Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: September 2020

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Fifth of doctors consume “potentially hazardous” levels of alcohol

Twenty per cent of doctors in a survey of 109 working at an NHS trust in London reported consuming potentially hazardous levels of alcohol and 18% want to cut down. Almost 10% of the survey participants reported being unable to do what was expected of them on at least one occasion in the preceding two years because of alcohol.

However, only 5% were concerned about alcohol affecting their performance and 2% were annoyed by criticism of their drinking. The authors suggest “a role for collaboration between occupational health departments and postgraduate education teams to support doctors misusing alcohol”.

Savage E et al. “Self-reported alcohol consumption in doctors”, Occupational Medicine, published online 22 June 2020.

Reopening after Covid: focus on the disadvantaged

The Covid-19 pandemic will challenge many existing occupational health and safety practices, and the reopening of workplaces will see huge variation across organisations and between workers in the same occupations, according to this editorial. A range of factors will influence whether individual workers accept workplace safety risks, and the extent to which they will trust the organisational measures put in place to protect them, the study suggests.

The authors argue that lessons can be learned from existing occupational rehabilitation literature, and go on to make a number of recommendations for reopening best practice. For example, workplace openings should prioritise the needs of disadvantaged workers, “as they are most likely to have higher environmental exposures and inflexible job tasks and they will be most threatened by job loss and unemployment.”

Shaw W S et al. “Opening the workplace after Covid-19: what lessons can be learned from return-to-work research?” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 19 June 2020.

Training employees to listen better boosts wellbeing

Improving employees’ interpersonal listening abilities can help them to control anxiety and emotions at work, particularly during difficult conversations, according to this study. It is based on a study of customer service employees and sets out to explore if training staff to be better listeners increases their ability to understand the customer’s point view and reduces anxiety levels during difficult conversations.

Those taking part in the training reported lasting effects on their listening abilities, a reduction in anxiety and better wellbeing in general.

Itzchakov G. “Can listening training empower service employees? The mediating roles of anxiety and perspective-taking”, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, published online 8 June 2020.

Psychological impact of quarantine on healthcare workers

The safety of healthcare workers and their families during disease outbreaks needs to be ensured, according to this literature review. The studies examined show healthcare workers experience acute stress during quarantine, and long-lasting depressive, post-traumatic stress and alcohol dependency and abuse symptoms. Healthcare workers fear infection for themselves, but more so for their loved ones, and are also concerned about the stigma that may affect their families and children.

The authors recommend that employers provide suitable alternative accommodation and personalised monitoring during quarantine, and that financial aid should be considered for the more severely affected workers. Finally, mental healthcare for healthcare workers “should be a priority”, as quarantine can trigger mental distress.

Gomez-Duran E L et al. “Psychological impact of quarantine on healthcare workers”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 10 June 2020.

Pregnancy and workplace accidents

Pregnant employees may try to conceal accidents or near misses or adopt supra-performance behaviours in order to avoid being stereotyped at work, according to this longitudinal study of pregnant workers in physically demanding jobs. It finds that “stereotype threat” – the fear of confirming negative assumptions about a group to which you belong – is associated with the greater use of concealment and supra-performance as coping strategies.

Given that pregnant workers represent a vulnerable group in the workforce, the authors conclude that, “it is critical to establish an empirical basis that can inform targeted and strategic interventions for improving the safety and health of pregnant employees.”

Lavaysse L M and Probst T M. “Pregnancy and workplace accidents: the impact of stereotype threat”, Work & Stress, published online 5 June 2020.

EAPs’ role in combating racism

In addition to managing the response to Covid-19, many workplaces are also addressing and beginning to dismantle long-standing systems and structures that uphold racism. These changes are happening quickly and globally, according to this article, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) need to challenge and change their own practices and behaviours to become more diverse, inclusive and anti-racist professional environments.

The article describes 10 steps EAPs can take to start or continue this journey, beginning with the need to be bold and specific in all public statements about the role and purpose of the EAP. This might involve the creation of an advisory committee led by a chief diversity/equalities officer, who can work with the employer to assess the specific needs of the BAME workforce.

Those involved in delivering EAP services must consider employees’ financial pressures and needs, in addition to mental health ones, and examine how the employer is responding to the economic pressures created by Covid-19, for example, by exploring the impact of furloughing or redundancy on particular groups in the workforce.

The authors conclude that “just like Covid-19, racism is a public health pandemic and EAPs needs to be part of the solution.”

Frey J J. “Actively working to be more antiracist in the employee assistance field”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 3 July 2020.

Why does some rehabilitation fail?

Depression and high levels of self-reported pain at the time of injury are amongst the factors associated with an unsuccessful return to work (RTW) following a hand injury, according to this study of 872 workers. This leads the authors to suggest that “integrating mental healthcare provision with occupational rehabilitation is a potential pragmattic approach to improve RTW”.

Schroeder H P von et al. “Factors associated with unsuccessful return-to-work following work-related upper extremity injury”, Occupational Medicine, published online 15 June 2020.

CSR and work-related stress

An employee’s perceptions of their employer’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda are negatively correlated with stress symptoms, according to this study. Perceptions of the employing organisation’s CSR also predicted employees’ depression symptoms, work engagement and turnover intention, it finds.

Svergun O and Fairlie P. “The interrelated roles of corporate social responsibility and stress in predicting job outcomes”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 2 July 2020.

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