colleague of mine who was advertising a job and a company that I had been involved with, and she said, “Usually we're competing with other places in Silicon Valley who can pay more and stuff. So, we really have a hard time. We're getting hundreds and hundreds of applicants for this job, and I've never had anything like that before.” And I asked her, I said, “Do you know where they're coming from?” A lot of them were teachers and they were saying, “Okay, this is a publishing business management did publishing, education books. Why not? I can do this instead.”
And I worry about nurses, I worry about the physicians.
There have been surveys where you ask people in healthcare questions like, would you recommend this job that you have to your own child? You want to guess what the answer is? Vast majority say no. We're talking 70 percent, 80 percent saying this is not why I went into medicine. I would not recommend it to my kid. I would not, et cetera, et cetera. And so if we are not creating and figuring out how to create good environments for people to teach to heal, we're not going to be able to get the people to do this when we need them for education, for good health.
Healthcare has been in the burnout box for a long time. When I first began doing research on it, you could always count on nurses in particular and other people. And teachers more recently, but I think for different reasons, each of them had challenges during the pandemic for different reasons.
But I do worry that even now in economic times we're in, we're still finding places that say, “I can't hire. We don't have enough people. We're short-staffed.”
And so it's not the only reason, but part of it is, are you creating a good enough job that people will feel good about doing it?
And when people get burned out, they say “More pay doesn't cut it. It's eroding my soul. I am going to leave and find something that I love and I feel good about and do that. I can't do this anymore in this way.”
So, it has further reach deeper roots in many ways that I think to get people functioning well and having a good life and contributing something to the benefit of all of us, we have to make sure that they're in a place where they can actually thrive. That's the best word I can think of there.
And do you specifically have advice for a teacher or a doctor or a nurse who is experiencing burnout? What can they do?
The focus always is on individual coping or what can I do for myself? And there are some things you can look at. We list some in the book, a summary kind of thing. But it only can take you so far. It doesn't really change what are the causal factors.
And for that, it really has to become more of a shared ‘we’ phenomenon that you're talking with other people, that you have other people who want to get together and commiserate and share tips or hints or have ways of, this is what I do to come out of a day that didn't go so well or get together to socialize and stuff like that.
But to be able to do it without having to, in a sense, be required to self-confess that I'm burned out or that I'm too stressed to do a good job. Because then that's the stigma, putting myself down, exposing myself to negative responses.
But if you reframe it and say, how do we make the conditions here a little bit better? How could we improve the job a little bit more? What would help? What have you noticed? Have you gotten come up with something ... That's a whole different question that then doesn't focus on what's wrong with me or what's wrong with you, which doesn't take us very far.
But how could we begin to take a little bit more control over our setting and figure out ways that we could actually improve it, change it a little bit, make it more our own in some way? What would help us collectively? We even have an example in the book where somebody heard me talking about it and called up to ask about it, and I was a screenwriter and said, screenwriters always work from home, always are isolated.
They never really get together with their colleagues and share stuff and work out shared issues like producers who want you to do writing for free first before they pay.
And the only time they ever really get together is when they go out and strike. And that's really like a, “Oh, hey guy, haven't seen you in a while. What was it three years ago? And how are you doing.” That kind of thing.
So, they've been developing other sort of ways in which they can get little pods of groups of people around eight to ten and even use through Zoom and stuff like that to develop these kind of social groups that we're all in the same boat and in terms of issues and problems and so forth.
But “We are also in the same group who can celebrate that somebody's screenplay finally got produced in his opening next week. And everybody, all of us know what that means, how long it takes and how many steps are involved that you have no control over before it actually becomes real. And we can celebrate together in a way that brings in the kind of joy and the meaning and the purpose, and this is why we're here and why we work the way we do. So, we become each other's, not just advisors and safe harbors, but also celebrants and people who know how to make other people feel like, ‘Yes, you really did a great thing. Enjoy it.’”
I don't know about you, but I'm all fired up and ready to go out there and not get burned out. Thank you, Christina, for all those great insights.
Some of you may have figured this out. Christina and Phil Zimbardo are the first husband and wife team that have both been on Remarkable People.
Speaking of teams, my thanks to the Remarkable People team, I hope I don't burn you out. That would be Peg Fitzpatrick, Jeff Sieh, Shannon Hernandez, Luis Magana, drop-in Queen of Santa Cruz, Madisun Nuismer and Alexis Nishimura.
Alexis, by the way, took third place in the marketing communication series of the California DECA Career Development Conference. Congratulations to Alexis.
I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. Until next time, Mahalo and Aloha.