So can you actually build resilience into a workforce?
I keep seeing the word “resilience” being used more and more, but what exactly is resilience?
Can we just chalk this up as another on-trend buzzword?
Also, how do you measure resilience without resorting to intrusive methods like training an ML model with a large set of employee data from say wearables etc.
And, can you actually build resilience into a workforce?
I’m probably not best qualified to answer this particular set of questions, but one of the benefits of working closely with academics on our employee wellbeing platform is I can always drag one into the office with promises of coffee, cake and a chat, or most recently, the dreaded Zoom and Doom call!
So, I posed the above set of questions to both Dr Nick Cooper at the Centre for Brain Science, and Dr Dawn Holford, Lecturer, Psychology, both from Essex University.
Expert academic opinions
Dr Cooper immediately brought up the subject of Stress Mindsets. I’d not heard the term before, but it immediately peaked my interest.
Cooper: “A key way to build resilience lies in our own view of stress – viewing stress as a potentially positive force can alter the way stress affects us both psychologically and physiologically.
"Sports men and women, for example, are trained to see stress in a way that allows them to turn the increase in arousing neurochemicals to their advantage: turning nerves into excitement and focus. Viewing stress in this way is known as a ‘Positive Stress Mindset’.
"Adopting a positive stress mindset has been shown to boost one’s motivation, strengthen one’s focus and turn stressful challenges into opportunities for growth and learning. It can also have biological effects – for example, increasing the amount of useful neurosteroids (such as DHEAS) that are known to be important for brain growth and stress resilience.
"Intriguingly, even just knowing about stress mindsets can have a beneficial effect – with studies showing that students who have been taught about the stress mindset do better in exams than those who have not – arguably due to changes in how these students viewed their own stress during the exams.
"Finally, as odd as it may sound, adopting a positive stress mindset might even make us more sociable: studies have shown that whereas as a negative stress mindset tends to engender a classic fight or flight response to a stressful event, for those with a positive stress mindset, a stressful event can evoke a ‘tend and befriend’ response – making them more socially supportive”.
Holford had a much different thought process to the posed questions: “Stress at work can increase employees' risk of longer-term illnesses - which isn't great news if you're hoping to support the health of your employees and build a resilient workforce! But there are small steps that can help to tackle the problem.
"Maintaining healthier weights could increase employees' resilience to the detrimental effects of stress on health. Employers can support this at the workplace. But with a shift towards working from home, it's still important to keep supporting employees in maintaining healthy eating habits - we just need to get more creative about how”.
Resilience, lockdown and PTSD
Now this really started my mind whirring, so I posed the question to Dr Cooper about a possible correlation between lockdown and PTSD, knowing that that is a particular expertise he has with his work with the Armed Forces.
Cooper: “ Mark, Hmmmmn, interesting. I’m not sure I’d call it PTSD using standard definitions. (outlined below)
But that doesn’t mean you are not onto something though, what led you to think along those lines?”.
Me “I think people are experiencing real problems with a range of issues.
"Like shell shock, and now the added stress of it possibly happening again to them with a second wave, and further lockdowns”.
As to the main question of building resilience, I would say that life and life experience in general builds the ability to brush aside disappointments, knocks and challenging environments, but some of us are equipped to handle this better than others.
This is probably why the younger generation have taken this so hard mentally, because it’s such an extreme, pressured situation.
So as an employer, it’s really a moral duty to help and nurture, and make sure there is a support mechanism in place.
Just because they all look happy in the office, or on a video call at home, which is the more likely right now, it doesn’t mean they are.
So providing the right tools for the right environment is key at this time.
I hope we all come out of this stronger and more resilient, because it's an experience we have all shared together.
Time will tell.
Academic definition of PTSD:
- Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).
- Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s).
- Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring. (Such reactions may occur on a continuum, with the most extreme expression being a complete loss of awareness of present surroundings.)
- Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
- Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
Complex PTSD criteria:
Vivid intrusive memories, flashbacks or nightmares, typically accompanied by strong and overwhelming emotions such as fear or horror, and strong physical sensations.