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Blog post 5 _ Jill's research

Jill's presentation was on stress and burnout among online nursing educators/instructors. I appreciated Jill's brave challenge to announce she was attempting to get rid of 'fillers' the "ahhhs and ummms" through her presentation. To the most part she did very well, however, there was a stretch around the 37th minute which got filled with fillers. And, I say that with a smile and wink having worked with Jill for the last several years in the same cohort.

In critically reflecting on the presentation, I enjoyed the honing down on slides and efforts to not read slides; but, more engage in a conversation. That was well done. However, i did also hear some contradictions along the way in a few of the things Jill shared. For example, I heard near the end with the images of the man on one slide (e.g. gender differences & stress) and the woman and baby (working from home) where Jill said that (paraphrase): "Employees will let the employer know about their needs, wants, etc.". Yet, later in the presentation Jill mentions that there is stigma, for example, with an instructor teaching mental health, then declaring that they have mental health challenges.

Similarly, I did feel at time that there was an imbalance between Jill's advocacy and passion for the topic, which resulted in some generalized statements and assumptions. This was coupled with a lot of "You..." statements. Such as "you will feel stress..." or "you will experience this...". My own feelings on this is to push to use "I" messages. Through doing this, then one 'positions' themselves within their research. For example, "in my experience..." or "my assumptions are...". Sometimes the line between hypothesis and assumption are not all that clear. (at least "I" feel).

My own experience, is that the qualitative realm has opened this arena very wide. And, methodologies such as narrative inquiry, self study, and autoethnography - to name a few - speak to the power of people speaking to their own stories. As opposed to trying to sound all "objective" and "positivistic". I have frequently challenged these notions of 'objectivity' when people with passion for  topic, pick that topic for research. No crap we are going to have a 'bias' - that's why we picked that research. Thus, rather than try to hide from that - stand fully in it. Use "I" messages - we do in our day-to-day life - or at least we should. Using "you" messages is actually a form of passive-aggression in many cases.

Personally, I struggled with Jill's topic. It is my own bias, however, I also teach 'stress management' at the college level, along with both inter-personal and inra-personal communication. In my experience, "stress" is used as a noun far too often - as if it is some ‘thing’ (e.g. person, place, or thing) that one can grasp. That they can point at in the air and say "there!... that's stress!!" And, lo and behold, four other people in the room look up and say "yes!... there it is... stress!".

Stress is not really a person, place, or thing... it's a body's response to things. For a forestry worker, as I was for many years, a bear encountered in the woods is a pretty regular thing. An event often met with respect and some caution - an alertness (like a race car driver driving a vehicle at 200 km/hr). For and Australian colleague of mine, it was a pant pooping event. An event met with stifled screams and panic and fear-of-death-inducing mortal thoughts.

Similar for public speaking. For some it is the #1 fear; bigger than the fear of dying. For others, it is something they do every day with nary a concern, other than maybe, "is my fly down", or "is lunch still in my teeth?".

In my experience, stress is the reaction, the result of choices, or events, or past trauma. It's the body's reaction, and this varies with individuals. Some days, I handle life’s events with ease. On other days, if I'm tired and haven't eaten right - it's handled poorly.

My point with this is, is that I'm not so sure i agree with some of the definitions or issues identified. In the one slide early on, there's a statement made about "increasing levels of stress and burnout". I'm not so sure this is a confounded statistic. The reason this is probably identified, is that talking about 'stress and burnout' and workplace initiatives around these, have simply increased. I'm not so sure "stress" has increased. However, maybe "feelings of stress" have increased; however, this is a qualitative assessment. Similarly, i think 'burnout' is also a slippery concept to define, but I won't go down that route for now.

With this in mind, it seems like maybe the purpose of the study may need to be more clearly identified as "determine stress and burnout, according to such-and-such scale". I was alerted to some of these thoughts as Jill discussed potential gender differences in stress reactions. I think the same could be said for cultural differences, age differences, and a variety of other distinguishing factors.

Ultimately, I am a bit concerned with Jill's topic - or more the research approach - as I think there are so many varying factors in how different people manage stress and are subject to burnout. I totally agree that it is an important topic, however, I'm not too sure results wont' be dismissed due to the confounding factors involved in stress and burnout (e.g. all of life outside of being a nursing instructor online).

However, that does not mean I don't think this can be honed in on - but am left thinking, could this research be more impactful if it focussed in on what individual online nursing instructors are doing to manage and navigate their own stress and burnout? Forget the employers (at least for now). It could also potentially simplify the research. Rather than having to discuss with both employees (or contractors) that are online nursing instructors AND the institutions that employ them. This could more simply focus on the instructors themselves and the strategies they use, plus then have them identify what resources and otherwise that they access from their employers. In the end this would still result in recommendations for employers, however, potentially have far more impact on each individual involved in the research, as they can actually talk about their experiences (good, bad, ugly, or otherwise).

However, this is just some of my initial reflections upon watching and listening to the recording. Nice work Jill.



  • Hello David,



    Thank you for such an honest and insightful commentary on my presentation.



    you made many good points, and I have chosen to take some needed time to reflect on them. Thank you for your recognition of my concerted efforts to limit fillers. I was not very successful, but agree that the effort is there and the awareness is there. Arguably, I still have much work to do to eliminate the fillers entirely. Even if I could swap ummm, (which for me personally is the worst of the worst) to "so".



    I also apologize for the long-winded presentation. I was aware I was the only speaker, so rather than giving all of you a much needed 30 minutes of free time I decided to use the time to discuss my passion. Thank you for the attention.



    You pointed out some contradictions I made and that proved to be helpful for me. The feedback was welcomed and from it I will learn to make my points more congruent and with more clarity of my point. Ideally, employees would and should be able to let employers know their needs, however managers still have to manage. Work-life balance is important, but so too is productivity and fiscal responsibility. Managers always must be mindful that the workload is manageable

    and if there was a way that workers could predict, identify, and alleviate their own stress that would serve two purposes. Perhaps it would be of value to identify which nursing educators do not feel any stress and burnout and then try to determine common denominators, themes if you like, why they have no feelings of stress sand burnout.

    There are indeed many factors to look at. Within my questionnaire there will be many questions that look at demographics, age, gender, years teaching experience, children, marital status, etc. All of these certainly play a role in predicting stress sand burnout.

    I agree with you David, that stress is a feeling, a perception, a response rather than a thing that you can possess, it is a feeling that one experiences. I have many specifics I need to hone in on for my research. I like your idea of a narrative inquiry or a self-study, or an auto ethnography. Hmmmm, have you been spying on me when I am not around. Tongue in cheek as we say, it seems you have been a fly on the wall in my life. 

    The problem with stress is it is palpable, and it is all too real, and it is present in many otherwise very successful peoples’ lives. Question is how do we measure success?  Is it success to work 60+ hours a week, is it success to work day and night, be on your email and accessible at all hours, to be able to do more with less. Only until the success story is depleted by often self-inflicted wounds do we realize that all of the tell-tale signs of stress were not only identifiable but predictable and more importantly avoidable.

    My research is intended to bring more much needed awareness to a topic that although not new – is largely ignored. Stress is indeed a body’s response to situations the mind cannot handle (for whatever reason), however what are we doing about it? How are organizations supporting the employees? Ho ware managers supported, because the numbers of managers stressed and burnout out are high as well, and often under-reported.  Largely these people who are otherwise success stories turn to alcohol, self-medication, or prescription drugs to cope if they have no supports in place.  I know of three people that are off on stress leave and from my perspective my organization id pretty good. So if we recognize that stress is a response, and in many ways a predicatbel response we still have a responsibility to acknowledge its existense, find acceptable practices to identify it, and implement strategies to prevent it oir deal with it appropriately and timely. The answer is not to wait unitl employees are on stress leave which often contributs to the employees stress rather then detract from it.

    I like the idea of focusing on what online nurse educators are doing to manage stress. You have definitly provided me many points to pionder. Thaks David. Great to see you again.


    Jill Thomson March 11, 2019 - 7:57pm

  • Glad the points seem to have landed well Jill. Completely agree with you - it's an important topic to shed light on. It may be important to remember that stress also has positive functions - e.g. the difference between eustress and distress. 

    For example the 'cake curve' I call it. Or the salt curve for others. A little is good, a bit more is even better, but eventually the peak benefit is reached. Add anymore and then it can have dwindling impacts. 

    The image below shows some of that - and, that learning to have effective stress management tactics can actually raise performance. 


    Image result for the stress curve


    And, thus, I fully agree - it's important to be able to identify stressors - not neccesarily, stress, per se. And then to learn to identify and monitor the impacts on oneself - through self reflection. 

    In hearing your impassioned discussion on these topics, you may find that you will be navigating a slippery road/slope between advocacy and activism. By doing research in the area you may be inherently 'raising awareness' however, you might also find in your research that you go in with pre-conceived notions of what stess is, how it impacts, etc. - and then realize in the research that it's far more complex, or more simple, or too difficult to narrow in on. 

    Not sure; however, it will be interesting to see how it pans out. 

    David Loewen March 13, 2019 - 8:49pm

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