Introverts on the Job: At Risk of Burnout?

Introverts on the Job: At Risk of Burnout?

It seems like everyone is talking about introversion and extroversion: how to present powerful ideas, how to communicate, and how to help them work together. While each personality type has its strengths, our world — with its focus on interconnection and near-constant communication — is clearly built for the extrovert. According to Michael Godsey, writing for The Atlantic, this can have catastrophic effects on introverts working in extroverted workplaces, especially teaching. These effects can include one of the worst behavioural workplace evils: burnout.

Godsey writes of his own experience, and of teachers who left the profession mere years after they started in it, after the dangling carrot of quiet nights in marking papers had been replaced by the stick of taxing “professional learning community meetings” and “collaborative overload.” There was support, but the wrong kind for Godsey:

“[T]he district assigned to me a mentor to help orient me — he took me out to coffee, and we just talked about good literature and lesson ideas for an hour. The principal, visibly flustered that we didn’t observably ‘do anything,’ assigned me a new mentor who, among other things, encouraged me to divide my class into cooperative groups and then share the results with my department and administration. The implicit message seemed to be similar to what [fellow teacher Ken] Lovgren said explicitly: ‘A calm and focused teacher is suspected of underworking, and so everybody, regardless of their personality type, is expected to work constantly in groups.’

While teaching can be especially exhausting, Godsey’s tale can be extrapolated to any workplace where an introvert might be in over their head. Did you get bone-tired simply reading the above quote? Well, you may be an introvert, and as such, chances are higher your job may not be the best one for you.

Charity — and Happiness — Begin in the Workplace

It is a hazard of our economic system that the majority of us (that is, adult humans participating in capitalism) must have a job in order to fulfill certain comforts. We need money for food and shelter, an RRSP or other structured savings for the future — and sometimes, heck, just a reason to get up in the morning.
Some lucky workers find fulfillment in their actual jobs: their “calling” and their career have happily dovetailed. But we at DFC are interested in how everyone can find happiness at work. Part of that involves taking control. But sometimes that is just plain not possible, and we have to look at more unusual ways to be happy.
An interesting recent study shows that there is a connection between an individual’s history of charity donations, and their overall happiness. While having money for yourself doesn’t really make you happier after a certain point, giving it away to others does — and also appears to affect your physical health as well:
“People who donate to charity have lower blood pressure, [project leader Prof. Elizabeth Dunn of UBC] said, even when controlling for factors like income, wealth, age and exercise, which suggests the giving itself is responsible.

Dunn measured people’s blood pressure before and after giving, and found it fell when people gave significantly to other people or causes, but did not change when they spent money on themselves.

The extent to which people feel connected to the cause is also important, she said, with more of an effect when people feel personally connected to the cause to which they are giving.”
So if you’ve done your darnedest to find something fun in your current job, but can’t, you can try making your own happiness by donating part of your income it to a charity that speaks to you. (If you need suggestions, I find the list at The Life You Can Save  to be well-vetted and very helpful.) The charity can do its important and necessary work, and you derive the emotional and health benefits of giving. Plus, you can revel in the subversion of using the money you earned through your misery for the greater good — Everybody wins!

Do What You Love: Is Happiness a Motivator while Working?

During the mid-20th century growth explosion, leading economic experts, including John Maynard Keynes, sought to predict what the trend might mean for the West’s working future — the future in which we are now living. Keynes posited, roughly, that if economic productivity continued its upward trend, working hours would also trend downward. In the future, the average worker would spend a handful of hours a week at his or her job, spending the rest at leisure.

While productivity is higher, this latter point is clearly not the case. A new paper by Harvard economist Benjamin M. Friedman investigates why working hours in the United States haven’t followed their predicted path — after a dip starting in the 1930’s, working hours haven’t budged since the ’70’s — and his theory might have interesting reflections on workplace happiness.

Friedman refutes the idea that today’s humans are more materialistic, and work more to earn money for what they want next. He also complicates the hypothesis that, in today’s hyper-compartmentalized world, workers are more invested in the social relationships they have at work.

What he does find compelling is the increasing gap in equality in workers, and theorizes that most Americans spend more time at work not because they want to, but because they can’t afford not to. Wages have not kept pace with increased productivity, leaving many folks at the lower rungs of industry working as many hours as they can.

But what of the other end of that inequality spectrum — the, dare I say, 1%? Why are they spending long hours at work to, when they don’t have to?

[Friedman] theorized that for many top earners, work is a labor of love. They are doing work they care about and are interested in, and doing more of it isn’t such a burden—it may even be a pleasure. They derive meaning from their jobs, and it is an important part of how they think of themselves. And, of course, they are compensated for it at a level that makes it worth their while.”

So, for the majority of American workers, personal economic necessity pushes workplace happiness off the list of priorities. And for “top earners,” happiness is a motivator because the possibility of it exists for them. Keynes’ vision of productivity has come essentially true, but in practice it is skewed by inequality. The process of righting that imbalance should be an interesting one to watch.

Go (to Sleep) with your Gut: Connecting Lack of Sleep, Intestinal Health and Obesity

There are a variety of theories out there that seek to explain the link between length and quality of nightly sleep, and weight gain. One of the newest involves our old friends, our microbiomes, and how sleeping less than required can potentially hamper their weight-managing talents.

Israel’s Weitzmann Institute has been on the case, and researcher Eran Elinav and team have published their findings in the current issue of Cell. The team found that gut bacteria in under-rested mice and humans had marked trouble processing glucose. In further studies, they mimicked the effects of jet-lag in their rodent subjects. The gut bacteria of the mice, disrupted from their usual routine, went haywire and caused general weight gain. They then tried to see if humans responded similarly:

“[T]he researchers collected bacterial samples from two people flying from the US to Israel – once before the flight, once a day after landing when jet lag was at its peak, and once two weeks later when the jet lag had worn off. The researchers then implanted these bacteria into sterile mice. Those who received the ‘fresh’ jet-lag samples gained weight, while the second group did not.”

These findings indicate that disruptions to sleep routines of all stripes can play havoc not only with your mental health, but that of your gut! A sleep-debt-induced weight gain can’t be worth the extra hours at work, in front of a computer, or otherwise burning the candle at both ends. It’s one thing if you agree to it — but think of those poor, defenseless bacteria.