Workplace Burnout – The Impact of Social Anxiety

 DIY-DMU, DMU, So.cial, Social Media  Comments Off on Workplace Burnout – The Impact of Social Anxiety
Feb 212018

We live in a culture of so-called achievement, in which our jobs and our life experiences are accounted for in terms of the impact that they have and the results that we get from what we do. This can be measured in terms of cash that we earn, research papers that we produce, or the number of students who pass our modules. The pressure is on for us to do more with less, to move up league tables and to raise the standard for what we do. The problem, however, is that more of us are suffering from social anxiety and burnout as a result.

This increasingly common problem is discussed in some detail in this article by Moya Sarner writing in The Guardian. It’s well worth reading:

Beyond the workplace, we live in an age when society itself seems to be burning out, with austerity, rising poverty and the uncertainty caused by Brexit pushing people to and beyond their limits. “Burnout could be seen as a condition of our times,” Andrew agrees, as cuts to services are making it harder and harder for people to cope: “Alongside cuts to social care, there are cuts to the voluntary sector, projects around domestic violence, for parents, for older people. Stopping a group for carers of people with dementia might seem like a tiny thing, but we have reached a critical point of extremely limited support, and if you’re in that situation, over a period of time, it makes complete sense that your body and mind would shut down. I see strong, capable, independent people who have reached a stage where there is no other option.”

There are certain factors that protect a workplace from burnout, says Vesey – a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a management style that finds “a balance between clarity and presence, but also offer people autonomy to allow them to get on with what they need to get on with”. Without these, a business and its employees are more vulnerable. Rock is realistic that businesses need to prioritise performance, but says: “It’s about thinking how you get the best performance out of your people. We should not move the way a charity operates into the financial sector – it would lose its competitive advantage very quickly – but there are things managers can do to support their staff, such as creating an environment where people can talk about what’s happening in the organisation, what’s happening for them.” What Cox suggests a boss should say is: “We recognise you’re having a tough time. What can we do to help you?”

I suppose the question is, what can we change about our own working practices that will help to avoid or minimise this sense of burnout? This is one of the reasons I actively minimise the use of email at work, because there is nothing more depressing than full email in tray. A face to face conversation, maybe over a cup of tea is so much more effective for building and sustaining relationships. It’s just a pity that the modern workplace strips away these opportunities for social contact and pushes less-human forms of communication on us.

It would be interesting to explore how we can turn the essential tasks that we have to do in our working lives back into something that is creative and empowering. Anyone got any ideas or example of how this is being done? Moya cites the Thriving at Work report, which might be a good checklist for assessing how we need to rethink work-based practices and how social media can contribute to well-being and not just leave us with techno-stress?

DIY-DMU Social Platforms Development Session

 DIY-DMU, DMU, So.cial, Social Media  Comments Off on DIY-DMU Social Platforms Development Session
Sep 072017

Yesterday I organised and ran a training session with colleagues in the Media, Design and Production subject group, in the Leicester Media School. The aim of the session was to introduce and familiarise colleagues with the social media platforms that we have available, and that I’ve been developing over the last few years.

At DMU we use a WordPress blogging system that is part of the DMU Commons, which is a suit of open source and open access media platforms that students and staff can use as part of their studies, their personal development and their social interaction with one another.

The blogs that learners and staff create and share can be aggregated on a site I’ve set-up called DIY-DMU. It’s a standard WordPress site, but it has been loaded up with RSS feeds taken from the individual blogs. So every time someone wants to share blog post, if they use the DIY-DMU category feed, then it will be updated on the DIY-DMU site as well.

The idea is that in order to find out about what people are working on, what they have been up to, and how they are getting on with their learning or professional development, you only have to go to one place to see these posts. It needs a bit of work to make it more attractive and to manage the feeds to make them more accessible, so it’s under development and should improve as more people get involved.

The next platform that we looked at is the DMU Commons Wiki, which I’ve been using for a couple of years as well. This is an open resource for learners and staff to post information about themselves, their activities, their interests and their projects.

I use the wiki extensively in my modules, as it’s a great way to enhance collaboration, to provide a single and central point of information that can be easily shared, and in the process, promotes a collaborative working culture based on communities of practice and interest.

The last platform that we looked at is new – Talk. Working with Owen Williams in the ITMS development team, we’ve installed a version of Discourse, which is a chat forum platform that supports the development of online communities and collaborative discussions. The system is new, so it will be interesting to see how we can use it effectively, both as a resource for learners, and as a resource for colleagues.

The objective of developing these platforms is to support learners, researchers and colleagues to more easily interact, which has become a relevant question on the National Student Survey, which asks if learners feel they are part of a learning community. How we promote this sense of community, and what people bring to it is going to be interesting to learn about.

Social Media Introspection

 So.cial, Social Media  Comments Off on Social Media Introspection
Aug 242017

I spend a lot of time staring at my phone. Like many people I’m checking my messages, looking for news, sharing photographs, reading articles and hoping that I can connect with other people so that I can share the things I am interested in. Maybe exchange ideas. It’s a way of connecting with people who are in the same world, who share the same outlook, and who have the same framework of expectation.

While I’ve been in Nantes I’ve noticed this experience has been more pronounced and intense. I’m out of my comfort-zone, in an alien culture of which I don’t speak the language. On the one hand my smartphone is a lifeline. I can easily follow the on-line maps that I need. I can translate words and phrases on the go, and in real time. I can keep in contact with distant friends by sharing my experiences with regular photo-updates. As a functional set of tools this opens-up the world to me in a way that was never possible before.

The downside is processing all of this information requires an intensity of thought and concentration that can be quite overwhelming, and if I don’t ration myself, quite destructive. So, this got me thinking about what kind of skills and capabilities do we need to manage this experience well, while retaining some sort of control over it? How do we prevent information overload? How do we reduce the sense of isolation that excessive smartphone use can generate? How do we make sense of it all?

We live in a world that increasingly values and places an emphasis on social connection and intercultural communication. But it’s not always possible to just walk into a bar and strike-up a conversation with just anyone. In France people tend to socialise in small groups and with people that they already know. Being an outsider carries the problem of not knowing how or when it is appropriate to intermix with people. In the U.K. it is simple. Go to a pub and stand near the bar, and its inevitable that one can get talking to somebody. Café culture in France doesn’t invite that.

Different strategies for being social are called for. Don’t ask me what these are yet, because that is what I am here to learn. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of my time using my phone to figure out what I should be doing, saying, where I should be going, and so on. It’s got to the point, however, that it’s started to drive me crazy, and has actually been counter-productive.

Rather than sitting with people, listening and observing, my phone has given me an inner-sanctuary that I can use to escape from the direct experience of the situation. After the phones’ initial usefulness and the functionality of what it lets me do, it offers diminishing returns. I’ve realised that I have to put my phone away and step back into the real world.

Our use of smartphones and mobile computers is not going to go away, though, and we perhaps need to figure out how we can get the best out of our use of them, and not succumb to the negative and anxiety-inducing effects of social media. We need to think about how we can use smartphones in a way that is more enriching and fulfilling. Who, though, can we turn to for help in achieving this?

About seventy percent of the population are regarded as being extrovert in their social disposition. That is, they have a preference and ease for being with other people, and they draw their energy from social situations. The remaining people are introvert in their disposition, which means that they draw their energy from a more inward-looking experience, and find social situations more of a drain. We all have to be able to work in both realms, but one is preferred over the other, so getting the right kind of balance is important.

Introverts are people who can live in a world of inner-experience. They can be absorbed in a world of ideas, stories and concepts that are lucid and extensive, sensual and deep-rooted, but which are primarily formed from inner-thoughts and reflections. Whether it is playing by oneself or spending hours engaging in a solitary task, or reading a book, introverts have no problem being by themselves. Indeed, most introverts struggle with gregarious social situations that are noisy and busy.

The sensory overload can be overwhelming and very tiring. Extroverts thrive in these situations, not being able to sit still for long periods without interacting or exchanging tacit acknowledgements of each other’s co-presence.

We live in a world, however, that focuses almost exclusively on extroversion as an essential social attribute, to the point where natural introverts are often made to feel dysfunctional and retarded. Be more outgoing is a phrase that is often given as sound advice, in an attempt to encourage introverts to engage more in the social world. As if maintaining one’s popularity and extended social connectedness is a virtue that can be explained purely on its own terms.

Yes, social connections re important, but most of what passes as social communication between people can be useless chatter that doesn’t really add a great deal to the grand scheme of things.

When I use social dating apps, for example, the conversations usually start by saying ‘hi, how are you?’ So often, however, they never go anywhere else beyond that, because many of the people chatting have nothing to say.

My problem is the other way around. I have far too much to say and finding an outlet for more extended discussions can be difficult. Hence why I journal and blog. I read often, I listen to music most days, walking about with my headphones on. I enjoy solitary walks, and I find I can spend long periods of time working alone with no undue side-effects, other than getting bored with my own company eventually. I don’t mind the rich inner-world of ideas that I am immersed in, and I suspect that most other introverts are the same as well.

So, being an introvert strikes me as being an advantage in the social media culture that we are increasingly immersed in. Introverts will be able to teach extroverts something about coping and strategizing time spent in a largely symbolic and mediated environment. Those hours spent reading, drawing, writing, sewing, planning, coding, designing, are hours well spent. Being immersed in mental work isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone, but there are some useful skills that introverts can pass on to our extroverted brethren that can help them to come to terms with this mental activity.

How do we learn to manage the thought processes, the inner dreamscapes and the imagined possibilities that form the valuable core of introspection? Introverts probably take these processes for granted, in the same way that extroverts take their social interaction for granted. What we can learn from each other, then, is to draw from the active engagement techniques as well as the inner-reflection techniques that both the extrovert and the introvert has to offer.

We all need to engage in both modes of operation, and neglecting one at the experience of the other, is itself a problem. But the next time we use our social media apps, consider for a moment what the world is that we are being drawn to, and how it’s ideas and patterns of communication take shape, because these experiences, in the words of George Harrison, come from both within us and without us.