The calming power of work: adhering to work routine during the Second Lebanon War (2006) contributed to a reduction in stress. The strongest effect was found among women and, surprisingly, among people who were obliged to come to work. These findings emerged from two recently-published studies conducted at the University. Dr. Michal Biron, who undertook the studies together with Dr. Sharon Link and Dr. Carmit Rapaport, explains: “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. 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 activities or factors that have a positive or negative influence on the level of stress people experience during wars or protracted emergencies. In two studies conducted during the Second Lebanon War, and published recently, Dr. Biron and her colleagues sought to examine whether various factors relating to work influenced psychological resilience. The first study, undertaken together with Dr. Sharon Link, she examined the impact according to gender. The second, conducted with Dr. Carmit Rapaport, examined various aspects, including the amount of work imposed on employees during war, whether coming to work was optional or imposed on the worker by the employer, and so forth.
The key finding of both studies is that an inverse correlation can be seen between going to work and stress levels due to protracted states of emergency. In other words – the more people went out to their work regularly, the lower their stress level.
This effect was strongest among women. “Maintaining any kind of routine, including work routine, is an important tool in coping with the uncertainty and insecurity of war,” Dr. Biron explains. “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.”
Dr. Biron points out that during the Second Lebanon War, as during other protracted emergencies, women are usually more likely to stay at home and look after the children, in part because men are more likely to be required to continue to come to work. The findings of the new studies suggest that the state should try to make sure that women can also maintain a work routine, as far as possible, and should even encourage women to maintain their work routine.
Who else benefits most from maintaining a work routine? Surprisingly, people who were obliged to come to work by their employers also show a strong effect. Dr. Biron suggests that those who were obliged to come to work may have turned up physically “to clock on,” but not felt obliged to do much actual work. Accordingly, simply being present at their place of work may not have taken up their resources, thereby allowing them to maintain a routine, meet with people, and so forth. Interestingly, in the case of people who felt that they were coming to work voluntarily (of their own free will), no positive impact was found in terms of reduced pressure. The same was true of those who worked more than usual during the period of war and stress.
An additional factor relating to work routine and the reduction of stress it provides relates to the individual’s level of preparation for war situations. People who prepared properly for the war – stocking up food or other emergency supplies, keeping themselves informed as to how to act in any particular situation, and so forth – showed a sharper fall in stress levels than those who did not do so. Apart from the “peace of mind” factor (someone who has prepared properly acts more calmly), another possible explanation for this is that those who prepare properly are people who tend to use various resources more successfully in order to reduce stress; accordingly, they were also better placed to use the resource of work routine.
Dr. Biron concluded: “In situations of protracted security danger, people look for ways to maintain routine in order to cope as well as possible with the situation of uncertainty. Our studies showed that maintaining work routine is another important tool in this context. But it is important to bear in mind that this strategy applies to any crisis or state of uncertainty. Accordingly, employers should take into account that in any crisis or state of uncertainty – including the threat of closure, concerns ahead of mergers, mass redundancies, and so on – maintaining work routine can help reduce stress among the employees.”