Health Benefits of Good Work eNewsletter May 2020

The impact of a pandemic on levels of depression, anxiety and stress. Important learnings from the past

Written by Tatjana Jokic (contact: tatjana@jkcorporateresourcing.com.au or 0466 651 904)

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented global crisis necessitating drastic changes to the world, it has changed the way we live our lives, being the greatest disrupter of how we live, work and play. It has impacted and disrupted all areas of our lives from social, professional, educational and economic. This disruption, along with the threat of contracting this potentially deadly virus, is leading many people to experience anxiety, stress and depression. As such, the psychological and physical impact has been far reaching with research showing that the impact of a pandemic has had an impact on levels of depression, anxiety and stress. This pandemic has led to a series of losses, from our sense of safety to our social connections to our financial security. Human behaviour strongly influences the transmission of disease. Therefore, public compliance with health authorities’ recommendations is a key feature of successful risk management when there is a risk of highly contagious diseases. Trust has repeatedly been identified as a key factor in public compliance during a pandemic and in successfully managing risk (Siegrist & Zingg, 2014).

One group of professionals that has been studied are healthcare workers. Longitudinal studies show that health professionals had historically up to three times higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress. However, with current analysis during the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline health and medical workers appear to have lower rates than the non-frontline health workers. This indicates that frontline staff have had mental preparedness following the past experiences of pandemics such as SARS. This then reinforces the need for psychological intervention, education and support for non-medical staff (Wang et al, 2020).

Another important aspect is consideration of individuals in isolation/quarantine. The current mode of attempting to contain the virus has led to governments internationally imposing social restrictions, isolation and limitations on approved reasons to leave the family home. It is vital to consider the impact that this has, along with the increase in video and phone calls to ensure social connectiveness. It is currently evident that fatigue from constant phone and video calling is emerging, with no periods of break and all work being done in front of the computer. Individuals are faced with limited human contact, breaks where no socialisation is present and the need to focus on repeated calls.

Important learnings:

  • early education and monitoring reduce levels of depression, stress and anxiety
  • education and counselling during a pandemic needs to be accessible to individuals whilst in isolation
  • short programs to address the main areas of concern and to assist rationalisation and normalisation of pandemic, virus transmission
  • physical activity is required alongside psychological intervention
  • information needs to be clear, consistent and factual
  • the impact affects all levels of society in all facets of life.

There is evidence that greater levels of perceived susceptibility to and perceived severity of the diseases and greater belief in the effectiveness of recommended behaviours to protect against the disease are also important predictors of behaviour. There is also evidence that greater levels of state anxiety and greater trust in authorities are associated with behaviour.

References

  • Bish, A. & Michie, S. (2010) Demographic and attitudinal determinants of protective behaviours during a pandemic: A review. British Journal of Health Psychology (2010), 15, 797-824
  • Holmes E.A, O’Connor R.C, Perry V.H, Tracey I, Wessely S, Arseneault L, Ballard C, Christensen H, Cohen Silver R, Everall I, Ford T, John A, Kabir T, King K, Madan I, Michie S, Przybylski A.K, Shafran R, Sweeney A, Worthman C.M, Yardley L, Cowan K, Cope C, Hotopf M, Bullmore E. (2020) Multidisciplinary Research Priorities for the COVID-19 Pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30168- 1/fulltext)
  • Siegrist, M. & Zingg, A. (2014) The Role of Public Trust During Pandemics: Implications for Crisis Communication. European Psychologist (2014), 23-32
  • Wang C, Pan R, Wan X, Tan Y, Xu L, Ho CS, Ho RC, 2020 Immediate Psychological Responses and Associated Factors during the Initial Stage of the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Epidemic among the General Population in China. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2020)
  • Wang C, Pan R, Wan X, Tan Y, Xu L, McIntyre R. S, Choo, F, Tran B, Ho B, Sharmah V. K,i HoC (2020) A longitudinal study on the mental health of general population during the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity (2020)

Effective leadership in crisis – a best practice perspective on leadership during COVID-19 

Since the arrival of COVID-19 in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand during the months of March and April 2020 we have viewed leaders of organisations throughout Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand scramble to:

  • mobilise teams to work from home focusing on ensuring technology and tools of trade are at hand to get the job done
  • reinvent the world of work to enable a business-as-usual approach to service delivery
  • reduce and condense workforces to ensure financial viability and longevity of organisations
  • manage the harsh realities of the pandemic forcing temporary shutdowns of business operations.

Notwithstanding that in combination with managing the COVID-19 crisis, leaders are typically performing their normal roles; whilst also managing their own work life challenges and expected to recognise and address employees who may need psychological help as well. This sounds completely overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Now that the dust has somewhat settled on our ‘new normal’ of working from home; managing reduced operations or temporary cessation of trade, leaders may be asking themselves:

  • Am I an effective leader to my team during the current crisis?
  • How can I manage my team most effectively?
  • How are my team coping from a physical, psychological and emotional perspective?
  • How do I get the best out of my team during a pandemic?

According to the Harvard Business Review (Kerrissey, M. and Edmondson, A. April 2020) best practice leadership qualities during a crisis include:

  • acting with urgency
  • communicating with transparency
  • taking responsibility and focusing on solving problems
  • engaging in constant updating.

According to Hammer (April 2020) the key ingredients of an effective empathetic leader include:

  • social support and understanding
  • modelling self-care. 

With the above in mind, we have set out to provide our readers with some practical examples of effective and empathetic leadership during COVID-19:

  • Acting with urgency: 
    Keep abreast of government announcements regarding COVID-19 ensuring timely business decisions are made with clarity to ensure the safety, welfare and health of your team members and your business. 
  • Communicate with transparency:
    It is crucial that leaders are communicating openly and transparently with team members on a regular basis. Ensure that team members have an understanding of changes being made to structure, their roles or work practices and ensure open conversations around the impact COVID-19 may have on the business from a short, medium and long term perspective and what this means for the employee. 
  • Responsibility and problem solving:
    At a time of uncertainty employees look to leaders to take responsibility and take charge. It is crucial that leaders identify barriers and risks to employees and the business as a result of COVID-19, developing innovative and practical approaches to service delivery in a timely and transparent manner. It is also crucial that leaders are enhancing, developing or recreating business plans around COVID-19 ensuring the health of the business into the future.  
  • Constant updating: 
    It is crucial that leaders are constantly updating all employees during COVID-19 to alleviate any stress, concerns or uncertainty. Whether this be informal daily check ins via phone or videoconference, formal video conferencing meetings with employees and teams or written email updates. Consider the nature of the update and the best form of communication.
  • Social support and understanding:
    o ensure your team understand that you are there to support them and they should feel comfortable discussing any work or non-work related challenges as a result of COVID-19
    o monitor for signs of struggle within your employee whether this be reported levels of mental health distress, social withdrawal or poor workplace performance
    o recognise some employees may have children and family members requiring extra support at this time – discuss how together you can support your employee to juggle both home schooling/family commitments and work as productively as possible 
    o be accessible as a leader offering virtual meeting times to team members as they need whilst also maintaining boundaries to maintain your own self-care.
  • Modelling self-care:
    o as a leader be up to date on all government public health announcements relevant to your team and ensure you communicate this with urgency
    o be aware of government wellbeing initiatives and share these with your workers (e.g. additional resources and funding provided to Lifeline and Beyond Blue)
    o set your own boundaries regarding work hours, availability and your own personal / family obligations
    o use your own leave (annual or sick) when needed and encourage your staff to do the same
    o remove unnecessary/irrelevant tasks
    o provide additional flexibility in project/task end-dates
    o prioritise health and wellbeing – always.

Whilst we know you strive to be the best leader you can during the COVID-19 crisis we hope that we have helped you identify some areas of improvement or areas of self-reflection to best lead your team with empathy throughout this pandemic. We wish you the best of luck over the coming months adjusting to our new normal way of thinking, collaborating and working.

Article brought to you by:

Noni Byron  
Registered Psychologist
Chair of Forum Committee HBGW SSG
noni@phsa.com.au 
noni
Tatjana Jokic
Registered Psychologist 
Chair of Workplace Engagement Committee HBGW SSG
tatjana@jkcorporateresourcing.com.au 
Tatjana 


References:

  • Friedman, U (2020) New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet. The Atlantic 2020 
  • Kerrissey, M.J & Edmondson, A.C (2020) What Good Leadership Looks Like During This Pandemic. Harvard Business Review 2020
  • Hammer, L & Alley, L (2020) Lead with empathy during the COVID-19 crisis. The Conversation 2020 

Ten tips for managing your mood while working in isolation

There is no doubt that the new working arrangements brought about by COVID-19 have created added stress to all of our workdays. Sharing these tips with your employees to help them proactively manage their mood, will make them more likely to stay motivated, engaged and better able to navigate these difficult times.

Manage your emotional state:

1. Be mindful 
There are a lot of simple mindfulness techniques to help you stay in the present moment, when things become stressful. Counting five things in your environment that you can see, hear and feel is a simple strategy for helping to ground yourself when your emotions become heightened. 

2. Slow down your breathing
Slowing down your breathing helps to change the way your body reacts to feelings of stress or anxiety. To temporarily slow down your breathing, take three slow breaths, counting to four while breathing in, then counting to four again while breathing out.

3. Choose your music
Listening to music can have an immediate impact on your mood. Choose music that you know tends to make you feel good. That might be classical music, 90’s R&B, rock opera, love ballads or heavy metal, it is completely up to you. 

Take Action:

4. Take a break
When you’ve got a lot of work on, it can seem counter-intuitive to stop trying to tackle all the tasks on your to-do list. However, taking short, regular breaks can keep your mind fresh and alert, so that you are better able to remain productive throughout the workday. 

5. Move about
There is growing evidence that regular exercise has direct benefits for mental health. Incorporating movement into your workday by intermittently standing to work, getting a household chore done or going for a walk at lunchtime, will help you to feel better. 

6. Get social
Humans are not programmed to be socially isolated. Whether an introvert or extrovert, we all get pleasure from supportive social interactions. In these times of isolation, it has become important to be deliberate in incorporating social interaction into your day. Thankfully, the technology is available to help you with this. Schedule a regular video chat, create some informal banter over email, text or social media or pick up the telephone to create the opportunity for an enjoyable conversation. Just be picky with who you reach out to. Find those people who you know will have a positive impact on your mood. 

7. Be kind and helpful
Did you know that acts of kindness or helpfulness improve the mood of the person performing those acts? Reach out to someone who is struggling, give someone a compliment or make a donation to a good cause and you will reap the benefits by feeling good about your actions.

Catch your Thinking:

8. Rationalise your thinking
What we think has a direct impact on how we feel. So if you’re ruminating on something negative, you are likely to be in a bad mood. If you are getting carried away with negative thoughts, you can challenge them by asking yourself “what evidence do I have that what I am thinking is true or not true?”. Considering both sides will help to rationalise your thinking and reduce its impact on your mood. 

9. Notice your thoughts
There is evidence that using methods to distance yourself from your negative thoughts can help you stay focused on taking positive action. When you find yourself hooked by negative thinking, catch one of your negative thoughts and create distance from it by saying to yourself “I am noticing that I am thinking…”. 

10. Thank your mind
Our minds are 'thought machines' and they produce negative thoughts as a way of warning us about something that could potentially harm us. This can often be helpful for keeping us safe, except when these negative thoughts become overwhelming and distract us from taking positive action. When you notice yourself having negative thoughts, thank your mind for trying to keep you safe. This is another method for creating distance from your thoughts, to reduce their impact on your mood.

These tips have been brought to you by Suzanne Gibson, Co-Founder at:
Head Smart

Health Benefits of Good Work webinars

We are excited to announce that the Health Benefits of Good Work (HBGW) webinars will be launching very soon.

Due to COVID-19 and the current social distancing measures we are unable to run the HBGW forums face-to-face. However, we are delighted to run a series of webinars in the meantime to keep members engaged and updated on current information and important issues. 

We are working towards launching the first of the webinar series by early June – stay tuned for the announcement.

COVID-19 Work and Health Study

With the recent workplace disruption related to COVID-19, a significant number of workers have lost their roles or had working hours reduced. Researchers at Monash University and the Australian National University have initiated a national study to track the impact of job and work hours loss on the health and future employment prospects of individuals who participate in the research.

The study has been active for several weeks and recruited hundreds of people through an initial online survey. The aim of both universities is to enrol thousands more into the study cohort across the coming four to eight weeks. The researchers will follow these workers over the next year as the pandemic unfolds and physical distancing restrictions ease, businesses re-open and schools return. The more people enrolled, the more robust the study findings and the greater insights generated to help with recovery efforts and employer guidance during and after COVID-19.

For more information please visit the study website, their Facebook page (@covidstudy) or read the relevant media release about the study.

Guide for occupational physicians advising workplaces on COVID-19

Businesses and organisations have an important part to play in reducing the rate of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace and in the community. Minimising the exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and early intervention for suspected cases will complement public health measures while reducing disruption to business. 

AFOEM has developed a guidance document which covers vital points such as:

  • employers’ duty of care
  • effective two-way communication between employers and workers
  • showing empathy and compassion.

Get involved and spread the word

If you would like to share your organisation’s experience with the Health Benefits of Good Work initiative in future editions of this eNewsletter, contact the Health Benefits of Good Work at HBGW@racp.edu.au.

We are committed to spreading the word on HBGW and growing the Consensus Statement signatory base so please forward this newsletter to any organisations which may be interested. 

Organisations can find more information and become a signatory to the HBGW Consensus Statement on the How to become a signatory page.

We look forward to hearing from you. 
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