As the clock struck midnight last night, a new report on the wellbeing of Canadians was released on, with some irony seeing that it was released when most should have been in bed asleep instead of reading new research, the impact of the ‘time crunch’ on their lives.
Yesterday I wrote on the same thing from the perspective of those in public health (i.e., the ones who develop reports like the one mentioned above). Irony, once again, makes an appearance.
The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is described as:
“The CIW is based on the understanding that a true measure of national
wellbeing must link the economic, health, social, cultural, and environmental
realities of Canada, its people and the communities in which they live. By doing so, it can go beyond conventional silos and connect the dots among the many factors that shape our quality of life.
Before commenting on the report, I’d like to reflect on this mission. For starters, the CIW takes a systems thinking — or at least an ecological — perspective by overtly acknowledging the interconnectedness of various (largely social) determinants of health. It is also situates health in context, by placing it where people live their lives rather than in the abstract as many other reports do. The CIW also explicitly refers to ‘silos’, which upon further examination, acknowledges that health knowledge, practice, and policy is not the provenance of disciplines, experts or any particular groups working independent, but that it is more and that this knowledge must be connected to truly make sense of the whole.
In his preface to the report, the Chair of the CIW, Roy Romanow, writes:
Not so long ago we dared to imagine a shift to the leisure society – a world where robots lifted the burden of work, and prosperity
allowed more time for stimulating activities and fun.
Today’s reality is starkly different than yesterday’s dream. Technology does play a major role in our lives – for better and for worse – and it comes in a more sophisticated form than robots. Computers, Blackberries, iPhones, social networking…along with other transformational forces like globalization, climate change, new family structures…all have changed the way we live, work and play. They’ve also changed the way we interact – and the time we have to interact – with our families, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and communities.
He goes on to say:
(The CIW) finds Canadians caught in a time crunch, struggling to meet the competing demands of: a workplace that can reach out to them 24/7; children and parents who need a supportive environment; and their own needs to refresh body and mind through family time, leisure and culture activities.
Also not surprisingly, the report finds that single mothers are among the most affected by the time crunch, adding to their already significant physical and mental health risks and overall social burden or isolation. Yet our lifestyle is a thief that steals time from us all. Changing job roles and contexts, increasing expectations to be available to colleagues, globalized work patterns, absence of community supports such as child care options, and pressures associated with urban and rural environmental design all contribute to a society that resembles little of what we expected at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
This is a complex problem and requires not only systems thinking, but considerable systems action to address. Changing a job expectation does little if someone still has to drive 2.5 hours to get to and from work each day. Having a good daycare nearby isn’t going to do much to enhance the quality of life for a parent having to check her Blackberry for work the moment a child is dropped off or before they are picked up. And no amount of education is going to help if you don’t have the time to absorb the learning that comes with it.
One change will affect another, but only small, yet persistent, and widespread shifts will enable the critical mass of activity to promote the necessary social shift to wellness. Without systems thinking and action, this report is destined to serve as yet another thing we can’t absorb.
So take some time today, read the report, reflect on what small shifts you can do right now and what you can do tomorrow to carry the momentum. Perhaps if we all do that, share what we learn, coordinate a little, and start collaborating we might laugh at this report as much as we do at the 50′s depictions of 2010 filled with robots filling our lives with leisure opportunities.
Take a break. Life is too short to work all the time. All work and no play makes us dull and boring.
All good stuff — right?
If so, then it must be good for those of us in public health too, right?
Over the past two days I’ve been attending the annual Canadian Public Health Association convention being held in Toronto and if there is one thing that I’ve learned: we are not taking our own recommendations to heart. Literally.
Stress, particularly that associated with work, has been associated with all kinds of chronic conditions and is a contributing factor to coronary heart disease, metabolic health, and overall increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
And from an informal survey of my peers, there is a lot of stress out there among those of us in public health.
Today I met with some colleagues to discuss ways in which information technology could help this problem and make life easier for us. The discussion produced some ideas on what tools could help public health professionals work better and more efficiently in the 21st century, but what stoked the most discussion was speculation that these tools simply place a Band-Aid on a larger problem of work overload.
We aren’t working better, we are working too much and that is what needs changing. Indeed, technology may be making things worse.
For example, email — once a tool that helped us correspond with more people, faster, with less effort — was held as a perfect example of a symptom and cause of stress:
“I get 450 emails a day. This is insane. The only time I get a break is when I’m on an airplane and now they want to introduce the Internet into the cabin! Last time I had my inbox under 100 was 1998″ – Full Professor and medical doctor
“I’m not even important and I get 80 messages a day — and classes aren’t even in session right now; it’s the summer!” – Assistant Professor
“I feel like I’m back in school” – Public health official referring the problem of having to respond to emails in the evening when he’s at a conference during the day, just like when he was a student in lectures all day.
“If I don’t answer an email the moment I get it, the chance it will never get responded to is high. I miss very important things that way. I get so much email I can’t manage it all — and I keep getting more” — Senior public health leader
“I feel guilty just taking three days off to spend with my family on a trip. Getting away (to where I can’t access email) is the only way to truly get a break” — Associate Professor
The CPHA conference started on Saturday for those attending pre-conference workshops and continues all week. For those who are using the time to actually attend the sessions (and not sneak off to their hotel room or the business centre to catch up on email — those without Blackberries that is) and maybe socialize with their peers have a mountain of email awaiting them back at the office.
That is email that falls on top of the web-searching, meetings, research. We in public health argue strongly for the need for strong evidence-based research to guide our work and that all public health trainees be training in methods to critically examine the research to make good decisions. The truth is that few have the time to read things in any depth at all.
“I’ll bet the number of people who actually want to critique or critically appraise a research article is very low. They just want to be told what to use and why” — Public health researcher commenting on the public’s and public health professionals’ interest in contributing to the development of knowledge through things like wikis or collaborative writing tools.
We speak of stress as if it is something for others. Systems change is implored, yet considered something ‘academic’ in practice. Leadership is called for, while few choose to truly lead, by example at least.
So are we modeling good behaviour and if not, are we undermining our own credibility in the process? If not that, are we simply undermining our own health and wellbeing?*
* I write this having learned that a particular leader who I greatly admire suffered a massive heart attack recently and recall hearing the news and not being surprised at all, which made me very sad.
No work tonight (writing this blog is something I enjoy). Mazel tov!
What makes a leader effective vs. harmful?
Robert Sternberg, one of the prolific and widely cited psychologists in history, spoke to this issue at the annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association being held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Sternberg is the originator of the WICS model of leadership, which involves: Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, Synthesized.
In his 2007 review paper on the WICS, Sternberg describes the WICS this way:
to the model, effective leadership is a synthesis of
wisdom, creativity, and intelligence (WICS). It is in large
part a decision about how to marshal and deploy these
resources. One needs creativity to generate ideas, academic
(analytical) intelligence to evaluate whether the
ideas are good, practical intelligence to implement the
ideas and persuade others of their worth, and wisdom to
balance the interests of all stakeholders and to ensure that
the actions of the leader seek a common good.
What makes this model unique is that it combines individual characteristics with a sense of purpose for a “common good” and, in both cases, emphasizes individual agency. Sternberg knows of what he speaks and writes. Among his more than 1400 academic publications are large bodies of work that focus on human creativity, wisdom and learning, and intelligence. His Triarchic Theory of Intelligence has, along with the work of fellow psychologist Howard Gardner, transformed our understanding of human capability and broadened the focus away from the very narrow, culturally constrained, vision of intelligence that dominated much of the psychology literature in the 20th century.
People choose to be leaders
Sternberg views leadership as a choice, not something you’re not born with. It is also something that relies heavily on creativity, something that is inherently a personal and a social quality. The WICS, in its basic form is educational and transformative (my words not his). By linking creativity, perceptual and cognitive abilities, experience and synthesis, a systems-sensitive model of leadership is proposed via the WICS.
Other models can be criticized for their de-emphasis on time (past accomplishment) and over-emphasis on information and analytics to the detriment of wisdom. Intelligence, while inferred, can be viewed superficially as something fit for ‘natural’ leaders, thus reducing the role that personal choice plays in leadership. Creativity, also inferred, is another feature of leadership models that is often overlooked in favour of charisma. Most importantly, Sternberg’s model rests on the ability of leaders to do their work in the service of humanity and is careful to distinguish good leaders from bad ones; those that inspire sustainable good works rather than promote the opposite. It is for that reason that a Nelson Mandela is worth studying more than an Adolf Hitler.
Although the WICS is not new, the need to bring it back into focus and inspire people to lead and to nurture the four qualities within it are needed more than ever. A simple survey of the unfolding crises on the Korean Peninsula, off the coast of Gaza, and in the Gulf of Mexico one can see the need for better, wiser, intelligent and creative leaders.