Dave Smallen is a research psychologist (and artist!) who studies relationships, specifically how people experience meaningful connections, and respond to one another's vulnerability.
He holds a Masters of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from University of Wisconsin-Madison - and is currently completing his PhD in that same department.
As Community Faculty, Smallen teachers the online course, Family Systems, at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN.
How Work-Home Interference Can Lead to Stress
By Michelle Kellum '19
Why do I have fifteen emails before 6am? What is wrong with people? Why are they already sending me emails? What time did they get in to work today? Why do I need to know this?
Some of you might think wow, she needs a new job, but the truth is I really love my job. I work in an environment where I get to help people change their lives, see them grow into the person they want to be, and achieve their goals while maintaining sobriety. On top of that I love my co-workers, feel appreciated by my boss, and have the freedom to grow within my position. I have the best job in the world. If that is true though, why am I so stressed?
Burnout is “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment" which arises in response to chronic stress. 'Emotional exhaustion refers to feelings of being emotionally overextended and depleted of one's emotional resources. Depersonalization refers to a negative, callous, or excessively detached response to other people, who are usually the recipients of one's service or care. Reduced personal accomplishment refers to a decline in one's feelings of competence and successful achievement in one's work" (Maslach, 1993)
This makes sense to me because I never seem to get a break from work. I am always plugged into work either through my phone, laptop, or IPad. My emails invade my personal time with their annoying dings or ever increasing numbers letting me know how many messages I have awaiting me. As I see that number increase I feel the pressure to read the email so I don’t have so many to read the next day. I also receive text messages throughout the night from staff asking me questions or giving me updates on clients. There is also the dreaded 3am phone call that interrupts my sleep and makes it impossible for me to fall back asleep. I have at least one of these experiences every single night making it impossible to detach from work.
If I’m being honest though the problem is not just my smartphone. Somewhere along the line, my boundaries with employees and clients started to change. Always being available is unrealistic and not good for them or me.
boundary (noun): something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent
After reviewing this research I had a discussion with my supervisor and shared what I had learned. She also agreed that she was feeling burned out and needed to find a way to detach from the center. We agreed to work together to find a solution. We decided to rotate being on call every other weekend. The person on call will take all phone calls and the other person is not to be disturbed. They cannot check their emails or do any other type of work. The rest of the staff can only contact the on call person. If there is an emergency, the on call person will contact the other supervisor. This allows the person not on call to have an uninterrupted weekend where they can enjoy themselves and detach from the work environment.
Smartphones can be a helpful tool with communication and staying connected. However they can also become a burden that leads to stress and burnout. Allowing your work to invade your home life can create conflict. Setting boundaries with your employer and yourself can help you avoid developing bad habits that prevent detachment from work. Even people who love their job need a break from it. Disconnecting from my smartphone is a small step towards finding balance and practicing self-care. I’ve learned that I cannot take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first.
I’ve learned that I cannot take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first.
Michelle Kellum, earned her BA in Psychology in 2019. Prior to her time at Metropolitan State, she earned an AA from Century College. Michelle is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and has worked in the field of chemical dependence recovery since 2004. She will begin a graduate program in Co-occurring Disorders Recovery Counseling at Metropolitan State in the fall of 2019.
Michelle researched work-home interference and stress as part of her applications of knowledge credit. She worked in collaboration with Dr. Mahoney’s Interpersonal Emotions Research Lab, whose Spring 2019 focus was the science of self-care, emotional awareness and burnout prevention.
The Effects of Burnout on Stress Levels and Perceptions of Others
After listening to a student reaching out for help, people recalled more negative details about that student's story than positive.
Camille Smith '19 with Myna Khomsana '19
Curious about the poster design? Camille experimented with Mike Morrison's templates for how to create a better research poster.
Using the Chakra System to Target Self-Care and Enhance Well-being
Achieving Balance with Attention and Intention
Taylor Osmundson '19
The experience of compassion fatigue is common among people who work with people, but the job was challenging for other reasons too. Harder saw clients move on and then come back to the shelter, prompting questions about whether she was effective at her job. Could she have done more? Did she fail them? And despite singular successes, another client was always waiting; homelessness itself seemed unrelenting. She might rejoice that she had helped one family secure a place to stay, and in the next moment, another family that needed help would walk through her door (a dynamic she’s coined “the revolving door”). Harder felt like she was treading water. She was not alone.
During her time in direct service, Harder noticed many colleagues develop symptoms of emotional exhaustion, detachment, and diminished sense of accomplishment—indicators that she now understands point to the experience of “burnout.” She watched as some of her co-workers left the job for another, while others left the field completely. She notes that a sense of pride may prohibit those that stay from admitting their own exhaustion. “Many love the work they’re doing, believe in its value, and experience burnout as a personal failing.” Caregivers may also feel guilty about taking time for self-care, which itself may exacerbate stress when it becomes another thing to do atop an already growing ‘to do’ list.
Ultimately, Harder left her job in advocacy to pursue a master’s degree in psychology at Metropolitan State, where she devoted her studies to better understanding the experience of work stress and burnout. Through her research, she found that when staff suffers, clients also suffer. She has come to believe that “in order to help others be well, we must first be well ourselves.” She emphasizes that beyond individual responsibility for wellness, “organizations and leadership play a key role in staff well-being. Organizations and practitioners alike must commit to well-being in order to effectively serve their clientele.”
Harder earned her MA in psychology in 2014 and was named the outstanding graduate student in her college. Since 2015, she has worked as community faculty, teaching courses in Positive Psychology and Group Dynamics. She continues her program of research in partnership with Professor Caitlin Mahoney (psychology/CCSPA) and in active collaboration with Metropolitan State’s psychology laboratory.
Currently, Harder and Mahoney (along with psychology interns Mimosa Greer ’17 and Davionna Hicks ’18) are investigating the effects of practitioners’ stress on their approach and potential for success with clients, a study which includes collecting saliva samples from volunteers to test for the presence of stress hormones. The team is working closely with the university’s human subjects pool, which provides undergraduates opportunities to participate in research on campus. Harder and Mahoney hope to take what they’ve learned and translate it for use by community organizations to promote staff well-being and effective client service.
To that end, Harder has recently launched her own workplace consulting company. Happy With Work LLC will deliver the first of its training programs this year at beloved craft breweries and coffee shops across the Twin Cities. The Self-Care Social Series will offer short topical trainings, focused on stress, burnout, and self-care practices for a busy life.
Harder is “excited to be able to give back to the community of social service workers, whom I love so much."
In March of 2014 Slate published a piece titled, Kick Andrew Jackson Off the $20 Bill!, which argued, among other things, that Jackson's ties to slavery and his involvement with the Indian Removal Act make him a problematic choice as a national symbol. "His face on our money implies an honor that Jackson’s legacy doesn't deserve. Worse, it obscures the horrors of his presidency...But this issue isn't merely cosmetic, or a nod to political correctness. Symbolic change and practical change have a symbiotic relationship. By confronting and correcting the symbols of our violent and racist histories, we prompt conversations about how that legacy continues to affect marginalized communities today" (Keenan, 2014).
The issue has been raised again recently, as the group "Women on $20s" tries to generate support for their mission, "to generate an overwhelming people's mandate for a new $20 bill , to be issued in time for the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote." These new bills would, you guessed it, feature the face of an historically important leading lady. Check out the list of candidates and read more on the campaign from the Washington Post or The New Yorker.
One might argue that repeated exposure to Andrew Jackson's face inures us to the crimes he committed. But, history of genocide aside, it is curious to consider what our every day exposure to masculine symbols on our most utilized bank notes teaches us without our consent.
Psychologically, we are socialized to recognize patterns "spoon-fed" to us by our cultures. We internalize these associations in what we see and hear throughout our lives. Researchers call this priming - we hear a word or see an image which activates a web of associations (thoughts, feelings, beliefs etc.) that past experience has taught us to pair with that word/image. (A brief on priming and prejudice here).
So, what does repeated exposure to everyday currency paired with masculine models prime? Such reflection certainly gives us hints about who and what is deserving of honor and respect and what counts as success. And likewise, what exists in the silence constructed by the absence of such pairings for women?
In the United States, women spend about $50,000 in their lifetime and 1 hour and 53 minutes per week on taking care of and maintaining their hair. So why do we invest so much money and time in our hair?
Having a well-maintained appearance can influence what other think of us and how others perceive us. For example, research on attractiveness has demonstrated that a person’s face is the first thing we notice about them after initially meeting them. Other studies have found that women with hair that appears shinier and of medium or long length are perceived to be more attractive than people who don’t fit in these categories. Research on hair color and perceived ability in the workplace has shown that women with brunette/dark brown and long – medium hair are perceived to be smarter and are more likely to advance in higher paying careers. Thus, it may be argued that having hair that appears more desirable and socially acceptable may endow more advantages and opportunities than having hair that does not conform to socially desirable traits.
The majority of African American/black women don’t fit into this category. African American/Black women tend to have facial features (e.g. skin color, nose shape, hair) that are drastically different from majority (euro-centric) group members. So too, those from non-dominant racial and ethnic groups often have hair with a texture and appearance that is different from the (euro-centric) status quo. Afrocentric features of hair are described as coarse, while Eurocentric features of hair tend to be looser and appear straight. Also, in contrast to the preferred hair types listed earlier, hair that is more stereotypically Afrocentric may be short, kinky, and tightly coiled, and the majority of the time the natural hair color is black and less ‘naturally’ shiny.
Previous studies on Afrocentric features have mainly focused on skin color and have concentrated on how African American/Black males are perceived in various contexts (i.e. criminal sentencing), while limited research has focused on how African American/Black women are perceived. And while studies have focused on how hair color effects perceived job roles in the workplace, there is limited research available on how Afrocentric features, specifically of hair, effect perceived job roles in the workplace. My (Heron's) masters thesis will investigate the effects of stereotypic Afrocentric features (i.e. course hair) on the perceived job roles of African American/ black women, in the workplace.
This following post puts forward some of the main ideas resulting from Spring Semester (2012) independent study discussions about the origins, mechanizations and practical functions of love. These discussions were held weekly, between Dr. Caitlin Mahoney and Cynthia Wold. The purpose of these discussions was to form a theory of love that could be a practical model for Cynthia’s theme of study, love, for her MA in Liberal Studies program. The excerpt below is taken from Cindy's final paper for the SDIS.
"There are many ways that love has been put forward as a phenomenon in human life, and there are many sources of information about love, mostly from the perspective of love as a feeling.
Because it is assumed that love is something everyone has experienced, and felt, love is often referenced as something good in our lives that we may want to increase, and that we can easily choose to increase our capacity to love. However, a quick Google search or a question posed to a random group of people often reveals an overarching perception of love as limited to what happens in sexual attraction or between family members, and as an “automatic” felt emotion.
The cornerstone of my thinking and investigation of love, however, comes from Erich Fromm in his 1954 book, The Art of Loving (Fromm, 1954). In it, Fromm states that love is not just a sentiment or feeling that we may or may not be lucky enough to fall into, but it is an art that requires knowledge and effort. Fromm not only gives us a sense of love as an art, he also gives us four essential practices that he claims will increase our capacity to love. He sees this capacity as an essential ingredient in human happiness and thriving. The four practices are the following:
1. Discipline. What he means by this is disciplined self-care. This care should be something that we enjoy, but need to discipline ourselves to continue doing it even when inconvenient. He advocated a minimum of 20 minutes of meditation each morning and evening, regular sleeping and eating patterns and exercise patterns. This kind of discipline, he believed was one way to increase our capacity to love.
2. Concentration. What Fromm meant by concentration is the idea that we pay attention to what we are doing in the moment with a minimum of multi-tasking and distraction. Modern language would call it being present or “presencing.” Fromm was aware that many people in the “modern” world (his modern world, of course, was in the 50s) moved at a frantic pace and were often distracted from the things that were most important to them. Another aspect of concentration that Fromm spent a lot of time explaining was the idea of meaningful conversation. Fromm suggested that we avoid as much as possible what he called “trivial conversation.” That is, conversation that consisted of clichés and memorized talking points. In fact, he suggested not talking to people who engaged in that kind of triviality. But of course, sometimes we cannot avoid talking to certain people, so he suggested that when faced with triviality that instead of returning triviality in kind that we engage the person in discussing something meaningful. To him, conversation needn’t be about the most intimate details of our lives, but should reflect a genuine interest in something important to us and a sharing of our genuine thoughts about it.
3. Patience. Fromm included patience as a practice that was essential to increase one’s capacity to love. The idea that we are going to experience set-backs and failures as we exert effort to increase our capacity to love, the quality of patience and calm in the face of these is something Fromm thought essential. Patience also would encourage persistence in developing the art of loving.
4. Supreme Care. The last practice that Fromm wrote about in The Art of Loving was what he called Supreme Care. What he meant by this was one’s overarching desire to improve the capacity to love. Fromm thought that this intention itself would provide a necessary environment within which the other practices would be most likely to be useful and effective. "
One of the outputs of our Semester long dialogue was the creation of a draft measure, the Love Practices Scale (Wold & Mahoney, 2012), which is anchored in Fromm's theory of love.
Laura Harder, MA successfully completed her thesis entitled, "The revolving door: Learned helplessness and burnout in human services," in December of 2014. Laura has said that her research “chose her.” In her previous employment, she managed staff, program administration, and client relations (including crisis support) for an organization, which provides services to families experiencing homelessness. She experienced, first hand, the stress that working with human beings can generate and the importance of cultivating supportive and engaging work arenas. Not surprisingly, her current work focuses on how we can build healthy relationships with our coworkers, clients, organization, and selves to live happier lives - in and out of work. You may read more about Laura and her Outstanding Student Award in the Metropolitan State Student Newsletter, the Catalyst, and you may read Laura's thesis abstract below:
The present study introduces a new theory in the cause of burnout. The revolving door itself serves as a metaphor for the circumstantial factors of human service work. Just as a revolving door never fully shuts, for professionals in human services, as one case closes another opens.
The Revolving Door Effect is defined as a type of situationally influenced learned helplessness caused by minimal behavior reinforcement when one’s sense of professional achievement is contingent on 1) another person’s progress toward goals (client, patient, student, etc.) and/or 2) societal progress toward larger systemic change. In this study, the Revolving Door Index (RDI) was created as a means to capture experiential levels of the Revolving Door Effect. The RDI was measured alongside the measures of control and reward in the Areas of Worklife Scale, as well as the Maslach Burnout Inventory to examine its predictive quality in the analysis of burnout. One hundred twenty human service professionals completed the aforementioned surveys. Results demonstrated that the RDI displays sufficient reliability to serve as a means to measure the Revolving Door Effect experiences and that the RDI serves as a stronger predictor of burnout than traditional measures of control and reward. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.
Narrative to follow...
Pair Visual Journey With: This American Life, Episode 107: Trail of Tears (July 1998)
And these words from my grandmother, after I told her about my trip: "I never liked Andrew Jackson anyways!" Part truth, part hyperbole - because history is always more complex than simply good and evil, love and hate.
And for a further reminder that memory and place are complicated, apparently one can get married at The Hermitage, former home of President Andrew Jackson (and 150 of his slaves). From the knot. To be fair, the grounds are very beautiful. More on the shared space of beauty and suffering later.
CAITLIN O. MAHONEY, PhD.
Teacher. Learner. Negative Results and Sheer Conjecture in Research.
Trail Of Tears