Magazine article New Zealand Management

Alison Drewry: Naval Gazing: How Does Work Impact on Health-Or Vice Versa? Surgeon Commander Alison Drewry Has Some Answers, and a Unique Environment in Which to Explore Her Passion for Occupational Health-The Royal NZ Navy

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Alison Drewry: Naval Gazing: How Does Work Impact on Health-Or Vice Versa? Surgeon Commander Alison Drewry Has Some Answers, and a Unique Environment in Which to Explore Her Passion for Occupational Health-The Royal NZ Navy

Article excerpt

"Resilience" is an interesting concept. It's what makes the difference between those who are dashed by adversity and those who gain strength from it--or those who bounce back from sickness to which others succumb.

It also relates to why Alison Drewry, director of medicine for the Royal NZ Navy, thinks "stress" at work gets more bad press than it deserves.

"One of the things that interests me is the different way people use the word. For example 'stress' in OSH legislation is a very negative word--but if you look at it from an organisational psychology viewpoint, there is no way employers would want to eliminate stress from the workplace.

"That's because stress is the challenge--it's the performance enhancer, it's what makes people tick--how you know you're alive. So there's this confusion between looking at stress as an adverse factor but also having the same word meaning the outcome, in a medico-legal sense, of adverse mental effect."

Nor can you sensibly talk about how much stress is too much because tolerance to (or embrace of) stress levels is highly individualistic--just like one person's thrill is another's terror.

It is, says Drewry, a fascinating topic.

"A key issue with it is that nearly all the research shows that interpersonal relationships and the perception of those plus the emotional factors at work are by far the biggest predictors of perceived stress."

Sitting in the old villa that functions as her office at "Philomel" the Devonport Naval Base, Drewry is on a roll. Occupational stress is something of a pet topic. She's been talking and lecturing about it since the late 1990s.

Her own specialist medical training in occupational medicine started in 1991. She is now a fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational Medicine (AFOM) and has an honorary senior lectureship in the topic at the University of Auckland.

Just for good measure, she also completed her MBA a couple of years ago--gaining a Dean's Award for Excellence. She not only enjoyed the challenge but found the learning a revelation in terms of broadening her focus.

"Becoming a doctor is such a narrow journey--it's so all-consuming that it keeps you very intensely focused. It was not until my mid-30s that I realised I didn't really know how the world ticked. I didn't know much about business."

Added to her speciality in occupational medicine, the business degree helps provide a much bigger picture of where individual health fits into organisational health and where that stands in relation to business and economic drivers.

"Instead of just looking at individual psychology, you're looking at the interaction between the individual and the organisational culture. I think doctors often miss out on that macro picture except for those who specialise in public health."

In the RNZN, she also has a unique environment to explore occupational health.

"It's unique because it has its own primary health service and an electronic health record system that gives us near complete knowledge of the health information of every person in the regular force."

That allows some fairly detailed analysis of wellness measures in terms of health status, satisfaction levels, learning/development measures and OSH statistics, says Drewry.

"It's fascinating doing our health analyses because there is actually very little comparable data on a national basis."

The RNZN is certainly not a typical population--it's younger (18-50 years), more male (80 percent) and fully employed. This means it doesn't have a typical profile in terms of common illnesses--though high levels of sporting activity do push the injury rates. But wellness is something that is being embedded in the organisational culture, says Drewry.

"We started our corporate resilience programme about four years ago and I think the Navy has been quite clever in incorporating that notion of resilience into its whole human resources policy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.