Occupational health research round-up: March 2019

Wellbeing needs to go beyond "fresh fruit Fridays", but the input, and leadership, of OH can make a difference, SOM has said

Wellbeing at work is “not just free fruit”

Workplace wellbeing interventions need rigorous evaluation if they are to make a tangible impact on the lives of all workers, according to a new report from the British Safety Council. It argues that few organisations currently evaluate the impact of wellbeing initiatives due to difficulties in defining “wellbeing” and in measuring the cost-effectiveness of interventions. The report calls on employers to evaluate the impact and efficacy of health and wellbeing programmes on a regular basis in order to ensure that they adapt and respond to the changing needs of workers.

British Safety Council. Wellbeing at work

Organisational change and psychotropic prescribing

A change in management at work may be associated with a subsequent increase in psychotropic medication prescribing among affected employees, according to this Danish study of public sector workers. Other types of organisational change associated with an increase in the level of psychotropic medication prescribing included an organisational merger, employee redundancies and budget cuts. The associations did not vary by gender.

Høy Jensen et al. “Work-unit organisational changes and subsequent prescriptions for psychotropic medication: a longitudinal study among public healthcare employees”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 7 January 2019.

Employee proactivity leads to irritability and “rumination”

Using rewards and punishments to motivate employees’ proactivity might be detrimental to their wellbeing, according to a questionnaire-based study used in this research. It finds that proactive behaviour by employees may make them more vulnerable to emotional and cognitive strain. When the motivation to be more proactive is principally external, the resulting behaviour in employees led to increased irritability and “rumination”. This irritability was, in turn, related to higher levels of withdrawal among employees. The authors conclude that “managers should be cautious about the ways they promote employees’ proactivity because our research shows that proactive behaviours that are motivated by a desire of [sic] external rewards, or an avoidance of negative consequences, might have detrimental effects on employees’ psychological wellbeing.”

Pingel R et al. “A resources perspective on when and how proactive work behaviour leads to employee withdrawal”, Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, published online 8 January 2019.

Gastrointestinal illness and work stress

Employees reporting high levels of perceived stress and low levels of job control are more likely to report gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses, according to this study of 3,361 US school teachers. Other factors associated with high reporting of GI among the group include older age, Hispanic ethnicity, poor job satisfaction and being female, the study suggests.

Howard K et al. “The relationship between occupational stress and gastrointestinal illness: A comprehensive study of public schoolteachers”, Journal of Workplace Behavioural Health, published online 12 January 2019.

EAPs face quality challenges

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) will struggle to maintain high-quality service provision in the future due to the absence of mandatory professional standards governing their operation, according to this global online survey. It also finds that, although employers perceive EAPs as effective, the absence of specific professional qualifications for those delivering EAP services will challenge provision in future. The survey finds that EAPs are typically delivered by “for profit” organisations and the core offer is often four to five sessions of relationship, mental health or trauma counselling.

Roche A. “The development and characteristics of Employee Assistance Programs around the globe”, Journal of Workplace Behavioural Health, published online 31 December 2019.

Resilience is good predictor of post-trauma mental health

High levels of resilience may protect the long-term mental health of first responders, particularly in relation to future post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to this Australian study. It finds a statistically significant association between baseline resilience and future PTSD and depression; those reporting higher resilience levels had lower mental ill health symptoms at the six-month follow-up point, while 80% of first responders with low resilience went on to develop more PTSD symptoms.

Sadhbh J et al. “Can resilience be measured and used to predict mental health symptomology among first responders exposed to repeated trauma?”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 18 December 2019.

Managing employees with dementia

Little is known about the perspectives, experiences and needs of employers managing employees with dementia and the evidence base is weak, according to this systematic review. The review of 44 papers and journal articles concludes there is a lack of awareness about working-age dementia and that this may have negative effects on the employees affected. The main themes identified in the papers concern early presentation of dementia and its identification in the workplace; reasonable adjustments for people with working age dementia; and the provision of information to raise awareness and facilitate informed choices.

Thomson L et al. “Managing employees with dementia: a systematic review”, Occupational Medicine, published online 27 November 2018.

Positivity programmes and cardiovascular health

Engaging in a six-week workplace positivity programme may improve employees’ life satisfaction, blood sugar levels and some markers of cardiovascular inflammation, according to this study of US workers. The programme consisted of three interventions: gratitude practice (an intervention based involving employees taking time to reflect and notice things for which they are thankful), HeartMath’s Heart Lock-In (meditation technique) and yoga stretches with guided imagery. Improvements were found in life satisfaction and seven out of 10 cardiovascular and inflammatory markers, including glucose. No improvements were recorded in cortisol or small dense low density lipoproteins.

Deem A et al. “A 6-week worksite positivity program leads to greater life satisfaction, decreased inflammation, and a greater number of employees with A1C levels in range”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 2 January 2019.

Resilience training in the military

Resilience-based training has no specific benefit for the health and wellbeing of UK military recruits, according to this randomised controlled trial. It finds that levels of PTSD, common mental disorder symptoms, alcohol use, homesickness and mental health stigmatisation were not significantly different between the group receiving a resilience-based intervention (358 recruits) and a control group (349 recruits).

Jones N et al. “Resilience-based intervention for UK military recruits: a randomised controlled trial”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 18 December 2019.

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