Investment in workplace health and safety was catapulted into everyday budgets and conversation through the onset of the current global pandemic. The content of our history books and movies has become our working and living reality.

As of July 2020, we have four typical working environs in our new normal- the planned remote, the unplanned for remote, the hybrid and finally at our usual workplace with Covid-19 Return to Work Safety Protocols in place. Change management has become an even greater crucial spoke in the workplace health wheel. Many organisations, one such is Grow Remote, are working hard to support leaders in this space and are bringing their expertise to the table. Although the acute remote working situation was not ideal many are now putting the scaffolding around workplaces post the move to remote rather than the desired scaffold first then build. It’s a start.

Working from home has brought many psychosocial conditions central to organisational success and productivity to the forefront. Mental Health First Aid Ireland Working from Home Survey published in July 2020 provides the latest evidence-based data on working from home through the current pandemic. Data was collected from respondents to the questionnaire in May and June 2020 and used globally recognised instruments of measurement including the WHO -5 Wellbeing Index. The report found that of those working from home:

Clearly from the data above we need to invest in wellbeing programmes and training for our employees. Investment in communication tools for employees and continuing to nurture colleague and managerial relationships at work will support the social connection work traditionally provided that is now challenging for workers in the new normal.

I recall a webinar I hosted in collaboration with Galway Chamber in April 2020 where in a zoom poll for the 22 participants, none had worked in a remote capacity prior to March 2020. In a further question, all were asked could they carry out their job role while working remotely with a 100 % Yes response rate from participants. A further and final question asked was could they see themselves working remotely post Covid and this got a 80 % Yes response and a 20% No. The No responders citing the social connection of work as the primary reason for needing to get back to the office. It is the social connection that we must focus on for thriving workforces transitioning to remote and hybrid workspaces. We must get creative to retain the social support and connection through relationships that workplaces previously provided for us. Here is a link to some virtual team building ideas that could be carried out to build morale on teams.

Author Dorothy Scarry is owner of Workplace Health and Wellbeing Ltd, the leading organisation to support evidence-based training in workplace health and resilience across sectors. Dorothy holds a MSc in Workplace Health and Wellbeing from Nottingham University.

Managing teams can be a challenging part for many in leadership roles. Then along comes a global pandemic, an acute remote working situation, and a whole wave of uncertainty in many workplace sectors. Below are some simple tips that can support you and your teams during this time.

Author Dorothy Scarry is owner of Workplace Health and Wellbeing Ltd, the leading organisation to support evidence-based training in workplace health and resilience across sectors. Dorothy holds a MSc in Workplace Health and Wellbeing from Nottingham University.

Workplace Wellbeing Day should be firmly on the agenda annually and moreover this year as employee wellbeing has never been more challenged. We at Workplace Health and Wellbeing Ltd have put together some ideas that can be undertaken by your teams virtually to celebrate Workplace Wellbeing Day but also and more importantly they can be used weekly going forward as we work from home and move into the world of remote working.

Virtual Fun Lunch

Employees invited to an informal virtual lunch hour. This can be undertaken according to budgets. Employees could bring their own lunch or an organisation that has the funds could send their employees a token for many of the many food delivery companies or better still employees bring their lunch and the organisation makes a donation to a chosen charity.

Virtual DIY and a Coffee

This runs along the same principle as above but could be made a little more interesting by inviting all attendees to create something DIY eg a hat, etc with items they can readily find in their homes. A poll could be set up so all participants can choose the winning hat/item. A small prize could be given to the winner.

Lunch and Online Learn

Lunch and Learns have become very popular recently. Why not hire in a speaker on an area that you feel your employees/colleagues would benefit from for their health. Remember this type of training investment reaps its return for the workplace.

Random Message of Kindness

One nominated member sets this up. Each team member sends a positive message about another member to the nominated organiser. This could be collated anonymously and posted on a communications board your team/organisation are using.  This is based on the Random Act of Kindness principle.

Virtual Yoga

Participate in one of the many complimentary virtual yoga sessions available or hire in a virtual yoga teacher just for your team/organisation.

Virtual Karaoke

Organise a virtual karaoke session during the working day and enjoy as your colleagues belt out classics like Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. You could also run this as an afterhours event.

Virtual Quiz

Put your mind to the challenge of a good table quiz where teams/ individuals could compete with each other in an organisation.

Virtual Mindfulness

This is one I have found that transitioned into the virtual world quite easily.  A workplace mindfulness expert could be brought online to facilitate and guide your session or you could decide to run a mindful meditation video that are available online.

Virtual Bingo

Nominate a bingo master and send out the bingo cards.

Virtual Book Club

Each member of the team shares a book of value/interest to them to the group. Select a book for the following month.

All the above virtual ideas could also be run as charity events.  CSR has never been more important. It’s twofold as not only do our employees need to feel part of a greater purpose but our communities have never needed investment as much from those that can. Many charities have lost out on revenue that they need for the day to day supports they offer their clients.

Please get in touch dorothy@workplacehealthandwellbeing.com if you want a little guidance or support on any of the above ideas. We are happy to help you with our expertise on how you can best support your employees’ wellbeing and improve your organisational health.

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Did You Know Workload Overload Is The Number 1 Reason for Stress-Related Absences in the Workplace in 2019

Here are the top 3 causes of work-related stress:

1 Workload
2 Management Style
3 Relationships at Work
(Source CIPD 2019)

Workload is also known as work intensification in the world of occupational psychology. Work intensification was listed as the number one reason for stress-related absence from work at 62% in 2019, followed by management style at 43% and relationships at work at 30% in the Simply Health Report last year.

Work intensification can occur in the workplace when redundancies take place. The remaining workforce may increase their output or further diverse from their original job descriptions and or take on new roles to compensate for the workplace redundancy shortfalls.

Digital technology has also led to work intensification in the workplace through an unmatchable competition for work which brings with it less time for human down time. Machinery and technology do not tire and do not need time for rest or leisure to thrive.

Globalisation is also an aspect of work intensification. International travel, international time zones, increasing and constant deadlines also could cause difficulties for the workforce.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators are now commonplace in today’s workplace. These increase pressure on the worker to deliver the results as needed by the employer- some for a monetary bonus and others its security of an extension of a contract for another six months in addition to the desired improved bottom line. Workload can begin to be addressed by employees through improved time management and by people managers through improving workplace management standards.

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The Workplace as a Facilitor

Move on over Generation Y there are a whole new cohort entering our workplaces. Generation Z are here. Born post 1995 and also known as the Snowflake generation they are masters on social media and need 24 hour online access. They are digital natives as it has been their only known world.

Generation Z desires independent work spaces but also like to interact with people. They are eager learners but need constant updates and stimulation. It is also important to the Generation Z that social interaction makes up a large part of their day. More than 90% will choose to work for an organisation that practises CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

Generation Z are the Future of Work. They are diverse, inclusive, entrepreneurial, social and they care. A workplace that facilitates the onboarding of these needs will have an engaged and thriving workforce roaring through the early twenties.

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Dorothy Interview Dublin FM

On the lead up to World Mental Health Day Dorothy was invited on to Dublin City fm to speak about the process of implementing an effective framework around wellbeing in the workplace.

The massive benefits to both staff and employers of improving employee engagement and talent retention are also discussed.

LISTEN HERE

Females accounted for 59% cases per 100,000 workers of work-related stress from stress from 2013 to 2016

WORK LIFE

Dorothy Scarry MSc HDip PGCE BA

Work-life balance is often explained as the division of a person’s attention and time between working life and private life. Balancing hours and attention to one’s employment with careful and equal consideration to time and attention equally spent outside one’s employment could be described as optimal individual management. 

However, is it simply possible to achieve such harmony or is it just an optimistic theory hypothesised by current day practitioners?  Is work-life balance gender balanced?

Is work-life balance a possibility for today’s workforce?

Employment was gendered until the late eighteenth century and was determined by location until the late twentieth century. However, the industrial revolution followed by the onset of World War 1 enabled the advancement and evolution of a female workforce. 

Technological progression, over the past three decades, has presented a nomadic workplace with flexible working time. The technological modernisation of society has presented both opportunities and hazards for occupational health and wellbeing. 

The flexibility that virtual consultations, video conferencing and cloud sharing have contributed to organisations accessing the global market whilst also providing a lack of rigidity of a fixed workspace for employees with disabilities, illnesses, additional needs and caring responsibilities in addition to those opting to work remotely is welcome. 

However, the instant send and respond method offered by evolving social communication and technology has led to an ‘always on’ working population. Work emails and tele-conversations can be misplaced in home life if mismanaged. Legislation in France has attempted to address the same and has established a worker’s right to disconnect from their workplace (“The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era”, 2017). 

Work-life harmony provides the opportunity of the ideal state of health and wellbeing for individuals and the organisations for which they work. Resilience training and wellbeing framework implementation in occupational settings is a must for individual, organisational and societal health to support work-life balance.

Is the balance of work-life balance gendered?  Do men and women find the achievement of striking a work-life balance equally challenging?

Although, it is possible for men to experience work-life imbalance it is generally accepted that women tend to be statistically dissatisfied with their occupational and family life balance.

The European Working Conditions Survey states that gender variations occur through the working life course but notably widens after a worker becomes a mother. In the three-year period 2013-2016 females accounted for 59 % cases per 100,000 workers of work-related stress. 

Work-family conflict has been established as a prominent predictor of health and wellbeing variations for the entire workforce. But although males may also experience stress from work–family conflict, it is evident that there are significant outcomes for females that may be more hazardous to their health and wellbeing. 

Women traditionally stayed at home and cared for their children whilst their partners went out to work. The past three decades have seen an increasing shift in dual income families with a more shared responsibility of both parents towards child rearing. 

However, there is still a tendency for female workers to seek employment opportunities that provide non-demanding jobs with flexible working hours and that are geographically located nearby to allow them to them to cater for family demands. As a result, women often miss out on professional development, promotion and pension entitlements.

A Lifecycle of Caring

One of the many misconceptions held of women as carers is that they are younger women. However, caring for family members with additional needs and the aged is also carried by many female workers. EU-OSHA in a recent publication highlights that only 20% of informal caring for sick and elderly relatives is done by male employees.

Female workers almost commence a life cycle of caring from childbirth until they reach their own retirement age. This gender imbalance is one of the areas that is targeted for research and improvement of the EU 2020 Employment Strategy. 

The Solution

Therefore, to address the work-life imbalance of those with caring responsibilities, flexible working conditions such as flexi-time, job sharing and remote working should be applied not only to parents with young children but also to workers with caring responsibilities. This could eliminate attrition from the workforce and also improve wellbeing at work through greater work-life balance. 

Striking a balance for the female worker seems to have become more challenging as the workplace has evolved and work intensified.  Investment in resilience training and flexible working arrangements are immediate ways which can support women and carers in their roles in the workplace. 

The motivational process between a healthy and engaged teacher seems to be an effective means of creating curiosity, energy and interest in students.

The World Health Organisation defines good mental health “as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realise his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.  

The whole area of well-being has mushroomed in all sectors in the past two years and Irish schools are no different. Work-related stress is often an antecedent to anxiety and depression. Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) describe work engagement as feeling vigour, dedication, and absorption in your job.

Well-being in our schools seems to be particularly weighted towards the children in our care.  Unarguably, their well-being is critical to their learning. The resilience building tools that they learn in schools will hopefully equip them for their futures in a world that is rapidly changing and evolving.  The Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2018-2023 is certainly a step in the right direction.

However, schools are a unique setting.  We have a highly interdependent system of well-being going on.  Student well-being is influenced greatly by teacher well-being.  

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Darmody and Smyth demonstrated that there was a clear relationship between student engagement, happiness and behaviour with Irish teacher stress (poor well-being) and also teacher stress and the stress experienced by their principal.

Internationally, Shernoff et al and Bakker have also suggested that high quality instruction from an engaged teacher is correlated to the academic achievement of students.  The motivational process between a healthy and engaged teacher seems to be an effective means of creating curiosity, energy and interest in students.

Therefore, it could be argued that teacher well-being is an area where large-scale investment in resources is needed to support teachers in maintaining their own personal well-being to enable those teachers in supporting the students in their care.

But what is the current picture of the well-being of Irish teachers?  Last year, the author sent out a quantitative questionnaire to Irish primary school teachers to measure their psychosocial working conditions, well-being, engagement and risk of developing anxiety and depression using internationally recognised instruments of measurement. 

Teachers’ psychosocial working conditions (work demands, control, supports, resources and relationships) were measured against classroom settings, school locations, type of employment contracts, gender, years teaching, number of teaching staff,  principal (administrative or teaching) and level of qualifications.

These socio-demographic variables were then correlated to scales of well-being, risk of developing anxiety and depression and work engagement.  The results from the 362 teachers that completed the survey were remarkable. The Irish primary teachers who experienced positive psychosocial working conditions in their schools in turn had greater well-being and greater work engagement and had a lower risk of developing anxiety and depression.

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The study also highlighted that teachers on average were spending seven, with some recording thirteen, additional hours a week on school-related work.  These additional hours impacted negatively on the psychosocial working conditions of teachers and decreased the well-being (increased risk of burnout) and increased the risk of anxiety and depression in the teacher participants in the study.

The administrative burden on teachers has increased teacher workload in addition to the typical classroom duties of educators.  The necessity for compliance with an evolving curriculum, in-school policies, self-evaluation and legislation in schools has the ability to place further strain on teaching staff and can often result in greater stress amongst teachers. Minister McHugh has himself discussed “initiative overload” on teachers at a recent INTO conference.

Female teachers were more negatively affected in the study than male teachers in both their psychosocial work conditions and wellbeing.  Researchers have begun to establish the link between gender and occupational-related workload and stress (Klasesen & Chiu).   Elevated occupational stress in female teachers could possibly be attributed to a higher workload through the combination of occupational and domestic workload which could cause Work-Family Conflict (WFC) for female teachers. 

WFC is a workplace challenge across all sectors internationally.  EU-OSHA recently highlighted that only twenty percent of informal caring (child-rearing, caring for the aged and those with disabilities) is undertaken by males.

Special Education Class Teachers (SETs) experienced negative psychosocial working conditions, poorer wellbeing and poorer engagement in contrast to classroom teachers. Morgan and Nic Craith’s 2016 Irish study highlighted that SETs perceived teaching as having become a more stressful occupation.

Possible explanations for this could be lack of physical space in classrooms, inadequate training in the specialised and changeable Special Educational Needs methodologies and the limited physical and educational resources available due to financial constraints of school budgets.

Greater emotional demands are also placed on Special Education Teachers through an increased amount of time meeting and preparing for Student Support Files with stakeholders to ensure access to a full and meaningful curriculum for children with additional needs.

Overall, it is worth noting that on the whole, the majority of Irish primary teachers are experiencing a positive working environment, have moderate wellbeing and are very engaged in their teaching. 

Yet, it must also be acknowledged that the maintenance and investment in the occupational working conditions for teachers must continue.  Teachers must be supported in their individual well-being to be effective in building the frameworks in their school community for better student well-being, resilience and engagement.

Dorothy Scarry is a primary school teacher in Co. Roscommon for the past 17 years.  She is a AP2 post holder that has taught all class levels including SEN. Dorothy is passionate about creating positive workplace changes to support teacher resilience and wellbeing.

She completed her MSc in Workplace Health and Wellbeing in 2018 and has worked with the INTO delivering training on the psycho-social working conditions and wellbeing of Irish teachers to their national committees in Newry in April 2019. Dorothy co-wrote the INTO’s recent online summer course on Leadership and Wellbeing.  Dorothy is taking a career break in the coming year to spread her reach on good workplace practices for a thriving workforce through her company Workplace Health and Wellbeing Ltd @ www.workplacehealthandwellbeing.com .  Dorothy is also the founder of www.nextstepforward.ie , a social enterprise, supporting children and young adults in school transitioning through evidence-based resilience and wellbeing workshops.

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