The psychosocial impact of the pandemic on workers has been profound.
People are experiencing high levels of stress, burnout and fatigue.
Essential workers are stressed about their own and their family’s safety.
For others, stress may come from a family member losing their job.
Even people who are working from home are experiencing more stress, perhaps because they don’t have an adequate at-home work environment or their kids are attending school at home.
Stress is an occupational hazard that impacts safety, health and wellbeing.
When we’re able to reduce stress, we see better safety outcomes.
The strategy to improve workers’ safety, health and wellbeing is to focus on psychosocial stressors.
(The American Psychological Association defines psychosocial stressors as “a life situation that creates an unusual or intense level of stress that may contribute to the development or aggravation of mental disorder, illness or maladaptive disorder.”)
To counter psychosocial stressors, employers can develop strategies to reduce demands on and increase support of employees.
Focus on supervisors
The primary approach I have taken is to focus on supervisors.
We can train supervisors to increase social support for workers or help them to understand ways of decreasing demands of increasing employee control through flexibility.
We know this from years of research.
We developed computer-based training programs that can be used in any size organization.
They’re one hour, so they don’t take a lot of supervisors’ time.
The program trains supervisors on what supportive behaviors they should use to reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing of workers.
We’ve found this works in a variety of industries: grocery stores, construction, information technology, healthcare and many others.
After we train supervisors, we measure the outcomes with randomized control trials – a rigorous method of determining the effectiveness of training.
Injuries decrease, too
The result: We see the downwind effects on employees in terms of engagement with work; health; and improvements in blood pressure, sleep and overall life satisfaction.
When we train the supervisors, we find employees have decreased burnout, fatigue and stress.
And we’ve also been able to measure reductions in injuries because workers are more present.
(Based on a presentation by Leslie Hammer, Co-Director, Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, Portland, OR, at ASSP’s September 2021 conference)
Note: The Oregon Healthy Workforce Center is one of ten Total Worker Health centers in the U.S. funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to provide outreach, education and research to support efforts around TWH. The centers have free resources for employers.