National Burnout Vacation

beach-female-girl-768114Clark Griswold: “Despite all the little problems it’s fun isn’t it?”
Ellen Griswold: “No. But with every new day, there’s fresh hope.”

National Lampoon’s Vacation

 

Like a lot of lawyers, you may have gone on vacation, or perhaps you plan to go on vacation.

So, what constitutes a vacation? Of course, lawyers love definitions, so Merriam-Webster suggests: “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation, a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended, a period of exemption from work granted to an employee, a respite or a time of respite from something.”

So, did this actually happen? Did you totally go off the grid for that period when you had a choice? Probability suggests you checked your email, perhaps late at night or first thing in the morning before the family woke. A little quality time with your iPad perhaps.

Why do people go on vacation? Change of pace? To get away from it all? Family pressure? To de-stress?

Perhaps you hope that this de-stress hormone lasts for as least as long as the vacation itself. Or that you can you store the de-stress hormone up as easily as the extra weight you may have put on from the extra consumption of alcohol, fats and carbohydrates that you would have otherwise avoided.

In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey of more than 1500 U.S. workers, two-thirds of the respondents said that the mental benefits of vacation disappeared within a few days. So, the vacation calmness disappears far before the weight loss does.

The reasons for increased après-vacation stress can be obvious. The workload undoubtedly accumulated in your absence, things moved on during your gallivanting. Now you must move double-time to catch up and all of that stress-filled time you spent before the vacation appears not to have been enough to keep you ahead.

If you feel stressed before the vacation and even more stressed after the vacation, then one starts to wonder about the efficacy of going on vacation in the first place.

This becomes a good time to talk about burnout. In the 2015 edition of Acta Psychopathologica, work-related stress occurs when the demands of the work environment exceed the employees’ ability to cope. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 states that disorders precipitated by specific stressful and potentially traumatic events in the workplaces are included in a new diagnostic category, “trauma and stress-related disorders.” Mind you, this abstract was dealing with the police in Italy.

If you sprain your ankle playing tennis for the first time since forever during your vacation, you likely know RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. The same RICE can identify burnout with regret, inefficacy, cynicism and exhaustion.

Over 40 per cent of California lawyers would do something different if they had to do it over again. This constitutes a high level of regret. Lack of actualization can lead to a feeling of inefficacy, and difficult as it may seem, burnout indicates even higher levels of cynicism that what you normally have. Exhaustion likely originated during articling and never dissipated.

A number of firms insist upon employees taking vacation. The firm’s rationale could range from an actual concern for employee health or for the ever-expanding health-benefit costs. If an employee leaves as a result of stress, there comes the extensive cost of locating, rehiring and training new staff. Far better to maintain the mental health of the existing staff.

In addition to vacations, employers should be considering breaks during the work cycle. Standing up and getting that wilted salad to eat in front of the computer does not cut it. An employee requires greater dedicated time to mental breaks along with physical activity on a regular basis.

The same APA study found that staff became far more productive and content with their position when employers cared about employee’s mental health.

How does an employee determine if an employer does not care about employee health and only cares about maximum productivity? Here’s a handy list of things to look out for:

  1. The organization ignores the healthy basics. Instead of healthy snacks, the vending machines are filled with sugar, salt, surgery salt, solidified fats and over-the-counter stay-awake medications.
  2. The company suggests there are no limits to productivity. This means a complete ability to work all of the time. This might be illustrated by prints showing eagles soaring through the sky, even though that’s not where the fish are.
  3. The company implies the need to be constantly on line. Perhaps they hand out those little rechargeable battery packs as bonus gifts so your phone can always be fully charged.
  4. The company does not mandate any time off. Employee of the month photos show sallowed faces, and instead of listing how many days without injury, employers list the number of days a staff has gone without a vacation.
  5. The company opposes flexible work arrangements since the attitude appears to that freedom is slavery.
  6. The top management possess the complete works of Franz Kafka, George Orwell and that dystopian one by William Golding. Other than eagles, the remaining wall prints show faces watching you.
  7. The company’s self care workshops instead of yoga emphasize speed reading and tips to get by with five hours sleep.
  8. The company maintains a great benefit plan, but it only covers over the counter products such as Red Bull and Rolaids.
  9. Your retention bonus golden handcuffs figuratively resemble golden boots encased in cement.
  10. You look up the LOA policy and it only refers to lots of aggression.

If you have one or more of these items in your workplace, then perhaps consider changing the culture or finding a new one.

#vacation

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Office Romances a Poor Idea

body-erotic-kissing-351119Office romances are a fraught affair. (And by office romances, I am referring to fully consensual relationships between adults, which is important to clarify in a #MeToo era)

In a recent 2019 Vault survey of over 700 participants, over 60 per cent of respondents admitted to dating a co-worker. In a Career Builder survey, only 36 per cent of respondents admitted dating a co-worker. The Career Builder survey appears to have a higher contingent of reticent respondents. The Vault survey also stated that over 70 per cent of employees over the age of 50 have had an office romance. This may simply reflect a longer period of opportunity, but I prefer to interpret this as a tremendous argument against ageism.

Office romances continue to happen mainly because of continuing exposure, having something in common, possessing additional information and knowing that that the HR department vetted this person. However, we have seen how HR notwithstanding, conducting extensive psychometric testing does not necessarily uncover everything. Even with social media, we are becoming more interconnected but disconnected all at the same time.

So, for example, a financial institution with 50,000 staff may have thousands of employees who are dating or have dated a co-worker. From an enterprise risk management perspective, this seems like a high probability that something could go wrong.

To mitigate this risk, according to the Vault survey, over 30 per cent of people dating a co-worker do carry on and marry. At the very least, if something goes wrong, it could no longer be suggested that the company did something wrong. In enterprise risk management parlance, we call that a transfer of risk.

The further difficulty appears to be that of the people having a relationship, over 60 per cent of those people kept it secret. This poses a further risk to the company in that they may not even be aware of a potential risk. This is one of those unknown unknowns.

According to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management survey, 42 per cent of companies have regulations in place addressing workplace romances. Most companies seem to prefer not being involved in the delicate situation of policing such a policy in the first place. Covering one’s eyes to a situation and believing it disappears only works when you are a toddler.

The first response from a legal perspective may be to ban such situations totally. Although lawyers appear to be risk adverse, they still seem to enter, leave and re-enter relationships like most normal people. After all, working in the same office is how Barack and Michelle met. I may speak for a majority of the planet occupants when I say they are missed. I base this on the Twitterverse that 107 million people follow Obama while 61 million people follow Trump.

But from a corporate perspective, such a ban detracts away from the corporate culture. An appropriate enterprise risk management office romance policy (ERMOR which is as close to AMOUR that I could get) should reflect the corporate culture. A total ban could negatively impact a company’s efforts to attract individuals when they are prohibited from being attracted to each other.

An appropriate ERMOR policy should be properly worded so as bring out those that would be disinclined to disclose a relationship in the first place. A company should consider training for supervisors in how to deal with workplace romances and how any discipline policy might be used. Office relationships should be possible so long as there is no negative impact on the individuals or the workplace. Any negative impact would then be subject to the progressive discipline policy. And not the 50 shades type of discipline.

Such a policy would also prohibit any sort of fraternization between a manager and a direct report. This includes romances or dating. As lawyers, we love to define things.

Having a consensual relationship policy assists in clarifying the situation. Bringing light and transparency to any relationship helps ensure that there has been no inducement or other pressure brought to bare.  This may include some company expectations on discouraging public displays of affection. Most of us get this discouragement from our children anyway, so it’s not a far reach to include it in the company policy.

The same Vault surveys suggests that only 60 per cent of staff appear familiar with the Company office romance policy. This also suggests that HR could communicate the existence of such a policy and the need for staff to disclose a relationship. An appropriate EMOUR policy should not disinhibit disclosure any further by compelling staff to hide the relationship any further below the sheets so to speak.

For solo relationships, we can see how excessive self-love created an undue hardship situation for a corporation In the recent case of UNIFOR, Local 2215 v I.M.P. Group Limited, 2019 CanLII 42096 (NS LA),. Although TMI, lawyers must keep up with the case law lest AI take over the research department. This case would likely not make it through the AI’s virus protection or firewalls.

Vault also found that almost a fifth of workers had affairs. Once again, taking the probability of something going wrong multiplied by the impact of when something goes wrong, and ignoring any ethic or other moral questions, from simply an ERM perspective: Just. Don’t.

#legal

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A little Joseph Campbell Contemplation

adult-animals-ducks-670626“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

Watching Campbell’s Power of Myth series completely overwhelmed me. I had never thought of this approach to life. I thought the search for meaning was the purpose of life.

To realize that we have been approaching it backwards was revolutionary.

 

 

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

My new book is now available on Amazon Kindle.

People pursue three things during their time on earth: Life, Liberty and basically everything else.  This narrative nonfiction book provides a humorous view of society’s desire to pursue happiness and well-being. The book bursts with big ideas on happiness, ethics, thinking, nature, exercise, mindfulness and life. All of this and more can be found within its 81,000 words and no pictures. The footnotes are strictly for fun.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by [Goodwin, Gary]

 

 

Triskelion Tattoo

IMG_4408This was a piece from a couple of years ago that was published in the Globe.

 

I finally reached that age when it was time to get a tattoo. There is a fine balance between the years you can appreciate your tattoo and the years that you finally regret it. Turning 60, my years of tattoo appreciation seemed likely to exceed the years of tattoo regret. Only 10% of my age bracket, the baby boomers have a tattoo. Moving from the middle of the pig in the python, I was on the verge of being an outlier.

My spouse got her own tattoo as a 50th birthday present. A nice Celtic knot on the side of calf. I have admired her determination to show who she was and an insight into her heritage. The only thing that people could tell about my heritage was that I came from nice hair.

Getting a tattoo would reveal my inner rebel. Getting a tattoo, and a motorbike, would go hand-in-hand. My spouse did point out the error of that logic, and a tattoo was a stand-alone rebel stance and would not require a motorbike. My rebel was appropriately schooled.

What tattoo could do this, without the motorbike? Latin phrases such as carpe diem have been done to death. The best approach would be a symbol. I was looking for something that spoke to me and represented what being human was all about. No easy task since people search all their lives for personal meaning, and I was looking for something like that that could fit on my slightly increasing, soon to be decreasing body size.

In the time that it would have taken to gestate five consecutive baby elephants, I finally set upon a design. A triskelion. A three part symbol that even predates the Celts. The interesting aspect is that you can apply any meaning you want to a trinity. Past present future, mind body spirit, grande decaf latte. The last is a bit of stretch, but the symbol is multipurpose. I wanted to include my wife’s initials in between the spokes of the triskelion. My spouse smiled. My adult children mildly rolled their eyes. PDAs, parental displays of affection, are to be avoided.

The placement of a tattoo also makes a statement. Men prefer arms while woman prefer upper back and legs. Each placement makes a different statement. A facial location would make the statement that I was not happy with my present employment. A deltoid shoulder placement was more in keeping. Not too shy, not obvious at work, and would integrate well with the yoga crowd when I wore my lululemon tank top.

This was the way to show my free spirit. I copied out varioustattoo sizes and taped them to various body locations. Apparently my free spirit likes to be guided like a slow moving trolley on tracks.

After contacting my local tattoo parlor, and checking out needle safety, I had my consultation. I veered away somewhat from the artists that would otherwise have been comfortable providing prison tattoos, while in prison. I settled for a more artistic looking artist.

The fateful day arrived and I was feeling flushed and decided to walk to the tattoo parlor instead of driving. I loaded up on ibuprofen. Upon arriving, I signed the necessary forms. There was no legal jargon to pour through. A good sign. I sat down in the dental looking chair, not a good sign, and my artist explained the process. He applied the stencil and I checked the mirror. This was the one last chance to bail, but I smiled and said ‘hey, it’s exactly what I was thinking of’. This may have been true at some point, but my mind was blank. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I can just about fall asleep when getting my teeth cleaned. I decided that I should try to stay awake and become more ‘fully engaged’ in the moment. But I was more concerned about my tattoo artist. If he nodded off and didn’t move from a certain spot after a minute, I wondered if I would be left with a large black splotch. And if so, what would this very unhappy looking death balloon symbolize?

The entire process took less than 90 minutes. I had been warned that getting a tattoo was like getting scratched by a cat. My previous scratching experience was rescuing a friend’s cat from a tree. The cat was terrified, but I coaxed it to leap into my arms. Yes, mistake, scratch wise. Fortunately getting the tattoo was way less painful.

When my artist was finished I paid the balance of my account. I gave him a nice tip. Even though the experience is almost the same, countless small punctures, I don’t usually tip my lawyer or my accountant.

Afterwards, I did feel different. After thinking about the meaning of the design, I understood how people can feel that their totem, crystals and the like are channeling another power. We all like to be attached to something greater. The triskelion reminds me to work on all aspects of myself continuously, a permanent conscious guide.

I like how they worked my spouse’s Celtic initials into the design which shows how our past, present and futures are intertwined.  I have committed to things that are important and to leave aside things that are not. There is no time like the present. Why wait?

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