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How companies – and employees – can avoid a burnout crisis

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In a more typical time, burnout is an exception.

In the era of COVID, it almost feels like the norm.

According to Jennifer Moss, organizations should take a hard look in the mirror for fostering cultures of overwork that make things worse. The author, speaker and workplace wellness expert has penned “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It” to help slam the brakes on this crisis before we all hit the wall.

Moss spoke with Reuters about making it through the pandemic in one piece. Edited excerpts are below.

Q: You did some research about how people feel now. What did you find?

A: During COVID’S second wave, we found that only 2% of people rated their well-being as excellent, and 89% said their work life was getting worse. We expected that people would be exhausted, working more hours in the day and losing efficacy.

But we also found that cynicism was really high: People are starting to feel like they don’t have any control over outcomes. That’s really dangerous.

Q: How do you define burnout specifically?

A: It’s chronic workplace stress left unmanaged. There are six root causes: An unsustainable workload, perceived lack of control, insufficient rewards for effort, a lack of a supportive community, a lack of fairness and mismatched values and skills.

Q: Companies know something serious is going on, so are they doing enough?

A: Leaders are worried about people leaving, so they have been adding some well-being strategies to their portfolio. This has put employees more in the driver’s seat; for instance, we have been seeing many companies delaying a return to the workplace. Self-care strategies can be a good thing, but sometimes they are a Band-Aid solution to a much bigger problem that needs to be managed upstream.

Q: What should companies be doing to prevent burnout?

A: They need to be looking at the root causes of workload. Giving people a day off is okay, but you also need to reduce your expectations of productivity.

If you have a culture of overwork, that is not making people more effective – it’s making them sick. Companies need to give people more agency about how and when they come back to work, pay people what they’re worth, compensate them if they’re working extra hours, and make sure they’re promoting people for the right reasons.

A lack of fairness is a big issue here, because young people feel like there is no path for them.

Q: What can individuals do to make sure they’re not running on empty?

A: Organizations need to have a huge amount of accountability for burnout, but employees can be part of the solution, too. We can do a lot of work to identify whether we’re burning out, like how often we feel exhausted and disengaged and cynical. Then we need to start to think about pulling back, like taking breaks every couple of hours, digitally detoxing, going outside, putting on music.

Set boundaries about answering e-mails and manage your clients’ expectations, so everything doesn’t always seem so urgent.

Q: Leaders get burned out too. How can they manage those feelings?

A: We have never had a collective trauma like this where every single person is going through it. We are all feeling fear and social anxiety, and the same is true for leaders.

Have some self-compassion, show transparency with your team and don’t worry about appearing vulnerable. You’ve got things going on too, and employees can’t be what they can’t see, so model the behavior. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t help the team.

Q: Have you dealt with burnout personally?

A: It’s been really hard. We have to give ourselves the space to not be as effective as we used to be. We’re tired, and nothing about this is normal.

I really did try to follow my own rules and take moments for myself – sitting outside, reading some fiction, walking my dog in nature.

I knew the only way I was going to get through this in a healthy way for my kids, was to do this work. And it helped.

Every day, every single one of us should look back at the past year and pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘I made it.’

 

(Editing by Lauren Young)

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Britain’s MI5 spy service warns lawmakers over Chinese agent of influence

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Britain’s domestic spy service MI5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party has been employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.

MI5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI5’s alert to lawmakers, said MI5 had found that Lee “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China“.

Hoyle said Lee had been involved with the now disbanded all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain.

Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s behaviour was currently below the criminal threshold to prosecute her, but she said that by putting the alert out the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s attempts to improperly influence them.

Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted lawmakers.

Lee is the founder of a law firm, which has offices in London and Birmingham, according to a government official. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: “We are not taking any calls now”. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.

The law firm lists on its website one of its roles as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Britain.

The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament,” it said. “We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”

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Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he has been liaising with intelligence services “for a number of years” about her.

“They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner employed Lee’s son as a diary manager but he resigned on Thursday.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent update from the government on the issue.

He questioned why the woman had not been deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for people gaining access to parliament, which he said was too lenient.

Lee is listed under the Christine Lee & Co law firm as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told parliament of her alleged activity: “This is the sort of grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.”

Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.

British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event in the British parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang.

China placed the sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for spreading what it said were “lies and disinformation” over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s far west.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christopher Cushing)

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Microsoft board to review sexual harassment, discrimination policies

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Microsoft Corp will review the effectiveness of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices in response to a shareholder proposal that passed at its latest annual meeting, the company’s board said on Thursday.

The review will produce a transparency report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company’s directors and senior executives, including allegations that a board committee probe beginning in 2019 involved Bill Gates, the board said.

Data on the number of cases investigated and their resolution is also expected to be part of the review along with steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

Microsoft said last year it conducted a probe into co-founder Bill Gates’ involvement with an employee almost 20 years ago after the company was told in 2019 that he had tried to start a romantic relationship with the person.

Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board in 2020. In previous public comments, a spokesperson for Gates has denied that his departure was linked to the probe.

A request for comment sent to Bill Gates at his Gates Foundation email address was not immediately returned.

Microsoft‘s board said it has hired outside law firm Arent Fox to assist in the review, at the end of which Arent would make public a version of the report detailing its findings and recommendations.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Mehr Bedi in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Chang and Shailesh Kuber)

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Canada opens probe into Tesla’s heating system following consumer complaints

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Canada’s auto safety regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into the heating system of Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles following 16 consumer complaints about its performance during cold weather.

Transport Canada said it is concerned that a malfunctioning heating and air-conditioning system “may affect windshield defogging/defrosting and therefore driver visibility.”

“A company is required to notify Transport Canada and all current owners when they become aware of a defect that could affect the safety of a person. … These notices are commonly referred to as ‘safety recalls,’” it said.

The regulator said it has informed Tesla of the investigation.

Tesla did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. In 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while.”

A number of Tesla owners complained that the heat pumps are failing in extreme cold temperatures, according to Drive Tesla Canada, a Tesla news provider. The report said the heating problems happened even after Tesla early last year replaced faulty sensors in heat pumps in some 2020-2021 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to address the issue.

The U.S. safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, did not have an immediate comment on the issue.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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