Angela Armstrong PhD MBA, owner of Leadership Development Firm Armstrong, explains the strategies leaders can use to develop resilience among employees
Since the publication of Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers in 2017 many UK employers have recommitted to efforts to improve workplace well-being. Whilst there have been important steps in the right direction, there is still much work to be done on changing the workplace culture from one that applauds ‘stress as a badge of honour’ to one that embraces resilience and positively recognises, and promotes, people who demonstrate good practices for sustainable high performance. There are three different levels of effort; foundation effort, supportive effort and accelerate effort; that can be implemented by employers to introduce the concept of resilience, support their employees through the learning process and unpick any deep-seated unhealthy working processes.
A foundation effort involves signposting to existing company policies that promote resilience and healthy working patterns, such as flexi-time, compassionate leave and other benefits like gym memberships, a healthy canteen and mindfulness sessions. Often there is reduced uptake for these interventions due to low awareness. To go beyond ‘ticking a box’, additional communications and well-being champions can be useful in directing more people to engage with the opportunities to manage their well-being at work.
Similarly, it is important to positively recognise and promote any staff-led initiatives like team lunchtime breaks or walk-and-talk meetings. These offer safe spaces for individuals to voice any stress they may be experiencing and learn from each other’s healthy habits. Every individual has the ability to change the culture from a stress-focus to a resilience-focus one conversation at a time, positive acknowledgement of their efforts by HR and line managers helps to embed positive well-being behaviours.
A supportive effort involves signposting staff to the great self-help resources available that take a holistic approach to resilience (mind, body, spirit and emotions). A particularly helpful tool that employers can encourage their staff to use is the ‘wheel of resilience’. This visual self-assessment tool helps people to identifyways to improve their resilience by scoring each of 7 resilience categories (Focus, Role Models, Energy, Emotion, Downtime, Optimism and Meaning) out of ten. The idea is to develop a balance of resilience habits across the categories so they have coping strategies for any adversity or opportunitythat arises.
Ways of working that support employees to minimise digital distractions or have adequate downtime may seem like they are outside an employer’s remit. However, simple, no-cost, practical examples such as these can have a profound impact on an employee’s well-being, and productivity. Educating employees on building their personal resilience holistically will benefit them in all areas of their life. Depending on different learning styles this could take the form of a specific training session, an informal ‘book club’ or a social group for employees to discuss the solutions they are implementing.
To really begin to shift the culture and embed resilience in the workplace, senior leaders need to spend time bringing to the surface any organisation-led practices or policies that inhibit staff from developing personal resilience. The organisational culture takes its cue from the example set by leaders, if leaders promote flexi-time, but then mandate a daily 08:30am safety briefing, their actions restrict people from being able to use a flexi-time policy. Actions speak louder than words. Creating an environment of psychological safety so that employees can call out discrepancies and be met with a solution-seeking response is fundamental to accelerating a culture that supports well-being.
Leaders go first. This is not to say that leaders should always role-model excellent personal resilience. Everyone needs some recuperation time to recover after an illness or a challenge, leaders included. Revealing vulnerability shows that you are human, appropriate vulnerability is an important unifier of teams and demonstrates to others that we should be aiming for progress, not perfection.
It is only by working together, by offering and promoting workplace opportunitiesthat build our resilience, signposting holistic self-help resources and encouraging conversations about resilience at all levels that we can transform the prevailing stress culture to one that promotes resilience.