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COVID-19: Critical Safety Considerations for our Front Line Healthcare Workers with Dr. Stephanie Andel



Hot off the press! Dr. Stephanie Andel shares some recent research on safety for healthcare workers in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some concerning insights that aren’t getting the needed attention. This timely episode provides some actionable insights to protect the wellbeing of our front line workers that are keeping all of us safe.

To learn more about Workplace Safety Considerations:


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and very happy to have with me Stephanie Andel, who’s an assistant professor in Indianapolis with a significant background in safety, safety, culture and studied in industrial organizational psychology. So, Stephanie, welcome to the to the show and love to hear a little bit about some of the background, what got you into psychology. And some of the key here is that you’ve been focused on it from a research standpoint.

Sure. So, thank you so much for having me. Probably my degree is in industrial organizational psychology, as you said, which is an area of psychology that focuses upon human behavior in the workplace. So, within this large field of Io’s, psychology is a sort of specialty called Occupational Health Psychology, or OHIP, which focuses on understanding how work impacts health, well-being and, of course, the safety of employees. My research falls squarely within OHIP, so I generally study work stress, particularly in high risk helping professions such as nursing and emergency medical services, and understanding how work stress influences health and well-being of those folks.

So lately my work has really started to pivot to focus on the current pandemic course. Right. So, for instance, one of my current research studies considers the toll of the coronavirus pandemic on health and safety of nurses who are working on the front lines of the crisis.

That’s really interesting and very timely piece of research. Love to hear a little bit more about it and what got you interested in this topic, because it’s such an important theme in the in these times.

Sure. So, as you know, the virus is continuing to grow exponentially across the United States and the world. And more and more are really coming out in the popular press about the plight of health care workers who are on the front lines. So, we hear things like there’s a lack of personal protective equipment or PPE, inconsistent covid protocols and hospitals, health care providers, health care providers are living in an RV in their driveway and aligning themselves. Right.

So, they don’t have. Right. They’re worried that they’re going to infect their family. So, the list really goes on. Right. So, we’ve also seen some evidence of the physical and psychological toll that this is having on folks. There’s a number of safety issues. It’s also leading to psychological outcomes like post-traumatic stress symptoms and sometimes even instances of suicide in the front lines. The situation is really quite dire. So, we decided something clearly needs to be done to help these individuals, but the question is, where do we start?

So that got me and my collaborators are Marianna Arbon or Chanta Down. And when he said interested in hearing directly from the nurses on the front line. So, we wanted to understand what are their biggest challenges that they’re facing during these times and what is the impact that this crisis is having on both their psychological as well as physical health and safety?

This fascinating piece of work, I know I started being interested in this when I started seeing the crisis expand into Italy. And there were some really early reports of the impact and also physicians, nurses losing best friends and seeing them kind of exhausted day in and day out. So, tell me a little bit about how you got to doing this and what did the study look like?

Yeah, so we conducted a two-month long study of about one hundred and sixteen registered nurses. So, in order to be eligible for this study, we wanted to make sure we were really hearing from the nurses who are working on the front lines. So, they had to be working front lines in hospitals in the United States. And we recruited these participants through all different kinds of ways. For instance, we got in touch with many of them through Reddit and other social media websites, really trying to get those folks who were right on the front lines.

And we ended up getting participants from 32 states across our final sample in terms of the study design. Every other week for two months, our nurses received a survey in their email that asked that about a variety of workplace stressors they’d encountered that are related to the pandemic. So, we also asked them to describe the biggest challenges that they’ve dealt with or encountered during this time. And also, we had them just tell us what are their hospitals doing and we’re not doing to support that during this challenging time.

So, this this really started the survey launched in May and during this of the heart of the pandemic and data collection just wrapped up pretty recently. So, we’ve just scratched the surface in terms of data analysis. But our preliminary results are really interesting and we’ll continue to analyze that data over the next few weeks to gain even more insights.

So, so really interesting. What did you find out so far?

Yeah, so preliminary analysis really unveiled four key challenges or concerns that our nurses were consistently encountering at work during the crisis. These challenges are related to issues such as understaffing, insufficient communication, inadequate safety protocols, and, of course, as you might imagine, extensive emotional demands.

OK, so tell me a little bit more about these key challenges of the nurses have been facing this during this pandemic. And let’s start with the first one you mentioned the understaffing one.

Sure. As much as nurses were consistently reporting that their units were understaffed. So, in fact, over half of fifty nine percent of our nurses stated that their work unit needed more employees just to adequately fulfill their work tasks related to the pandemic. So, one thing that we were actually quite surprised about and we learned through the responses, is that many hospitals have had to cut hours of many nurses at the same time that the pandemic was growing. So, when we were conducting when we started this study, we just thought all nurses there had been so many nurses, there was so much work that everybody would be overburdened.

Right. It actually turned out that folks were overburdened and overworked, but it was just a few because the hospital had to cut the hours and many others largely because the freezing of elective surgeries influenced hospital finances. So, the hospitals don’t have the finances to pay everybody, even though there’s so much work related to the pandemic. So, this puts ICU nurses and other nurses who are working with the patients in very difficult positions. So, for instance, our ICU nurses reported that they frequently were assigned a patient to provide a ratio that’s much higher than normal.

So usually, it’s one provider to one patient or maybe two patients to a provider. So sure. So, thank you so much for having me. Probably my degree is in industrial organizational psychology, as you said, which is an area of psychology that focuses upon human behavior in the workplace. So, within this large field of Io’s, psychology is a sort of specialty called Occupational Health Psychology, or OHIP, which focuses on understanding how work impacts health, well-being and, of course, the safety of employees. My research falls squarely within OHIP, so I generally study work stress, particularly in high risk helping professions such as nursing and emergency medical services, and understanding how work stress influences health and well-being of those folks.
o one to one to two to one. But they were saying it might be three patients to every provider, maybe even more. And that’s likely to be getting worse as the pandemic continues to grow. Right. Because keep in mind, this was started in May and the pandemic is continuing to grow.

It’s continuing to and the ICU and a lot of states, ICU beds are at capacity, near capacity. So, I would assume this is getting even worse if they’re not increasing the staff.

Exactly, and of course, this has major implications not only for the health and well-being of patients, but also for the providers themselves.

Wow, OK, that’s a that’s something I had not heard of before, so it’s actually fascinating but incredibly disturbing in terms of the impact. I don’t know if your research looked outside. You talked to us about the states because I thought that in other places, they had put all hands-on deck to move people from elective to other areas. Do you know if that’s the case or obviously you’ve studied only the US side?

Yeah. So, we really focused on the US here. But I would suspect that given the other the way that health care systems are different. And of course, in other countries, I would imagine that they’d be able to maybe more easily put everybody on deck, all hands-on deck right away, probably easier. So very interesting. So, what was the second key concern that showed up in the survey responses?

Sure. The second key concern related to insufficient communication, self-esteem or concern arose in a couple of different ways. So first, the vast majority of nurses reported there was a lack of consistent and effective communication from upper management so that that is there was insufficient downward communication. So, for instance, many of our nurses said the hospital was constantly changing policies with short notice. One person, for instance, said they found out or one person also. Suddenly they found out from a newspaper rather than a hospital that another nurse contracted Colgan work.

Right. So, oh, my goodness. Not a lot of good communication from upper management. Second, nurses reported a lack of support for upward communication. That is when employees tried to speak up about their concerns or make suggestions for improvement. They felt that they were being consistently shut down or ignored by management. So, for instance, we had one participant who said they wrote a long evidence-based proposal to overhaul their unsafe covid ICU environment, and that was met with no response from their management.

Others said that when they tried to speak up, their supervisors basically told them that they had to have to deal with it. So given this lack of communication, it’s perhaps not surprising that the vast majority are actually two thirds of our nurses reported that they actually they weren’t confident in the way that their hospital was handling the pandemic. They also felt that these concerns were not being validated by upper management.

That’s scary because everything I’ve ever read, I mean, I’ve been in the safety space in a very long time, not specifically in the health care, but both upward and downward communication is such a critical component to the safety outcomes in any industry.

Absolutely. And more important now than ever. Are you?

No kidding. Especially if you’ve got everything else. You’ve got our understanding, all these issues happening at the same time. It’s even more critical. OK, really disturbing. Tell me a little bit more about some of the other key concerns that came up.

Sure. So, we had two others. So, the third concern that came up were reports of inadequate safety protocols to protect employees themselves. Right. So, most of our nurses were concerned about the availability of safety equipment and effective protocols. Interestingly, they were less concerned about the availability of resources that were patient focused, such as ventilators and ICU beds, which is good. However, there’s a caveat there. The study took place in May and June when the second national surgeon cases didn’t start up yet.

So, I just want to mention, however, at this time, employees were most concerned about the availability of resources to protect their own health. So, things like clear safety protocols for the employees themselves, covid tests for employees themselves and of course, the personal protective equipment or the PPE, which we’ve also heard a lot about in the news. So, in terms of inconsistent or inadequate safety protocols, one nurse, for instance, who happened to be taking she shared that she was taking fertility treatments, reported that her hospital system was still requiring that pregnant staff have to care for covid patients because it was incredibly stressful for her.

Another nurse reported that they were initially told they weren’t allowed to wear masks because of how it made the hospital look. So, of course, this varied across hospitals. There were some folks who felt their hospitals were very supportive, but I thought it was quite concerning reading some of these notes from participants saying that they didn’t feel that there was a lot of attention on their own safety and that they weren’t being prioritized, which is really scary. I mean, is the analogy that people often use around if you’re flying in the cabin, pressure depressurizes, put your own oxygen mask first.

You can’t take care of other patients if you’re not healthy yourself, which is really the so, so critical that nurses and doctors have the right level of PPE and know how to use it.

Absolutely. I think the key here is we need to make sure that we’re helping the helpers. That’s what I like to say.

I agree.

And. The final theme is the sense of emotional demands that these folks have been exposed to during this time. When we asked participants about the emotional experiences they’ve had at work, about three quarters or 72 percent reported that their work was often or always emotionally demanding during the crisis. And of course, I think it’s important to mention that these emotional demands really don’t just stop at work when they’re at the hospital. So, nurses reported that the impact of these demands are also spilling over to impact their family lives as well.

You know, they said things like their family members and children were constantly worrying that they would contract the virus.

I would imagine, you know, and they also they themselves were exhausted because they were worrying so much about their getting their family members sick. So, it’s really the emotional demands have a lot of impacts and a little bit like you talked about at the beginning, people living in RVs and so forth. There are cases where a nurse could be taking care of somebody who’s at risk patient normally right at home. Right. So, a parent or and having to live completely quarantined from the rest of the family.

So, it’s really alarming, especially when you think about the amount of sleep you need to have when you’ve got such an impact emotionally and physically in terms of work demands.


So, what are the implications of these covid related work stressors on nurses, their health and well-being and overall safety?

Sure. So, we found these work stresses are really associated with a wide array of negative outcomes. For instance, we found that they were linked to physical health outcomes such as reduced life quality care to mentioned psychological health outcomes such as post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or PTSD symptoms, as well as what we call emotional exhaustion. Yep, safety outcomes such as near accidents, near misses and of course, covid related covid exposures and family outcomes. So, it’s even impacting marital satisfaction or family conflict.

So, the pressure that these folks are under is incredible. And the data shows that this is having a major impact, impact on really virtually every aspect of their lives right now.

And we don’t even know the long-term toll of this. Right, because we’re too soon into it. But the concern that I was reflecting is if there’s multiple waves, which is what most expect will happen, will you still want to do this next wave, the third wave, fourth wave, whatever the number of waves that come back to hit or do you eventually say can’t do this anymore? But then the other part is even new. Will it impact the recruitment of new nurses?

Will people want to become nurses? Will go to learn to become a nurse after hearing what has happened, which can have a long, long term consequences in terms of health care, access to health care. If nobody wants to do the work, that’s a challenge. Same as I know when this was certain to hit in Italy and the death toll among doctor was actually quite high initially from what I understand was, was how do you replace that expertise in the amount of time that may be needed for a following wave that comes around.

And so, given these key findings that you outlined, where do we go from here? What do you recommend that hospital leaders do to better support nurses during the current pandemic?

So that’s a great question. First of all, I want to mention that, you know, it’s absolutely imperative that hospitals provide their employees with the adequate people. And of course, it pains me to have to say that. But our most priority, right next, hospital leaders need to make sure that they support and really actively solicit employee feedback from employees on the front. Lines are going to be their best resources for learning what’s missing and what’s not working.

They’re also going to have informed ideas about how to improve current protocols in order to make sure that the workplace is more efficient, safer and less stressful. So, it’s also important to note that providing opportunities for employees to get that feedback can empower them and enhance unit morale as long as leadership actually responds and tries to take into account that feedback. Right. You don’t want to fall on deaf ears, right.

So those are important. I mean, we know that from the field of safety, the whole element of safety, participation, huge, huge people need to feel like there’s an unless they felt heard, something happens with it. I agree. So, I go on. Sorry. And third, I would recommend the hospital leaders. I’m sure they’re providing consistent and clear and regular updates to employees, not just when there’s major changes, but really schedule a consistent communication is key.

This, of course, ensures that everybody is on the same page so that. Processes run more smoothly and that everyone is kept as safe as possible, but also constant communication can help, at least to a degree, and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation that these folks might be experiencing during this crisis. This is really a profoundly isolating time. So, anything that leaders can do to build a sense of community and connection is really more important now than ever out are, you know.

No kidding.

And the last thing I would recommend is, in addition to supporting employees, physical health through proper safety protocols and equipment availability is I would say it’s important that hospitals make concerted efforts to promote employee’s psychological health as well. So, they could do things like, well, research shows that psychological detachment, which is the ability to disconnect from work-Related thoughts once the workday is over. That’s important for reducing the negative impact of work stressors on psychological help so employers can promote detachment and a few different ways.

They could provide consistent regular work breaks. They could promote detachment after work by ensuring that employees are not contacted or preferably maybe not on call after the workday is over. And they also can promote psychological health in other ways. They could acknowledge employees hard work and efforts, and they could also try to limit the excessive emotional demands as much as possible. Of course, during this time, you’re never going to completely eliminate that. But if there’s any way for employees to go to work and share the burden, I think that is helpful to kind of protect every employee.

And so, one participant in our study actually mentioned that their unit allowed them to take a break from the covid unit and swap for a shift with a regular medical unit, which I really thought was a great way to kind of spread these most emotional demands. And it’s not pulling on one specific person, which I think is quite important.

I think it’s that’s brilliant because it really gives you a chance to recharge your batteries in some ways with something that’s less draining, I would assume.


Do you think the findings from this research will be helpful even after the pandemic subsides?

I really do. So, although we unveiled a number of key challenges that are top of mind for health care employees right now, these issues aren’t and are not necessarily new. Right. They’re just intensified right now due to the current pandemic. So therefore, while I would argue that all the recommendations, I gave are especially important to implement right now, it’s important to note that organizations are really always strived to incorporate these best practices, whether there’s a pandemic or not.

Ultimately, it’s my hope that this study will help to inform possible decision makers and even policymakers once the crisis is over to make the work environment safe, safer, healthier and better prepared in the years to come.

No doubt, because I think, like you said, the pandemic magnified the issues. But chances are some of the issues are in communication and so forth. Were there before. It just now becomes more acute. Exactly. So, besides health care, what other occupational groups or occupation groups do you think will be affected by this this pandemic?

Yeah, so quite honestly, it’s difficult for me to imagine occupational groups that would not be affected by the pandemic, but I think they’ll be affected in different ways. So, one group that comes to mind right now is teachers, given the pressure that’s on them, as many states are pushing to open schools back to in-person learning. Right. Right. So, I would imagine that these folks will unfortunately have your safety equipment, resources at their disposal in comparison to the health care professionals in our study.

So that, of course, has the potential to impact both their physical and psychological health. Additionally, those in the service industry who work with the public are also going to be dealing with a number of similar challenges as these pandemic rages on. But I also want to note, even folks who are not working directly with the public are going to continue experiencing numerous challenges as this crisis continues to unfold. So, for instance, many are working remotely with a lack of communication from employers.

Others are dealing with the stress of job insecurity. Others are trying to balance their work responsibilities with family responsibilities. Needless to say, these are really quite difficult times and therefore more important than ever that organizations will step up to support their employees physical and psychological health and safety.

Very, very well said, because I’ve seen this in the early days of the pandemic, a lot that worked for progressive employees that really enabled very quickly working as an example. Employees were, for the most part, incredibly grateful, and it showed very strong levels of active care for the organizations that did this really well. But as it goes on and on, the stress of trying to balance all the different things, like you said, family and so forth, it’s a lot for people to tackle.

So, I really thank you for coming on the show. But I think more importantly, thank you for doing this research, because this is this is raising like in terms of just the impact of it, I thought. Through a lot of the components that you brought, but not the depth and the breadth of issues, I don’t really think about the initial pieces in terms of long-term impact on a profession even. But I think you’ve brought some of a really, really interesting but also, I would say rather disturbing themes that are emerging as organizations are working through.

Obviously, some are doing this really well, but unfortunately, some probably haven’t been prepared, haven’t really been thinking about safety of the workforce in the same way in the health care space because they weren’t thinking the hazard was probably as dangerous as, say, in mining or in construction or in utilities.

Right, right. Yeah.

So, thank you very much for your work and for coming on the show.

Thank you so much.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

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Stephanie Andel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Dr. Andel received her PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on employee health and well-being, employee safety performance, and technology in the workplace. Her work has been published in various academic journals such as the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Work & Stress, and Computers in Human Behavior. Additionally, her work has been featured by a number of media outlets such as Business Insider, Fast Company, PBS News Hour, and the BBC. 

Contact Stephanie Andel: [email protected]



Mental Health in the Workplace Post COVID-19: Impacts on Safety with Dr. Madison Hanscom



Dr. Madison Hanscom shares some alarming recent research on Mental Health in the Workplace through the current COVID-19 context. She touches on the impacts on Worker Safety and provides some tangible strategies that organizations can implement to support in difficult and challenging times. This is such a critical topic that is too often missing from the Safety and Executive dialogue. This episode of the Safety Guru also touches on individual strategies that can help leaders and listeners in addition to the broader organizational context. Listen in!


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, I’m Eric Michrowski and welcome to The Safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have Dr. Madison Hanscom with us, who’s going to talk to us about a really important topic in these critical times where we’re starting to emerge from the current covid-19 Black Swan event. A topic we want to talk about is around mental health and mental health in the workplace, particularly in this new context that we’re in medicine. Thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into work on safety.

What’s passionate about the topic for you.

Yeah, thanks for having me, Eric. I yeah, I first got into worker safety in graduate school. I did my Ph.D. in psychology that stands for industrial and organizational psychology, which is a study of human behavior and psychology in the workplace. And while I was in grad school, I was offered to complete a concentration in occupational health psychology. And so, I did this and I was a trainee with the math, which is the Mountains and Plains Research Center, which is a NILESH funded research center. And it was history ever since they taught me so much about worker health, worker safety and all the evidence-based approaches behind making the workplace safer for everyone. And that if that’s my passion right there, making the workplace better, improving the workplace for everyone, that’s excellent.

So, what’s the current state when it comes to mental health, particularly in light of all the recent events?

So, well, studies and polls are coming out showing that we have more mental health issues in 20, 20 than in previous years, people are experiencing a lot of emotional distress. There’s a study that came out recently showing that compared to twenty eighteen, those sampled this year in twenty were eight times more likely to fit the criteria for serious mental illness. And it also showed that some groups are struggling more than others. So, in that twenty eighteen survey, only four percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 reported serious mental distress, whereas in twenty-eight the same group was much higher.

It was at 38 percent, pretty bad. And this is also similar for people in their 30s and early 40s, too. But those differences were just a tiny, less tiny, bit less different. But so that group 18 to 29 is really standing out. And it’s especially true for those who have younger kids at home. So, they passed out the sample to look at those with kids and those without. And there’s another gap there as well. So other polls are showing really big numbers to those.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing that fifty six percent of US adults reported that stress related to the covid outbreak has caused them to experience negative that negative effects on their well-being and mental health. So, this is like issues sleeping, increased alcohol abuse, worsening chronic conditions. And these numbers are worse for frontline workers and their families, as well as those who have experienced some type of income loss. So, it’s really kind of looking at those groups who are suffering frontline workers, those with income loss and those who are just trying to juggle everything and have kids at home.

Wow. That’s really horrible, horrible news to hear in this context, because there’s just layering all sorts of different complexities into the workplace, into people’s overall well-being through this pretty significant crisis. So clearly, we have a problem. What does it mean for workplace workplaces and for safety specifically?

Yeah, so it definitely spills over. Right, so when people are experiencing stress at home or experiencing stress at work, there’s an opportunity for it to kind of spill into the over into the other domain. I mean, like when you have this full bucket and one, it just has to go somewhere. So, for one prolonged stress alone, it’s highly related to other issues down the road, like cardiovascular disease or obesity, sleep problems, concentration impairment, things like that.

So clearly, these things are all influencing occupational safety and worker’s comp claims, especially those things like sleep and memory impairment. They’re highly related to safety incidents. And we all know when your minds on the job, this can lead to safety issues. So, of course, it’s good to consider ways you can support employees during this time. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also a good business decision.

I completely agree with you. And we have to really also remember how much people have on their shoulders right now and how it can influence their minds at work, particularly when it comes to the impact on focus. When it comes to safety, I would imagine this has a significant impact. So now let’s shift to people who are working remotely, working from home. One thing that I keep wondering is why there are more mental health issues with so many people are teleworking, which we hear makes them happier.

Yeah, so it seems kind of contradictory, right, so you’re right on both accounts, fretwork does make people pretty happy, though, to contrast that many people are not doing their best right now in terms of mental health. So, I don’t have the perfect answer to that question, of course, because people are still kind of collecting data and really understanding what’s happening this year. But what I would imagine a huge variable, what the circumstances are that when people are working from home right now, the conditions are not ideal.

I’ve spoken with a great number of individuals working from home with their kids, for instance, and it’s just totally not a normal situation. Typically, when people are working from home, they would only be working. They’re not also focusing on home schooling. Their kids are stressing out about their husband who lost his job and covid, or stressing out about getting sick or not having paper or wondering if their jobs are going to be there tomorrow and things like that.

So, the uncertainty around everything is just not helpful.

And I would say even from some of the people I’ve spoken to, not everybody has a proper working environment for work. I mean, I spoke to some people that were in the midst of renovations as it started. So, they didn’t even have our house or a kitchen, others who never really worked from home. So, they never had a proper desk. So, they’re working off the kitchen table or off a sofa. So, ergonomics is bad. But I’m sure there’s also a lot of stresses at home as well.

I’ve been hearing stories just like that. Yeah, it’s difficult just to completely transition without warning and all of a sudden, your whole work life looks completely different.

Absolutely. Because when I first started doing remote work, it was an intentional choice. Right. So, I’d invested in the right that’s the right ergonomic setups, the right environment. So even the choice of House was conducive to do this type of work. I’m sure that isolation also is not helping. Can you maybe double click on this a little bit as well?

Oh, exactly. Studies have shown that remote work can lead to perceptions of professional isolation and loneliness in general for some people. And right now, with social distancing, it’s completely amplified. So, yeah, I would say that’s a huge factor contributing to all of this distress as well. People are really social animals. We need each other. We need to be surrounded by other people. And the fact that so many individuals who are used to being surrounded by other people at work every day are now sent home and they’re sent to work from home.

But then on top of that, they can’t hang out with their family and friends as much as usual because of the whole pandemic situation. So, it’s been really hard on people, I’m sure.

And some of the coping mechanisms that people had with challenges they had in their personal lives as well before are not as easily accessible as well. So, I’m completely convinced. Absolutely. Mental health is a critical point right now, a critical point of discussion that organizations need to have internally. Also know it’s a good business decision to be concerned about the well-being of your employees. I’ve alluded to it before in terms of the impact of mental health, in terms of ability to focus on the job at hand, which is then also going to keep you safe or not safe.

Right. Because if you’re not able to have all you focus on the work in front of you, you’re more likely to get injured and it can be a split-second decision. Let’s think a little bit about what leaders can do for their employees. Can you share maybe some thoughts on that?

Yeah, great, so if you’re a leader or any type of supervisory position are definitely things you should think about. I love the analogy that we wear personal protective equipment to deal with physical hazards. But right now, we also need to be thinking about mental acuity. So, we need to be dealing with invisible hazards we can’t see. And first and foremost, as a leader, it’s so important to prioritize your own mental health, so similar to how you put on your oxygen mask before helping others on an airplane.

You should take care of your mental health in order to best help others, because if you are struggling psychologically, it’s likely you’re not as effective as a leader. You might be struggling, being perceptive or empathetic towards your own employees. So, you have to make sure that you’re doing OK first. And this really pays off because, you know, and Eric, when we talk about good leadership, something we talk about so often is role modeling. So, when you’re acting is a role model for good mental health practices.

This goes a long way because it signals to employees what’s important and what they should care about. And it also helps to break down the stigma, which is actually the next one I would want to touch on is removing the stigma around mental health as much as possible. And it can be tough. But, you know, it’s all about letting your employees know that it’s accepted and it’s encouraged to discuss and prioritize your mental health. One way you can encourage them to think about their own mental health is to let them know you take care of yours, too.

So, you know, connecting with them with the resources to can be a good way to touch base about it. Something else I would recommend is to build a culture that supports recovery. Recovery and downtime are really important for happy and productive workers. And you can take this kind of a step further by thinking about it. What are you doing to build that climate around recovery? So, for example, there’s an APA study showing that companies that encourage people to take their vacation, their vacation time and to disconnect during that time have employees who come back feeling much more motivated, more productive than companies who are not really encouraging, or those companies that kind of make employees feel guilty about taking time off.

And the next thing I would suggest, considering is offering a lot of empathy and active care at work. People really like it when you take a genuine interest in them. Remember to check in with your employees regularly about their life outside of work and try to track their experiences so you can kind of celebrate victories with them or grieve losses. Something I really like to remember is let’s say you have an employee who has a mom in the hospital or somebody who has something really exciting with maybe give have a child graduating.

It’s really easy just to set a calendar reminder for that or to have like a little journal where you jot those things down and then you can know when to reach out to someone to circle back around and things like that being there. Yeah. And the next thing is making sure you offer as much schedule flexibility as you can. And I totally understand this is not applicable to all jobs, but, if possible, try and structure work and deliverables to accommodate the possibility that life might interfere with work, especially right now.

Everybody needs something different. Some are caring for young kids. Some are caring for old parents. Some just want their normal schedule back. So as much as possible, just giving people flexibility and control over how their work is done is going to really help people balance everything. And I know have gone on for a long time. But I guess the last thing I’ll mention here is something really useful for those working remotely now is understanding boundary management. So, this is all just about checking in with your employees so you can help them build a schedule and an environment that supports the work for them to feel productive, refreshed, happy, all those things and let them know that it’s all right if their preferences are kind of different from your own.

For instance, if you like to send emails at 10 p.m., but this is out of normal work hours for your company, reassure them that there’s no need to respond to the next day, that you just like checking in on the evening, because the whole idea here is to reassure people that they’re not on the hook for a twenty-four-hour workday when they’re working from home because we’re all human and we need to rest.

Great, great points and potentially even possessing a delayed send, which I’m not necessarily notoriously good at doing, but you can now schedule that your email to go at a later time. So those are great tips for leaders. What if somebody isn’t a leader and they’re curious about things that they can do for themselves or potentially even a loved one?

Yeah, yeah, so that’s a good one and I’ll start with an interesting one, which is stick it out in nature more because more and more research is coming out to support the fact that nature is really good for us. Something as simple as going for a walk is really good for stress relief. And spending time outside improves our ability to focus and is really good for our physical health, too. So, if you live somewhere where it’s safe and easy to go out on a walk, maybe without running into huge groups of people, I would go ahead and get out there.

And let’s say that’s not an option for you or you’re not comfortable doing that. Maybe try bringing nature into your living space. So, research also shows that moving light patterns like, you know, when the sun comes in through your window, through a through tree branches and stuff like that, or it’s really calling to our heart rate, keeps us focused. Maybe hang out on your porch more often or closer to windows, open the windows, things like that.

It can really kind of light in your day and help to regain your focus there. And I know a lot of people are trying to reconnect, reconnect with nature right now.

Right. I can imagine. I remember reading specifically, even within nature. There was something about walking in a forest that was even more impactful and I can’t remember what it was, but that between walking nature by a lake as an example versus Infowars, that apparently there is something about trees and the smell of the forest that was even better, also helpful for from a creativity standpoint that shows up in a lot of the creativity, creativity, literature as well. 

Yeah. And then the less manmade stuff you can be around, the better. So that makes perfect sense. And yeah. So, the next thing you can do for yourself is to limit screen time. So that’s also related to nature and kind of to limit news intake. And I mean, this kind of speaks for itself. Spending too much time engaging in media coverage through polarizing stories. You can kind of just be a stressor on its own. And.

Shifting to another concept here is remembering to support one another, so of course, this is really fundamental to mental health, but it’s all about reaching out and checking in with your coworkers, ask them about how they are doing outside of work and make this a regular habit, not just a onetime thing that you do or a onetime reference you. Yeah, you really need to think about the nuances associated with your culture to say, are you working in a Macho or kind of a male dominated culture? And I say this because there are certain industries like this where people suffer silently more often. And we know suicide rates are high for industries that are dominated by men like construction. So, it’s important that you kind of reach out and check in with how your coworkers are doing, because you might make a huge difference in someone’s life by doing that.

Great point. I remember construction came up, firemen, police officers, all professions where there’s a much, much higher suicide rate. And it reminds me of a bit of a theme in Austria. They did some really good campaigns around this topic and it was introducing a simple word, which was, are you OK in introducing the common language within organizations to encourage check in at key points throughout the day and over a period of time, just really reinforcing that?

Yeah, I think that’s really related because along similar lines, you shouldn’t suffer silently either. If you were having a difficult time, speak up and ask for support or help or try advocating for yourself independently. That makes more sense in your scenario by maybe speaking out some resources like therapy or someone you trust. And too many people suffer silently and really wish that they’d done something sooner. So, I can just really make or break your experience. And finally, I save this one for last because it’s extremely important.


Yeah, it seems really obvious to people and it’s to focus on health care. So, you know, even though it’s obvious it’s the first thing to slip through the cracks when things get stressful. But so much research supports the fact that a good routine, eating well, sleeping eight hours a night can hugely impact your success and your mental health. So, yeah, even though you’re probably rolling your eyes at this obvious one, I have to put it in here because it’s such a good reminder that so many of us need, especially because if we fall off the wagon, things just get really hard.

Thank you. That’s really good feedback, really good recommendations and ideas for everyone. So, what if somebody is wanted to seek some therapy, some support, but isn’t comfortable leaving the home, given everything that’s happening? Any thoughts about virtual therapy around this?

Yeah, that’s a great, great thought. So, telehealth has definitely shown to be effective and people should look into that if they think it would be helpful for their stress or their anxiety or anything going on right now. And one example of a company doing telehealth well right now is better help. And it’s worked well for a lot of people.

Accent is definitely a much better idea to seek out now and do it remotely rather than putting it off. I’d like to wrap up our conversation by talking about burnout. It comes up often in conversations. I recently had a question from a webinar attendee who’s worried about burnout on her team. She said she supervises a team that has intense workload right now because of covid-19 changes, and she’s getting word about burnout. It’s clear her team members are feeling overwhelmed, like there isn’t an end in sight.

What would you tell her?

Yeah, it’s definitely a hot topic right now, and her concerns are a good one, especially because if it’s true that her team is feeling burned out, there’s a lot of long-term negative consequences because burnout is deep, it’s pervasive. It comes after a lot of prolonged stress and it really affects job performance and affects everything down to the bottom line in the company. So, thinking about productivity is a smart idea. And to start the tips that I kind of discussed for leaders, for individuals are all good for burnout.

So, I would think about those. But I would also think specifically about the stressors and your specific work environment and what you can do to build resources to meet the demands. This will really depend on the job and the nature of the work. But an example of this might be to think about how things have changed lately in terms of workload. So, let’s say your team is used to producing 15 reports a week, but now it’s up to 20.

It might be a good idea to introduce some type of resource for this new demand, like it might be adding another employee to the team to distribute the load, maybe hire an intern or build more flexible deadlines or just something else that will help to reduce the stress. Because if things are changing and they’re not going away, there has to be something in place to help to adapt to that. And along similar lines, when things get really overwhelming, like there isn’t an end in sight.

It reminds me of some research that’s been done showing that when people feel underwater, it works really well when we give them bite sized bowls or small wins, because when you’re drowning in a ton of long-term uncertainty, it’s so easy to lose sight of goals. And psychologically, we love my goals to keep us motivated. They keep us engaged. So even though there might be long term goals associated with getting the company recovered or whatever, it might be used to break these down as much as possible.

It helps people connect what they’re doing every day to something bigger, to the bigger picture. And so, some people have done this with white boards, like in hospitals, like with daily wins and progress charts and things like that. But this can also be done virtually, too, if your team is remote right now as well. So just something to think about, like really breaking things up as much as possible.

That’s phenomenal. Just if I may, unless I have two other tiny questions, which I’m hoping you might be able to expand on a little bit at first. One is I’m wondering if you noticed this, somebody around you. So, you talked a little bit about what can I do as a leader? What can I do if I think I want to seek some help? What should you do if you see somebody around you that seems to be exhibiting signs?

What should be your role? Should you reach up to somebody? Should you have a conversation with them? I know you’re not a clinical psychologist, but that’s a topic that’s come up a few times in conversations with people in terms of if I notice something that seems off, somebody is not acting like they normally do, what should I do?

Yeah, I think I think it’ll of course, it’ll kind of depend on the nature of the relationship that you have with this person. But, you know, if you feel close enough to this individual, I would recommend going and talking to them first yourself, because you don’t want to put them on blast in any way and you don’t want to talk to their supervisor or kind of go around them in any way. I would just approach them really kind of on a friendly level.

You don’t even have to approach him as a coworker. And maybe if they don’t open up immediately, just give them just let them know that you’re there to talk. And I know every situation is going to be different, but just being there for someone can really go a long way.

So even just checking and saying, are you OK? How are you feeling? I notice you seem more tired or more whatever the symptom might be. Would that be a good approach?

Yeah, I think it would, yeah.

Lastly, at the front end, you talked a little bit about some demographics that were hit harder. So specifically, those, I believe, under the age of twenty-nine, as well as kind of more front-line workers. Any thoughts around intervention approaches or would you keep it agnostic of that? Because it seems like there’s definitely a bigger impact on within certain population groups. And I’m wondering if there’s any research that shows the why behind it or even if there’s a different tactic around those groups.

Yeah, and I think a big reason why these groups are struggling so much when you look at these different surveys, when you’re looking at this data, is because of those factors such as job loss, younger people are more likely to use or lose their jobs right now. They are more likely to have children at home or younger children. Having older children at home is not as stressful. So, I think I think thinking about things like that and, you know, my default is whenever you’re going to offer resources or you’re going to offer interventions, my default is to make it equally accessible for all employees because you never know who is going to want it and you never know who’s going to benefit from it.

So, it’s a good idea to make it accessible for everyone. But if you are going to kind of target interventions for certain people or reach out to see if anybody needs support, you know, the numbers show those groups definitely could use that support.

Interesting. Well, thank you very much for your time and for sharing some great ideas, this is such an important topic that is not getting as much attention as it should. And there’s so much that leader can do. Those resources you can draw from. You’ve talked about a few of them, a lot of employee assistance programs within organizations also have some support resources and sometimes some webinars or speakers that can come speak to the organization. So many resources out there, but thank you so much for talking about such an important topic.

Thanks for having me.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

For more on Workplace Mental Health and Safety:

Please join our upcoming Webinar: Stress, burnout and loneliness with Dr Madison Hanscom on Jul 16, 2020 12:00 PM EDT at:

2020 has been a difficult year, and the impact is reflected in the recent increase of mental health issues. The implications are widespread — mental wellbeing is a critical business success factor.

Join Madison Hanscom (PhD, Chief Science Officer) with host Eric Michrowski (CEO, Leader, Public Speaker, and Podcast Host) for a webinar to discuss the issues and resolutions. We will explore the impact of stress, burnout, and loneliness on your employees and company. Strategies to prevent and cope with stress, burnout, and loneliness during these challenging times will be offered.

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Madison uses her expertise in organizational science to diagnose problems and build solutions. With years of experience in applied research, Madison uses her knowledge in statistics and research methods to design and administer assessments in the areas of safety culture and operational excellence. Madison enjoys translating data for practical use and working with clients to create better workplaces. In her role, Madison manages the Science Team, Propulo’s division for academic and research partnerships. Madison and the Science Team ensure the practices and products at Propulo are evidence-based by translating empirical research into practical application. 

Prior to joining Propulo, Madison has received several awards for applied research, and her research programs have been funded by NIOSH. She has authored publications focused on best practices for performance appraisal and performance management, occupational safety, aging and diversity at work, and more. Madison has also worked on multidisciplinary teams to diagnose problems and produce transformative organizational solutions in the areas of safety culture, psychometrics, leadership, employee motivation and engagement, and more in a variety of industries.

Madison holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with an emphasis in Occupational Health Psychology from Colorado State University.