In recent months there has been a significant uptick in the discourse around hardiness and resilience. While neither of these are new topics, it seems like something has shifted, and more attention is being paid to these, as well as other aspects of workplace stress, than has been in the past.
This is a really, really good thing. Over the past 100+ years, we made great strides in developing more physically healthy work environments. Now we are recognizing that psychological health at work needs a similar level of attention.
The costs of workplace stress, both in terms of societal impact, and in organizational performance are real and significant; there is lots of evidence to back this up. More than that, an increasing openness to discussions of mental health issues and concerns has moved topics like resilience, stress tolerance, and hardiness into day-to-day conversation.
The concern I have, though, is that in many cases the suggested solutions to these challenges seem to center on the idea that we should simply help people to become more resilient rather than exploring the impact work, and work environments, have on individuals.
Help people weather stressful situations better, this thinking goes, and their productivity increases, and the well-being benefits will follow. I have no issue with this approach on one level – helping people to become more ‘hardy’ is a positive thing, but it ignores the other side of the hardiness discussion, and one that I think is more important.
Rather than just helping people become more hardy and resilient, we also need to create less stressful work environments.
We know a surprising amount about what causes stress at work. Some of the main factors are recognized, easily understood, and affect a great many people – things like:
- Interpersonal conflicts with colleagues
- Poor relationships with immediate supervisor
- Volume/velocity of work
- Frequency/rate/speed of change
These are factors that most people find trigger stress, but there are many more less obvious situations that can cause stress. For example:
- Inconsistent treatment (perceived or real) of team members by the leader
- A lack of information on organizational issues beyond the team (such as financials)
- Understanding of what is and is not acceptable performance
- Unaddressed performance issues with other team members
- Inconsistent application of policies or rules – whether it’s a difference between how rules are applied between team members, or between teams (e.g.. other leaders in the organization applying policies and rules differently.)
The good news about many of the factors is that, once known, they are easy to identify, and often easy to mitigate!
For example, knowing that a lack of information on organizational issues beyond the team, can be a stress trigger for some people, going to extra efforts to make sure that as much information as possible trickles down through the organization is a simple step to take. Similarly, knowing that unaddressed performance issues can be a factor in team members’ stress, helping leaders to identify, and giving them the tools to address performance issues is a logical next step.
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong connection between many of the factors that influence stress at work and those things that create engagement, or a lack thereof. For example, the widely used Gallup Q12 engagement survey asks questions around topics like whether a person has sufficient tools and training to do their work, whether co-workers adhere to high quality standards, and whether the person has received recognition for their work. All of these factors are recognized as some of the things that contribute to stress in the workplace when they are absent.
Let me be clear – I think providing tools, processes, information, and ideas to help people build their resilience is important and valuable. It’s development we can all benefit from. But that’s only one side of the equation. Organizations must not look at people and say ‘this would all be better if you were more resilient’, without also fully considering what they are doing to people that requires ever-higher levels of resilience in the first place.
To truly create workplaces that demonstrate attention to psychological safety, development needs to be a partnership between employer and employee.If an organization both develops employees to be hardy, and places greater value on less stress, more balance, and a lower requirement of resilience for survival, then the positive effects of a resilient and hardy workforce can be realized. Benefits that include:
- Better communication
- Stronger and more trusting relationships
- Social and peer support
- Teams that achieve success
- And of course, less stress!
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of workplace hardiness, discussing this topic in more detail, and/or hearing more about what organizations should look at to create a psychologically healthy workplace, join us for the first of our free ‘Insights’ webinar series, on June 19th, 2019, at 2pm EST. Sign up here.