Back-to-work jitters

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Back-to-work jitters

Professor of psychiatry says many Jamaicans worried as they return to their workplaces today

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 01, 2020

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With many Jamaicans expressing fear of returning to their workplaces today amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, professor of psychiatry Wendel Abel says a phased approach is the best option.

Speaking during the first virtual conference put on by the Jamaica Psychiatric Association yesterday, Abel said he was startled at the palpable fear a number of employees were experiencing.

“Over the period I have had the opportunity to do presentations in a number of organisations and in every instance I was shocked at the level of distress and anxiety and emotional concerns that people had. I think as we go through this liminal period, this period of transition, there is a lot of uncertainty, fear, concerns, and in order for good organisations to re-engage their teams to get people functioning optimally, you really should pay attention to their psycho-emotional issues,” Abel told the forum.

He said, rather than being upbeat about returning to work Jamaicans were apprehensive.

“Just listening to the questions that's been coming in, I have been doing these seminars from the very onset and what you find is that the psychological mood of the community, the country, changes from week to week, but I never anticipated that there were so many concerns about returning to work. We thought persons would be very excited about returning to work, but what we are hearing is uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, which is real,” he said.

“As we deal with the transition, nationally, at the level of the workplace, the church, one of the things that has been popping up is for us to have a phased transition, a phased return, so that it's not shock. Companies will have to develop their policies, and do that quickly, to facilitate this adjustment to the new normal, and unfortunately a lot of companies have not been doing that,” added Abel.

“That question keeps coming to us, about the need for this phased transition, and I think it's because our leaders are not leading the process carefully and I hope this will be addressed... I think worldwide what persons are doing is a phased return, but it needs to be clarified, it needs to be clear at the national level and the organisational level,” he stated.

In the meantime, the consultant psychiatrist and therapist said some professional groups have been excommunicated in the heat of the pandemic response.

“A friend of mine said to me she was speaking to guidance counsellors, and we have forgotten our guidance counsellors in the school environment that they are under tremendous pressure and of course in organisations the human resource practitioners [have been forgotten].

He added: “As a society, we are maturing and we are evolving but we need to ensure that the psycho-emotional needs of everybody are addressed. As we are speaking, our teachers are another forgotten group and of course our health care workers as well.”

Yesterday, psychiatrist, Dr Saphire Longmore, argued that the Government's decision to reopen the economy, which will see people returning to work full scale, was not made without thought.

“The decision to reopen was based on the fact that the physical transmission rate is such where such is likely possible. It's not a matter where we are in a crisis situation where we are seeing where person's mortality and morbidity has significantly increased because of the COVID crisis cases here in Jamaica.

“Yes we are dealing with [an] infecting agent, but that infection rate seems to be under control and the consequences thereof, and we need to remind ourselves of this and not overplay the fear factor that will lead to anxiety within ourselves,” said Longmore who is also a Government senator.

And psychiatrist, Dr Geoffrey Walcott, said it was not a one size fits all as it relates to returning to the workplace.

“Some organisations, like Twitter, have taken a stance that their employees should continue to work from home because they are more productive, and so it may not be for everyone but certainly some people can maintain that and it is something that we are becoming aware of, that this issue of heading to an office may not be the best and most productive way to get things done but for those that have to go back,” argued Walcott.


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