Workplace and employee resilience
It cannot be ignored that every business has now been affected by the global pandemic COVID-19, which has left many bosses and employees alike, emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.
With more people being vulnerable to mental health issues, this risk is in no doubt heightened when faced with prolonged isolation, financial stress and, for those front-line workers, fear of contracting the virus.
With this in mind, it’s important that leaders start to strengthen their own and their teams’ ability to cope with the challenges as we move to transitioning into a new reality.
Risto: Resilience at work can be split into two main areas, one is the organisational resilience which I look at in terms of capabilities vs liabilities, and then the resilience of the workforce which is very much the focus today. ‘Flexibility and sourcing’ ‘Flexibility in order fulfilment’ all of these are elements of resilience which organisations can become more resilient by focusing on these elements. There’s resilience through adaptability and how quickly an organisation can turn on as and when requirements change. Resilience in terms of recovery measures, resilience in terms of collaboration with other stakeholders, resilience through market position.
Jayne: Resilience in an individual is a series of characteristics that we can learn and we can adapt that can help us cope with events in our life that are adverse and difficult such as what we are facing frankly now, these are attributes such as adaptability, agility, coping with stress, managing our health and well-being, positive attitude so resilience for me is a number of things that help. People say ‘bouncing back’ I like to use the phrase ‘bouncing forward’ it helps us not only looking back but it helps us to cope positively with the future.
Jayne: More and more we’re seeing the headlines from HR professionals and business professionals that people are struggling. Peoples mental and physical health have been reported as suffering as much as 2 weeks into the lockdown. It’s important because employees and employers we need less absenteeism, more productivity better performance and we do that when we are well, and when we are well-managed and we know that engaged employees are eight times more likely to be productive and if your engaged that means you believe that your employer cares about you. Engaged and resilience go hand in glove, we have seen some research from Bath University to correlate the link between engagement productivity and well-being.
Risto: When I teach resilience I link it to risk, if you look at risk, risk to me is a combination of three elements; threat, vulnerability, and consequence. A lot of people think that risk is only threatened consequence, that they ignore the vulnerability aspect which will affect how an organisation deals with risk. I split resilience into two dimensions, resilience to interruption which are your active measures which you have on a daily basis, which are there to reduce the organisations’ vulnerability to external events. You then have resilience for recovery measures which are your passive measures which can become active very quickly which have a direct bearing on reducing the consequences of an external event or a shock to an organisation. A good risk manager will also have a good understanding of what resilience measures they need.
Jayne: Resilience is sometimes described as an inner strength or fortitude. People have developed the component parts of resilience, they do have a positive attitude, and they do reach out to others for feedback, they have an understanding of their own stress levels, they know their own tipping points, they do look after their own well-being. There is no one part that calls resilience better than the other and it’s a number of characteristics. Resilience like a muscle, I think we can develop it, we can learn to be more positive, we can learn to be more self-aware. I deliver resilience training to individuals that help them think those things through for themselves. It’s a life skill it’s not just for work, modern working life can be stressful but we also know that life can be challenging difficult and stressful.Pete: Are there organisations that naturally have it?
Risto: I think that resilience is something which can be learnt. The most resilient organisations are the ones that have the best quality senior management which understand their vulnerabilities the best and understand how best to communicate that to middle managers and further down to the workforce. Resilience to me is identifying and avoiding the triggers are going to give me a deterioration in my mental health and well-being. Good managers in good organisations who understand and appreciate that are essential. You can definitely teach resilience skills, certainly by the research that has been done by colleagues here in the UK and also in the United States, Tim Petit has identified over 100 measures of resilience that organisations can test themselves against. Are they born? It depends on the person.
Jayne: More organisations have been training managers to be able to understand and spot signs and symptoms of stress, distress (early signs of mental health) Most managers want to do the right thing but worry about opening up those conversations, but if a manager spots somebody who they think is struggling, it’s often the absence of the normal. So managers really do need to understand that they have to lead the conversation. Asking someone to open up where it’s something private e.g. a relationship breakdown, it may be bereavement, it may be financial worries, that may not happen in one conversation, but if you trust your manager and if you know your manager genuinely cares about you, as it’s not all about outputs and targets and performance. The worst thing is to do nothing.
Jayne: Being a manager is tough, you wear many hats with lots of competing demands. But managers have a moral and legal responsibility to look after the health and safety of their staff so they can’t shy away from this. If a manager is struggling then they should seek help, there’s plenty of guidance they can do confidentially through their EAP, through occupational health, HR, there are many resources and sources of help and advice for managers. A bad manager who is not acknowledging their stress levels work below a view will be toxic in a workforce and they will be passing that down and perhaps to their direct reports and that will have a negative impact. I often say to managers ‘if you can’t talk about it you can’t manage it’. Managers do have to think about themselves, know their tipping points, understand when they are struggling and really do something about it. It’s now part of leadership development programmes where health and well-being resilience is being baked because we know that we need leaders who can be resilient and look after themselves.
Risto: The only thing that I would really empathise is that manager who is struggling must receive and seek help. Many of them are in denial about their situation and they just let it stew. But it’s their responsibility to seek help. These are very quickly changing times, managers were being quite successful and very happy and secure in their roles and now they’re facing the social anxiety which they have never sensed before.
Jayne: Resilience is now being included in various health and well-being programmes and modules, and whether it’s leadership development, management development, personal development. I’m doing a mindfulness course at the moment and resilience is part of that in terms of the neuroscience and changing habits we call it neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to rewire and create new neural pathways. We can create new habits for ourselves. Health and well-being programs within organisations will have some elements of resilience, they’ll be online apps, they’ll be some mindfulness courses, meditation, yoga, pilates. All of these things help us to create a good space for us to care about our health and well-being. We’re in an always ‘on’ culture and we can do most things 24/7 so there are programs. I am seeing resilience coming through mental health training so it doesn’t actually have to stand alone is resilience.Pete: What would you respond to somebody isn’t taking the care or the time to do some sort of exercise?
Jayne: It’s about being mindful so going for a walk, that’s good, connecting with nature… It is about just taking care of ourselves, you can go for a walk, go for a bike ride, go for a run…
Risto: Our own resilience measures within the business school is that we’re taking the modules from the MSc risk crisis resilience management and their concurrence to online modules. There’s a capability for us to adapt some of our online resilience into executive education for assesses for all of you. I’m a great fan of the business continuity institute, they run courses as well.
Risto: No not at all, it’s highlighted the mental health aspects. Resilience has been something which has been so important whether it’s from any kind of disaster; challenger disaster, Bhopal, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl has all meant we’ve needed to build in more resilience into our operations.
Jayne: It’s just brought into the spotlight in terms of how resilient or not we are. It’s one of the things that I’m speaking to clients about at the moment, is how resilient are your employees? how have they coped with suddenly working from home? When they’ve never worked from home. I’ve been talking about resilience for probably two decades. We’re all in this together, yes we are, but how we’ve reacted, how we are coping for fears concerns, anxieties will be different. Managers will have to do a one-size-fits one, talking to the individual and asking how they are and generally asking that question and wanting their response, looking at reasonable adjustments people go back into the workplace. It’s not back to business, as usual, it’s unusual and I think we need to do some things differently as we reintegrate and restart our business operations.
Risto: There are currently 400,000 seafarers who are stuck on ships who can’t travel home. 90% of the world’s trade travels by sea and a lot of these seafarers are now starting to have major anxiety and mental health issues because they’re stuck on their ships. There was one commentator who said yesterday “If these seafarers who worked on these ships were tourists they’ll be allowed to come home but because they’re seafarers they can’t”.
Jayne: I’ve had my own epiphany moments and I have just written 12 steps to resilience. We all have times where we have to stop and say to ourselves ‘I’m working too hard and I haven’t seen my family, I haven’t had my run this week. It goes back to that self-awareness and self-control.
Pete: There has to come to a point where you say to yourself I can only do so much and I can’t achieve everything right now where something’s are out of my control.
Jayne: Someone said to me once we’re human beings not human doings.
Risto: Working from home has been really difficult, yesterday I had 8 calls, and I have lots of marking to do and I don’t have time to do the marking, because you are on so many calls all the time. A lot of the managers that are finding themselves on cord and are doing things doing all the time must sense as though they’re not achieving very much and that gives additional pressure as well. Maybe some thought should be given into, Do I really need to attend that meeting? That’s where senior management can come in and go ‘Let’s look at all the roles and responsibilities and let’s try to think a bit smarter about working from home. Some organisations which have changed their working times to allow people to have much more flexibility and they’re working maybe half-day and then they’ll do a few hours at the weekend and then fit it around their own personal family activities. It’s not easy, but maybe some rethinking about roles and responsibilities on how they’re done.