EFPA interviews: Lilly Paulin from TU Braunschweig

A new interview in the EFPA News Magazine informs about the progress of the H-WORK project and provide insights into the role of the different partners of the consortium. EFPA is one of the 14 partners of the H-WORK project. This time, Bruna Zani interviewed Lilly Paulin, Research assistant with academic degree at Technische Universität Braunschweig.

1.What is the role of your organization in the H-Work Project?

TU Braunschweig is a public university in Northern Germany with over 6000 employees. Our special feature as a test site is that we as the H-Work team are part of the organization and therefore very close to the employees. The employees at the TU Braunschweig mainly come from the administration and the research & education area, which results in very different references to the topic of mental health in the workplace.

2. What is your role within the project?

As a research team of psychologists, health scientists, and psychotherapists, we conduct the H-Work interventions at the TU Braunschweig and are also project coordinators of the German test site. Accordingly, we accompany the entire process of intervention planning, implementation, and evaluation and can directly refer to it in practice.

3. Can you present us your team?

Prof. Dr. Beate Muschalla is a professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychological Psychotherapist and is the H-Work project leader at the TUB site. Her research focuses on work-related mental disorders and work ability, work anxiety and workplace phobia. Through years of working as a psychotherapist, she also knows the practical side of treatment and can combine both in the H-Work project.

Sc. Lilly Werk has been involved in the H-Work project as a research assistant and PhD student since the beginning and mainly carries out the interventions at the TUB site. Meanwhile, as a psychotherapist in training, she can give trainings for coping with mood and anxiety problems, also work-related practical problems.

Dr. Nora M. Laskowski is especially responsible for the communication with the H-Work partners and the activities for process measurement. She combines the knowledge of research and practice with a focus on pathological buying, internet use disorder, student health and work-related mental disorders.

Melina Naujoks is a student assistant in psychology and can thus apply her knowledge from her studies directly in organizational and coaching practice.

4. What is the impact of COVID on the work of your organization for the H-Work project?

Due to the COVID pandemic, we offered most of the interventions in 2021 as an online option, so the group seminars and much of the individual coaching took place online. Many of the TUB employees went home office partially or completely during the pandemic. This new way of organizing work presented some challenges, such as combining childcare, homeschooling, and work, which some employees made a topic of in the individual coaching processes. Otherwise, the effect of the pandemic at our test site was quite small, as the university reacted quickly to the new situation and alternative communication channels were created.

5. What has your team accomplished in the project so far?

We implemented a total of three different intervention concepts, all of which were very well received by the employees.

Mental Health Awareness Trainings have been done for managers who would like to learn about managing mental health in the workplace. Managers were able to speak about own difficulties in handling employees mental health problems, they were taught some basics about mental health at work, and were shown possible courses of action, and limits.

The Positive Resources + seminar was also a group offering designed to help participants identify and awaken their strengths and resources. Focusing on the positive aspects of work instead of the problems opened up a new perspective on everyday work for many employees.

The most frequently attended offering is individual coaching, which takes place in three sessions on a one-to-one setting. Employees can bring individual work-related issues to be worked on in a behavior-oriented manner. Small homework assignments between sessions are designed to facilitate implementation in everyday life and directly provide for behavior changes.

6. What are you currently working on and what are the next steps?

The individual coachings are still running and are used by the employees with pleasure, sometimes several times for different concerns. We will conduct interviews in the near future to find out from the intervention participants whether the content of the training can also be applied sustainably in everyday life. It will be exciting to talk to the participants again after more than 6 months to find out how they would evaluate the interventions after a longer time has passed.

7. What are your expectations regarding the outcomes of the project?

The feedback on the interventions was very positive, which is why it would be nice if the evaluations also showed that the participants’ coping resources and work-related skills were higher after the trainings than before the trainings. What has already become clear is the need for complementary individual interventions to the existing group offers. This allows employees to talk about their individual problems in a protected setting and work on them specifically. We also need such services beyond the scope of the project at TU Braunschweig.

8. What are currently the main obstacles for your work in general and in the project?

The bureaucratic hurdles of the public organization proved to be a main obstacle. For the approval of the project steps, it is necessary to involve many different councils and committees, which results in long communication rows and waiting times that have to be taken into account in project management. Another obstacle was the accessibility of participants. Due to the size of the university, there is an overflow of e-mails, which means that information is quickly lost in the masses and care must be taken to forward and read the relevant project information.

9. What is the biggest strength of your organization in advancing the project?

It is a great help that structures already existed at the TUB before the project through the occupational health management, which greatly facilitated the implementation of new interventions. We have a very committed, friendly colleague in the management of OHM who is always available to us with advice and support.

10. How do you think your organization and EFPA can collaborate in the H-Work Project?

EFPA offers a great platform for exchange of ideas on work-mental health throughout Europe! Do not hesitate to contact our team for future project ideas or exchange of work-health-related ideas.

M.Sc. Lilly Werk l.werk@tu-bs.de & Prof. Dr. Beate Muschalla b.muschalla@tu-braunschweig.de