Thursday, March 31, 2011

Managing life (and stress) after the Christchurch earthquakes

The way every individual feels following a stressful event varies though there will be many common reactions among your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. A good factsheet from the Ministry of Health outlines common reactions and provides good advice.

Common reactions tend to fall into four main categories: emotional, physical, cognitive (thinking) and behavioural (actions). I know I have experienced and continue to experience parts of them all in varying degrees!

Emotional responses may include fear of recurrence or fear for the safety of yourself and loved ones; anger, sadness and shock. I personally have been, at times, overwhelmed by sadness for those who have lost loved ones, businesses, buildings, life routines and their sense of security. I cried when I saw newspaper images while in a Timaru cafĂ© when we had fled Christchurch and I cried when driving whilst listening on the radio to Dave Dobbyn playing ‘Loyal” at the memorial service and I cried some more whilst walking around Lyttelton for the first time and seeing the loss of not only buildings but the destruction of the atmosphere and vibe that I have loved for so long.

Physical responses such as difficulty sleeping, feeling tired, jumping to attention at the slightest noise, breathing difficulties and muscle tension are all common following the earthquake or any traumatic event. The stiffness I feel in my back and my 230am ‘alarm clock’ would agree with these!

Being flooded by memories of the event, and what you did before, during and after the event, are normal cognitive responses to the events of both September 4th 2010 and February 22nd 2011 (dates that are now etched in our minds). Other common responses are experiencing dreams and nightmares about what happened, difficulty in making even easy decisions and difficulty concentrating.

The ways we behave may also be affected and again are normal behavioural responses to abnormal, crazy times. This may be a feeling of being easily irritated by others and a loss of interest in normal activities. There may also be an increase in alcohol, smoking and other drugs. A friend of mine who runs a supermarket told me that there has been a 150 % increase in wine sales at his store and I am sure not all of it has been to me! On the work front, you may feel less motivated and have difficulty concentrating.

The old clichĂ© ‘time heals all wounds’ is probably a bit over-pitched (some argue that it is what you do with the time that counts)but it will take time for us to feel better and return to some sort of normal and that length of that ‘time’ will be different for all of us. We do need to give ourselves time to heal and recognise that our feelings will also change over time. We can do things that may help us feel better:

1. Follow a normal routine as much as possible.
As a parent I have often read and heard that a ‘routine’ was good for children and that it helps them feel secure, I instinctively agreed with this and set a fairly rigid routine for our children. It wasn’t until my experiences with the earthquakes that I have realised how normal routine is so important for me too. During our self-imposed exile after February 22nd I began to crave our normal routine, the same routine that a few weeks before I was no doubt complaining about for its ‘ground hog day’ characteristics. I was eager to return home (as soon as we had running water and sewerage) to launch into school and preschool drop offs and pick ups, piano lessons, gym attendance, mealtimes, work etc.
2. Eat healthy meals
3. Exercise and stay active. A return to my local personal training studio has been great for me. A good place to meet others, share experiences, joke and do something ‘normal’ while getting some exercise!
4. Help other people in your community. The coming together of neighbours, friends and community has been a silver lining to a very dark cloud. The stories of helping, support and generosity are many and varied and I just wish that these stories were blast across the media as the ones of discontent seem to be.
5. Accept help from family, friends, or co-workers,and talk about your feelings with them. I have heard many great stories of support coming from organisations with whom we work (installation of washing machines and showers so those without water or sewerage could clean and wash at work, emergency repairs to the home of staff carried out by company personnel with the capabilities, vouchers for goods, letters of appreciation and counselling support).
6. Limit your time on looking at or listening to media reports on the tragedy. Clinical psychologists suggest that repeated viewing of graphic footage of disasters event adds no further understanding in terms of information and carries a risk of possible psychological difficulties later on.
7. Seek further assistance if you continue to have prolonged reactions that disrupt your daily functioning

Kia kaha

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Do proactive measures for health and productivity in office workers work?

A recent article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported on a study which tried to address the question: ‘do proactive interventions enhance office worker health and productivity?’ The study was conducted with a large number of World Bank employees. Interventions included new furniture, education about workstation set-up and working techniques through handouts and the web, accelerated complaints system for medical inquiries, satisfaction surveys and individual workstation assessments. Group 1 received all the interventions and Group 2 received the interventions but no individual assessments and there was a control group who continued with the existing reactive system for discomfort complaints.
Interesting results include:

1. Compared to the control group Group 1 had significant improvement in

* Pain for neck/shoulder, hand/wrist and overall.
* Productivity scores

2. Compared to Group 2, Group one

* Had significant improvement in postures of head/neck/trunk/ shoulder and arm
* Were more likely to use existing educational material

The authors concluded that proactive interventions which include an individual workstation assessment were effective in reducing discomfort and improving productivity.

The full paper is available at

Reference: Laestadius, et al (2009) The proactive approach – is it worthwhile? A prospective controlled ergonomic intervention study in office workers, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51, 10, 1116-1124

Check out the services we offer for worksite assessments


Presenteeism is a relatively new ‘buzz word’ for when a person is present at work but their performance is affected by any type of health issue. This is becoming of increasing interest to organisations since presenteeism affects productivity and the costs of it have been identified as very significant.

For example, one study1 found that presenteeism was a large cost for organisations for the top 10 health conditions across a range of occupations. The largest cost to companies was for back and neck pain with presenteeism accounting for almost half the total cost (medical, drug and absenteeism accounting for the rest).

Studies involving computer users report that 6 % to 8 % of workers report presenteeism due to discomfort.

Another study2 showed that presenteeism could be reduced by removing health risks. This is an opportunity to improve the productivity of staff by decreasing the discomfort they experience at work or improving other health factors. This has a very positive cost-benefit since the cost of presenteeism is not accounted for in ‘usual’ costs such as absenteeism or lost time injuries, though these, of course, also stand to be improved by decreasing discomfort. This recent research also highlights the potential benefits there are for improving the general well-being of your staff.

If you would like to know more about presenteeism, interventions for reducing discomfort and improving wellness contact us.

[1] Loeppke, R., Taitel, M., Richling, D., Parry, T., Kessler, R.C., Hymel, P., Konicki, D. (2007) Health and productivity as a business strategy, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 49, 7, 712-721

[2] Burton, W.N., Chen, C-Y., Conti, D.J, Schultz, A.B., Edington, D.W. (2006) The association between health risk change and presenteeism change, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 48, 3, 252-263

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Worlds Weirdest Keyboards

For a good, cheery, laugh check out the Worlds Weirdest Keyboards available.

There are keyboards for Klingons, keyboards in rainbow colours set out in alphabetical order, a product that splits a traditional keyboard in half and combines the right half of that keyboard with a mouse. Or maybe you want to try the Grippity1.0 BackTyping Keyboard or you really need a keyboard with air flow to cool your sweaty wrists while you type??!!

More seriously, there is not clear evidence in the literature to show if ‘alternative’ keyboards are better than the ‘standard’ styles generally in use. Generally, (though there are exceptions) we find that the way people use their keyboards and mice and the work routines they develop along with organisational and psychosocial factors are the important things, not specific equipment per se. Check out some more information about worksite assessments or Contact us