Podcast: The role of Occupational Therapy in workplace well-being.

What is occupational therapy, and how can it help us the workplace?

This episode of The Work Well Podcast focuses on how the pandemic has impacted our occupations, our working environment and our social life. People have developed different and creative ways of coping, but does one solution apply to most of us? Brian discusses this and much more with senior occupational therapist, Peter Connolly.

As a clinically trained health professional, Peter works in adult mental health, specifically in occupational therapy. He looks at occupations as things that give our lives purpose and meaning; this can be a job, managing a household or being in a relationship with other people. These occupations enable people to meet their human needs. Peter looks at the interplay between the individual, the skills, the demands of their profession and the environment to see how these elements overlap, and how the person can obtain the best possible match.

How do we self organise when there is no external deadline in our lives

Throughout a lifetime, we create our structures and routines based mostly on external factors. We go to school, we go to university, we have jobs. We have to be certain places at certain times, so a lot of this is externally driven. We don’t necessarily learn how to self organise, to be able to do things when it suits our needs when we don’t have an external deadline. So how do we self organise?

Peter says it’s about creating our structures and experimenting over and over again until we understand our own needs. There isn’t a specific recipe for self-organisation that would fit most of us. It is a matter of taking this principle and looking at different strategies that meet this same goal.

People are sensing a negative impact on the quality of sleep during this time

Peter believes sleep and anxiety are related. The first step in managing anxiety is to process some of the experiences and worries that we are having. Some options would be to write things down or leave the space we have spent most of our time during the day to process and acknowledge some of the anxiety. Taking those thoughts with us into the nighttime is what can cause sleeplessness.

From a clinical point of view, Peter works with people to develop acceptance and commitment therapy skills. That refers to one’s capability of accepting and processing some of these experiences. “We need to make time to process more during the day and build in more recovery periods during the day.”

How do we close the gap between what we know and what we do?

We all probably have a good idea of what constitutes a good night’s sleep and how to go about achieving it; maybe we should exercise or spend some time outside during the day. But we don’t necessarily do these things.

Peter says this happens because we are often not emotionally connected with the information we come in contact with. We hear it, but we need to relate with it on a more emotional level, to think about the consequences, the reward that it can give us. We need to create a desire, to see the benefit, almost to feel it in our bones.

Going back to work after this time of isolation can feel different for each individual

Peter tells us about several organisations that are reflecting on transitioning back to the office. They are surveying and reaching out to their people, starting conversations. But he thinks this process should begin with an acknowledgement that nobody knows where things are going but that we are all moving forward together and learning as we go.

Employers need to understand their employees and what kind of support they need. People are part of different units. Some have kids, and some don’t; some are going back to work feeling exhausted, and some are going back feeling fresh and excited.

Everyone needs to take a step back, employer and employee. Employees need to think about what they want to be part of moving forward, and employers need to consider what their approach should be during this time.

Bees need a hive, and people need a tribe to survive and to thrive

Being socially distanced doesn’t mean that we can’t be socially connected. This time has been an eye-opening experience for many people as they acknowledged their need to be part of a social group and to develop relationships. It’s easier to work on our physical fitness than on our social well being. We need to start thinking about this aspect as well: how can we be as social as possible and meet those basic social needs?

Many of us are having to build up our social fitness in terms of returning to work and being more of a social member of society.

People need to feel a sense of belonging to an organisation. 

If work becomes just a series of tasks to do, it can lose its meaning for people. As many organisations are thinking about incorporating remote work indefinitely, they should still ask themselves some questions. “How do we want to work? How do we work and still meet our social needs within these environmental restrictions? How do we get the best match possible between the slightly restrictive environment, people’s occupations, and meeting the various human personal needs?”

Organisations might find their people moving on because they lose their sense of identity in the company and feel it is all about getting the job done. They can do that anywhere, so why stay? People want to belong, to be part of something, to find meaning and purpose in what they do.

But how do we find that purpose as an organisation or as an employee? Peter closes the discussion by giving us a little insight: “purpose and meaning are quite subjective. So yes, we can create purpose and meaning, we can think about what we want to be part of as an organisation, even from a corporate social responsibility point of view. What are the movements that we are part of and how is our work contributing to a better world?”

www.lifestyleawareness.ie to learn more about Peter Connolly’s work and feel free to reach out to him by email at peter@lifestyleawareness.ie or on LinkedIn.