Workforce Sustainability Expert and Founder at Jozito, LLC, Bob Merberg and I discuss recent headlines, attempting to set the record straight, around parental leave and burnout.
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Nate Randall: Today, I'm pleased to be joined by Workforce Sustainability Consultant, and Founder of Jozito LLC, Bob Merberg. Bob, thank you for joining me today.
Bob Merberg: Thank you, Nate. It's great to be here with you.
Nate Randall: We have a couple of news stories here that caught both of our eyes in the last few weeks. Let's start with this NPR headline, "Dad Wins Fight to Increase Parental Leave at JP Morgan Chase". This is a really interesting one. I don't know if you and I have ever discussed it, but I've done quite a lot of work on parental leave policies in the past, particularly on removing gender bias and instead, thinking about who the primary caregiver is when you're taking a leave here.
Nate Randall: So, the gist of this story here is, two years ago, Chase denied a gentleman called Derek Rotondo 16 weeks of paid parental leave which they grant to "primary caregivers" for his newborn son. Because, and this is an exact quote, apparently from Chase HR, "Men as biological fathers were presumptively not the primary caregiver."
Nate Randall: Wow. I mean, if you're an HR person, all sorts of bells and whistles should be going off on what you're saying about men and families these days, but also what you're saying about women. So, that's a really interesting thing that it wasn't caught by somebody on the HR team and that it didn't occur to anybody over there that "presumptively not the primary caregiver because you're the biological father" was a problem.
Nate Randall: But the story goes on to say that he filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging gender discrimination. Within a few days, Chase said they would work with him to give him the leave he wanted. The real kicker here, though, and I think the reason HR folks should pay attention is, on Thursday a class action settlement with JP Morgan Chase awarded over five million dollars to hundreds of men who have filed for primary caregiver leave over the last seven years and were denied.
Bob Merberg: So, it just brings up a lot of things Nate. I look at it from a wellness perspective, or well-being perspective, something that a lot of employers profess to be committed to. Paid Family Leave is an important part of that. It's one of the things that you can do for the well-being of your employees who are parents, moms, dads and their families. I think it's those sorts of things that employers need to be thinking about more. Of course they are thinking about it.
Bob Merberg: I'm a little bit mystified by the case that you're describing because by saying that there was more leave available to the primary caregiver, it sort of sounds like the intent of that was to be more equitable. They didn't say more leave for mothers. They said more leave for the primary caregiver, which implies, whoever that may be. But it seemed like there was an unwritten rule that it was presumed that that was the mother.
Nate Randall: Yeah. And I can only guess here, but maybe what they were trying to do was be inclusive not to gender, obviously, by some of their practice here, but maybe inclusive towards same-sex couples or something like that. So, a case of maybe trying to do the right thing but the execution failed.
Bob Merberg: Yeah, exactly. And it raises a question for me. Paid Family Leave, it's important for fathers in so many different ways. But I think it's also pretty well recognized that it also helps provide equal opportunity for women and more job opportunity for women if they're not the only ones who are likely to be taking family leave. And when dads can take Paid Family Leave, that in some cases, allows women to get back to work sooner if they wanted to.
Bob Merberg: But the thing I wonder about this, Nate, is suppose I am another company. I am Nate Randall Savings and Loan, with 50,000 employees, and I've been thinking about implementing Paid Family Leave, assuming that it will be mostly taken by mothers, just based on probability. Is there a chance, you think, that this type of legal action might lead an employer to think, "Hey, you know what? I might want to stay out of this altogether because this has the potential to be a much, much bigger investment than I planned for"?
Nate Randall: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's definitely one of the possibilities here, although I've done and been involved in some research on this topic and surveys around what companies are doing. It's interesting, the 16-week mark appears to be a trend that's going to keep accelerating. That 16-week mark is the most common marker that employers are doing for these types of parental leave.
Nate Randall: So, I think we are going to get to a point here pretty quickly where, even without legislation, the most common benefit for parental leave, non-gender, non-bias in anyway is 16 weeks. It's interesting though, because there is a differentiator here. This is a parental leave, there also are medical leaves which, of course, the birth mother is entitled to and needs. If you have a baby, you do have to have a medical leave for a certain amount of time to recover.
Nate Randall: So there's a lot of things for employers to think through, here. I think the point of this that's really interesting to me is just that employers need to step back and think about how they're communicating. And if they're trying to do something inclusive, it needs to be ultra inclusive.
Bob Merberg: Yeah. Yeah. I think that that's very, very well said. I completely agree.
Nate Randall: So interesting.
Nate Randall: Next, a story that got us both hot under the collar, pun intended. Let me just read a few headlines for you and the folks listening here. From BBC News, "Burnout Has Been Redefined As a Workplace Disease", from CNN, "Burnout Is An Official Medical Diagnosis, the WHO Says", from ABC News, "Burnout Is Now Considered to Be a Disease", and from the desk of Bob Merberg, "Calm down everyone, WHO didn't call burnout a disease".
Nate Randall: So, I've seen disease, medical diagnosis, medical condition, syndrome, occupational phenomena, what is going on here? What's happening with this?
Bob Merberg: Yeah. I'm wincing just listening to you read those headlines, Nate. Because a lot of them are just flat out wrong. The WHO did not determine that burnout is a disease or a medical condition. What happened was, yeah, there was this big hubbub. All these major media outlets that you mentioned said that the World Health Organization classified burnout as a medical diagnosis. This is in their upcoming ICD, which for those who don't know, is their International Classification of Diseases. Which is a book of codes, really, that's used internationally in clinical offices to collect information, to collect data. That's really what it's for.
Bob Merberg: A lot of these outlets specifically said, like you said Nate, that burnout is now a diagnosis or a medical condition. In response, a lot of people got really excited, people that you and I know in HR and in organizational psychology. I think a lot of average workers also got excited, I suspect, because they felt validated about what they were experiencing with work. It's always nice to hear, like, "You're not the only one, and this is a real problem."
Bob Merberg: But, it was all really based on a falsehood. In fact, seeing this wildfire that was spreading about this, WHO themselves, issued a statement specifically stating that it was not saying burnout is a medical condition, and they did say it's an occupational phenomenon. That's their phrase. If you look at the ICD, their classification of diseases, what you see is that burnout is listed as a factor that influences health, not a disease. It's there with a lot of other things that most people would probably never think would be in something like that, like job insecurity, taking care of a family member, low income. There are codes for all those things.
Bob Merberg: As the WHO pointed out, burnout has been in the ICD for years. So that's not new. The only thing that's new is how they're defining it, and they're defining it more specifically.
Nate Randall: It's interesting. This is a classic example of phenomenon which we've seen over the last few years around news spreading and becoming the common knowledge very quickly and overnight. And then, actually, when I was going getting ready for this conversation, trying to find these articles that were everywhere a few days ago, they've gone and changed all the titles of these articles now. They've updated everything. So, basically, this false information comes out. It becomes common knowledge across the internet and then they erase their tracks and don't acknowledge that they made a mistake and put a correction. It's just kind of dangerous stuff, but that's maybe a different topic.
Nate Randall: So there's other things they did though. And there is significance to this, is there not, around putting burnout in there? I think I've read, there were also flurries of news around gaming addiction and some other things.
Bob Merberg: Yeah, the ICD-11 Gaming Addiction, or disorder, is something that they've added, recognizing that addictive use of video games and other electronic games is related to health outcomes. Medical care related to transgender has been moved from Mental Health Disorders to Sexual Behavior Conditions, which I think is interesting. I think most people would agree that that's an improvement and a move towards greater accuracy.
Bob Merberg: But there's a lot of esoteric codes in ICD. There is one for getting hit by spacecraft. There is one for a hairball in the stomach. So we need to be cautious about how we interpret it. The ICD, it's not a practice guideline, it's a code book. And I think that that's something that gets lost, is, it's not telling doctors and other clinicians how to provide care or how to diagnose something for the most part. It's really a system for standardizing data around the world. So we need to be cautious about the conclusions that we draw from it.
Bob Merberg: But on the other hand, I think that even changing and providing more detail to the definition of burnout is important because it sort of codifies that definition. So, that has the potential to make it a little less vague, one might hope.
Nate Randall: Yeah.
Nate Randall: I didn't do my research around this particular piece, but I thought I read somewhere that the WHO is working on something related to workplace stress in regards to guidance on how to spot it, how to deal with it, and they're doing some significant work around that which is not coming out yet, but it is a body of work they're doing.
Bob Merberg: Yes. I've heard that as well. I don't really know anything more about it than you do. I think to a certain extent they were bringing that up in relation to this hubbub about burnout. But, it is worth noting, I think that burnout warrants some attention with the elevated level of interest in workplace mental health and what can be done about mental health in the workplace.
Bob Merberg: Burnout is a part of that. There is a lot of interesting debate and discussion about how burnout relates to depression. Some people say it's the same, it's work-related depression. Then, there's a lot of research that says, "Well, burnout isn't the same as depression. But if you have severe burnout, there's a good chance that it will evolve into depression." And, there's also research that says if you have depression it's likely to evolve into burnout.
Bob Merberg: I wish I could say something more definitive about that, but what I can say is, it's important. Burnout definitely needs to be recognized as a syndrome of the relationship between the worker and the work. And Nate, you know me, that this is something I would want to emphasize, it's not a personal disorder. It's never been seen like that in the research. It's really a disorder of the relationship between the worker and the workplace. And the workplace has a big responsibility in that. So, all that needs to be teased out. But it's very relevant to workplace mental health and I think it has to be part of that discussion.
Nate Randall: Hopefully this is just the beginning of the discussion and it's getting things started, and we will get to a point where we're much more sophisticated about the way we think about workplace health. I know that's the thing that you are doing and care about. So hopefully, this is just the start of the conversation.
Bob Merberg: Yeah. I agree with you. Hopefully it is the start of a very important conversation. I think that this little burnout escapade also, maybe should be the start of a conversation. I think this supports what you were saying earlier, Nate, about how we interpret news and what's going on in news and really, news literacy and health literacy for those of us that are involved in it, or even if you're in HR and not involved with health for whatever reason, how you interpret and understand news events that have to do with HR. I mean, those happen as well that have to do with employee life. We need to be cautious about how we interpret. I feel like the hotter the topic is, the more chance there is of it being incorrect.
Nate Randall: Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.
Nate Randall: So, one more brief news item. The 2020 HSA and High-deductible Health Plan limits are out. I'm told that that's very exciting news in some circles.
Bob Merberg: I'm excited about it.
Nate Randall: So, there you have that. Thanks for joining me today, Bob. I really appreciate it.
Bob Merberg: Nate, thank you, so much. It's been a pleasure.