Stress and burnout related to the increasing pace and intensity of work are on the rise globally.
A survey of over 100 000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America found that stress, anxiety and depression in employees accounted for 82.6% of all emotional health cases in Employee Assistance Programmes in 2014, up from 55.2% in 2012. This is a hefty increase and indicative of our current constantly connected, “always- on”, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. It is also a major cause for concern as stress directly affects work performance.
Since the pace and intensity of modern work cultures is not likely to change employees. If they wish to cope and remain healthy and productive they need to develop coping strategies. Whilst there is no silver bullet It seems it is a question of attitude and how we approach things.
More than five decades of research point to the fact that we need to cultivate resilience skills to navigate our working and personal lives successfully. So how can we develop resilience and stay motivated in the face of chronic negative stress, constantly increasing demands, complexity and change? The latest neuroscience, behavioural and organisational research suggests several ways to cultivate resilience:
People in the business world are increasingly turning their attention to the mental training practices associated with mindfulness as this has proven beneficial in several ways:
• It predicts judgement accuracy and insight-related problem solving;
• It enhances cognitive flexibility;
• It facilitates job performance;
• It enhances overall employee well-being and organisational performance; and
• Mindfulness programmes have been shown to be practical and effective in decreasing employee stress.
Furthermore, integrating mindfulness into core talent processes such as on-boarding, manager training, conversations about performance, and leadership development is also critical although most organisations are not yet at this stage of adoption.
Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC) says: “Mindfulness will be like the introduction of seat belts in cars; at first no one thought they were important and now they are a safety requirement. Mindfulness may become the seat belt of mental health and one day it will be taught in schools for all people to practice.”
To ensure mindfulness programmes are implemented successfully:
• They should be tied to other institutional priorities, like specific commitments in the area of health and wellbeing;
• They should be about cultivating resilience and offer skills for people to build on their innate human capabilities;
• Any resistance should be welcomed and embraced. A mindfulness programme is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Every culture is unique; and
• Do your best to anticipate and understand any concerns, then initiate a conversation to address them.
A broad set of skills and behaviours that enable resilience in the workplace are simply a good return on investment. Mindfulness is not a quick fix it’s a practice.
Compartmentalise your work load
Dedicating specific times to specific work activities. Serial monotasking is useful because recent research published by the American Psychological Association has shown that constantly switching from one type of task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and reduces productivity by as much as 40%. While this approach may seem overly regimented to some, it does create the optimal set of conditions for processing information effectively and making quality decisions while at the same time decreasing cognitive load and strain.
Work then detach
Mental focus, clarity and energy cycles are typically 90-120 minutes long so it is useful to take a break to balance work activity as this can promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus. Ultimately growing our capacity for resilience.
Develop mental agility
Learn to respond to rather than react to any difficult person or situation. This means being able to take a step back from what we are experiencing to reflect, shift perspectives, create options and make wise choices. In so doing we activate the thinking centre of our brains rather than the emotional centre, an invaluable skill in a demanding, high-performance workplace.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of the resilience skills set. Research conducted at Berkeley suggests that compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships and increases cooperation and collaboration between colleagues, increases happiness and decreases stress. Compassion and business effectiveness are not mutually exclusive. The success of individuals, teams and organisations rely on a compassionate work culture.
Because stress in the workplace has a high financial impact, a broad set of skills and behaviours that enable resilience in the workplace are simply a good return on investment. A study published by PwC in 2014, showed that initiatives and programmes fostering a resilient and mentally healthy workplace, produce a return on investment of $2.30 for every dollar spent. The return is manifested in lower health care costs, higher productivity, less absenteeism and a decreased turnover in staff.
Building an organisational culture that encourages and supports resilience training just makes good business sense.
Susi Astengo is the Managing Director of CoachMatching.