U of R student pilots workplace coping strategies course

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Reducing hair pulling, one research project at a time. JackSem via Flickr

Nichole Faller’s project aims to reduce depression & anxiety at work

Although stress within the work environment is inevitable, this stress does not have to negatively affect either an individual’s life or their physical and mental health. This reality is made evident by the Workplace Coping Strategies Course, an online course created by University of Regina Ph.D. student and Online Therapy Unit researcher, Nichole Faller, as part of her doctoral research study. Throughout the course, participants learn how to not only identify, but also effectively cope with the stress they encounter while at work, which will hopefully increase “employee morale, employee productivity, (lower) absenteeism rates, reduce and even prevent this type of stress from resulting in individuals experiencing serious health issues like anxiety, or depression, ” she said.

Faller’s Workplace Coping Strategies course is a new program offered by the University of Regina’s Online Therapy Unit, a university department which provides free online courses and training for a multitude of mental health topics. While this course ties into the purpose of the Online Therapy Unit, it also connects with Faller’s work with the unit as well. As a member of the unit’s research and development team, Faller is involved with “conducting literature reviews, developing new research projects … analyzing data and disseminating results.”

Similar to other programs offered by the U of R’s Online Therapy Unit (OTU), the Workplace Coping Strategies course is “free, online, and easily accessible.” However, since it is aimed at employees of small to mid-size enterprises [SMEs] (businesses with 500 or fewer employees), it is also different from the other programs currently offered by the OTU in two main ways. First, the Workplace Coping Strategies course “doesn’t provide direct therapeutic, or coaching support.” However, links to mental health resources, crisis services, and government websites regarding employee rights are provided. Secondly, while some of the other courses offered by the OTU are only available to Saskatchewan residents, the Workplace Coping Strategies course is available to people across Canada.

Although some people may think that developing a course may not be very difficult, Faller emphasized that this was not the case. For Faller, creating this class took a lot of time, effort, and research. Since this was a new course for the Online Therapy Unit, “the course content (had to be created) from scratch. We used … information we gained through scientific literature reviews … and asked for expert feedback before formally launching the program.”

When asked about the motivation behind the creation of this course, Faller explained how it emerged from the realization that the needs of SME employees was a topic that had previously been given very little attention.

“I spent many years developing a human resource department for a small business in Regina. When I began to research mental health initiatives for small/mid-size enterprises, I realized that there were no studies that specifically address the needs of SMEs,” such as not having enough employees to complete the necessary workload, “no human resource department [and] inadequate benefit plans.”

As a result, Faller felt that this was a topic worth exploring, which led to the focus and theme of her two-phase Ph.D. dissertation study, the development of the Workplace Coping Strategies course and the inclusion of this course within that study.

This course is spread over a period of four weeks and includes reading material covering a large variety of related topics, as well some optional worksheets. Over the duration of the course, participants go through four main lessons: Anxiety and Depression in the Workplace, Accommodations for Anxiety and Depression, Mental Health Disclosure and Accommodation Requests and lastly, Symptom Management.

The first phase of Faller’s study involved sending out the course lessons to professionals (i.e. human rights lawyers, human resource personnel and managers), for their review and feedback. Faller then used this feedback to modify the content of the course before she started phase two. According to Faller, in phase two, individuals who are experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms participate in the course.

As Faller explained, following registration, participants complete a short online questionnaire and are asked a few follow-up questions before the course is explained in more detail. From there, individuals will randomly be divided into two separate groups. The first group of individuals will begin the course immediately, while the second group of individuals will have to wait eight weeks until they can access the course.

Once participants gain access to the course, they will receive one lesson per day, for four days. After participants finish reading through the lesson material, Faller said they can complete the optional worksheets, which will help them apply the information they have just read to their own situation and work environment. Participants can complete the readings and worksheets at their own pace but will have only have access to the material for eight weeks. In order for Faller to get an understanding of the course’s impact and success, participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their experiences at “four and eight week [intervals] after course completion.”

These results will lead to a better understanding of “how anxiety and depression are accommodated within SMEs, so that we can help SMEs provide effective accommodations in the future,” according to Faller

Registration for the Workplace Coping Strategies course is now open to all Canadian citizens, eighteen years and older who are currently employed and are experiencing, or have experienced, symptoms of workplace stress, anxiety and/or depression. Those who are interested should visit.

Although ninety participants can be enrolled in the course, Faller encourages anyone who is interested to “sign up soon because (enrolment) will end by spring 2020.”

Faller feels the project is a significant move forward.

“There is growing research available on interventions aimed at improving accommodation usage, particularly within SMEs. [However,] we know very little about how mental health is accommodated within an SMEs and how these accommodations impact things such as employee productivity. This study will add to the scientific research, while helping SMEs within Canada through subsequent offerings of the course, information sharing and consultation.”

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