In this episode, Sujani sits down with the managing director of the Student Network and author of The Burnout Gamble, Hamza Khan to talk about the subject of burnout. They explore the ways that the pandemic has affected everyone during the pandemic, as well as the ways that public health professionals and students have been impacted specifically.
- How to identify burnout as well as how to address it
- About the personal experiences that Sujani and Hamza have had with burnout and what they took away from these experiences
- What are the origins of the 12 Stages of Burnout Model
- How the CASTLE factors can lead to burnout
- How to understand and control stress
- The ways that the pandemic has affected everyone in terms of burnout, as well as the ways that students and public health professionals have been impacted specifically
- Tangible tips for students in how to avoid burnout
- How to audit your energy expenditures
Hamza Khan is a multi-award winning marketer, best-selling author, and global keynote speaker whose TEDx talk “Stop Managing, Start Leading” has been viewed over a million times. He is a top-ranked university educator, serial entrepreneur, and respected thought leader whose insights have been featured by notable media outlets such as VICE, Business Insider, and The Globe and Mail. He empowers youth and early talent through his work as Managing Director of Student Life Network, Canada’s largest and most comprehensive education resource platform, which reaches over 2.7 million students. He co-founded both Splash Effect, a boutique marketing & creative agency, as well as SkillsCamp, a soft skills training company.
Hamza’s personal experiences with burnout led him to write his first book entitled The Burnout Gamble. He is an instructor at Seneca College and Ryerson University, teaching courses on digital marketing and social media.
- TEDx talks by Hamza:
- Articles and studies mentioned in the interview
- Books mentioned in the interview
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I’m not a medical professional. I’m a guy who experienced burnout. I’m a recovering overachiever that experienced burnout, who was also a critical thinker who took the time to unpack what had happened to me and explore it at a structural level. Why was my situation unique? Well, it’s not.
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.
Hey, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. So I want to paint a picture for you today. When we’re lying there on the bed with a stuffy nose, maybe we lost our voice or feeling nauseated, we don’t think twice about calling in sick for work. Now think about this other scenario, you’re feeling drained of energy, you’ve been in top gear performance for months now, dealing with challenging work and even more challenging relationships. You are feeling physically fine, no cold or cough, no physical pain otherwise doing okay. But mentally, something is not right. You’re exhausted, you’re snapping at people. The smallest bump in the road or response from someone really ticks you off so much that it demotivates the work that you’re doing, and presenting a person at work that you’re not so proud of. Would you consider calling in sick that day and perhaps staying home? I know I didn’t. A number of years ago, I was feeling all of these things and becoming someone that I was not happy with at work around my peers and colleagues. They may not have even noticed it entirely. But it did cause some tension in my relationships. I was snapping at people that I liked and respect. It was not like me to act like that. I can’t pinpoint when it started this feeling of mental exhaustion nor why, but I can probably make a good guess and say that it was cumulative and occurred over time. Then one day, it took an unintentional mental health conversation with a really good friend of mine to help me identify what was happening. We were chatting about our days. And the way I was using certain words prompted her to ask me a simple question, actually a series of simple questions. And this helped me reflect on the reasons I was feeling a certain way. And my friend simply replied back to me saying that sounds like burnout. And my reply? Nope, not me. I feel physically fine. I’m not exhausted. And her reply was, well, that’s physical exhaustion. You’re mentally exhausted at the moment. My problem at that time was that I didn’t know how to identify burnout. In my head, burnout was defined as physical exhaustion. I didn’t think of mental exhaustion as burnout. I didn’t identify what I was going through as burnout, nor something that I needed to take care of. I internalized my behavior, and thought that I was becoming a horrible person, and that I needed to be kinder to people. Being a public health professional, we are just so passionate, we are passionate people and care a lot about the work we do. At times, we care so much that when we don’t see results, it upsets us. Public health is a large wheel that needs a lot of pushing to see movement. Over time, whether it’s weeks, months or years, not seeing momentum in that wheel adds up and begins to affect you. For some people, it’s physical pain and uneasiness and for others, it’s mental exhaustion. So when I came across this book, The Burnout Gamble written by Hamza Khan. And given we were in this pandemic, and seeing so many public health professionals working long hours over extended periods of time, I was reminded of the situation I went through a few years ago. And so I really wanted to sit down with this author, someone who perhaps could help me bring this topic delight. And as a result, help public health professionals identify burnout for themselves, and perhaps even provide them with the resources and tools to help themselves or their peers. And so, I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with Hamza since the beginning of the pandemic, and we’ve been chatting since 2020, and just found time to sit down and really dive into this topic of burnout. And so without further ado, Here’s Hamza.
All right welcome Hamza to the PH SPOTlight podcasts. I’m so excited because this podcast episode we’ve been meaning to make happen for almost a year. So finally, early 2021 were sitting together. So this is super exciting.
Yeah. Sujani, thank you so much. And I apologize to you and to all the listeners for this delay. When we started the conversation. I was looking at the timestamps, it was January of 2020. It was a BC timestamp. It was before Coronavirus.
And, you know, when we started the negotiations about when we would find an ideal time to lock us down and record the podcast. Boom.
We were hit with the COVID 19 pandemic, I believe, March 11 of 2020 is the day that has the most overlap in terms of universal panic.
Governments were shutting things down. And we were around the world going into different states of lockdown and states of emergency. And the world dramatically changed. I think that we had a email exchange where we said, let’s circle back, let’s check in in a few months and see where we’re at. And here we are nearly a year two months later. So thank you for the patience. And thank you for the belief that we would be able to have a conversation that’s productive, and something that would absolutely lightened both of us and inspire and inform the listener. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And I think it worked out well, because I must say, I myself are in a better headspace than I was back in March. So this is good. So-
Can I ask a question of you, I know you’re gonna ask most of the questions. But I’m just curious to know, Sujani. Like, this is our deep dive conversation. We’ve been talking over social media and email, but like, how are you right now? A year and a half, about a year and a half? I guess it’s gonna be a year and a half. Maybe, by the time some of the listeners listen to this podcast, but how are you doing?
I gotta say, shift in mindset. At the onset of the pandemic, I was one of those people who was like, alright, a lot of time, I’m gonna hunker down and get a lot of work done, you know, created lists, this is what I get to finish by the end of the year. And oh, boy, did it not turn out that way, right. And I needed to step back, really focus on yourself and myself being public health professionals, my work completely turned inside and I was focusing on COVID. So that itself, you know, my work was COVID, outside of work with COVID. Everyone was asking about COVID. So it’s, I mean, that has changed. Yeah, very consuming.
I hope. I hope that with the passage of time, you’re able to look back at the year 2020, and not feel that you didn’t get enough done. I mean, frankly, I’m- I’m surprised that anyone right now is productive at all. And it’s nothing short of a miracle considering just the ambient stressors alone, that we’re recording a podcast in the middle of a global pandemic, with economic downturn looming around the corner.
Yeah. I must say-
This is wild.
I must say, I’ve gotten better at, you know, telling myself that I don’t need to be productive. You’re 100%-
It’s okay, to not be okay, right?
Yeah, exactly. And I think that took a lot of learning and hence why this topic that we’re going to chat about burnout is personal to me, I- I’ve had certain episodes that I’m sure we’ll chat about, but the topic of burnout was something new to me, as you know, kind of traditionally, when we hear the word burnout, you often associated that with maybe like frontline workers, you know, firefighters, police officers, nurses, rightfully so. But I think there’s this shift in understanding burnout at a different level. And you know, not getting too far into that. Thank you again, for sitting with me. I’ve come across your work, your books, your talks on this topic, and let’s just jump right into it.
Define that, define what is burnout for some of our listeners who may have heard the word but haven’t really had the time to really reflect on it.
Yeah. So it’s so funny, right? I- I struggle with impostor syndrome. And as soon as you mentioned that your previous conception of burnout was around something that happens to frontline workers, people in the medical professional, so on and so forth. My inner imposter is like, wow, Hamza, you had no idea. I mean, you were truly clueless, before you burned out as to what burnout was, and is. There was this game that I used to play for Nintendo 64, I think it was Xbox, the original Xbox or maybe even Xbox 360. Doesn’t matter. But it was a game, a car game called burnout. That was the- that was the the association that I had with the term up until the point that I burned out, I thought it was just something that cars do it’s, you know, when cars flame out or get into accidents or put the pedal to the metal and I suppose some of those ideas are applicable to what it is like for a human to experience burnout, at least occupational burnout. So my previous understanding of burnout when I went through it back in 2014. And shortly after, up until the time of the publication of the burnout gamble, it was- it was a state of complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Essentially, when there’s no gas left to burn, if you’re thinking about the car analogy, when you have nothing left to give when you’re completely depleted of the fire, the creative productive fire needed. Now, that was the definition up until 2019, when the World Health Organization stepped in and reclassified burnout as a medical diagnosis that is the result of chronic workplace stress that has gone unmanaged. And if we’re thinking about health professionals, including public health professionals, have you not been feeling chronic stress since the beginning of the pandemic, I mean, my sister is a nurse at SickKids hospital doesn’t work directly with COVID patients, but just the changes to her style of working and just the you know, ambient stressors that I hinted at earlier being in environments where there are potential outbreaks and having to change her schedule to be more reactive and more responsive to a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous external stressor, aka COVID. And all of the resulting effects of it. Talk about chronic workplace stress A, and nobody has the playbook, nobody has the answers for this. So therefore, it opens up the possibility for the chronic workplace stress going unmanaged, because nobody knows how to deal with it.
And so you’re seeing attrition across the board in the medical professional, you’re seeing articles. I mean, I read one the other day, that was so shocking to me, I can’t remember what publication I think it was perhaps the Atlantic or vice one of the two maybe, or talked about how after the pandemic, it was confessions from- from doctors and nurses saying they don’t want to work in the profession after COVID. COVID has shown them that they don’t want to be in this profession that they want to once reached a point of mass vaccination when the COVID has subsided globally, they’re wanting to rescale and move out from the profession. It’s not what they signed up for. And that broke my heart because I feel- I feel ownership of their predicament. I feel like we haven’t done a good enough job myself included, of listening to the scientists, listening to the health care professionals, and behaving in a way that would have made their work easier. So there’s a lot over here, it’s very complex, it’s very interconnected, the nature of burnout. And you know, there’s so many layers we can unpack over here, but I will default to you, Sujani.
Yeah, you know, you’ve mentioned the the initial definition where it’s the physical, mental, emotional depletion of like, everything you felt you had inside of you. And it’s hard to identify it, I feel when you’re in it, because you know, I’m just thinking back to myself, I- there was a period in 2019, where I felt completely burnt out, I didn’t identify it as burnt out, I just said, you know, I have a lot of work or I’m tired, or I’m just not feeling motivated. And then one day, you know, you had gradual headaches and then ended up kind of I didn’t completely fall, but I blacked out went to the ER, I had, you know, kind of like a dramatic situation. And I think you explained something similar in your, one of your TEDx talks about being passed out at work in the bathroom, and then read- I read into, you know, Arianna Huffington, where she also passes out and like, finds herself in a pool of blood on her desk, you know, you can have those dramatic events kind of lead you to explore why it is that you had that certain event and really, you know, be lucky enough to identify it as burnout and then work towards fixing it. But you know, what other signs can people look out for to say, okay, I think I might be hitting that burnout stage. And I know you talked about the 12 stages of burnout, but maybe, yeah, how can people identify what are some early signs?
Sure, sure. Yeah, there’s a couple of different models that I’ve put into the burnout gamble, the most common one and I think the one that really served as a foundation, the bedrock for the study of burnout and how it manifests, at least in the professional realm, but then certainly, how it can manifest in your personal life as well. If you’re thinking about life transitions. That model is known as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Index, H-O-L-M-E-S, hyphen, R-A-H-E, the holmes-rahe stress index. And, you know, that’s a fascinating tool that people can use to determine whether or not they’ll experience a major episode of burnout based on the different events happening in their life and they rank them from I believe it’s like, zero, probably not zero, I think it starts at 13. And it goes all the way up to 100. So for instance, if you experienced the death of a loved one, the death of a spouse, that is the most stressful experience that a human can measurably go through heartbreak quite literally, and when somebody dies, it doesn’t matter if you are at stage zero or stage one of the 12 stage of burnout model, you jump all the way to the end. Now, the 12 stages of burnout model I think is worth bringing up here Sujani, this was created by doctors, Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North and they’re the ones who coined the term burnout in the 70s, which wasn’t that long ago. And when you consider that they were actually laughed at by their colleagues and their research was even rejected. It’s just so so fascinating to think that at the time, we didn’t have the vocabulary or the understanding of chronic workplace stress going on manage, and it was actually seen as comical and pseudoscience, what they had coined, but now here we are, not that long after in 2021 recording this podcast where like I said, as early as 2019, we’ve reached hopefully the beginning of a wave of understanding globally that this is something that we need to take a lot more seriously than we have. So one of the 12 stages of burnout real quick, it starts with a compulsion to prove oneself and then leads to you working harder than neglecting your needs, displacing your conflict, revising your values, and then you make it halfway there where you start denying that you’re experiencing any problems, you deny the fact that your disk unpopulated all the time you’re moving through the workday in a bit of a daze, your work is suffering, your relationships are suffering, that’s about the halfway mark. From there, you start to withdraw, you demonstrate odd behavioral changes, you experience depersonalization, you lose your sense of self, and you start to devalue others. And then the ladder three stages are where things get really, really dark, if you will, you experience inner emptiness that’s stage 10. Stage 11 Is depression. And by stage 12, what you experience is that total mental, physical and emotional collapse and especially in the last three stages, but I would argue from stage six onwards is when I don’t know if there’s anything that you can do in terms of retooling your productivity stack or changing your perspective, to recover from burnout. I think in the latter six stages, certainly the last three, you need professional help, you need to perhaps be admitted into the ER or talk to a therapist, to talk to a physician, work with medical professionals to help you out of that state. I certainly did when I experienced the last stage of burnout.
Yeah, you know, when I- when I thought about burnout, I was watching one of your TEDx talks. And I’ll be sure to link that in the show notes for listeners. I was, you know, battling with this thought of you and I probably and a lot of our listeners are high achievers, high performers. They want to be productive, you know, students, early professionals in public health. And then I wonder, Is burnout inevitable? And can you still be successful, even if you have high standards and high expectations for yourself without getting to those last stages of burnout and maybe at a healthy level? And I think you call it kind of that ideal attitude? Altitude?
Yeah, I so- so again, for the listeners, I have to clarify. And if it hasn’t already been obvious, I’m not a medical professional. I’m a guy who experienced burnout. I’m a recovering overachiever that experienced burnout, who was also a critical thinker who took the time to unpack what had happened to me and explore it at a structural level. Why was my situation unique? Well, it’s not. We’re all experiencing the stressors that come from factors largely outside of our control. And in my book, The Burnout Gamble, I define them as the castle factors, c-a-s-t-le, and they are competition, alienation, society, technology, loneliness, and the economy. And so you know, consider Sujani, and I’ll go into a little bit about them, you know, competition. Think about the fact that there’s 1.2 million Canadians who are unemployed at the time of recording this podcast. Now the rest of us we feel grateful to be considered essential, let alone gainfully employed or enrolled in college university. But at the same time, overall, job insecurity has increased. When you think about alienation, for instance, most of us are working and studying from home, I’m recording this podcast from home, you’re recording this podcast from home, we’re interfacing with more and more technology. Income inequality is growing. And we’re getting further and further away from meaningful work. The more digital layers we add, you know, we were once in a state of flow. I imagine there’s a version of this where we’d be sitting down recording the podcast, sharing the same air seeing each other physically, there was like a tangible element to the work that we did, but all of that’s changing in terms of society. You know, this could be a whole other podcast but you see all these really harmful messages, especially on social media, instances of toxic productivity and toxic positivity, which shame us into believing that we’re not doing enough. When it comes to technology, you know, work life barriers are disappearing. I feels like work is always on and consider this I was reading a report that which- which concluded that the pandemic workday is three hours longer than its pre COVID 19 counterpart. And there’s so much to unpack over there. In terms of loneliness, I was reading another report. And I have a stat over here of Ipsos poll, which shows that more than half of Canadians feel lonely during the pandemic. Now, you know that this can worsen mental health and relate to risky behavior. Also, I found out that one in five young Canadians have no friends at all. I mean, wow, when we think about just how we’re not set up for success, we’re not we’re not set up to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic, in a productive way. And then finally, on top of everything else, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, we’re staring down the barrel of a recession. So Sujani, to answer your question, in a very succinct way, we were unable to as individuals quickly and fundamentally change these stressors from without these, these external stressors. So what do we do, we internalize them as performance pressure, and we end up feeling like we’re not enough, we end up feeling like we’re not progressive enough, efficient enough, perfect enough, satisfied enough and innovative enough. And we overcompensate for that as overachievers with trying to be more intense and trying to be more engaged, we think that’s the answer. And we- we roll the dice and enter into the 12 stages of burnout, we feel the compulsion to prove oneself, we work harder, we start neglecting our needs. And before we know it, we’re on the slippery slope all the way down to the 12th stage of burnout, total physical, mental and emotional collapse. So it’s, it’s truly a sinister trick that, you know, I would have, in a previous podcast said that overachievers play on themselves. But the more I’m becoming educated on structural inequalities, on Social Determinants on factors from without, the more I’m starting to appreciate, and realize that, for many of us, myself included, we are beholden to our socialization, our programming, and the people we’ve entrusted to make decisions for us. So this is a very complex problem. That I don’t know if we can solve with one book, one podcast, one TEDx talk, I’m hoping that what these three things that we have been discussed in this podcast alone, and this podcast itself, can inspire others to participate in the conversation and take it further.
Yeah, I was thinking exactly that I’m just, you know, sitting here reflecting on everything you’re saying, and going holy, this is- this is a large topic. And I’m struggling here to ensure that our listeners are kind of grasping each of the concepts that we’re kind of jumping from, you know, from being able to identify it. And I find that is one of the most difficult parts of this, you know, like, if you haven’t experienced burnout previously, I find that the first time you identify it, it takes a long time.
Yeah. It’s almost too large. It’s almost- it’s almost comically large. Because we don’t know where to approach it from like, do we take the personal productivity angle? Do we take the self care angle? Do we approach this from leadership’s responsibility? Do we accept this as an inevitable consequence of being a human in 2021? I mean, there’s so many different ways, so many different lenses to approach the burnout problem, and not to discredit the validity of any of them. But I feel like only using one approach to this problem would be ineffective.
And I think it requires everyone paying attention to this with whatever lens and expertise they have to try and solve this in a very multi-pronged way. It’s a wicked problem truly, and it evolves and I guess it, you know, it, it, it spawns a new variants with every change that happens in the world to use terminology that’s very familiar to us as listeners and podcasters.
I was gonna say very clever use of the word. Yeah, no, like, I’m thinking about kind of the signals that I get from myself when I’m trying to identify that I’m kind of getting close to that burnout stage.
What do you tell us? Like what- what are the tells that Sujani has to- to understand that she might be going to burn out and veer off?
Yeah, it certainly when I become kind of snappy and unlike myself, with my colleagues, or you know, with my family, friends, and that’s kind of a very early indication. And I remember speaking to one of my managers about this a while back, we were both kind of reflecting and saying, you know, you realize that you’re- you recognize that this is not you like this is not the Sujani that I know that my colleagues know. So it’s probably time to kind of step back and reevaluate what’s been happening in your professional life or personal life because you don’t like the version of yourself that you’re seeing. So that’s kind of my- I don’t know if it’s an early indicator or if it’s a little bit further down, but that’s what I keep an eye out for. I don’t know about you, do you have something that’s, you know, evident?
Wow. So it’s so- it’s so bizarre that you say that, that you don’t know if it’s an early indicator or something that happens later. So based on what you described in terms of being short, panicky, jittery, threatened, those are hallmarks of the fourth stage of burnout. They’re hallmarks of the sixth stage of burnout. And they’re hallmarks of the ninth stage of burnout. So where do you think you are? Are you early burnout? Are you mid burnout? Are you late burnout. And that is, that is why, again, we need more minds solving this problem. And I get excited whenever I see the tech world developing tools to- to manage and monitor employee burnout, why I get excited, whenever there’s a new book on the market, about the subject, whenever there’s a podcast like this, where someone like yourself and your audience have an interest in learning about this. Because to me, as somebody who has experienced this in a vivid way for a large part of their life, who has written about it, who thinks about it day in and day out, it’s- it’s giving me the confidence that we’re not just having my mind and the minds of that small grouping of, you know, thought leaders, experts, doctors, scientists around the world thinking about it, we need more of the best and brightest people to think about this problem, because we don’t know. Just thinking back to what you said, and the way you described your tells. I’m quite stunned now thinking about it, because there’s there’s a version of this conversation, Sujani, where after we log off, I’m like, Hey, Sujani, are you- Are you okay- okay? Like-
You mentioned that you’re okay. But is it possible that you are just three steps away from complete burnout. And we need better tools, we need more research, we need more resources available, especially for communities and people that don’t have the language. You know, you and I now have vocabulary to describe what’s happening. But, you know, God bless my mom, my mom doesn’t have the same vocabulary, the same language, the same tools and resources to understand what’s going through her. And so she might be misdiagnosing what might be just normal stress and anxiety caused by life changes, or it could be something that requires immediate and urgent medical attention.
Yeah. And I like- I must say, since those kind of situations that I faced back in 2019, there have been kind of systems I’ve put in place to ensure that I can identify these signs early on. And I wonder, you know, before I share kind of what I’ve done, are there tangible tips that people can take, that’s more than just, you know, maybe I’ll take a day off, because I think I’m feeling burnt out. Because you know, you and I both know that a day, just one day off, is not the cure for burnout.
Yeah, I can give a couple of tips over here. I’ll start with this one over here, which is auditing your energy expenditure. So I think during times of stress, I know during times of stress, people default to looking at their calendar for answers, they try to create more time, which I think is worthwhile to do. But time isn’t the only resource, the only- the only wealth of capacity that you have, you have time, energy and attention, all three work together to create focus. And so when your focus is ruptured, and when you’re not productive, when you’re not feeling well, it’s worth looking at where your energy is going. And to that end, I would encourage the listeners to think about their energy is divided into four layers, their physical energy, so how healthy are they. Their emotional energy, how happy are they. Their mental energy, how well they can focus on something. And their spiritual energy, the sort of why- of why they’re moving to the world? Why are they doing all of this? What is their transcendent purpose. So for overachievers, specifically, we’ve had a tough time replenishing our energy. We- we subscribe, at least you know, I subscribe to this idea that you had to give it all every single day you have to exhaust yourself, deplete yourself of energy, and then wake up the next morning and do it all over again, sort of take this Phoenix approach to work and life, burn bright, burnout, and then revive yourself from the ashes and do it over and over again. But there’s diminishing returns to that style of working and eventually catches up with you. So I would encourage all the listeners start with an energy expenditure audit, get a sense of where you’re losing energy, but then take it a step further and create a list. As simple as this might sound. But it’s so helpful of what you can do, what activities, what people you can meet, what self care rituals you can incorporate into your life that will replenish your energy. So think about how you replenish your physical energy, replenish your emotional, and mental, and spiritual energy and build those habits practices, rituals, and beliefs, and thoughts into your schedule. You can use your calendar as a way to create these immovable blocks of time that you allocate towards energy replenishing activities, that’s going to be so key and, and prioritize guilt free energizing, it is okay to take some time out of your week to binge watch a show, it is okay to run a bath and sit in there and stare into the abyss and think about nothing. It is okay to read a book, listen to a podcast and on your balcony, you know, if you’re going to be burnout, if you’re going to keep that fire burning that we talked about throughout this podcast Sujani, you’re gonna have to get serious about managing your energy.
Now, that’s a good way to look at it, like what is giving you energy and having a good relationship with the those activities that are going to give you energy. And, you know, it goes back to my relationship with some of the activities that I had to turn on its head and you know, consider as a positive activity in my life. For example, I didn’t, I felt like I didn’t have a good relationship with sleep up until I identified myself as being burnt out. My experience was feeling burnt out not knowing what it was speaking to a good friend of mine who is a doctor, so I wasn’t intending on having a conversation about burnout. It was just a casual, how’s it going? And she identified it as burnout in me. And that’s when we started speaking about, you know, what is it that I’m doing? What am I not doing? And so having that conversation with a friend really helped me identify activities in my day that you know, for example, sleep, I thought of it as unproductive and then researching into it over the whole year reading about Arianna Huffington, because she’s taken a big stance on wellness as well. And just learning about the importance of sleep, you know, change that, that- that narrative in my head about sleep but being actually quite productive. You know, previously research just thought that when you close your eyes, you just rested your eyes, your body but-
Your brain your neural pathways are crystallizing, you’re increasing your neuroplasticity.
And there’s so much repair.
Oh my god, so much repairs going on. So just such that now, I have no problem preemptively canceling morning meetings, if I know that my sleep is going to get disrupted.
I need to get that seven to eight hours of sleep. Otherwise, I’m essentially robbing myself of productivity the next day.
You know, if I wake up with less than seven hours of sleep, I’m quite useless. I’m prone to making bad decisions, being snappy, and short, and standoffish. But also, you know, entering to the type of work where nothing of substance is getting done, I might be doing busy work, like clearing up my calendar and responding to emails and a half sort of way. But I’m not actually moving the needle forward. So sleep is so key, and especially for any people who are listening to this podcast, who work in public health, who are creative, in their- in their work. And this doesn’t mean artistic necessarily, you can be creative. You know, even if you work in an- in an administrative role, if your job involves sort of fashioning together and creating connections between seemingly disparate points, know that the necessary precursor to break through creativity is boredom. And society teaches us especially when you think about toxic productivity, it teaches us and misleads us into believing that being bored is actually useless, that being bored is anti productive, counterproductive, being bored is something that should be avoided. But the truth is, and studies have backed this up time, and again, I think it’s, you can’t even debate it now. But if you get bored correctly and intentionally, that is what you need in order to have the new, innovative, truly innovative and breakthrough idea that is only going to come if you give your brain and body but especially your brain the space to be open to new ideas, to new concepts.
Yeah, because we’re constantly just putting stuff into our brain, right? I know, I used to be guilty of this, where if I had any free time, I needed to pick up a book or I needed to listen to a podcast or go on Instagram. Like-
You wanted to turn your downtime into uptime, right?
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So yeah, in addition to sleep, something else I’ve picked up and I love is meditation. And so it’s so good. Like, I think that’s been one of the biggest things that has actually changed me in terms of the relationship I have with burnout. And I think I have such a better control on my productivity and identifying burnout or my stress early on and knowing what to do is meditation has certainly helped a lot and I just finished reading a really great book for any of our listeners, who might be interested in getting into it is 10% happier. I don’t know if you’ve read it.
No, I haven’t. But I’ll write that down.
Yeah, it’s, I forget his last name. But Dan is the anchor on ABC. So he’s had, I think a panic attack on national television during one of his morning shows and he ends up trying to, you know, do the same exploration as to how to quiet the voice inside of his head. He’s also a highly productive or yeah, high performer. He, I guess, covered various series in Afghanistan during the war. So you know, he’s been through a lot as well. And meditation is what he ends up kind of finding and discovering and has spent, I think the last five or six years kind of spreading awareness on that. And I think it’s a really, you know, down to earth realistic explanation or yeah, a case. Yeah, yeah, it’s a good case for meditation. If anyone’s interested in that book.
I’ll definitely have to check that out. These are, these are things that I’ve avoided for most of my life. I’ve started journaling, for instance, only in the last I’d say five years and you know, talk about a before and after practice similar to meditation. Journaling, for me has been critical to rewiring my relationship with stress. Prior to journaling, I would lump all stress in the same category, the definition that I think we learned in the traditional education system, distress, d-i-s-t-r-e-s-s, the stress that throws you out of equilibrium. But I only recently, and recently as in from sort of 2014 onwards, learned that there’s a whole other side to stress that is good stress, e-u-s-t-r-e-s-s. And part of my recovery process involves reading The Upside of Stress by Dr. Kelly McGonigal breakthrough research in which he found that simply reframing a stressful experience is one that produces good stress. One that brings you closer to feelings of joy, fulfillment, happiness, that is enough to physically change your response to the stressor, which is- which is unbelievable. What if the listeners, what if we took the time to audit our life look at where we’re spending the 168 hours that we have available to each week. And really think hard about some of the things that we don’t like doing in the week, whether it’s a job, whether it’s a relationship, whether it is some point of friction in our life? What if we took the time to reframe it as, as the precursor as preconditions as the- the pathway to something better? How much better would our lives be qualitatively? You know, it’s- I’ve had a tough time justifying and rationalizing the approaches that our government is taking to locking down the economy. I’m following the the COVID rules to the best of my ability, but there are days I’m not gonna lie where I’m at home, and I’m like, Wow, this doesn’t make any sense. Like, why can’t I go out and see my friends and see my family, when you look at the data, etc, etc. And then I have to remind myself that this is- this is good stress, me being at home feeling stressed. This is the precondition to collectively helping our province and by extension, our country reopened safely and hopefully permanently. And I feel better about the decisions that I make as a result.
And yeah, when we talk about stress and other group that experiences high stress, and I think we can talk about the different types of stress they would experience in its area, I think you’re quite familiar with our students. And we have quite a few listeners that are students as well in public health. And yeah, maybe we can take a few minutes just to talk about the different kinds of stressors that students face and kind of how they can go about managing that.
Yeah, and I guess it really depends, Sujani, are we speaking mostly about, I’m imagining opera year high school and post secondary students?
Yeah, mostly post secondary and graduate job.
Gotcha. Okay, so for talking post secondary and graduate students, I’m right there with you. I am a undergraduate instructor at Ryerson University. I’m also taking a Master’s class in a master’s program, enrolled in a master’s program at Ryerson University as well. Now, look, I’m just gonna say it like this is a really difficult time for students. And I know this firsthand from both angles, I- I like to think that I teach a very dynamic and engaging class that respects the students and meets them where they are and uses all of the advantages of online learning and community building to create an experience that students voluntarily want to subject themselves to. And I have my students confirm for me semester after semester that they enjoy my class, they enjoy my methods of instruction, they can tell that I put my heart and soul into the craft. And I think the- the- the- the instructor assessments that I received, but also the wonderful emails and messages that I receive all the time from students saying, Wow, your class changed my life. Your class has truly helped me this is the best class have ever taken. I’m flattered by them, but at the same time, Sujani, I’m concerned that what I consider to be normal is the exception to the rule for these students. So it makes me wonder what are the rest of their classes like? Are other instructors phoning it in? Are they giving up? I mean, I had one of my students at the beginning of the pandemic telling me that in the middle of her class, an instructor logged off zoom by saying, “F this, this is not what I signed up for. I don’t know how to navigate this. I don’t know how to teach online.”, and they quit in the middle of the semester. This really happened, according to my student. So you have these instructors who are phoning it in, who are creating subpar experiences for the students. And I think this is worth bringing up because we think, at least in this conversation we’ve sort of honed in on on overachiever burnout, but there is such a thing as underachiever burnout, you can be underwhelmed and experience a level of burnout that is just as destructive as the one version of burnout that overachievers experience. And there’s a model that underpins this. It’s called the Yerkes Dodson law, y-e-r-k-e-s, hyphen, d-o-d-s-o-n. And it shows the relationship between the amount of challenge and difficulty and your performance. And it basically states that if you have too much challenge and difficulty, your performance is low. But on the other side of the bell curve, if the amount of challenge difficulty is low, so is your level of performance. And I know this firsthand, because I’m not going to name some names, I have been in some classrooms, virtual classrooms where my god, the instructor just could not be motivated to engage us just phoning it in. And it’s not the first zoom call that I have, I have seven, eight zoom calls a day, I’m experiencing zoom fatigue, I’m experiencing the exhaustion of being at home, first of all, in the middle of a global pandemic. Because remember, listeners, we’re not simply working or studying from home, were locked in our homes, depending on where you live, trying to cope, trying to manage our mental health, worrying about these ambient stressors in the middle of a global pandemic. And so the last thing that we need is the added stress that comes from a three hour droning lecture from an instructor who’s just so checked out and you know, I’m gonna give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’re just as stressed as well.
So for students, I get it right now I understand the frustration, I understand why there’s a growing sentiment amongst students, at least here in Canada that maybe they want to sit out the next couple of semesters, or maybe they want to sit out the next year or so and wait to see if there’s a possibility that the universities and colleges will get their act together and create an experience that will truly engage them. Because otherwise, using the business mind, I see a hard time in the foreseeable future. I see the universities and colleges having a hard time justifying their value to students. If this is going to be the new normal, so to the students, I say please be patient. Know that as instructors as academic administrators, we’re trying our best. Atleast I know many of us are, we’re trying our best. We’re hustling to try and figure out how to recreate the experience of being on campus online. But if all goes well, if we’re able to flatten the curve, truly achieve mass vaccination, and you know, fingers crossed that a miracle happens, we’ll get back to a better version of normal in the future. And in that future, I do still believe in the power of higher education. So don’t lose hope. Please be patient. We’re working as hard and fast as we can. And we would love your input on how we can better serve you.
Now, thank you for that very, very candid reflection, I think I was expecting you to throw out some additional tips or something like that. But that candid reflection of being both an instructor and a student, yourself, I think really will connect to our students and and just a little bit of hope you know that we will get through this.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Sujani. And real quick, if I can give students just a tangible thing that you can do.
I’m sorry, a tactical thing that you can do to help you during this time. reverse engineer your syllabi. What do I mean by that? Take a look at your syllabus and understand what a successful grade would entail. What kind of work would you need to do, what kind of assignments would need to be completed? When would they need to be completed, reverse engineer your syllabus, and create a checklist. And what you’re going to do with this effectively, is activate what’s known as Parkinson’s Law, this idea that work expands so as to fill the time allocated for its completion. If you leave it up until the last minute to get everything done, it’s gonna take you the entire semester to get things done. But if you simulate constraints, and you use your relative peacetime, your relative downtime, to force yourself into action, I think that you can approach doing well in your respective courses in a bite sized way, in a manageable way and decide how work is going to end in advance is it going to be time based, unit based, energy based, results based, or feelings based. I don’t think you know, feelings based will have any- any direct correlation on your marks in a meaningful way. So my recommendation would be take a results based, time based, unit based, reverse engineering approach to your syllabus. And by the way, this is also useful in non pandemic times, but it is especially useful now.
Oh, that’s so good. Such a good tip. Okay, I’m just taking a look at the clock. I know you’re a popular person, Hamza, you got another episode to record after?
I’m happy to a couple of more minutes over here, for sure.
Good, good. So you know, we talked quite a bit about your first book, which is The Burnout Gamble. And I will be sure to link that in the show notes. So our listeners can grab a copy of that but your second book is also quite exciting, Leadership Reinvented. And-
As I mentioned, before we started you know, we have students, we have early professionals, we have established professionals, and I consider all of them leaders, you know, public health leaders were out there trying to solve huge problems in the world. And yeah, can we hear a bit more about this book? And what’s behind those pages?
Yeah, absolutely. And thanks for the opportunity to speak about this. The book is titled, Leadership Reinvented, and it’s coming out very soon, you can preorder it now you can head over to leadershipreinvented.co, not .com, .co. And you can get a free chapter of the book, the best place to preorder it would be on Amazon. And if you do read it, I hope you enjoy it, I hope you’ll leave me a positive review. The book is wow. I mean, it’s so, it’s so sprawling in terms of its scope, yet, in the way it’s written, it’s so precise. It’s, it’s my favorite writing till date, I’ve really, really put my heart and soul into this. The book is an attempt to understand what it’s going to take to thrive in the future of work from a leadership perspective. So whether you are a student that is about to enter into a leadership role in a student organization, whether you’re just less than five years into your career, and you’re being considered for promotion, or whether you are the head of the company, a grizzled veteran CEO that has been doing this for 35 years, and want to shift your approach. This book is for you, at the heart of this book is the idea that in order for an organization to make it in the future of work, whether you’re a country, whether you’re a governmental body, whether you’re a corporation, a fortune 500 company, or small business or whether you’re a social enterprise, your ability to meet the future depends on how quickly you can change the inside of the organization. The CEO, the ex CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, said that if the rate of change on the inside of the organization is slower than the rate of change on the outside of the organization, the end is near. And COVID-19 was an event a series of events for me that gave me a lens to see the world at least see the apparatus of leadership that exists across the corporate, government, and social enterprise, landscape, and larger environment. It gave me the lens to see that there is a pattern indeed. And the pattern is the leaders who are able to thrive during times of unexpected crisis, such as COVID-19, and the leaders who failed to do so. It really comes down to them. It really comes down to how prepared they are for that moment. No, no leader knew that this was going to happen. Whether you’re Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, whether you are Eric Yuan, the CEO of zoom, whether you are Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, whether you’re Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, these are people who have been investing in their ability to respond to change, to respond to sudden unexpected adversity long before they knew that they would need the tools. And I think they did this. I’m convinced that they did this by taking a very human centric approach to leadership. They believe in the values of servitude, innovation, diversity and empathy. And they believed it and practiced it at a time when it wasn’t popular, when a more avoidant, autocratic and aggressive style of leadership was being promoted. But if COVID-19 showed us anything, if the US elections showed us anything, it’s that the leaders who practice the avoidant autocratic and aggressive style of leadership those who manage people the way they would manage things, those who are not human centric, those who give into the values of or the practices rather, of Machiavellianism, psychopath, psychopathy and narcissism. They are doomed to destroy their organizations. So this book, Leadership Reinvented, is really a guidebook, a manual for people who want to take their organizations into the new normal and thrive there. But the challenge to them is this, you have to become human centric, you have to start seeing people, respecting the diversity of people, and not just diversity of, you know, background or country, origin, or religion, or culture, or color of your skin, I mean, diversity in terms of the full stand for identity wheel, thinking about age, thinking about ableism, thinking about gender, sexuality, really seeing that the human ability, the ability to unlock the complete human gradient is the thing that will truly allow your organization to change faster on the inside, to meet and exceed the rate of change on the outside. So I know that was a lot, Sujani, it is a- it is a very short read, it is much more concise, coherent, focused on 24 different strategies that you can implement as leader right now. But know that the problem it’s trying to address is how do you take this podcast? How do you take your organization? How do I take my organization? How do leaders take the work that they do? And beyond that, take Ontario, take Canada, take the world into the future. This is my attempt to help those leaders who have a growth mindset to do just that.
Amazing. Just curious, actually, do you weave anything about burnout into this book? Or?
Yes, it appears a couple of times. And the one area where it features prominently is an understanding two models, in particular, the dark triad of leadership so this is machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism as well as the toxic triangle of leadership, which talks about that dark triad leader, it talks about, you know, co leaders, and conformers, the people that prop that up, and then the unstable environment. And how burnout features into this book is understanding that sometimes burnout is weaponized. Sometimes stress is weaponized by these leaders to result in short term gain. But it always results in long term destruction. And so if you are somebody right now, who’s working for a leader, who is ineffective, who is promoting a culture of burnout, that is a sure-fire sign, no pun intended, that the organization is going to collapse. It’s not a question of if the organization is going to collapse. It’s a matter of when. COVID-19 has made it difficult, if not impossible for these leaders to thrive. We’re seeing a great reset, not just economically speaking, but in terms of leadership. Around the world, the leaders who have been able to successfully transition into this new paradigm are the ones who see people, value people, and put the needs of the people before their own. All of the other leaders are just, they’re just, they’re just biding their time. They’re trying to get as much done as they can, because they know they’re not going to make it. They know they’re not going to pass into the new normal.
Absolutely. Thank you so much. For spending almost an hour with us and-
Yeah, it has.
I’m so sorry, I didn’t even get a chance to ask you any questions.
That’s okay. We’ll have to do another episode, then.
I would love to if you’d be open to it. Throw out the invitation on your podcast. I would love for you to join me on my podcast ideas into action when we get going later this year.
Oh, sure. I will definitely join you there.
You are doing such incredible things, Sujani, and I want to thank you for hosting and creating this podcast. This is this is such a gift. And I hope that the listeners will share this episode and your podcast far and wide. You were curating such interesting conversations. I really enjoyed the conversations that you had with Ken Lee and Anjum Sultana. Shout out to both of them. I would recommend if the listeners haven’t listened to those two episodes, check them out. They’re fantastic. Sujani, this is- this has been such an honor. Thank you so much for having me.
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Hamza on the topic of burnout. I know we spoke about so many different concept and so we’ll make sure to link all of them in the show notes page for this episode at pHspot.ca/podcast. And I also want to leave you with this, please take care of yourselves and know that you can only help this world through your work when you are well. And so until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.