Health Expert Dr. Günther Schreiber suggests: Eight steps to manage mental stress in the Workplace
Acceleration, permanent availability or the drive towards perfectionism have been part of the modern working environment for years. The coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have added even more stress factors. „The 24-hour news and more and more new regulations lead to an increase in anxiety disorders and depressions all the way to burnout“, explains Dr. Günther Schreiber, Physician for general medicine, psychosomatics, and psychotherapy. The qualityaustria Network partner for Healthcare exemplifies what measures employees and employers can take to prevent and counteract this.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the working world upside down. Office workers are isolated in their Home Office or have to work and take care of their children at the same time. Other employees still work at their workplaces but have to wear masks permanently. Collegiality and the feeling of belonging together are declining as a result of social distancing and the increasing detachment. Mental stress can have serious consequences not only for employees, but also for occupational health and safety and the operational capability of the entire company. Dr.med.univ. Günther Schreiber, qualityaustria Network partner, Project Management and Coordination Sector Healthcare gives eight tips.
1) Promoting team spirit through the employer
Permanent media reports can generate – or at least intensify – fear, panic and a feeling of helplessness. Employees who were already suffering from corresponding symptoms before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic are especially susceptible, as they may feel confirmed in their fears. This can have severe consequences, ranging from withdrawing tendencies to massive aggression. „Employers are challenged to inform their employees in a factual manner, to take sensible measures and to promote social cohesion“, says the expert.
2) Working on communication and error culture
If superiors or colleagues discover negative mood swings among employees, the first thing to do is to hold an open and constructive conversation to find out the causes. Then, supervisors can adjust the framework conditions, for example by changing working hours, temporarily reassigning roles, requesting supervision etc. It is also recommended to work on the communication and error culture.
3) Reflecting on the content of online conferences
No matter which online tool is used – online conferences should always be the exception. After all, with five or more participants, it is almost impossible to interact dynamically without disciplined moderation. If the microphones of all participants are unmute at the same time, it usually comes to interference. If, on the other hand, only one person is allowed to speak at a time, it takes a long time for the individual to get a chance to speak. Moderating and simultaneously reading comments in the Chat can also be very exhausting. It is recommended to schedule breaks to reflect on what has been discussed or to conduct meetings only in small groups.
4) Greatly increasing verbal communications
Non-verbal communication is the oldest language in the world. It is much faster and more effective than verbal communication. Handshakes and other gestures help to eliminate barriers and to assess our counterpart’s character more closely. „We will increasingly experience misunderstandings in communication with effects on relationships. It is almost impossible to avoid this. However, one small chance is to greatly increase verbal communication“, explains Schreiber.
5) Keeping employee motivation high
The lack of customers can lead to idle time and boredom in some industries. The paradox is that employees may find it annoying, despite the slack period, when customers eventually come into the store, since they currently are in „standby mode“. „Humans quickly become accustomed to convenience. The trick is to keep the motivation high and to communicate to employees that it is essential to fight for every single customer. „Here, not only the social skills of managers are important, but also the corporate culture“, emphasizes Schreiber.
6) Finding suitable masks for the employees
Some people need to wear masks permanently on the job. It is important to point out the difference in quality. Professional masks (FFP2, FFP3) provide better protection, but have higher breathing resistance so that breathing is more difficult. For chronically ill employees, this can lead to respiratory distress. „Here, it is important not do discriminate against people who are not allowed to wear masks for health reasons – whether physical or psychological – and to take other appropriate safety measures“, explains the medical expert.
7) Using a variety of aids when working from home
It makes sense to maintain a daily structure when working from home. After an hour of work, short breaks with exercises are recommended, ideally even outdoors and more often, if necessary. In addition, it is important to distinguish between the private and professional field. Devoting time to both at the same time can lead to personal overload. Single parents, for example, can ask their close friends or other reference persons to help out with childcare. If necessary, employees should not be afraid seeking psychotherapeutic support, using counseling hotlines or joining self-help groups.
8) Activating hobbies or developing new ones
Remembering other times of crisis – and how these were overcome – can also reduce emotional pressure. So can activating hobbies or developing new leisure activities. Finally, even taking a ‘time out’ from one’s typical role (as a mother, father, son, daughter, spouse, …) can help to take time for oneself.
„Each organization is responsible for the occupational health and safety of workers and others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting their physical and mental health“, explains Eckehard Bauer, MSc, Business Development Safety Management, Risk, Security, Business Continuity, Transport.
„Here, management systems are effective allies. The Workers Protection Act (ASchG) together with ISO 45001 1) and ISO 22301 2) serve the goal of reducing mental stress of workers and strengthening the operational capability of one’s own organization“, the expert concludes.