Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

In this episode of Workplace Matters we look at diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace; the key elements in creating an environment where everyone feels represented, accepted, and has access to opportunities. Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield of Washington University in St. Louis has studied Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace. We asked her to define the problem, and to offer evidence-based recommendations for workplaces to address these important issues.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. The workforce consists of individuals from many different races, genders, sexualities, backgrounds and countless other factors which contribute to its diversity. However, the diversity of the available workforce has not always resulted in a diverse, equitable, or inclusive workplace. Today we will look at diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace or DEI. What is it? Why we know it isn’t present and why previous methods of achieving it have failed. It’s benefits both financially and for safety and health, and finally substantial methods of fostering DEI in the workplace.

INTRO MUSIC FADES OUT

Michael: Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield is a professor of Arts and Sciences and associate dean of faculty development at Washington University in St. Lewis. Dr. Wingfield has contributed to Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Slate and numerous academic journals on the subject of Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the workplace.

Adia: When I think of diversity, I think about the representation of different groups of people and different types of people in an organizational setting, but when we talk about equity, we are talking about something a little different, and that is the opportunities that each person has within the organization. And even inclusion is something a little bit different than that.

Michael: Equity and Inclusion are about making sure workers have equal opportunities and their opinions and ideas are valued. All three work together make a diverse workplace where employees feel accepted and appreciated.

Adia: So it’s not that difficult to have diversity without equity. It’s not that difficult to have diversity without inclusion. But all of those things, I think, are essential factors to pull together if an organization is going to really be as successful as possible.

Michael: Research has shown that organizations lack diversity in upper and middle management positions, and often have little equity and inclusion present at all. This does not mean every organization is inherently bias, but, as Dr. Wingfield explains, the biases of a few workers can create ripple effects through an entire company.

Adia: If we were talking about how racial disparities are often present, we are more likely to see white workers and disproportionately white men workers who are at the top levels and even at the middle management levels of organizations. So let’s say you have someone who’s in a middle level of an organization. They are more likely, we know today to be in a position where they are responsible for hiring. They’re more likely to have more of an outsize role in hiring in some organizations. But let’s say that person has biases against people of color in leadership roles, that one person’s biases can have an impact on who gets hired, on who advances, on who they want to work with as a potential mentor, who they sponsor an organization. So even though they are one person, that can really have a ripple effect that spreads more broadly to have a larger impact in how the organization functions. And that’s only if we’re talking about middle management, right? Imagine if we’re talking about someone who’s in a leadership role at the very top level of an organization who’s responsible for setting the organizational culture or has an outsized role in shaping policy. If that person comes with particular biases, then that can really set the tone for an organization and make it more difficult for that organization to be a place that is able to really become a diverse organization that is able to meet the needs of a wide array in a wide variety of workers.

Michael: Beyond denying workers of color and women of all races equal opportunities and inclusion in the workplace, a lack of DEI can negatively impact workers of color’s mental health as well.

Adia: Research very broadly can tell us that if we’re talking about workers of color in particular, having more racial diversity and more inclusion, and what I mean by that is being in workspaces where there’s less of a sense of stress, less of a sense of racial strife, less of a sense of racial harassment and so forth, can really be beneficial to the mental health of workers of color in those environments. Research does indicate that for workers of color, when they are in environments where they are not experiencing the physical manifestations that can come with being in settings where racial bias or racial harassment feels rampant or explicit or overt, then the absence of that phenomena can be very beneficial to their- their mental health at least, and that that can have implications for their physical health as well.

Adia: For example, for black workers in particular, we know that experiences with racialized stress don’t just kind of drop away at the door when you go into a workplace or when you start work, since many of us are working from home. So we know that those experiences with racialized stress are not things that you just leave behind once you clock in or go into your office, whether it’s at home or out of your house or what have you. Those are issues that are going to be part of who black workers are when they come into the workforce. So if you’re in an environment where you’re regularly seeing police shootings or police killings of people of color on a daily basis, that’s something that has an impact on many black workers that they are going to bring with them into the workspace because it does have an impact on their psyche, on their stress, on their emotional well-being and so forth.

Michael: Diversity is far from a new problem. Most businesses have policies and training specifically for diversity in the workplace. But more often than not these solutions are ineffective and can even have the opposite effect. So what’s been wrong with previous attempts at DEI?

Adia: Organizations and employers in particular may assume that if we want to address these issues of diversity and inclusion, you know, we get a trainer in here and maybe we hire a woman of any race or a person of color for a high-ranking position and boom, we solve this problem. We did it. That’s not so accurate. Right. And that’s not, again, what experience and research indicate.

Adia: Lauren Edelman is a sociologist at University of California at Berkeley who writes that often organizations are more engaged in what she describes as symbolic compliance, showing to regulators and investors that they understand that these issues are things that they have to say they’re doing something about, more so than to actually try to create more racial diversity. My colleague Frank Dobbin at Harvard has also shown that as the focus of these programs shifted over time from explicit focus on affirmative action in addressing racial and gender disparities to diversity at large, that’s grown to include things like diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of feelings, very broadly defined categories that allow managers and organizations to avoid focusing on specific issues of racial and gender inequity. And in my own work, I’ve actually found that black workers and organizations, particularly higher status black workers who have more direct involvement with diversity initiatives, are more likely as well to find those a frustrating waste of their time, because they’re not seen as the type of initiatives that can really address the systemic processes that they see in organizations, particularly the ones that affect themselves. So I’m just giving a brief overview of some of the recent studies here, because I think these illustrate a common thread when it comes to these issues of diversity training. One is that they aren’t designed to focus explicitly any more on drilling down on these issues of racial and gender disparities that continue to exist in workplaces. They are often designed to sidestep those issues. They’re designed to be very broad and to be very ambiguous and amorphous. And at the same time, they are designed to allow organizations to say that they’re doing something without really pushing them to do the type of solutions or engage in the types of solutions and strategies that we know actually move the needle and create real results.

Adia: What we do know does actually move the needle is when managers are fully brought into and are a part of the interest in and desire to create more racial and gender diversity; and that they are tasked with doing this work explicitly; and that they have the resources and administrative and managerial support to actually make these gains happen. And that seems somewhat straightforward and self-evident. But there actually are many organizations that don’t go about it that way. But we know that from the research, when organizations involved managers and when they are a key part of helping to draft these solutions, when they know that racial and gender diversity is important and that that’s an organizational goal and that they’ll be held accountable for achieving that goal and they have the resources to do so, that actually is where the data show that organizations have been able to successfully make changes.

Adia: One thing that managers can do is to think about structuring hiring processes in ways that aren’t so subject to personal biases or personal views in ways that can be detrimental to these issues. I think other things to consider are leadership training programs and organizations that can help to offset the ways in which workers of color and women workers of all races may be left out of the informal mentoring and sponsorship processes that can often elevate certain groups without everyone having the same opportunities. These are just a couple of things that, again, research has talked about and that researchers have shown can help to shift a lot of the policies that are in place in workplaces to make them a bit more available to workers across the spectrum.

Michael: Diversity equity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t a fire drill. It’s not a once a year topic that is briefly discussed and practiced. It’s something that needs to be worked at, and resources need to be devoted to it. Even if an organization doesn’t have a budget flexible enough to devote many resources, a concerted effort from the leaders of a workplace can have a great impact.

Adia: Large corporations, large businesses may be in a better position to have more resources to put towards this problem. Bigger companies are more able to say, look, we are going to focus on this this way and we’ve got this budget that we can devote to this. I do worry that in smaller companies, there may simply not be the available resources to focus on these issues in the way that many larger companies do. But I don’t think that necessarily means that these are issues that smaller companies cannot tackle. I think that with organizational leadership and will it may just be that smaller companies need to think about how they can use the resources that they do have to try to address these issues, right? It may mean that a smaller number of managers come together to solve these issues and that they do so with the backing of leadership. That’s something that can be done even in a small organization. And it may mean that in that small organization, there may be more ability to kind of be nimble and to be flexible about what sorts of changes may need to to be made. But I do think that small organizations may face different challenges in trying to address these issues than larger ones. But that doesn’t make these challenges impossible. I really do think that a lot of the wherewithal and ability to address these issues does come down, in many cases, to organizational support, managerial involvement, resources and leadership. And I think that those are things that smaller organizations certainly have.

Michael: Creating diversity, equity, and inclusion is achievable for any business that focuses leadership and resources to it. In the description, we will link to even more resources of practices and policies that have been successful in creating more diverse workplaces. Beyond the individuals who will feel more supported, the benefits of focusing on these issues can extend throughout an entire organization.

Adia: I think that when we think about the demographics of the United States and where the country is going and the fact that we are moving to a space where the US is becoming increasingly multiracial, more so than it has been at perhaps any other point in our history, it’s actually incumbent on organizations to be able to be prepared for that racial diversity by adequately reflecting the populations that they serve, by making sure that their workforce is reflective of that population. It seems to me to be difficult to imagine an organization that can meet the needs of an increasingly racially diverse society if that workforce and if that leadership is so out of touch with the constituents and the communities that that organization seeks to serve.

Adia: So I would stress and urge employers not to think that these issues of diversity and equity and inclusion are things that can be solved by these sorts of quick, easy fixes that are often commonly used. Really, making an organization diverse and equitable and inclusive requires work, and it requires time and it requires focus. And often it requires changing the everyday systemic practices that have been part of an organization for a long time. It’s also worth it for the value that it brings to making an organization more open to and inclusive of a broad array of viewpoints and perspectives and experiences and ideas. And it’s also worth it for how I think that positions in organization should be prepared for the way that our society is changing in ways that that organizations are going to need to be equipped to deal with.

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the national institute for occupational safety and health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information, visit healthier workforce center .org. Thank you.

Mental Wellness

This episode of Workplace Matters centers around facing stress and adversity in more productive ways and how to support workforces, both on-site and remote to be more resilient. A system of support for employees give them the ability to better cope with negative experiences when they arise. But what is the best way to go about that and how can you tell when employees are in need of help?

We once again talked with Dr. Saba Ali from the University of Iowa College of Education about how employers can best support their employees as we transition into the winter months.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Dr. Saba Ali

Mental Wellness

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. With more workers feeling stress, anxiety, and depression, the need is higher than ever for mental resilience. It is incumbent on employers to be aware of stress on their employees and support them through this time.

INTRO MUSIC

Saba: Resilience is really the ability to bounce back from negative experiences.

Michael: We once again talked with Dr. Saba Ali from the University of Iowa about what employers can do to support the mental wellness of their employees.

 Saba: I think there’s this myth out there that resilience is the idea that nothing bothers you. But actually what it is, is really the ability to cope with negative or traumatic experiences. And it’s really important for mental health because it is kind of the process of the ways that people cope. You know higher resilience that allows people to ask for support. For resources that they need. And when people do that and they get stronger social connections with each other, they’re able to really kind of cope with negative experiences. And that’s a really important part of mental health. Mental health is not just feeling joy or happiness all the time. It’s when you do feel or experience negative things that you can cope with those negative experiences.

Michael: Obviously this continues to be one of the most stressful times for workers throughout out the country both in and outside of the workplace. That is why workplaces need to be focusing on sustained mental wellness in order to prevent burnout as we transition into the winter months. Employers can positively impact the resilience of their workforces by being dedicated to employee support.

Saba: So, I think that probably the biggest thing that employers can do right now is to provide support and that’s really coming out in the data that we see on resilience. The more support people have, the more sense of belonging that they feel, the more they feel like they can talk about what’s going on for them or get the resources that they need, the higher generally their resilience. One thing we see is that when supervisors are willing to listen to their workers about what they’re experiencing, maybe even role model kind of opening up themselves and encouraging work life balance usually tends to bolster resilience. I think that’s a really, really important thing.

Michael: There are many ways to show support to employees, and it is valuable to have a varied approach when thinking about the best way to do so. Like most workplace issues, there isn’t one solution which fixes everything and variety of strategies creates a better support system.

Saba: Things like flexibility in working hours, good communication, reaching out to tell workers that they’re appreciated. I think about service workers who try to enforce maybe mask mandates or things like that. Showing that you support what they’re doing. Most workers are reporting that when they feel like their supervisors, care about them, and they back it up with sort of policies around flexibility and understanding and then also helping people to get resources when they are struggling. But that tends to be the kind of support people are looking for.

Michael: When employees feel that their workplace cares about them, it increases the resilience in the workforce. This usually centers around communication and flexibility with workers. For example, if deadlines can be made more flexible that eases the workers stress of making those deadlines and shows organizational support for employee wellbeing. There are even trainings to teach resilience available for workplaces that seek them out.

Saba: There are some resilience trainings out there. They tend to kind of cover sort of mindfulness approaches. So how do you take a break? How do you focus on your breathing? You know, especially when you’re experiencing a lot of stress. They focus on sort of like how do you connect to the networks that you need to connect to? I think that there are a lot of skill building kinds of things around mindfulness, making sure you feel connected. How do you set appropriate sort of goals for yourself? So you’re not completely feeling overwhelmed by work. When we look at different types of work, when we get sort of nit-picky about it, you know, obviously there are some people who maybe have more resilience to begin with who go into working in an E.R., dealing with trauma all the time. They may already have higher levels of optimism or higher levels of resilience. I think it’s really important to help them still keep building those skills and feeling supported, to continue to feel resilient and to prevent burnout.

Michael: The needs of a remote worker could be vastly different from the needs of an on-site worker, likewise the needs of an employee of color could be different from the needs of a white employee. It’s important to try and understand employee needs on an individual level to really tailor the support in the most effective way.

Saba: Remote workers are experiencing this idea of living at work versus working from home. Never being able to escape their workplace. I know for me that drive home and then changing my clothes, that was a transition. Like now I’m at home. I’m no longer at work. And not having that has been difficult. We need to kind of create boundaries around our work. And this is really something I feel really strongly about is that I don’t believe that people should be working in their bedrooms. I don’t think that people should be working in the relaxed spaces. Those are spaces for relaxation, for rest, not for working. And so when you associate work or stress with those places, it’s obviously a lot harder to relax, to sleep, to do the kinds of things that you need to do. And now I understand that not everybody has large spaces where they can have their room just dedicated to work. But like walling it off a little bit, like cheap plastic dividers or some way of sort of walling off your computer. That’s work. This is home. This is where I relax. This is where I work.

Saba: University of Chicago’s Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group did a study recently where they looked at 5000 workers across the social class spectrum, across different racial groups as well. And what they found was that black and Latinx Americans are actually reporting more resilience and optimism than white Americans are. And that holds up regardless of income category. And especially kind of true between low income white Americans as compared to low income black Americans. And I think that that can be surprising to some people. It was surprising to me. But some of the things they talked about in terms of the different kinds of coping. They talked about how black Americans might be turning a little bit more to religion. So, again, social networks for coping. They talked about, obviously, the different histories and overcoming adversity, sort of strong community ties. But then one thing that kind of interested me was the stronger belief among, lower income black Americans in the promise of education. Being able to have some flexibility in your working and I thought that that was kind of interesting in terms of resilience, is that we can help build these coping mechanisms for communities if we look at the literature and see what communities are already doing. If, for example workers are saying that connection, social connections especially with their communities are important, how do we provide time for those kinds of social connections? Maybe even suggestions for coping is that when people are struggling, helping them to say, you know, you talked about this being important to you. Have you been interacting with your faith community? Have you been interacting with people who are important to you? I think it helps with the suggestions around coping and really augments coping when people sort of understand who their workforce is and what ways they’re using to cope.

Michael: If nothing else, there are broad strategies which can greatly increase the support and therefore resilience of workplaces at this time. Those being flexibility, communication, showing appreciation, and sharing with employees what resources are available to them.

Saba: Understanding that there might be essential functions that need to get done, but where can you be flexible with your workers, especially for people who may have young children or care for dependent adults or something like that. I think good communication. Again, role modeling, making sure that people feel a sense of belonging, you know, thanking people. It goes a long way. Just appreciating what they do. So, I think providing, the resources that you might be able to use is really helpful to people. And I think it has more meaning when it comes from somebody who they trust and respect or who, you know, they feel like may have some authority over them.

 Michael: Resilience does not happen without a sustained effort. When a workplace makes it a point to be supporting employees, the overall resilience increases. When those efforts continue for prolonged amounts of time it becomes ingrained in workplace culture and it has numerous benefits on stress, burnout, fatigue, depression, absenteeism, and productivity.

 Saba: It goes back to that idea of resilience, it’s the ability to cope with negative experiences. So, when there is a crisis and people feel supported, there already is an existing culture of support, then people tend to fare better within those kinds of experiences. So, I think it’s always just maintaining that culture of support and support doesn’t mean you’re emailing the person every day to check in on them. I think it’s creating the idea that the person doesn’t feel like they have to hide what’s going on for them or that they do know that there’s resources available to them and that employers are willing to be flexible for them to reach out to those resources. You create a culture where people feel part of something, they feel supported. They don’t worry about losing their job if they’re experiencing a crisis. They know that they may be able to take that flexible time off. I think that constant communication helps to create that work culture that does translate into mental wellness over time.

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the national institute for occupational safety and health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us, visit healthier workforce center [dot] org  Thank you!

Marijuana and the Workplace: Policies

This episode of Workplace Matters is a companion to our earlier episode “Marijuana and the Workplace: Introduction”. In this episode we look at what factors should be considered when revising or creating marijuana policies for a business. How should policies reflect or not reflect the changing litigation around marijuana, and what factors should be taken into account when making those decisions?

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Jeffery Meyers, Allison Wright, and Matthew Pappas

Note: These interviews were recorded before December 4th, 2019 when the Illinois Recreational Marijuana Law was amended clarifying that employers may conduct pre-employment tests for marijuana use and may impose disciplinary action against employees for failing.

Marijuana and the Workplace: Policies

Michael: You’re listening to workplace matters. In a previous episode, we covered basic information about marijuana and looked at what marijuana does to the body as well as the legal status of THC and CBD products. Today’s episode will focus on crafting marijuana policies. Marijuana can potentially affect the safety of the user and the safety of others around them. According to Pew Research, over 2/3rds of Americans support its legal status and that has led to many employers changing their polices on drug use. Safety concerns must be at the forefront.

Michael: While there are several components that should be included in any substance use policy, each policy must be tailored to the specific workplace it was created for. A substance use policy for a factory cannot be the same as one for an office.

Matt: There’s no cookie cutter application to developing a policy for a company.

Michael: Matthew Pappas of the Pappas O’Connor Law Firm explains.

Matt: What we do is as a law firm, we go in with a client, we try to understand their business. We have to make individual decisions. A lot of companies will just say, “hey, we got this off the Internet. This is the best policy since sliced bread.” And they’ll just use it. There’s a lot of people that will go in and sit there and say, well, we don’t-  we want to adopt a policy, but we don’t want to do any training. We can’t do that. We have to as advisors assist them in the development of a policy and a procedure that works for their business and works within the confines of the federal and state law.

Michael: There are specific jobs deemed “Safety Sensitive” by OSHA that prohibit marijuana use. These are positions where an impaired employee would be a safety concern for that person or those around them.

Matt: If you have a CDL, you’re driving a car. You’re working within a nuclear regulatory plant. Those types of things are going to be safety sensitive and those things are going to be controlled by federal law where no matter what state law may say or may not say, are going to be able and have to be drug tested and not necessarily because of their own safety, but the others around them. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people kind of think, well, hey, I can do what I want. It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t affect you. Well, how many of you have been able to sit there and go and have to go and report an injury to a coworker because somebody has been under the influence? That’s the dramatic point. Federal law requires that certain safety sensitive positions are subject to testing in the workplace.

Michael: Jeffery Meyers from the Area Substance Abuse Council in Cedar Rapids, Iowa further explains why employer should be concerned about marijuana use disorders impacting the person’s health and the job

Jeffery: Of course, you’re going to care if they’re using it on the job because that’s going to have impairment related issues. So sometimes the question becomes, well, what if they’re using them outside of work? And our response would be, yeah, you should probably still care because there is a real risk of dependency. And even if that individual is using outside of work the symptoms of dependency can carry over into their work life. So that would be frequent absences. That would be trouble with cognition where you have a long term and short term memory impairment. We know with young adults, adolescents, there’s an IQ reduction.

Michael: Policies will need to consider substance use treatment coverage and drug screening. For a business that is concerned about marijuana use, pre-employment testing, random testing, and reasonable suspicion training are all valuable tools in mitigating the hazards of recreational marijuana use.

Jeffery: You want to have verbiage that covers all substances that you are concerned about as a workplace. So typically it’s going to be illegal drugs. It could also be some of the synthetic drugs out there. And then also you want to make sure this is properly conveyed to your employees so they know what you’re testing for. You want to have definitions as far as what levels are going to be considered positive. You’re going to want to have a policy that outweighs what are the steps. In other words, especially for reasonable suspicion, if we identify someone as possibly having an impairment related issue, what do we do? Right. There needs to be a very clear cut procedure in place for that. And a lot of times it boils down to making sure you have your staff trained and reasonable suspicion. You have a second person that also observes possible signs of impairment. Get human resources involved. You have a private conversation and then you do a test within a reasonable window, usually within a few hours. And then, of course, that comes back positive you want to do a second confirmatory test.

Michael: But testing is also imperfect, with test results varying greatly between different approaches.

Jeffery: If it’s legalized, generally speaking, you can do it for, you know, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, you’re going to have to have a defined level of THC. Because the problem there is if you have post-accident and someone tests positive for marijuana and you do like a urine analysis, you do a hair sample. That doesn’t mean much because that could have been in their system for 30 days, even in the case of a hair sample quite a bit past that. So you’re gonna want to look at other alternative methods of testing. Saliva is a possibility. Blood’s a possibility, but really the technology isn’t where it’s at with alcohol where you could say “yes not only is in their system, but it’s in their system to an extent that we would expect it to cause impairment”.

Jeffery: Let’s say you have an employee that does test positive for whatever. What are you gonna do at that point? Some places, you know, they’ll go for a termination. In Iowa if it’s alcohol related. You do need to offer like a rehabilitation program, treatment services. You don’t necessarily need to do that with other substances. But you might want to, especially with marijuana becoming popular among the young adults, older adults. So especially some workforce’s that’s struggle getting people in the door. They might want to look at other options besides immediate termination and look at what can we do to help this employee.

Michael: All policies should address productivity and safety, and include substance treatment options in benefit plans. As marijuana legalization expands, more workers may be looking for employers with a higher tolerance for recreational marijuana use.  Illinois’ recent legalization of recreational marijuana has led to employers needing to review and potentially revise substance use policies. Not all employers are responding in the same way.

Allison: You have extremely conservative kind of resistance. All the way down to some corporations of employers are actually advertising at the outset with jobs that they don’t test for marijuana use.

Matt: We have a lot of employers that have come in from a recruiting standpoint and said that look at because we’re doing a five panel test or seven panel tests or whatever the test we’re doing, we’re not getting applicants because they’re afraid that they’re going to fail the drug test and they’re asking to have the policies amended so that they do not test for marijuana. It’s business as usual with some modifications. Modifications with random, with policy development, and modifications potentially with recruitment.

Michael: A tolerance for recreational marijuana does not mean that employees can be impaired on the job. It means that employees are allowed to do what they want on their own time as long as it is not affect their performance at work. There are potential downsides with possible drops in productivity and the risk of dependency like with alcohol.

Michael: Policies can still include reasonable suspicion training; however changes in productivity are not always the result of drug use. Managers must be objective in their observations and actions.

Allison: If you have an employee who’s coming to work late, you have an employee who’s not remembering to get things done, who is failing to meet productivity or workplace standards. We tell them to focus on the conduct. It’s a phrase we use all the time in our office. Focus on the conduct. Doesn’t matter whether or not they would pass or fail a drug test when we’re not talking about an accident or an incident? Separate the marijuana use from the conduct at work. What is deficient about their performance at work? They’re not getting things done. Just focus on that.

Allison: I know or suspect this person uses marijuana. And I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that he didn’t meet his sales quota this morning or manufacturing quota this morning. But you don’t know that, so we tell them to focus on the conduct. And we tried to coach to make sure. Yes, you’re aware what the symptoms are. And yes, there are certain situations where it’s appropriate to focus on that. But don’t forget, as a supervisor, you’re managing employees, you’re managing conduct, your managing deficiencies if they come up.

Michael: In any drug policy there must be training, communication, and clear procedures for drug-related incidents. As Allison said, managers need to evaluate objectively based on the employee’s performance at work, and not other information. Policies must be tailored to each business and make sure that safety sensitive positions remain drug free and that workers remain productive.

Matt: You want people to be able to be productive. And that’s really the hard part is really just trying to basically force the issue of look at we’re not trying to regulate what you do on your own time . As I said before, and I think Ali would agree with me, we really don’t care what you do on your own time. That’s not for us. But when you step into work and you’re being paid for a job and you’re asked to be productive and you’re asked to do things that are not endangering other people, then you really should just make sure that that policy has the wherewithal to stand up to those incidents and allows you to take action. And again, it’s really performance-based.

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us, visit Healthier workforce center (dot) org.

Opening During COVID-19

This episode of Workplace Matters will look at health and safety measures and resources available for restaurants and retailers during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Businesses that need to interact directly with customers have needed to make many changes to operate safely, and they have been some of the hardest hit businesses in the nation. We talked with Sam Jarvis from Johnson County Public Health and Nancy Bird the executive director of the Iowa City downtown district about what they can do.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Nancy Bird and Sam Jarvis

Resources:
CDC Resuming Business Toolkit:
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/resuming-business-toolkit.html

CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019:
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Marijuana and the Workplace: Policies

Michael: You’re listening to workplace matters. In a previous episode, we covered basic information about marijuana and looked at what marijuana does to the body as well as the legal status of THC and CBD products. Today’s episode will focus on crafting marijuana policies. Marijuana can potentially affect the safety of the user and the safety of others around them. According to Pew Research, over 2/3rds of Americans support its legal status and that has led to many employers changing their polices on drug use. Safety concerns must be at the forefront.

MUSIC

Matt: There’s no cookie cutter application to developing a policy for a company.

Michael: All policies must be tailored to the business and there are several components that should be included in any substance use policy. Matthew Pappas of the Pappas O’Connor Law firm explains.

Matt: What we do is as a law firm, we go in with a client, we try to understand their business. We have to make individual decisions. A lot of companies will just say, “hey, we got this off the Internet. This is the best policy since sliced bread.” And they’ll just use it. There’s a lot of people that will go in and sit there and say, well, we don’t we want to adopt a policy, but we don’t want to do any training. We can’t do that. We have to as advisors assist them in the development of a policy and a procedure that works for their business and works within the confines of the federal and state law.

Me: there are specific jobs deemed “Safety Sensitive” by OSHA that prohibit marijuana use. These are positions where an impaired employee would be a safety concern for that person or those around them.

Matt: If you have a CDL, you’re driving a car. You’re working within a nuclear regulatory plant. Those types of things are going to be safety sensitive and those things are going to be controlled by federal law where no matter what state law may say or may not say, are going to be able and have to be drug tested and not necessarily because of their own safety, but the others around them. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people kind of think, well, hey, I can do what I want. It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t affect you. Well, how many of you have been able to sit there and go and have to go and report an injury to a coworker because somebody has been under the influence? That’s the dramatic point. Federal law requires that certain safety sensitive positions are subject to testing in the workplace.

Me: Jeffery Meyers from the Area Substance Abuse Council in Cedar Rapids, Iowa further explains why employer should be concerned about marijauna use disorders impacting the person’s health and the job

Jeffery: Of course, you’re going to care if they’re using it on the job because that’s going to have impairment related issues.

Jeffery: So sometimes the question becomes, well, what if they’re using them outside of work? And our response would be, yeah, you should probably still care because there is a real risk of dependency. And even if that individual is using outside of work the symptoms of dependency can carry over into their work life. So that would be frequent absences. That would be trouble with cognition where you have a long term and short term memory impairment. We know with young adults, adolescents, there’s an IQ reduction.

Michael: Policies will need to consider substance use treatment coverage and drug screening. or a business that is concerned about marijuana use, pre-employment testing, random testing, and reasonable suspicion training are all valuable tools in mitigating the hazards of recreational marijuana use


Michael:


Jeffery: You want to have verbiage that covers all substances that you are concerned about as a workplace. So typically it’s going to be illegal drugs. It could also be some of the synthetic drugs out there. And then also you want to make sure this is properly conveyed to your employees so they know what you’re testing for. You want to have definitions as far as what levels are going to be considered positive. You’re going to want to have a policy that outweighs what are the steps. In other words, especially for reasonable suspicion, if we identify someone as possibly having an impairment related issue, what do we do? Right. There needs to be a very clear cut procedure in place for that. And a lot of times it boils down to making sure you have your staff trained and reasonable suspicion. You have a second person that also observes possible signs of impairment. Get human resources involved. You have a private conversation and then you do a test within a reasonable window, usually within a few hours. And then, of course, that comes back positive. You went to a second confirmatory test.

Michael: But testing is also imperfect, with test results varying greatly between different approaches

Jeffery: If it’s legalized, generally speaking, you can do it for, you know, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, you’re going to have to have a defined level of THC. Because the problem there is if you have post-accident and someone tests positive for marijuana and you do like a urine analysis, you do a hair sample. That doesn’t mean much because that could have been in their system for 30 days, even in the case of a hair sample quite a bit past that. So you’re gonna want to look at other alternative methods of testing. Saliva is a possibility. Blood’s a possibility, but really the technology isn’t where it’s at with alcohol where you could say “yes not only is in their system, but it’s in their system to an extent that we would expect it to cause impairment”.

Jeffery: Let’s say you have an employee that does test positive for whatever. What are you gonna do at that point? Some places, you know, they’ll go for a termination. In Iowa if it’s alcohol related. You do need to offer like a rehabilitation program, treatment services. You don’t necessarily need to do that with other substances. But you might want to, especially with marijuana becoming popular among the young adults, older adults. So especially some workforce’s that’s struggle getting people in the door. They might want to look at other options besides immediate termination and look at what can we do to help this employee.

Michael: All policies should address productivity and safety, and include substance treatment options in benefit plans. As marijuana legalization expands, more workers may be looking for employers with a higher tolerance for recreational marijuana use. Illinois’ recent legalization of recreational marijuana has led to employers needing to review and potentially revise substance use policies. Not all employers are responding in the same way.

Allison: You have extremely conservative kind of resistance. All the way down to some corporations of employers are actually advertising at the outset with jobs that they don’t test for marijuana use.

Matt: We have a lot of employers that have come in from a recruiting standpoint and said that look at because we’re doing a five panel test or seven panel tests or whatever the test we’re doing, we’re not getting applicants because they’re afraid that they’re going to fail the drug test and they’re asking to have the policies amended so that they do not test for marijuana. It’s business as usual with some modifications. Modifications with random, with policy development, and modifications potentially with recruitment.

Michael: A tolerance for recreational marijuana does not mean that employees can be impaired on the job. It means that employees are allowed to do what they want on their own time as long as it is not affect their performance at work. There are potential downsides with possible drops in productivity and the risk of dependency like with alcohol.

Michael: Policies can still include reasonable suspicion training; however changes in productivity are not always the result of drug use. Managers must be objective in their observations and actions.

Allison: If you have an employee who’s coming to work late, you have an employee who’s not remembering to get things done, who is failing to meet productivity or workplace standards. We tell them to focus on the conduct. It’s a phrase we use all the time in our office. Focus on the conduct. Doesn’t matter whether or not they would pass or fail a drug test when we’re not talking about an accident or an incident? Separate the marijuana use from the conduct at work. What is deficient about their performance at work? They’re not getting things done. Just focus on that.

Allison: I know or suspect this person uses marijuana. And I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that he didn’t meet his sales quota this morning or manufacturing quota this morning. But you don’t know that, so we tell them to focus on the conduct. And we tried to coach to make sure. Yes, you’re aware what the symptoms are. And yes, there are certain situations where it’s appropriate to focus on that. But don’t forget, as a supervisor, you’re managing employees, you’re managing conduct, your managing deficiencies if they come up.

Michael: In any drug policy there must be training, communication, and clear procedures for drug-related incidents. As Allison said, managers need to evaluate objectively based on the employee’s performance at work, and not other information. Policies must be tailored to each business and make sure that safety sensitive positions remain drug free and that workers remain productive.

Matt: you want people to be able to be productive. And that’s really the hard part is really just trying to basically force the issue of look at we’re not trying to regulate what you do on your own time . As I said before, and I think Ali would agree with me, we really don’t care what you do on your own time. That’s not for us. But when you step into work and you’re being paid for a job and you’re asked to be productive and you’re asked to do things that are not endangering other people, then you really should just make sure that that policy has the wherewithal to stand up to those incidents and allows you to take action. And again, it’s really performance-based.

OUTRO

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us, visit Healthier workforce center (dot) org.

Fatigue

This episode looks at how fatigue affects workplace safety and health. Sleep is a necessary part of safety in the workplace and can be affected by many factors including workplace policies like shift work. Dr. Amany Farag discusses how fatigue and shift work affects nurses and the importance of emphasizing that all employees get their recommended amount of sleep each week as well as the cost employers face when their workforce is fatigued.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Dr. Amany Farag; Dr. Elizabeth Ablah

Fatigue

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. One of most crucial aspects of workplace safety is fatigue. A fatigued employee cannot work as effectively or as safely as a well-rested one. And nearly one third of adults report sleeping less than six hours a night. We looked at workplaces where the sleep deficit might cause serious problems, and what employers can do to help their employees sleep hygiene.

Michael: Dr. Amani Farag is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Iowa and a registered nurse. While studying which factors caused medication errors. She found a correlation between the errors and lack of sleep. Amany believes sleep is a significant predicator of fatigue and fatigue can cause medication errors. 

Amany: What is shift work? Shift work is defined as any time that employee the individual has to work beyond the 7:00 p.m. So wherever any time that the the nurse or the pilot or the truck driver work beyond 6:00. So they are sleeping over night while they are working, sleeping at their work. So that is what defined as a shift work. So some industries like nursing truck drivers and the aviation, by the virtue of this profession, you have to work overnights, 24 7 to provide the care of your customers. And this is where the issue starts, because you are working against your natural mechanics, like we are wired that at night you have to sleep. So shift workers are working against their natural circadian rhythm. So you are pushing your body to perform and function in a way that they are not hardwired to perform. And this is where the issue and the mismatch between what you are wired and designed to perform and the external factor mandated by your work.

Michael: Shift work already made it difficult for nurses to get enough sleep. But while doing her research, Dr. Farag found that the nurses in her study had also established a culture where the health and safety of the patient mattered more than their own.

Amany:  Nurses they don’t think about themselves. They think about their patients. They think about their colleagues before thinking about themselves. So in some of my nurses, they said, yes, I am tired. I know that I am not able to open my eyes, but I cannot leave my patient and go through that break room to take a break, because if I’m going to do this, I have to leave my patient to one of my colleague who is also sick and tired. So they continue working. It is not helping themselves or their patient. They are making more errors.

Michael: Sleep is not an issue that only affects individuals. While every situation may not be as life or death as it is with nurses. There’s always a cost when individuals don’t get their recommended seven to eight hours of sleep.

Amany: They found that cost for employer amounts to one hundred thirty-four billion dollar in terms of lost productivity, which is like the presentism like the employees here, but not performing or they are taking vacations or sick leaves or whatsoever because they are tired, they are fatigue. So the amount of this amount of money of one hundred thirty four billion dollar. Some other studies found that individuals who are awake beyond 17 hour, they are functioning equivalent to a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.1, which is legally intoxicated. And the there is an increasing risk for injuries for shift workers versus non-shift workers.

Michael: While errors due to lack of sleep may seem small, as Amany said, the total effect is estimated to cost employers $134 six a year due to lack of productivity. We asked Dr. Elizabeth Ablah, associate professor of population health at the University of Kansas, about what workplaces that must do shift work can do to help stay rested.

Elizabeth: So there is a great policy that we recommend employers take a look at. And that is a stable shift policy. What that does is it allows employers to put someone who is on third shift to consistently stay on third shift. Somebody who’s on first shift consistently is on first, etc. So what it does is it allows the employee to adjust to that time difference and to get into the same sort of rhythm. It is extremely dangerous to have people shift their shift work.

Amany: We are as American society in general, we tend to work, work, work, work, work and life and leisure. It comes as a second. What we can do? I know a lot of organization have some wellness initiatives. This is a good start. But to what extent employees are taking advantage of this wellness initiatives? Some do say, OK, we have it, but employees are not taking it. The other important thing similar to the nursing, what is the culture e? What is the pervasive culture across or among the employees? What is the culture like in nursing, my profession? It is not there. We do not take care of ourselves. So it is important to let them know that taking care for yourself is important to be able to take care of your patients.

Michael: This is not a new issue. Companies have wellness programs in place, but it is important to even monitor how much those resources are being utilized. The importance of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and making sure employees have the time to to utilize those initiatives cannot be stressed enough. Getting enough sleep causes positive improvements for more than just the employee.

Amany: Once we are tired, we need just to sleep

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts for your ongoing video series. Or for more information about us, visit Healthier Workforce Center dot org. Thank you.

Returning to Work

In this episode of Workplace Matters we talked with Rich Gassman, director of Safety and Compliance for Engineering Services and Products Company in Dyersville, Iowa. Rich’s business was able to remain open during the pandemic, however they had to change many of the ways they work to keep employees safe from COVID-19. We asked Rich about what they did to protect employees and the challenges and lessons which came with those decisions.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Rich Gassman

Resources:
CDC Resuming Business Toolkit:
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/resuming-business-toolkit.html

CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019:
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Returning To Work

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. As the country begins to reopen, there are changes that must be made to every workplace in order to maintain the safety and health of employees during the pandemic. We talked with Rich Gassman about what steps employers should be taking and how these steps should be communicated to employees.

Michael: Before discussing what reopening looks like, it’s important to understand when to reopen it all. The best way to know this is by communicating with state and local officials. They will have the most accurate information about when it is safe to resume business. Once a business opens, there should be prepared measures in place to maintain the health and safety of all employees.

Rich: Throughout this whole thing our number one priority has been keeping our people safe.

Michael: Rich Gassman is the director of Safety and Compliance for an engineering services and products company, in Dyersville Iowa.

Rich: You know, we have people here all across all age groups. We want to just make sure that we’re watching out for them. Our V.P. of operations has made that explicitly clear. And he’s given one, of the things that I’m blessed with as he’s given us the opportunity and the ability to do these things. You know, he says if it needs to be done, then we do it.

Michael: Rich’s business was considered essential and has not shut down. He and his company have implemented various strategies to continue safe operations.

Rich: We knew this was going to, had the potential to be problematic. We started purchasing some PPE just to make sure that we had it, started producing some cleaning supplies to make sure that we were covered along those lines. Immediately, we started cleaning more. We had our cleaning staffs go out and clean and sanitize a whole lot more than what they were doing before. Not that they weren’t doing a good job before. But we wanted to make sure we had everything covered. We have a fairly strict attendance policy and we relaxed that. We shut down all of our face to face meetings. All meetings now, for the most part, are done through Zoom. We restricted travel between our buildings. So there’s four main buildings on our campus. We put the policy in place that if you’re assigned to a certain building and you need to go to another building, you have to wear a mask to be able to do that. We discourage that travel, but folks like myself, maintenance, those types of folks didn’t have to go, you know, get out, see those other buildings so we put those policies in place. We fairly quickly went to telecommuting. So we have about 28 of our people right now that are at home working from home, mostly customer service, procurement, logistics, all the folks that could work at home. We do have a retail facility here. We closed that right away.

Rich: No customers are allowed into our retail store right now. A couple of other things that we did. We closed our break rooms. We just didn’t want people gathering in our break rooms. We shut the coffee makers off. That tended to be a focal point. We did leave the microwave ovens in there. We were a little worried early on with some of the shortages at grocery stores that people wouldn’t have access to ready to eat meals. So we wanted them to have something where they could eat their food, but we required social distancing when we did that.

Michael: Many of the changes made were to increase the ability to social distance during work. Employees wore PPE as needed and increased the cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces. All of these strategies are recommended by the CDC. Before returning to work the logistics of implementing these recommendations must be planned out for every business, have clear policies and procedures which outline how to maintain social distancing, PPE and disinfecting until public health officials recommend otherwise. The CDC has created a Resuming Business Toolkit to help with this process and it will be linked in the description of this episode.

Rich: We do have a pandemic response plan. If something happens, if we get a positive test here, there’s a plan on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to clean that up. We’re going to follow CDC and IDPH guidelines. There’s a team that has all the PPE. We have PPE pre-ready for when these things happen. If this thing ever happens to us, then we’ll respond very, very quickly. With those types of plans. It’s hard to cover all bases. But we want to make sure that we know that continuity of if our V.P. of operations gets sick. What do we do? Who’s next in line? And just following that chain of command that we need to be able to do. You know, at what point do we, you know do we shut facilities down? Those types of things are things that we’re looking at.

Rich: We had it the other day. We had somebody that that called in sick. Right away, there’s that fear of, oh, my gosh, they have COVID-19. What do we do? People know what our plan is. If there is if there is a positive case here, they will know what we’re going to do. That’s helped a lot.

Michael: Have a pandemic response plan and communicated it to all employees. Having a plan ensures employees know what to do if someone in the workplace tests positive. Beyond having PPE ready and establishing a chain of command, CDC recommends cross training employees to do essential functions in case employees who normally are responsible for those functions test positive. Determined how to operate if there are absenteeism spikes and always have an open line of communication between employees and employers.

Rich: The other thing that’s been really important to us is maintaining that clear line of communication. We found out early j ust how fast the grapevines in factories can move, you know, probably the first two to three weeks. Most of my job was walking around is calming the fears. This is what happened. You know, it just clarifying the circumstances that we’re in. And reassuring everybody that it’s OK to feel this way. We in the management team feel the same way. We’re worried about this. You know, I have elderly parents. We understand and we want to be here for you. But what we’re still seeing, if somebody calls in sick today, you know, there’s that little bit of panic. Oh, my God. They. You know, why are they sick? We are asking our folks to disclose that information if they if they can. Let us know that they tested positive. They were around somebody that was, you know, that whole self disclosure that CDC recommends. And that’s been working fairly well for us so far. You know, my role has changed significantly through this. I mean, we still do our safety. We still do our health. But it’s mostly COVID-19 related things right now. And my goal is to spend 80 percent of my time on the plant floor. And that’s what I do. I’m just out talking to people, making sure they feel good about and confident that they can be here safely.

Michael: Maintaining communication between management and employees is crucial. It helps make workers feel more protected, makes it easier for employees to come forward if they feel sick, or if someone in their family feels sick, and everyone better understands the policies and procedures established to protect workers from COVID-19. CDC has outlined recommendations for all types of businesses. Those recommendations, as well as other employer best practices, will be linked in the description of this episode.

Rich: The biggest thing that I could can tell another employers transparency. Just maintain that open line of communication.

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us, visit Healthier Workforce Center dot org. Thank you.

Mental Health During COVID-19

This episode of Workplace Matters looks at what employers can do to better their employee’s mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress has always been present in the workplace, but for many this time is especially stressful. How can employers ease that stress for their employees? We talked with Dr. Saba Ali, professor of counseling psychology in the College of Education at the University of Iowa about what employers can do.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Dr. Saba Ali

Mental Health During Covid-19

Michael: You’re listening to workplace matters. Mental health and the workplace has previously been an important issue for employers to focus on. But now during COVID-19, employee mental health is becoming more important than ever. We talked with Dr. Saba Ali, professor of counseling psychology in the College of Education at the University of Iowa, about what employers should know about their employees’ mental health right now and what can be done to help improve it.

Michael: Each workplace is different and carries its own set of stress factors. Factors which may become more prevalent during COVID, along with a new set of challenges, especially for essential workers and small businesses.

Dr. Ali: A Small business needs to make money, to have business, to make sure that their branding is out there just in normal times. But obviously with COVID-19, they can’t do the usual kinds of activities or services that they usually provide, and that’s a huge financial stress. It’s a huge stress on small businesses. It’s a huge stress on workers worried about paychecks, worried about how they’re going to feed their families, worried about if they can get back to business and when they can get back to business. Certainly, that’s a huge part of stress right now. I think that most Americans are living under. Most people in the world right now are living under, but it’s exacerbated for anybody who owns a small business right now, that’s in the service industry.

Michael: Employers must be more vigilant than ever for the signs and symptoms of stress so that if an employee is feeling overly stressed, they can get help as soon as they need to. So what are the signs and symptoms? What should employers look for?

Dr. Ali: We can look at some of the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and see some of the stressors. You know, increased irritability, increased worry, loss of appetite, an inability to concentrate on tasks. Those are usually really good signs that somebody is experiencing stress. Sometimes, you know, people are more verbal, you know, different people, different personality. Some people express their frustration and their stress more openly. Others, you would have to look for some of these signs. I think one of the biggest signs of stress right now would be at really a decreased ability to concentrate and heightened levels of sort of physiological arousal. So, you know, feeling jittery, feeling nervous. Those kinds of things that you might be able to actually see in a person rather than maybe hear it. And again, some people are much more verbal about their feelings of stress or the feelings of fear and others.

Michael: Each workplace should have an individualized approach for their specific employees. But are there best practices that can be applied to all businesses? Dr. Lee identified three practices which can be implemented into workplaces to alleviate stress.

Dr. Ali: It really depends on what type of workplace you’re in right now. I mean, obviously, some people are much more frontline than others in this whole pandemic. But I would say that there’s three things across the board that I would really encourage supervisors to think about with their employees. The first one would be to the extent that you can decrease mental load or cognitive load in your employees, it would be a really helpful thing. So thinking about it from the perspective of trying to help workers do the tasks that are essential right now versus trying to, you know, increase productivity or think about how how people need to get things done is really by reducing the load and letting people concentrate on the tasks that are most important, really, really will help people in the workplace to kind of focus their energies and decrease stress of thinking about a lot of different things at the same time. So that would be, I think, the number one thing. I think one of the other things is information is really helpful for workers in this time. So I think transparency, but balancing that with hopefulness.

Dr. Ali: So transparency about what’s going on, maybe financially for a company or what’s going on in terms of for health care workers, what’s going on with the protective gear that they need. Being transparent about that, but also being hopeful that things can get better, that they will get better. But being practical about that information, not lying to people. Being very careful about how you give people the information, but also making sure that you’re transparent and let people know what really is going on. I think the third thing is this thinking about if you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s like a pyramid.

Michael: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory which proposes that in order for people to be motivated and healthy, they need to have five intrinsic human needs satisfied physiological needs, safety, love or belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization.

Dr. Ali: So I think right now what we need to do is concentrate on that bottom of the pyramid, make sure people’s physiological needs are met, make sure they have food, shelter, those kinds of things. You also want to create a sense of belonging or a sense of collectivism around this whole pandemic and how we’re dealing with it. When people feel those kinds of two things, they feel safer if their needs are met at the very basic level. They just tend to feel safer. And that reduces some of the stress. And stress really interferes with concentration, if you can help people deal with that kind of stress and anxiety that they’re experiencing, then you can’t get them to maybe concentrate and focus a little bit more on the job at hand and again, depending on what kind of work you’re doing. If you’re an essential worker right now, you need all the energy you can to do the job. So if you can help people concentrate a little bit better by helping them get mental health resources that they need, then, people are safer in general because the people who are doing the essential work right now are more focused on their job and not worrying about everything else. So I think mental health has to be a priority to help people to reduce stress so that we’re all just safer.

Michael: Moving forward, keeping the mental health home employees in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic should be a priority to maintain productivity and to continue to have our essential workers healthy. And this doesn’t need to be a fight that employers need to go through alone.

Dr. Ali: They’re doing telehealth right now or tele therapy, which I think is really helpful. So certainly mental health agencies, but they’re also things like apps that do calming breathing techniques, relaxation techniques that I think can be really helpful. There’s a lot of information online right now through the American Psychological Association, through the American Counseling Association that can help with really sort of basic information about what employers can do for their employees at this time and ways that they can introduce stress reduction in the workplace. But I do recommend sort of being the idea of apps or anything that sort of helps to focus people on what they need. I think also mental health breaks during the day are really important, like letting people have that time, you know, 10 minutes to just walk around outside or whatever it is that they need to do to just again reduce that anxiety and stress so they can come back in and concentrate on what they need to do.

Michael: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Visit Healthier Workforce Center .org to listen to more podcasts and view our ongoing video series. And from all of us at the Healthier Workforce Center, stay safe and healthy.