How does concern about the state of the world impact work ability?
We usually approach work ability as a matter of health. We think about how a specific disease limits work or, hopefully, more about what a person can still do despite a disease. With mental health, this thought process can be more difficult than with a physical disease.
But there are things that are not diseases, even though they do affect the mind and work ability. Over the past two years, we have thought long and hard about how the shift to remote and hybrid work, or dealing with Covid restrictions in office work, affect and have affected us and our work ability. This isn’t a disease or our health that we’re talking about. It is more a question of how we adapt to working in new conditions and deal with uncertainty.
Unfortunately we are now faced with a new type of crisis and need to adapt. The tensions that Russia has long been building against its neighbour Ukraine have exploded into a full-on war. In a situation like this emotions like confusion, uncertainty, worry, fear and sadness all raise their heads. Our colleagues or we ourselves might have family or friends in the war zone, which makes worrying the obvious reaction. But it is equally acceptable to worry even when our loved ones are out of harm’s way.
Our emotional reactions affect our ability to function
Strong emotions impact our ability to function. Our focus may wander and keeping up with the day’s news diverts our attention away from other things we should be doing. You can’t get rid of difficult feelings just by trying to block them out and focusing on something else. You can however cope with difficult feelings by identifying, admitting, facing and processing them. If, for instance, you admit to yourself that the war worries or frightens you, it is easier to deal with the emotion. The emotion is a sign that these events have touched you in some way. When we feel, we care.
This does not, however, mean that we should completely surrender to our emotions. When you first identify, accept and are aware of the difficult feelings, you can direct your attention elsewhere too. Often doing something with a real impact or where you can achieve a concrete result can help you get through a crisis. Whatever has helped you deal with stress in the past can also help you now. For one person this might be jogging and music, for another it might be channelling their energy into something practical, and for a third person it could be the company of good friends. These are all terrificmethods for coping.
The greatest power of a work community lies in the fact that we are not left alone with our difficult emotions. It might be a good idea to discuss the feelings that this situation brings up at the workplace. Ask your co-workers how they are feeling and thinking, without making any assumptions.
Psychologists Liisa Puskala and Barbara Bergbom from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health have successfully put into words a few practical tips in their blog (ttl.fi). Go take a look!
Mental Health and Work Ability Advisor, Psychologist, Ilmarinen