April Behavioral Health Column

VPPPA has partnered with the experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly article addressing issues and questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your concerns about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues, and more. 

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations ​

Managing Current Events-Related Stress in the Workplace

The last year has presented us with large scale events which have had a dramatic impact on the well-being of all ages in the United States. Opinions and feelings about big topics such as the global pandemic, ongoing national unrest regarding racism, and different thoughts on vaccines and politics are strong and can easily enter the workplace. Differences of opinions might be shared openly, or alternatively show up through tense or uncomfortable nonverbal communication.  For example, politics seem to be impacting work life more prominently in recent years. A survey by research firm Gartner found that 31% of those who talk politics at work say these conversations are “stressful and/or frustrating.” 

So how do you manage these differences and maintain team cohesion in the workplace? While not easy, these tips might help navigate these challenges:

1. Intentionality involves being mindful of what we plan to say or do. Before starting the workday – particularly if you are feeling impacted by an event – decide what you think is okay to discuss at work and what topics you will avoid. Make an intention and try to stick with it. As Roger Brooks from Facing History and Ourselves points out, being remote requires that we must be more intentional about our conversations. We have to seek out dialogue with co-workers and in doing so, can be thoughtful about what we want to discuss and what we do not.  

2. Boundaries between work and personal life are important, especially during politically or socially charged times. Remind yourself that work is separate from your personal life. With remote and hybrid work, it’s easy for the lines to become blurred and it is vital to think about the language, views, and disclosures that are appropriate for one’s personal interactions, but might not be for workplace discussions.

3. Recognition of one’s own views and how they are impacting our behaviors is key to self-awareness. Take responsibility for your actions and words; identifying ways in which you might be contributing to a tense or uncomfortable environment helps to decrease chances for conflict on the job. Also recognize that you do not know how other’s view certain topics or issues which could unwittingly lead to offensive or conflict-inducing situations; don’t make assumptions. 

4. Showing respect during all interactions and conversations at work are especially important now. A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 42% of U.S. employees say they have personally experienced, and 44% say they have witnessed, political disagreements at work. A majority (56%) said that discussing politics at work has become more common in the past four years. Respect goes beyond the golden rule: treat others as they want to be treated, not simply as you want to be treated. Respect includes listening to hear what your co-worker is saying; if you begin to feel disconnected and that your emotions are clouding your ability to listen, it may be time to politely bow out of the conversation. Respectfully agreeing to disagree can go a long way. 

5. Inclusiveness is reminding oneself – as a leader or coworker – that engagement of all team members enhances cohesion and productivity. People have differing levels of comfort talking about political views, and private matters, at work. Notice who is and isn’t participating in conversation and if it’s clear that a topic is contributing to exclusion, it’s better to move on. As Gartner found in their poll of 500 employees, 36% of employees said they have avoided talking to, or working with, a coworker because of their political views, and this likely impacts collaboration among teams.  

​6. Focus on the work. When all else fails in juggling your political views with job responsibilities, remember where you are and what tasks are in front of you. During times of stress and preoccupation, focusing on one work-related task at a time can help with productivity and provide a sense of accomplishment. If it’s hard to re-focus on work, take a few minutes to talk with your manager or co-worker – not about politics, but rather about a workplace topic so that your focus shifts.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.