Earlier this week we supported the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Growth Through People Conference with a ‘Harnessing Resilience for Future Challenges’ Webinar.
Our chief medical officer Dr Philip McCrea was one of the webinar speakers, so we caught up with him to take a deeper dive into the concept of resilience and why it needs to be more than a pandemic buzzword.
What is resilience?
Personal resilience refers to how effectively you handle difficult experiences in your life. It is often described as the ability to ‘bounce back’ and comfortably carry on in the midst of adversity. It also involves being able to effectively regulate your thoughts and emotions, as well as perceiving challenging situations as an opportunity, not a personal threat. Everyone boils at different temperatures – and often the same person can boil differently depending on the situation. Some of us are naturally more resilient than others and how seriously we react to a specific stress can depend on what else we are facing along with the support and coping skills that we can readily draw upon.
Why are we currently talking about it so much?
Life can be a struggle at any time and there will always be a percentage of the population who have a genetic pre-disposition to anxiety and poor mental health i.e. driven indigenously. But the last year has naturally created multiple external stressors. These added burdens have had a seismic exogenous impact on our ability to cope.
The importance of workplace resilience
With a resilient workforce, employees handle work stress better, and can develop protective factors against stress. There are other benefits too:
- Resilience is associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organisational commitment and employee engagement
- Raising resilience contributes to improved self-esteem, sense of control over life events, sense of purpose in life and improved employee interpersonal relationships
- Employers reap the rewards of increased productivity
- The longer an individual is off work, the harder it is to get them back. Think of your own micro experience through lockdown and how easy it is for institutionalisation to set in
- Your organisation’s managers are in a unique position of being perfectly positioned to ‘spot and support’ struggling colleagues, yet highly vulnerable themselves to being overwhelmed. We shouldn’t assume that providing colleagues with the compassion required is something that comes naturally to all line managers. Establishing a strong support mechanism is key so that they can coordinate action early and turn to those with HR and clinical expertise
- Remote working can create a breeding ground for hidden burnout. It becomes an effective way for someone to hide their true emotional state because they can avoid displaying body language through face to face interaction. Short bursts of colleague engagement hidden behind a ‘muted’ video becomes a safe place to retreat to
- ‘I’m fine’ very often means someone is most definitely not. Dismantle the “I’m fine culture” by proactively offering up emotional support and instilling a culture of making it OK not to be OK
Since we know that being resilient is such a helpful trait to have, the next logical question is: How do we develop it? A good way to think about feeling well and in control is relating psychological and physical wellbeing to that of the water in a reservoir. In this sense, wellbeing is dynamic, it is constantly being drained and topped up in various ways. Life events such as the pandemic, relationship breakdowns, changes in job role and locations, can all be a drain in your reservoir of wellbeing and be the cracks in the dam.
If left unattended, each of these sources of pressure and their combined effect can cause a stress reaction and unlike pressure, stress is never a good thing.
However, it is not possible to design the perfect work or living environment where there aren’t any sources that may drain our wellbeing. So, it is important to work proactively to repair the cracks in the dam and avoid long term exposure to stressful situations as much as possible.
Of course, like a real reservoir, the wellbeing reservoir has in-flows as well as out-flows. Therefore, it is important to recognise and implement positive sources that enable employees’ reservoirs to be topped up.
Take care of your body. Stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like adequate nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.
Practice mindfulness. Yoga or meditation can also help people to deal with situations that require resilience. When you meditate you focus on the positive aspects of your life and recall the things, you’re grateful for, even during times of distress.
Avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to attempt to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs, or other substances, but that is like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.
Be proactive. It is helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces.
“Everyone boils at different temperatures. Some of us are naturally more resilient than others and how seriously we react to a specific stress can depend on what else we are facing along with the support and coping skills that we can readily draw upon.”
"‘I’m fine’ very often means someone is most definitely not. Dismantle the “I'm fine culture” by proactively offering up emotional support and instilling a culture of making it OK not to be OK."
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience. For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of strategies listed above may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience. The pandemic has presented us all with complex issues we may never have encountered before. Therefore, access to personalised on demand advice and support from qualified mental and physical health practitioners, as well as access to financial and legal experts is key to overcoming the very specific struggles being faced during these unprecedented times.
For further insight and opinion, why not watch the webinar which is available here.