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UJF Council: Employers need to get serious about brain health

The UJF Council has spoken out against the hazards to brain health of overburdening employees in the media industry through excessive multitasking.

At its constitutive meeting held mid-December, the Council discussed the adverse impact of current work practices in the media industry on brain health. It stressed that the problem is a structural one and requires that employers start to consider brain health as an issue of occupational health.

Multitasking has been shown by recent studies to impair brain health and performance, reducing rather than improving efficiency.

Short-term memory cuts in and out and many people suffer insomnia. The more they are required to concentrate on different things, the harder it gets. Such is the day-to-day experience of UJF members.

The ill effects of mental workload are well known. Employees are expected to be unrealistically efficient: showing aptitude in the simultaneous use of new equipment, and performing different tasks in parallel and concurrently. Work and concentration on it have become fragmented. Workplace environments are often disconcerting and inappropriate. The amount of disruptive factors is increasing. Online and social media require constant monitoring, moderation and participation in discussion.  At the same time, the fundamental values ​​of journalistic work such as diligence and fact checking should be nurtured.

The UJF Council held an in-depth discussion of the burdensome nature of media work on brain health. The adverse effects are well known: memory problems, decreased alertness during free time, and sickness absenteeism due to burnout.  But the causes of workload strain are not sufficiently heeded in organizing work. The Council stressed that the problem is structural and requires that employers consider brain health as an occupational health matter.

Work and working conditions, the UJF Council pointed out, should be attuned according to mental ergonomic needs. Employers must proactively take brain health into account in the organisation of occupational health care and occupational safety, and in so doing listen to employees. This must make use of the assistance of occupational health experts, doctors and occupational health psychologists. Amidst the structural changes to working life that have taken place, it is no longer self-evident that employees can have such things as rest and lunch breaks.

The UJF Council compared the situation to other workplace environments. No one would expect construction site workers to have to injure themselves on dangerous equipment. Truck drivers have to take statutory breaks. The most important tool for media workers is their brain, but brain health gets scant attention in the efficiency frenzy. Many factories use display tables to calculate the number of days the factory has avoided workplace accidents. It is difficult to use similar measurements in the case of brainwork, but we are now in a situation where even one day without burnout is worth a mention.

The media industry needs brainpower more than anything else, the UJF Council stressed. Brains are our most important asset.