Build up emotional resilience to tackle workplace stress

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• Emotional resilience is an individual’s ability to cope in times of stress.
• The workplace can have a big effect on employees’ resilience, particularly work overload, multiple goals, and relationships with managers.
• Resilience is a skillset, or set of behaviours that can be learnt, so employers should encourage staff to address issues themselves.
• Tangible benefits such as employee assistance programmes, and health cash plans that include counselling, can support staff under stress.

Stress can have a serious impact on employees’ performance, says Tynan Barton, and employers may need to help them build up emotional resilience

Stress can have a serious impact on employees’ performance, says Tynan Barton, and employers may need to help them build up emotional resilienceThe case of the Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days is an interesting study in human resilience. As the miners emerged, one by one they demonstrated coherence and emotional strength, despite their ordeal.

Professor Ivan Robertson, director of business psychology company Robertson Cooper, says such resilience involves being able to “keep focused on what you are supposed to be doing, what your goals are, and be able to function properly, even in adversity”.

Today’s workplace often calls for emotional resilience. The recession and subsequent job losses have often resulted in fewer people performing more tasks, putting staff under pressure. “They have to make choices all the time as to where to put their energy,” says Robertson. “They go from one thing to another, not feeling confident that anything is being achieved properly.”

Having to focus on multiple issues and deal with adversity can put extra strain on employees and sap their emotional energy, causing their performance to deteriorate. If this continues without respite and staff cannot see how to get on top of the issues, serious health problems can arise, says Robertson. “They end up having their psychological wellbeing affected. In other words their mental health deteriorates, and that, in turn, can affect physical health, so people will become ill.”

Managers can also have an adverse effect on employees’ emotional resilience. A manager who over-controls can do as much harm as one who is over-demanding or unsupporting. Jessica Colling, product director at Vielife, says: “Make sure they can recognise when staff are feeling under pressure and help them have the relationship to be able to improve that.”

Coping better under pressure

Emotional resilience can be learnt as a skillset, or a set of behaviours, enabling an individual to cope better under pressure. It is important for employees feeling pressurised to have the means to solve problems on their own, and have a certain degree of control over their working life. If staff can have some input into the amount of work they have and flexibility around the hours they work, it can help them deal with pressure better, says Colling. “Making sure you encourage people to build their resilience to situations and learn to cope better is a business benefit as well as an individual benefit.”

The best way to build emotional resilience is to address the fundamental problems that may be causing stress. But an easy fix is not possible if the problem is a lack of resources or huge work overload. Robertson says: “Although changing the work situation is probably the best solution long term, it is also the most costly and the most unrealistic.”

Employers need to recognise there is an issue and find a solution that enables staff to cope better, he says. This can include tangible benefits such as an employee assistance programme, or a health cash plan that includes telephone and face-to-face counselling. Richard Sear, chief executive of National Friendly, says: “It gives them an independent, professional assessment to help them through. People can talk to an experienced individual who can counsel and mentor them through issues.”

Employers should also promote healthy behaviours in the workplace. “Encourage people to go for a walk or to the gym at lunchtime,” says Colling. “Being physically active can help resilience to stress.”

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