The calming power of work

Sticking to routine helps cut stress in protracted war or other uncertainty.

December 9, 2016 02:36
3 minute read.
A ceremony in Lebanon marking the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.

A ceremony in Lebanon marking the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.. (photo credit: ARAB MEDIA)


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People who are required to go to work as usual despite rocket and missile attacks are better able to cope with stress, according to two new University of Haifa studies of women who lived through the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

The calming power of work – adhering to work routine during the attacks on the North – contributed to a reduction in stress. The strongest effect was found among women and, surprisingly, among people who were obliged to come to work.

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The findings were reported by Dr. Michal Biron, who was assisted by Dr. Sharon Link and Dr. Carmit Rapaport.

“Traditionally, women were those who stayed at home to look after the children during emergencies such as wars, and employers evidently found it easier to allow them to do so,” said Biron. “However, the study findings, particularly in the realm of gender, show that it is very important to create conditions that enable women to maintain their work routine during wars or protracted states of emergencies.”

Numerous studies have attempted to identify factors that influence the level of stress experienced during wars or protracted emergencies. In these two, the first study examined the impact according to gender.

The second examined various aspects, including the amount of work and whether coming to work was optional.

The key finding of both studies was an inverse correlation between going to work and stress due to protracted states of emergency. In other words, the more regularly people went to work, the lower their stress levels.

“Maintaining any kind of routine, including work routine, is an important tool in coping with the uncertainty and insecurity of war,” Biron explained.

“Accordingly, maintaining work routine is a resource that helped both men and women. However, previous studies have shown that during crises, women are more likely than men to draw on the resources at their disposal. This may be one of the reasons why maintaining a work routine was particularly helpful in their case.”

During the Second Lebanon War, as during other protracted emergencies, women are more likely to stay at home and look after the children, in part because men are more likely to be required to continue coming to work.

The findings of the new studies suggest that, as far as possible, the state should try to ensure that women can also maintain a work routine, and even encourage them to maintain that routine.

In addition, simply being present at their place of work allowed employees to socialize with others and feel better.

Interestingly, for people who felt that they came to work of their own free will, no positive impact was found and stress was not reduced. The same was true for those who worked more than usual during the period of war and stress.

People who prepared for war, by stocking up with food or other emergency supplies and keeping themselves informed, also showed a sharper fall in stress levels than those who did not. Apart from the “peace of mind” factor, it is possible that people who prepare tend to use various resources more successfully to reduce stress; accordingly, they were also better able to use the resource of work routine.

Biron advised that to cope as well as possible with situations of protracted danger, individuals should look for ways to maintain routine. This strategy applies not only to war, but also any crisis or state of uncertainty, such as threats of closure, mergers and mass dismissals. Maintaining work routine can help reduce stress among employees, the researchers concluded.

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