Workplace Matters Podcast

Gratitude In the Workplace

This episode of Workplace Matters looks at gratitude in the workplace. Gratitude can be a low-cost solution to many workplace issues today, ranging from productivity to mental health. We talked with Dr. Nicole Del Castillo from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine about the positive effects gratitude can have on a workplace, and different ways to ingrain it into a workplace.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Dr. Nicole Del Castillo

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. Each year comes with its challenges and hardships for any workplace, but there are always things to be grateful for. In this episode we are looking at gratitude in the workplace and how it can benefit not only individuals but whole organizations.

INTRO MUSIC

Nicole: So, gratitude overall…

Michael: Dr. Nicole del Castillo is the director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. She completed her psychiatry residency training at the University of Iowa, and played a key role in its Grateful Hawks program which sought to teach and inspire gratitude.

Nicole: …can help you with a wide range of things such as it helps you with stress, helps you cope with stress, build more resilience. It also has been found to build stronger interpersonal relationships for individuals who infuse gratitude into their life. Also tend to sleep better. There’s been research has found that gratitude can help improve your physical and psychological health, as well as help you to be more empathetic and more patient and overall, just really improve self-care and self-esteem.

Michael: There are many wide-reaching benefits to gratitude including benefits to mental and physical health, but also work performance and satisfaction. Gratitude in the workplace functions at its best when leadership is on board, and gratitude’s ability to motivate and inspire employees make it a key trait for a good leader.

Nicole: I think it starts with a leader being able to infuse it in their own life and show that they are practicing gratitude. And by really doing it and practicing it, I think it shows. And by continuing to do it, it continues to show and then trickle down to the whole environment of the workplace. Really those efforts to make people feel valued and that the things that they’re doing are valued and that they are being seen helps to create significant rewards in work performance, productivity, satisfaction, reduces burnout. The leader is doing it then then others who are within the organization tend to follow.

Michael: Leadership that believes in gratitude can better motivate employees and have a positive impact on the daily lives of employees. So, what are strategies to become more grateful?

Nicole: So some ways that you can work to infuse or cultivate gratitude can include really trying to set aside time on a regular basis, if possible, to focus on what you’re grateful for. Thanking somebody in person for something that they’ve done, writing a thank you note or a note of appreciation or gratitude letter to someone. Actually, having a gratitude jar could be helpful. So, a gratitude jar is if you write down something that you’re thankful for happens or that you’re grateful for trying to write those things down and then put it in a jar so that if you’re having a day where you’re feeling not as happy, you can maybe take something out of that jar. Pick it out. Read that slip of paper that can help you to remind you something that’s good in your life. Another example is a gratitude journal. Writing those things down, and then you could always open up your journal and try and reflect on some of those things. Also, try to express self-gratitude. Prayer and mindfulness meditation are also some ways that work to help to reflect on gratitude as well as volunteering. Sometimes giving back to others is another way to really infuse gratitude, as well as trying to change your perspective.

Michael: Beyond cultivating it in one’s self, the other half is expressing gratitude to others. This can become difficult because every employee has different levels to which they are willing to express and receive gratitude. Dr. Del Castillo suggests variety.

Nicole: Trying to learn how an individual might appreciate that, especially when you’re in a workplace environment, maybe trying to find different variety of ways to bring in gratitude within that workplace. Trying to find ways that are more subtle or less, broadly, you know, letting folks know that you’re expressing it and then also finding ways for folks who do appreciate it more broadly.

Michael: Gratitude expression is often a case-by-case bases and some workplaces even ask their employees how they would like to be appreciated. Gratitude can also be expressed with more than words.

Nicole: Saying that, I value you, I appreciate you. I’m grateful for you. Not just publicly, but also financially. Having that monetary bonus is really important for folks. There’s no denying that people are always appreciative of that. And that is always helpful. But also, those public recognitions are also important to do. And having that variety of public recognitions of gratitude, if that’s an individual or group, having the parties, having the lunches.

Michael: Employers should definitely focus on infusing gratitude in their organization, but preferably it should become something felt throughout the workplace. It does not only work well from the top down, but from bottom up and side to side as well.

Nicole: Ideally, I feel like it should be something that’s throughout the organization. Trying to find a place where individuals can post positive affirmations or positive things or things that they’re grateful for, that can be shared within the physical space, physical office space. And also, this could be not only done physically, but also maybe virtually. Online some people use Microsoft Teams, for example, and maybe trying to find a place through that where individuals can share positive affirmations. Also trying to bring it into meetings, you know, try to find a space, maybe during team meetings when you come together, where there’s allowed for time for people to share gratitude throughout their meeting time. Those thankful notes those thank you notes those gratitude letters I think can be shared across the board, not just top down, but top up to just say, you know, I’m grateful for having a leader like you within this organization for X, Y and Z reasons. I think leaders appreciate it to know that yes, what I’m doing is helpful and impactful for folks. So, it motivates not only individuals within their organization who are doing the work, but also the leadership too, who are also doing their work to know that they are making an impact on others’ lives.

Michael: When gratitude is throughout the organization, the benefits extend throughout it as well.

Nicole: Everyone wants to be seen, heard, appreciated. So, when you think about like workplace retention and showing gratitude as ways that really improve this culture and environment within the workforce, it really helps improve all those things. And also, gratitude has been found to improve work and group satisfaction and improve social relationships within the workplace, which overall just improves workplace culture and environment and a place where people want to be and want to work. It’s like the gratitude is a simple thing that people can do that really has these long-term benefits over time.

Michael: Gratitude can be a relatively cost-free way to improve a workplace for all employees. It has numerous benefits and numerous forms of expression. It’s often thought of around holidays or performance reviews, but a workplace that can make it a regular part of their culture throughout the year will experience these benefits ten-fold.

Nicole: Overall, I think that gratitude in the form of infusing it in your life and using it into the workplace creates a place where folks want to be at work. They want to help the workplace be more productive and more engaged in their work that they’re doing it in. That not only works for improving resiliency, reducing burnout. Retention so people stay at their workplace for longer because they feel like this is a place where they’re valued and where they want to be.

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.

The Workplace Matters podcasts are located here.

Increasing Workplace EAP Utilization

This episode of Workplace Matters is the second focusing on Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs); this episode being focused on EAP utilization. We spoke with an EAP vendor and a multi-national company about how to view utilization rates, how workplace culture affects them, and 4 strategies to improve a workplace culture for EAP utilization.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Alyssa Divjak and Gail Sutter

Michael Guhin: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. In part one we discussed why EAP’s are a valuable benefit to any workplace. In this episode we will be discussing EAP utilization, and how workplace culture can increase it. 

Michael Guhin: As we covered in our previous episode, Employee Assistance Programs (or EAPs) provide a variety of benefits to employees and can be an invaluable resource to any workplace. However, they are typically underutilized by employees. The factor which determines these rates more than anything is a workplace’s culture and we have 4 recommendations to improve that, but before talking about culture, how do we even assess EAP utilization. We asked Gail Suter from Continuum Employee Assistance Program how to evaluate utilization rates. 

Gail Sutter: So, I think we need to look at utilization rather than just numbers, but really doing a little more drill down of what this means. How are you doing it? And drilling down into each of the areas that we’re focusing on to say, is this really working well for you as an organization? Not just, OK, you have a utilization rate of five percent, and that’s the typical national average. So, you’re doing fine. I think you have to look at it in depth to really make those decisions. 

Michael Guhin: Look at each service your EAP offers such as legal services or financial planning to determine this. A workplace’s culture is what impacts those rates more than anything else as Gail explains. 

Gail Sutter: The most successful programs we work with, with companies and the most successful EAPs are really integrating into that culture and are becoming a part of talking about it and having lots of different resources. If the only way you think about your EAP is that it’s that counseling service, then we find that the utilization, the comfort level is less. We want them to think about whenever I have an issue as a supervisor, “Hey, EAP” as a part of it, we want them to be comfortable talking about that. And we want them also to feel like, boy, if something comes up in our workplace, we’re very comfortable reaching out to our EAP to support us and provide the services needed. Whether that’s a traumatic situation, that’s a change in transition. Even though we’re not internal into the company, we want them to say taking care of ourselves, and part of our culture is helping us.  

Gail Sutter: I can have an H.R. person that puts up the posters all the time and sends out something. But if it isn’t something people talk about or find value in, you’re probably still going to be very limited in what your utilization is. So, we work very hard on that partnership piece, and we find that that is very helpful, and looking at also how do we have multiple access points. Whether that’s through your wellness program, that’s through your training program, so that through your H.R. programs that’s doing some training with your managers or you’re even direct line supervisors to get comfortable with us really is where it makes a difference.  

Michael Guhin: Changing a culture can seem like a huge task, so we suggest these 4 areas to focus on: Upper Management Support, Promotion, the 4 R’s of supervisor support, and stigma. 

Music change 

Michael Guhin: The first recommendation is Upper management Support. They can drive change more than any other group in an organization. Something World-Wide Technology found out when their CEO shifted their workplace culture. 

Alyssa Divjak: A few years ago, our CEO got on the mental health train along with the big movement that kind of happened a few years back.  

Michael Guhin: Alyssa Divjak is a benefits analyst at World-Wide Technology. 

Alyssa Divjak: We had a chance to talk to him about this relationship we already have with the EAP. We told him, how is this underutilized benefit, but it’s such a great resource. And from there, we were like, how can we take this to the next level? So, it really helps that our CEO preaches the message kind of from the top down.  

Michael Guhin: Without upper management that supports the EAP, nothing can happen at a meaningful level. The second way to improve utilization is to look at promotion. 

Alyssa Divjak: We kind of plug it any chance we get. I think some employees probably think it’s annoying, they’re like we get it. I would hope that 60 to 70 percent of our employees have heard of it, know of it, would know where to find the phone number at a minimum. And if they didn’t, I would hope someone around them within their team or their manager or someone could provide them with that.  

Alyssa Divjak: We have posters up in break rooms, we have brochures on countertops, resource spaces for them to grab. And a lot of times where we put stuff is on the back of a bathroom stall. Currently, everyone else is remote. We pivoted our wellness program as a whole to focus on monthly health topics and tie in different things. And with that, we started doing monthly EAP presentations. We promote all those through email, for the most part. The email is kind of like, here’s everything for the month that we want to emphasize and talk about and take what you want, leave what you don’t.  

Michael Guhin: Beyond posters and emails, managers and supervisors can also promote the EAP by simply talking about it and all the various services they provide with their employees. The third way to improve culture for utilization would be with involving supervisors and help them to know how to support employees to use EAP. 

Alyssa Divjak: All of our managers get information during new manager training about the EAP, and they get all kinds of resources for how to support their employees from all different angles.  

Michael Guhin: It’s crucial for supervisors to know how to support their employees, but more importantly to see when they need support. Gail Sutter breaks this down into what she calls the 4 R’s. 

Gail Sutter: When we talk about supervisors and how to use the program, we really talk about is what I call the four R’s. The first one is Remind. If you have employees, employees are going to have life events that go on all the time. And so I want a supervisor to be comfortable with that employee comes and says, I’ve had a death in the family that they don’t give in to providing counseling themselves, but they remind them of the resource and are very knowledgeable about the resource to talk about how to access it. The second one is where we talk about the recommend. Recommend is where maybe an employee has even come to a supervisor or the supervisor has talked to them about “I’m seeing some changes, your performance of the missing work” whatever those are, they may recommend the EAP. They may say, I really think they can help you. I know who this program is. I know it’s a good program. Here’s how it works. I’m going to recommend or strongly encourage you to reach out and use that. Then we get to the last two where it’s more what we call refer or require. Refer is when there’s a part of a performance issue and you’re saying we’re going to use EAP as an additional resource to make sure that we’re giving you every tool to be able to be successful. And then they require typically is related to a part of condition of ongoing employment. And that may be something where if there’s a positive alcohol or drug test, there’s a significant behavioral risk area. And I think we have to be comfortable using all of those. Now, what we want is we want about 90 percent to be in those first two areas where employees are accessing it because they were reminded, they’ve known about that, and about 10 percent are going to come in those other areas where we’re having to do a reactive piece versus a proactive of helping people before it creates that significant problem.  

Michael Guhin: Finally, something that can often impact utilization is stigma. This partly comes from EAP being seen as only a mental health resource, but largely from the broad negative connotation surrounding mental health. This is why stigma takes a pronounced effort to reduce. 

Alyssa Divjak: Reducing the stigma has been a journey. I mean, it has been something that we’ve been working out for the last few years. And like I said, it comes from our CEO. He’s extremely passionate about it. He is the one that’s pushing that message from the top down at his corporate update. He has not missed a beat in the last couple of years. What they have been messaging, especially over the last year, is health and safety of our employees is the number one priority. That is a forefront of what he’s preaching. Every time he gets in front of our employees, which I think is extremely important. Our VP of H.R., she was willing to share her story and she wanted people to know that sometimes it might feel as though we’re just talking the talk and we’re just saying these buzzwords. And, we want to reduce the stigma and we want you to get help with mental health. But she had a very personal story about her own struggles with mental health, and it was super emotional. And she sent that out like from her email address to the whole company during May, which was the Mental Health Awareness Month, and it really resonated with people because everyone knows her. She’s the VP and OK, well, she’s not always pushing the EAP for nothing. She actually believes in it and believes that it’s important to talk to someone and seek help when you need it. 

Gail Sutter: One of the things that is really helpful when we look at the stigma is when we start to promote it as proactive self-care, taking care of yourself versus there’s something wrong with me. Do I feel bad if I have to go to a medical doctor for an annual exam? No, nobody judges me for that. If I have, a proactive piece that I want to say, you know, I want to take care of myself, then I’m going to go to the EAP about that being proactive, self-care, taking care of myself before things become problems are huge in being seen as a positive and self-care versus there’s something wrong.  

Michael Guhin: If after analyzing utilization rates they are lower than desired, take steps to change the culture. Specifically upper management, promotion, the 4 R’s of supervisor support, and stigma. Looking at all these aspects can increase EAP usage among workers. Together, they create a workplace where EAP is a central resource for employees. 

Alyssa Divjak: We want people to feel like this is part of our culture, because it is. I think all of that combined has shown the employees the investment that we’re really putting towards their health and well-being. 

Michael Guhin: 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

The Workplace Matters podcasts are located here.

The Value of EAPs

This episode of Workplace Matters is the first of two addressing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs); this episode being focused on the value of EAPs. We talked with an EAP vendor and a multi-national company who has a strong relationship with their EAP provider to ask about its benefits, the return on investment, what programs can be provided, and more.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Alyssa Divjak and Gail Sutter

Michael Guhin: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs are one of the best benefits a company can provide to its employees, but typically underutilized. This episode is part one of two discussing the value and utilization of EAP.

Alyssa Divjak: So, you know when people say EAP, they think of short-term counseling, which it definitely is, we definitely emphasize the counseling piece. However, it’s so much more than that.

Michael Guhin: Alyssa Divjak is a benefits analyst at World Wide Technology based out of St. Louis. World Wide Technology has 7000 global employees and has been named on Fortune’s list of the top 100 best companies to work for 9 times. Their EAP offers a wide array of services, more so than many other EAPs, and World Wide utilizes many of these. She talked to us about the EAP services they are able to offer to employees.

Alyssa Divjak: There’s so much more that people can get in depth with. We have the wayForward mental health mobile app. We do onsite counseling twice a month in a couple of our locations. We have the monthly presentations with events. They have child care specialists, resources. So if you needed to find child care for like you’re new to an area or searching for a new child care, someone can kind of help you through that. Same with elder care. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with a parent that’s coming to live with you, they have career coaches, retirement coaches, tobacco cessation programs. They have dietitians you can work with, health coaches, life coaches, financial tools, financial planning type benefits and then legal forms, such as if you were ready to start the process of creating a will, they actually have a kit that they can mail you. That is kind of a template of somewhere to start that you could fill in the gaps and then bring that to a lawyer or something like that. Tons of resources, and that’s why I always tell people, you know, no matter what you’re struggling with or what you’re doing, they’re just the best place to call first, because, again, it’s free and it’s and it’s confidential.

Michael Guhin: On top of the many programs provided by World Wide’s EAP, anyone in an employee’s immediate family also receives EAP benefits.

Alyssa Divjak: The other benefit about all of those services is that it’s for anyone in your household. So, it’s not just limited to our health plan, it’s completely separate from our health plan. It is good for you or anyone in your household. Huge benefit for tons of people. And we pay per employee per month. So, our fee is based on a PEPM. I t’s not however many people are in your household. People think of it as primarily just for employees. But it’s nice to know that they could expand that to their family members that they needed to.

Michael Guhin: Part of the reason that World Wide Technology and their EAP are able to provide all of these benefits is because of the long relationship between the two. That familiarity allows the EAP to better understand the company’s needs, and for the employer to understand what they do and don’t want to utilize.

Alyssa Divjak: We’ve been working with Personal Assistance Services, which is our employee assistance program, since at least 2008. So we work so closely with them, it’s been a long relationship, I believe we’ve had the same account manager for like the last six years, which I think is really valuable. I’ve gotten to know her really well on a personal level. We’re very communicative. We tell them what we like, what we don’t like. We’re the ones that suggested on site counseling. We thought it would be a good idea to see if one of their Masters level counselors would be available to our staff and they were super receptive.

Michael Guhin: EAPs are typically only thought of as short-term counseling services, but World Wide Technology and their vendor have worked together to make it an employee wellbeing service dedicated to more than just mental health.

Now, it needs to be mentioned that World Wide Technology is far from a small business. They are a multi-million-dollar company who can afford to implement these resources. Something small employers are not always able to do, but even if it is a small program there can still be a huge return on investment from putting money into an EAP program.

Gail Sutter: Well, you know, there’s all kinds of information out there about return on investment.

Michael Guhin: Gail Sutter is the executive director of Continuum Employee Assistance Program. Continuum serves roughly 50,000 employees across 115 different companies throughout the Midwest.

Gail Sutter: We know there’s lots of different kinds of ways of doing return on investment, and what we see in all of those different studies is it’s between about three and ten dollars that an employer can see is returned for every dollar that’s invested in EAP. These have been really looked at related to health care costs for insurance, those kinds of things related to issues with productivity changes that we have seen, absenteeism, presenteeism, amount of time supervisors are dealing with workplace conflicts or addressing employee issues. So, all of those things can be calculated and a lot of different ways.

Michael Guhin: The return on investment can be anywhere from 3 to 10 dollars for every dollar invested. It is a massive resource for companies that utilize them. While EAPs can provide many services beyond just counseling, even if it is just counseling, it displays company support to employees and keeps them healthier.

Gail Sutter: We know that there’s definitely a connection between mental health and physical health. And that when people have mental health issues, we know that it impacts high blood pressure, it impacts heart disease, it impacts their immune system, all of those different things are going to be impacted by that. We also know that using an EAP can be a very healthy guide to help people be proactive in taking care of themselves and getting to the correct resources.

Gail Sutter: Well, I think the value of EAP certainly is helping people function at their highest levels. I think EAPs really are important, certainly in our mental health and helping people take care of themselves. But we also know that there’s a variety of life stressors that impact employees. And so having resources to help them be proactive in addressing those and being comfortable using the resource is very important to people being able to take care of things before they become problematic for them personally as well as in their job or their families or their community.

Michael Guhin: An EAP, like other employee benefits, creates trust between the workplace and the worker. It is the company investing in their workforce’s well-being, and for a company like World Wide Technology it creates a sense among employees that they are supported and their employer cares about them. That’s the value of EAP.

Alyssa Divjak: If there is a way that we can make something happen and provide employees with a resource, we are going to figure it out. I would love to think that all employees feel like World Wide cares about their health and safety because I mean, I know I feel that way and I know what kind of work goes into making people feel that way.

Michael Guhin: 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.

Leadership Behaviors

This episode of Workplace Matters looks at the specific behaviors that effective leaders need to have to enable success in their workplace. Colonel John Bolduc is the Superintendent of Law Enforcement and Public Safety for the Nebraska State Patrol. He leads a massive group of officers and shared six behaviors he has found effective for leading employees.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guest: Colonel John Bolduc

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. Any commitment to safety and health in a workplace starts at the top. Changes in company culture, policy, and goals all start with leadership. This episode will focus on behaviors that leaders can do to better enable their employees success, their company’s success, and employee wellbeing.

Colonel Bolduc: Leadership is facilitating the success of others.

Michael: Colonel John Bolduc is the Superintendent of Law Enforcement and Public Safety for the Nebraska State Patrol. Colonel Bolduc has worked in numerous law enforcement organizations at various positions for over 30 years.

Colonel Bolduc: Leaders need to make sure that the folks that they’re leading are succeeding at whatever their mission is, whatever their task is.

Michael: Leaders need to be acutely aware of their employees’ needs, and this requires a high degree of communication. Without it an organization cannot know how they are or are not succeeding, and can’t understand what problems may or may not exist.

Colonel Bolduc: Communication is essential to understanding, and we all have heard the analogy “We have two ears and one mouth. So, let’s use the ears more than the mouth”. To be a good communicator you have to be a good listener. And that’s really important whether you’re leading a small team of several people or several hundred people. The best thing that we can do as leaders is clearly communicate expectations. We do that through policy. We do that through written communication. We do that through management by walking around. We encourage people, especially catch them doing the right things and reinforce it and encourage that.

Michael: Leaders have the ability to mobilize people, funding, and expertise towards organizational values like Total Worker Health. If an organization wants to create a safer culture a leader can commit resources, create multidepartment teams, and reinforce positive employee behaviors.

Colonel Bolduc: So, it doesn’t matter if you’re producing widgets, if you’re providing a service, if you’re an educator, or if you are in health care, your organization is based on a set of values. Some of your values might be customer service, hard work, honesty, diligence, you know all of these virtues that that exist in every organization, right. But if we operate outside of those values, we are not aligning our behaviors and systems.

Michael: Whether it’s listening intently or modifying behaviors, everything a leader does communicates the values of that organization. It is a leader’s job to align themselves and the workplace with those values. Colonel Bolduc singled out 6 behaviors that he thinks leaders need to exhibit in order to do that. The first one being listening to understand.

Colonel Bolduc: Listen to understand. Sometimes you have to find out what is the story behind the story. This takes time. This can be exhausting, right? Listen to understand. Otherwise, it’s just information received. Blah, blah, blah. You’re telling me something. Write it down, great. Next. That’s not empathic listening. OK, you have to really understand what is the issue before we launch into problem solving mode, and men particularly are notorious for this. My wife problem, problem, problem and. OK, well, here’s what you got to do. That’s not what she’s asking. She’s just asking me to listen. Right. She’s not asking me to solve the problem, right. Same thing with our teammates at work. Right. Sometimes it takes a lot of discernment to know the difference. Are you asking me to problem solve or are you asking me to listen? Sometimes I’ll do just that. I’ll go “ok do you want me to help you solve this or you want me to just kind of listen and try to understand what you’re going through”. Sometimes as simple as that, right.

Michael: It is much easier to know what an employee’s needs are through talking with them, then it is to guess at their needs. A leader should know the health and safety risks in their workplace without being in the employee’s shoes. That cannot happen without listening to them. Another behavior leaders must exhibit is empowering their employees to be successful.

Colonel Bolduc: We empower others. A common culture, which I refer to it as somebody who is just a boss, they have to control things. They have to micromanage things. Now, you might have somebody who doesn’t know how to do the job because they’re new or they just got promoted or they’re embarking on a new mission and they don’t know how to do it, right. So, we empower them, and how we do that is we arm them with the right information. Here’s the policy. Here’s the system. And then we train them. And then we let them make mistakes and we let them try and fail and learn from those mistakes. That’s called empowerment. We want to empower people to be successful, not just tell them what to do. Robots can do that. My dog can do that. I teach him fetch he fetches, right. It’s an exchange. But a leader will empower others to succeed on their own, not just direct them. And there’s plenty of people who will be happy to just be directed. “Just tell me what to do, boss, and I’ll just go do it”. Lots of people will do that, right, but that’s not helping them succeed. That’s not helping them grow.

Michael: By empowering others, that leader is communicating trust as well as giving them an expectation. Every employee wants to feel trusted and respected by their workplace, and by empowering them to do the job and make mistakes a leader can communicate trust. The third behavior Colonel Bolduc suggests is encourage employees to know their role.

Colonel Bolduc: Encourage your folks to know their role, which is far different than know your place, right. In an organization like ours, very chain of command, paramilitary. You’ll talk to your sergeant. If that doesn’t work, talk to your Lieutenant, talk to your captain, talk to your major. By the time they get to me, it’s six months old and the problem has just gotten worse, right. So, forget about this know your place business. I mean, yeah, we have a chain of command and it’s there for a reason. It creates some efficiency. But it’s more important to understand the clear roles than to say, well, you can’t do this and you can’t do this. We have all these informal rules that dictate behavior and that goes back to culture. Right. So, we try to be open door. Anybody can come and talk to me if they want. And it’s taken a long time to kind of break down that habit of like nobody talks to the boss. OK, well then how does the boss- how does he or her really know what’s going on in the organization if nobody will talk to them because we have these historical barriers in the way.

Michael: When everyone can communicate with each other that does not mean that workers can make final decisions or that they get constant contact with upper management. Only that when there is something that a leader needs to know about, the employees feel open about approaching them. Leaders need to communicate to employees what their role is and make sure not to close down communication between the top and bottom. Another important behavior leaders must have is ownership of their words and actions.

Colonel Bolduc: Ownership. Really important for you leaders. Every boss has a boss. I say that. That’s one of my phrases. I have a lot of corny phrases, right. Most of them come from Minnesota. Don’t feed the bears. That’s a different one, but. If you’re if you’re just taking the leadership message; the boss makes a decision, and we have to make decisions every day, “we’re going to do X instead of Y”, and you go deliver the message to your team. “Now the idiot in the corner office wants us to do X. I think we should do Y, but they’re the boss”. No, that’s not leadership. That’s actually forfeiting your positional power, right. That’s forfeiting your responsibility. You should be able to have disagreements with the boss, right. And say, I really think we should do y and here’s why. And the boss says we should do X and this is why. And that’s just a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion. But when you have to go back and deliver that message, you’re forfeiting your leadership authority if you are just the messenger, right. I had this hard conversation with a lot of folks throughout my career is you need to own the message. And if I go and say, you know, that same old thing, “well, I’m just the messenger”, you know, it really undermines the decision that’s been made, the credibility of the person making the decision and even my own credibility. We have to own the challenges, we have to own the messaging, even when it’s not pretty, when  we have to fire somebody or heaven forbid, we’ve even had law enforcement officers get indicted and jailed for committing crimes. Who goes and delivers that message? I do. It’s not pretty. Who fires people? I do. I do it face to face. I don’t do it over Skype. I don’t do it over the phone. It’s face to face. Those are hard things. But we have to we have to own those as leaders.

Michael: Leaders need to be able to take responsibility. To a degree the workplace is a reflection of its leader, and that leader needs to take responsibility for themselves, for their employees, and for their workplace. The firth leadership behavior Bolduc points out is the importance of follow up. Relentless follow up.

Colonel Bolduc: Relentless follow up. We have this term I got from my friend who’s in the Marines, he says “you inspect what you expect”, right? That’s relentless follow up. Don’t just assume that things are getting done. And again, is that it’s not the same as micromanaging, but it’s checking up on things, making sure that people have what they need to be successful, right. And the opposite of that would be let the game come to you. Ahhhh it will take care of itself, right. Well, I gave it to Bill. Bill is going to make sure it gets done. Well, maybe Bill’s wife is sick and his attention is divided and he’s not getting it done, right. If I’m just waiting around and things are gonna fall through the cracks, right. So relentless follow up. Let’s make sure that the tasks are getting done.

Michael: There is a fine line between checking in and not trusting the employees to finish tasks. Check-in is about making sure employees are able to complete their tasks. They maintain autonomy and the trust of their supervisor. That supervisor may have resources to support that employee. Or the employee might be struggling with a musculoskeletal problem right now and can’t finish something on time. Follow up communicates direct support and commitment to getting work done. It can be very beneficial as long as it does not lead to micromanaging. Finally, leaders need to do what they say, or as Colonel Bolduc puts it “walk the talk”.

Colonel Bolduc: And, of course, walk the talk. Be here on time. Work hard. Give me an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay. And if you don’t walk that, that’s called situational ethics. People will get caught more than what is taught, right. They see from their experience if their bosses are walking the talk, right. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Be courteous, don’t lose your cool. And if you do, don’t let it show. And if you blow up at somebody for making a mistake, they’re like “well, that doesn’t match up with what they taught” it undermines credibility when you do that. So walk the talk.

Michael: Leaders doing what they say they are going to do. That communicates competence and integrity. Walking the talk along with the other leadership behaviors discussed creates leadership that is not only focused on getting the work done, but on hearing the employees and understanding their needs as well. Of course, leaders should know what is and isn’t being completed, but the even the Colonel of the Nebraska State Troopers is more concerned with the relationships he has with his employees rather than business.

Colonel Bolduc: Leadership is about relationships. You’ve heard it said that people will remember how you made them feel. Right. If the only time I show up I’m there to talk about a problem, then what stigma is gonna be attached to that? You know, “oh oh, somebody’s in trouble.” So, I try to not do that as much as possible, and just try to keep it on a relational level. And if somebody wants to talk about business by all means. I love talking business, but if we talk nuts and bolts of the job every day, they’re going to get worn out by that. So, make it so that a trip to the boss’s office isn’t just when you’re going to get handed your pink slip. It should be really focused on that relational aspect.

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.

Employee Engagement

On this episode of Workplace Matters we looked at how managers and employers engage their workforce. Especially with remote workers, engaging employees has become more difficult. So what about engagement should change regarding remote work, and what can stay the same? We talked with University of Iowa experts and staff to discuss employee engagement.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Eean Crawford, Joe Hetrick, Marcus Seaton

 

 

Driving Safety

This episode of Workplace Matters looks at how employers can help keep their drivers safe. What causes driver distraction? What are the important aspects of a driver safety program? How does workplace culture affect driver safety? We asked Dan McGehee from the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa and Karen Rehm from the Nebraska Safety Council about how employers can keep their drivers safe.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Karen Rehm, Dan McGehee

Driving Safety

Michael: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. Whether it is a daily commute or entire fleet, almost all workplaces involve motor vehic­les. We talked with Karen Rehm from the Nebraska Safety Council and Dan McGehee from the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa about why and how employers can protect the health and safety of their employees when they are driving.

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Dan: Crashes are preventable.

Michael: Dan McGehee is the Director of the National Advanced Driving Simulator. A national laboratory under the U.S. department of transportation and run by the University of Iowa. He is also, University of Iowa faculty in engineering, industrial systems engineering, emergency medicine, public health, and public policy.

Dan: You can’t use the word accidents for the rest of your life, accidents to the public don’t have causes. In the car context they are crashes and each crash has many different causes. And that’s what we study at the national advanced driving simulator. What we do is decompose all of the elements that go into a car crash. And what we reveal in our research is what distraction is and under what circumstances it takes place.

Karen: You can be distracted three different ways.

Michael: Karen Ream is the Road Safety Project Coordinator with the Nebraska Safety Council in Lincoln, Nebraska. Karen works directly with employers to better protect the health and safety of their drivers.

Karen: One is visually. So that is anything when you’re behind the wheel that takes your eyes off the road. That could be billboards. That could be your passing a crash. You can have the deer go in front of the vehicle, just things that take your field of sight off the road. Second one is manual, and that’s where you are engaged in activity that takes your hands off the wheel. So that’s changing the radio station, picking something up off the floorboard, anything that takes your hands off the wheel. And then the other is cognitive. You may be daydreaming. You might be thinking, OK, I have 14 things I need to get off the to do list today. And working through that, it could also be listening to an audio book in your car, listening to loud music, loud conversations, anything that takes that cognitive function away from focusing on the road. So those are three main types of distraction.

Michael: Each type of distraction creates a hazard on the road and each one can be interconnected. Picking something up off the floorboard might cause you to look away from the road for a second, turning a manual distraction into a visual one as well. This is why it is so important to stress that drivers must stay engaged with what they are doing.

Dan: Driving is inherently somewhat of a boring thing to do, so we look away from the forward roadway pretty frequently, our eyes are very curious. They look around and ill timed, look away from the road, especially in stop and go traffic. That ill-timed glance away from the road can result in a rear end collision.

Karen: If individuals are engaged in the driving activity, you will be aware of tractors in front of you or slower moving trucks during harvest time. It’s when you are distracted or road weary, where you’re not judging those distances well enough, that individuals are more prone to have a motor vehicle crash or overcorrect and end up in the ditch.

Michael: There are many factors that determine if a driver has a collision or not, and that driver’s workplace can significantly affect this. For instance, a workplace that allows employees to send emails or make calls while driving is taking that driver’s attention away from the task at hand. Work factors can lead to crashes, but they are preventable.

Dan: Especially with the smartphone and the touch screen smartphone, we’ve now entered into an era of ubiquitous communications. And that means that most people that are driving a car now have a cell phone and more specifically, a smartphone that is rarely used for talking, but more used for email, text messaging and other very attentionally demanding operations.

Dan: There are many instances of crashes that occur because you have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to get to your place of work at 6:00. Nurses and doctors, technicians, medical assistance will work very long shifts and then they have to drive home, sometimes long distances. And that’s where they can have a microsleep fall asleep and drift into the oncoming lane. So those kinds of things need to be considered very carefully.

Michael: Amany Farag from the University of Iowa college of nursing studied the effects of fatigue on shift workers in the nursing industry. In an earlier episode we asked her to describe what causes fatigue.

Amany: So, some industries like nursing, truck drivers, aviation, by the virtue of this profession you have to work overnight, 24/7, to provide the care for your customers. And this is where the issue starts because you are working against your natural mechanism. We are wired that at night you have to sleep. So, shift workers, they are working against their natural circadian rhythm. So, you are pushing your body to perform in a way that they are not hardwired to perform in.

Michael: Fatigue has a dramatic negative impact on motor vehicle safety. Therefore, shiftwork and scheduling need to be considered when revising driving policies. Crashes always have causes, and the best way to mitigate those causes is to have strong policies in place. By creating consequences for breaking safety procedures and incentivizing safe behaviors, companies can not only have a real impact on the bottom line in terms of liability and claims, but positively affect the health and safety of their drivers.

Dan: As a culture, what I see is companies who encourage people that are doing a lot of driving to multitask in the sense that they take care of business on point-to-point drives, and that they specifically call out that that is not allowed and have consequences for that kind of work. What’s important of that, not only is it safer, but it saves them money. I think just as a policy, know that there’s an expectation that there are consequences for using that. So, if you see, for instance, somebody driving out of your parking lot and they’re on the phone, they need to be called out on that.

Dan: The other policy that’s also critical is seatbelt use.

Karen: When you look in the state of Nebraska, as far as seatbelt usage, I mean it’s at 80 percent observed seatbelt usage, however, there’s 20 percent that choose not to use their seatbelt, and that accounts for three hundred and ninety thousand people. And the majority of motor vehicle crash fatalities are those individuals that are not using a seatbelt, either as the driver or the occupant.

Dan: Now, what is really important to consider is the safety belt use of the passengers, especially the rear seat passengers. We’re not very good at that. So, there are a lot of different issues that occur when somebody is unbelted, not only in the front seat, but especially in the back seat and frontal crashes or any crash, the passenger becomes a projectile. One-hundred-and-fifty-pound projectile at two-hundred-and-fifty-pound projectile inside that vehicle and one heads knock at the kind of velocities that occur, even in slow speed crashes, there is a great potential for a very severe, if not fatal injury. So, safety belt use for all passengers is critical.

Michael: Seatbelts, speeding, and cellphone use are all commonly understood policies when discussing driver safety, but often slip ups in driver safety can be looked over and seen as inconsequential.

Dan: You need to stitch together a broader safety culture within the organization to really maximize that effect and come up with some sort of enforcement mechanism. Not to say that you’re going to be fired or use heavy handed enforcement, but just say that good driving behaviors are reinforced and bad driving behaviors are not.

Michael: A strong driver safety program is a key part of this. We asked Dan and Karen what goes into a good program and examples that have been successful.

Dan: You take it seriously that you have seat belts, programs, substance abuse programs, I should say, seat belt education, substance abuse programs within companies, policies surrounding distraction and the use of phone in company vehicles. And then really talk about the consequences, not only from distraction and crashes, but to the bottom line of the company. You know, a high-profile fatality or injury takes an enormous amount of resources away from a company to help defend themselves against that crash. And heaven forbid, should they injure somebody during the use of a phone, whether it’s for personal use or requiring people to be on conference calls while they’re driving across the state.

Karen: Nationwide insurance, so they have a fleet of vehicles and they have representatives across the nation and their transportation percentage as far as the miles driven over the past several years, it’s gone up 20 percent. And so by implementing a comprehensive program that includes that senior level support, that includes the policies and procedures in the enforcement, but also the incentivizing for making healthy and good choices, they have been able to decrease the number of accidents and injuries by 53%, which is outstanding. That shows that with that leadership and that lead by example, that really does have a positive impact not only on the bottom line, but keeping employees healthier.

Dan: And I think that’s the important part, is that we also need to reward good drivers too, that are doing all these things. We shouldn’t just crack down on people who are doing the bad thing. But, you know, programs that package delivery services have on the number of miles and or months or years that you go without a crash or a payout are important, recognizing employees that are driving safely, that are doing that for a living are all very important.

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

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.