In the past year, Kathy Soenderby has become a more visible presence for the 300 workers at Union Pacific's West Colton, Calif., shop.
As the location's occupational health nurse, her contact with employees has increased 30% in the last six to eight months. Her scope has also broadened, expanding beyond nurse to life counselor, as more employees report stress-related symptoms such as high blood pressure and sleepless nights. They tell her they're worried about job security and the economy.
"This is a complication that's not just unique to Union Pacific but is a sign of the times," says Soenderby. "Our focus is to be a little bit more like social workers."
At the railroad company, which has furloughed 4,000 of its 48,000 employees through mid-April, reducing stress and distractions are essential to safety on the job. Along with tackling anxiety-related health issues, Soenderby has created a space where workers can vent their fears. She helps run a peer-support network and regularly screens videos about such topics as resiliency and depression. She collaborates with managers, helping them become aware of the workers' concerns so they can be addressed and quash rumors.
"So many times I feel like the employees are keeping a lot of things to themselves," she says.
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