Creating an Optimum, Injury-free Work Environment to Develop Psychologically Flexible People [Interview][Transcript]

dr_natasha_lazareski_psyflexGuest: Dr. Natasha Lazareski (Kiso)
Presenter: Henry Acosta
Guest Bio: Natasha is an occupational health specialist, and an expert in organizational health and psychosocial risk management. She worked in personal insurance area as Medical Officer and Claims Manager in AXA Australia and workers’ compensation as National Manager of CGU Injury Management Services. She has helped a wide range of organisations – including national and global employers; and government institutions – to successfully develop sustainable risk management strategies and holistic health frameworks. She completed her medical degree in Belgrade, Serbia and was a junior doctor during the war there in the late 80s and early 90s. Natasha’s first had exposure to the disastrous effects of war and trauma, and their devastating effects on the human mind, stirred her to explore preventive medicine and psychological health. She became especially interested in psychological flexibility and helping people develop the strength to deal with challenging situations.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we are joined by Dr. Natasha Lazareski from Psyflex. Dr Natasha Lazareski (Kiso) is a co-director of PsyFlex, together with Dr Russ Harris. They aim to create strong, flexible workforces, using best-practice methods, guided by cutting-edge research. They offer a cutting edge approach for thriving organisations, resilient employees and supportive work environments. Among the services that they offer are Organisational Development Programs, Health and Wellbeing, Psychosocial Risk Management, Individual Development, Workshops and Specific Health Management Services. Both Natasha and Russ continue to explore the important connections between mind, body, environment and wellbeing.

Transcription
Health Professional Radio – Psyflex

Henry Acosta: Welcome to Health Professional Radio, I’m Henry Acosta and I’m the host for today. Today we have Natasha Lazareski, Natasha is an Occupational Physician and an expert in organizational health and psychosocial risk management. She’s also the managing director of PsyFlex, she has helped a wide range of organizations including national and global employers and government institutions t o successfully develop sustainable risk management strategies and holistic health frameworks. She completed her medical degree in Belgrade, Serbia and was a junior doctor during the war there in the late 80s and early 90s. Natasha has firsthand exposure to disastrous effects of war and trauma and their devastating effects in the human mind and it stirred her to explore preventive medicine and psychological health. She became especially interested in psychological flexibility and helping people develop the strength to deal with challenging situations. Hi Natasha, it’s great having you here, it’s an honor to talk to you.

Natasha Lazareski: Yes, thank you.

H: Can you give us a quick introduction about who you are and what you do?

L: Yes, so PsyFlex is a collaboration between myself and Dr. Russ Harris. We both have experience in occupational health medicine and psychological resilience. Dr. Russ Harris is a medical doctor and psychotherapist and he’s also an internationally renowned bestselling author of The Happiness Trap. PsyFlex, we provide the best practice, well-researched and scientifically proven approach to organizational wellbeing and individual psychological resilience. We actually developed our program based on scientific research models so it’s cutting edge, it’s easily accessible, it’s engaging, we provide online training and we provide workshops that help employees build psychological resilience and reduce stress, improve relationships, increase their overall life and work satisfaction. We also help employers to develop appropriate and sustainable health environments so that people are actually not getting injured and ill while they’re at workplace.

H: And how did you guys come up with the idea of PsyFlex and what inspired you to making it?

L: Well what we found out is that there’s too many programs that are talking about raising awareness at workplace about psychological health and too many employers are actually didn’t know where to begin and what to do. So we jointly decided to create the program that actually has the scientific basis to it and that actually is based on the best practice which PsyFlex sees. PsyFlex is based on 2,000 researches in this area and you actually undergoing scientific a randomized control study so we’ve decide to create a program that’s going to build resilient workplace that’s going to actually help people build skills to deal with everyday challenges not just raise awareness and knowledge about what psychological health is but also help people to become more resilient, more flexible to be able to live the life to the fullest but also help organizations to increasing engagement, improve performance and create that really committed engaged workplace and workplace that people will be happy and enjoying working at.

H: With PsyFlex, how is your training program different from other companies that offer the same thing?

L: So what we have is we have an online training program which is based on acceptance commitment and also The Happiness Trap which is Dr. Russ Harris’ bestselling book. The online training program is basically available globally and it’s presently used by international rescue company and emergency services around the globe. Our program in difference to other programs is basically based on the latest scientific knowledge and also build the skills that participants can put into practice immediately. We have a feedback from people saying that they have actually experienced straight away benefits from this training and they’re dealing more effectively with everyday life and challenges. They find it more easily to adapt to change and they’re able to deal with difficult situation and difficult people in a more productive and positive way. Our program is also focused on building a healthy relationship and successfully handling conflicts at work, at home which people attending our workshops as well for management and conflict resolutions are also finding quite beneficial. We also have a training programs that help people dealing with trauma, addiction problems, they deal with sleeping disorders and chronic pain as well as bullying and harassment and dealing with difficult people and all of those programs are based on acceptance to commitment which is proven to have a great result in training and workplace and all things clinical environment. So our program is also aligned with The Happiness Trap app which means that people once when they finalized our program they can actually continue to use the skills they learned throughout the program by using The Happiness Trap app on the Google app and the app store so this has worked, is actually supporting the ongoing usage and of skills learned and what people find really helpful in everyday life.

H: And can you tell us how important is psychological and workplace wellbeing?

L: Well what it show us that the workplace stress and mental health issues have been a significant negative impact on both employee and organizational performance. Furthermore the incidence of depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide and relationship breakdown are increasingly common issues faced by our society. So the workplace is changing rapidly and they also have an increasing impact on our psychological health. Today’s economic situation and cost-containment initiatives are actually applying more pressure on the work environment and our employees are actually basically facing a situation where they have to work more with less resources and that is posing a significant risk on mental health issues in the workplace. So the supportive workplace environment basically deals with healing and help employees to periods of economic and social stress and personal stress. We basically spend most of our life at work if you think about it, we spend more than 10 hours a day on average at work, therefore there is a real need for employers to provide the safe and healthy work environment so they can provide the regular health checks and evidence-based approach to develop healthy workers and that will directly impact on the health of the organization.

H: And can you tell us what psychosocial risk management is?

L: Psychosocial risk management is a quite new and there is a lack of understanding. World Health Organization and laws are saying that employers are responsible for ensuring both physical and psychological health and safety of their employees. However historically the occupational health industry has been focused mostly on managing physical stress and therefore there is now lack of understanding with what we do with psychosocial and what does it mean. In fact the stress, depression, anxiety or the second most frequently reported main health-related problem after musculoskeletal health problems, the problem we have is we don’t talk about it a lot at the workplace and we don’t know what it means. So the psychosocial risk management means that we are actually able to identify the risk of workplace that are actually impacting out psychosocial health. We have for example work schedule, are we working shift work, so are we working longer hours, job demand, workplace culture, management style, interpersonal relationships and everything that’s happening at workplace that may actually affect us. So what we also need to do is we need develop controls that can minimize these risks and then we also have to monitor these controls of working and actually helping our people be healthy at the workplace and preventing this risk actually causing a significant harm to our employees. We all heard about bullying and harassment, we all heard about stress and anxiety at workplace, that’s all a result from really not managing appropriately interpersonal relationship and demands of the work which is what the risk management system should be doing.

H: And what are the steps that we can take so we can get a healthier mindset for our work?

L: So the most important preventative measure is basically building resilience and that is why we at PsyFlex are focusing on that and resilience is a hot topic right now, there’re many definitions about it, everyone talks about it and it’s not surprising because in the last decade a wealth of research have shown that the resilience either possible to recover quickly and act effectively in the face of difficulties … factor of wellbeing and productivity in workplace which means if we have employees that are actually able to quickly react and effectively be present in the moment now understanding of what’s going on around them and focusing on the task and ability to actually create productive and cooperative relationship, the workplace would be better. So the resilience is really not simply a matter of positive thinking, relaxation techniques and taking time to chill out which is what mostly consider having yoga or meditation, it’s far from it. If you ever try to do that, you will find that it’s probably works in the short time but it’s really not helping when the times are tough or something significant is happening and something’s gone really wrong. It’s really hard to think positive if someone died around you or something terrible has happened, it’s really hard to kind of say ‘Hey, look at the glass half full.’ So resilient people are actually able to quickly adapt to change, they’re able to support their colleagues in time of ease and difficulties, they’re able to accept the challenges that’s coming with that, they’re able to encourage the others to do the same, they can actually adapt to this change, not really fighting the feelings that are coming through but actually accepting that it’s normal and actually taking … actions to what am I going to do in this situation, how am I going to behave towards myself and others. And what we call that, we call that our psychological flexibility in PsyFlex, hence the name PsyFlex. So what’s going on is that psychologically flexible people are actually able to respond more effectively to any type of work situations during both times of ease and pressure and so the research has shown that psychologically flexible people are actually able to work more effectively at workplace, they’re able to develop and maintain productive and supportive relationship with their environment so that there is no instability at the workplace. People are actually able to understand what’s going on for someone now and they’re able to respond appropriately to that, they are also able to maintain focus on the task at hand so if you imagine if the surgeon is doing surgery and in his mind he’s thinking about other problems that he has it’s really hard to focus on that so being able to actually learn to do that that’s what we are teaching people, it’s actually called psychological flexibility when the times are really challenging and something is happening that you can actually maintain that focus and you live now here in present moment and it helps people to achieve outstanding results, they’re able to actually see other opportunities out there that they may be missing is they’re all hooked up with their emotions and feelings and really reminiscing about what’s going on, what’s wrong. So all of these naturally leads to better level of performance, better job satisfaction, engagement and mental health and reducing the absentees and with all the issues that we commonly have at workplace. In today’s ever changing economy and everyone is worried about their job, about how their company’s performing, being able to maintain focus in a difficult task and take effective action, refraining from taking ineffective action, arguing, challenging is really essential. So learning skills to be able to become healthier and more productive and engaging better with other people will help all of us not just at workplace but also as individuals.

H: And how can you set up the workplace to help benefit both the employees and the employer?

L: Well as it says linking to what I said before, building this psychological resilience is a key, it’s not enough just provide one of building of bullying and harassment training or mental health education or bringing an EIP provider it’s easy for us to kind of bring in someone and have a quick intervention and think that we have actually sorted the problems that we have in workplace. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, employer’s approach has to be strategic, holistic and sustainable to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of the workers and that is what we do, we ensure that whatever is implemented that it actually strategic, it’s actually looking after all the risks, it’s actually creating an approach that is holistic and it’s looking at the prevention, early intervention and ongoing support. So employers’ approach has to be strategic, holistic and sustainable to ensure the ongoing wellbeing and so that’s what we do because there’s a lot of research in this area and our approach is evidence–based so we have a medical, psychological and more importantly business knowledge, having worked in larger concessions, we worked in anything from large national financial industries to building industry and also we worked as conversation ensurers and income protection ensurers so we actually have a view of how everything works and clicks in together and what we do is we combine that with the best practice research in psychosocial risk management and mental health and then develop… programs for employees to basically manage this wellbeing approach appropriately. It needs to really be done in a way that it’s creating a sustainable, flexible support for the employees and the program that’s really aiming to develop a healthy and productive workplace. So that’s why our own resilience training program is based in such a way that it’s easy to implement anywhere in the workplace and it’s easy to understand, it’s engaging and it’s helping people build skills straight away. We help people with workshops as well, we’ve done workshops for managers or for teams or for individuals because that is what’s very important to have different approaches for different workplaces so that it’s not one size fits all. It’s really important that people understand that their workplace is specific to their psychosocial risks for that specific workplace and different to someone else’s and the approach there having has to be a really specifically developed for that workplace and that’s what we do.

H: And can you tell us the biggest misconception that you guys face with PsyFlex?

L: People often ask us if we provide mental health education or they would say ‘We already have a… provider or our learning and development team or occupational health and safety team are already delivers a program, we don’t need anything.’ They believe that we provide one-off educational session, a short awareness program and that’s it. The workplace is also believed that the resilience training is telling people what stress is and how to prevent it, they often assume that there are like some other providers, we simply provide mindfulness and education or mental health awareness and this is quite frustrating, there is so much more to it. We spent a decade in researching and applying neuroscience and psychology to our programs and we want to ensure that everything we do is actually sustainable and actually helps people in the long run. Everything we do is actually teaching people to lifelong skills that they can actually apply straight away so they can leave our workshop and straight away be able to apply what they learned, they can finish our online training and straight away apply what they’ve learned. If we are developing the organizationas wellbeing approach it’s going to be applicable there for them straight away, there will be understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing and which appropriately psychosocial risk is addressed. So everything we do is really sustainable, everything we do is based on scientific knowledge and research and I think that’s the misconception that people out there are saying ‘Well that’s great, we can just have someone who has a great feedback from workshops and they get fantastic marketing campaign, let’s get them in’ but it’s not as easy as that so it’s much more complex.

H: And for anyone interested in PsyFlex, how can they get in touch with you guys?

L: We provide services globally too, we are based in Australia in Melbourne but we have lots of clients across the globe that are using our online training. So you can easily access us via website, it’s psyflex.com.au. Our app is also available which is called PsyFlex app at app store and Google app or you can contact me via my email, [email protected] We’re also always available on the mobile phone, 042 1499 976.

H: Awesome and again that was Natasha, thanks for being on the show. We appreciate you for being a help raise awareness for creating strong and flexible workforces.

L: Thank you.

H: Again that was Natasha Lazareski, she is the co-director of PsyFlex. PsyFlex is a collaboration between Natasha and Dr. Russ Harris, their aim is to provide cutting edge, evidenced-based, sustainable health and wellbeing solutions in the workplace. If you’ve missed this interview you can listen to it on www.healthprofessionalradio.com.au or you can go to www.hpr.fm, we’re also in SoundCloud and iTunes so hit the subscribe button there.