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June 8, 2020

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Workplace Wellbeing

Navigating the coronavirus pandemic: What does psychological research into wellbeing tell us?

As part of Workplace Wellbeing Digital Week, Workplace Wellbeing Show hosted a live and interactive webinar, with a panel consisting of Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes (Strategy and Development), Mind, Jan Golding, CEO, Roots, Teresa Higgins, Brand Director, Barbour EHS and Ivan Robertson, Founding Director, Robertson Cooper Ltd. Here, SHP puts your unanswered questions to Ivan Robertson…

During the session, the panel touched on:

The Workplace Wellbeing Digital Week webinar is available to listen to on-demand, here.

We were inundated with questions during the webinar and, unfortunately, were not able to put all of them to the panel. So, here we asked Ivan Cooper to discuss some of those questions in a little more detail.

How do we continue to support those key workers who have been through a sustained level of pressure over the past few months, and prevent the inevitable burnout that is likely to occur as we move into business as usual?
Ivan RobertsonIvan Robertson (IR): “Ideally, some steps would have been taken even before the current crisis. The best way to deal with work-related psychological problems is to take preventive action before they arise. I appreciate that this may be a counsel of perfection but even at this stage, it is important that the ongoing pressures of day to day work don’t drive out preventive actions. Once someone is on sick leave because of mental health issues, getting them back to health and work becomes more and more difficult.

“Useful preventive actions depend to a degree on specific circumstances, but some options include:

  • Checking the pressures that people are experiencing (use the framework that I mentioned explained in my presentation during the webinar) and work to keep them under control as much as possible;
  • Ensuring that people take respite when possible (because of high commitment some may push themselves too far);
  • Provide training in resilience and/or stress management – focus on senior staff and managers first, otherwise the context and culture will not support more junior people.

“The question refers to ‘inevitable’ burnout. For some people this may be true but it’s also important to remember that ongoing psychological problems are not inevitable for everyone. As my talk explained, even after major disaster and trauma, previous research indicates that more than 70% of people suffer no serious negative psychological consequences. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that research on the impact of debriefings have shown a consistent lack of evidence to support their benefit.”

Do you think or is there any consideration for changes in legislation to support mental health duty of care by employers?
(IR): “This is an interesting one. I suspect that there is little likelihood of changes actually being implemented. In my mind there are arguments for and against doing this. When considering issues such as employers’ duty of care for mental health, people will often refer to the need for a change of attitude. In fact, the most effective way of bringing about an attitude shift is to change behaviour first – then attitudes will follow. The original legislation on seat belt wearing provides a good example of this. Pre-legislation people were against it, then the law forced a change of behaviour – within a year or two many people changed their view and agreed that it was better to wear seat belts.

“The other side of the coin on this question is that once something is made specific with a legal framework this will set the limits and may result in compliance with the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it.”

Do you have an example wellbeing questionnaire, and do you recommend using them anonymously or asking employees to put their names on their survey responses to enable specific responses to be taken, rather than general responses?
(IR): “This question provides me with an opportunity to point to the main survey tool that we use at Robertson Cooper – ASSET. This has been validated and we have published the results of that in the scientific journals. The Health and Safety Executive also have a questionnaire that aligns with their Management Standards for assessing psycho-social risk and I believe that What Works Wellbeing have also developed a wellbeing measurement questionnaire. One point to make about any wellbeing questionnaire is that it should focus specifically on wellbeing, rather than simply being a few additional items in an annual organizational survey. Normative data against which responses can be compared helps people to better understand the results. Just like any survey it’s also important that respondents know why it is being used and what will happen with the results. This helps to ensure authentic responses.

“As far as anonymity is concerned, we always make responses anonymous – this again ensures that people are more prepared to be honest in their replies. It is OK to segment the data to see how different groups have responded (e.g. based on length of service, role, location, etc.) but never to the extent that it would be possible to identify individuals.”

To listen back to the Workplace Wellbeing Digital Week webinar, on-demand, click here.

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