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Why our Pilot Health and Wellbeing Census is important

by Claire Coombes Human Factors Scientist

Over the last 40 years, researchers have been exploring how employees experience and respond to their work demands over time.

One particular topic of interest concerns the precursor organisational and individual factors that interact to cause employees to experience the phenomenon of ‘burnout’ and conversely, what changeable aspects of work or individual characteristics serve as protective factors for long-lasting psychological and physical wellbeing over the course of one’s career. In BALPA’s recent poll of its members the issue of burnout was identified as being a particular concern amongst pilots.

Research in this area has traditionally focussed on understanding the longer-term impact of job strain on employees in the health and social care sectors, and in fact the British Medical Association has developed an online  ‘Doctors for Doctors’ tool for sampling its members to try and better understand doctors’ experience at work.

Our Pilot Health and Wellbeing Census has been developed by BALPA with the professor, Dr Eva Demerouti, who previously worked with the BMA. The similarities are obvious: pilots and doctors both work in a safety-critical, high-performance work environment with issues of ‘shifting’ shiftwork and where organisational demands can cause difficulty in maintaining work-life balance.

The census is tailored to be relevant to the working environment for commercial pilots, whilst at the same time, preserving core work-related elements that can be compared with other professional groups.  This survey has been informed by Eva’s extensive research background in understanding organisational health and work stressors in other industries and our knowledge of the key pilot lifestyle issues, both highlighted by our 2015 ADC discussions, and the extensive study of work and home life conducted by Dr Simon Bennett with BALPA members back in 2011.

It is our hope that this Pilot Health and Wellbeing Census will give us a picture of the current state of pilots at work, not just on aspects of their physical health such as fatigue and sleep, but also more broadly their psychological health too

From this picture, we hope to be able to describe the components of pilots’ lives that may be contributing to burnout and to make some recommendations to improve the situation.

Full BALPA members will be receiving an email with an invitation to participate in the Pilot Health and Wellbeing Census in the next few days. We would encourage everyone who receives an invitation to take part.