A few years ago, a friend of mine suffered serious stress as her marriage went through a rough patch. She couldn't sleep and couldn't concentrate properly. She began making mistakes at work as well.
To help her get through this difficult period, she decided to give herself frequent opportunities to relax. She treated herself to spa treatments. She made a point of going out for coffee regularly with her friends. And she also joined a meditation class at her local gym and downloaded a meditation app to her phone, so that she could clear her mind daily.
All these certainly had a positive effect, giving her much-needed respite and strength.
But, ultimately, they were only managing the symptom of her problem. The stress was never going to go away, so long as she hadn't resolved the difficult interpersonal relations at home.
Although there are obvious differences, her situation reminds me of the way many organisations deal with stress in the workplace.
Over the years, I've seen lots of initiatives to create a more resilient workforce. I've sat in beautiful, well-designed breakout spaces, where employees can work in a more relaxed, informal environment. I've visited silent meditation zones, where workers can get away from it all and regroup silently, and I've seen adverts for mindfulness training.
And, of course, scores of companies offer exercise classes, healthy choices in the staff canteen and 'resilience training'.
These are all worthwhile and positive, and should be encouraged.
But they are also unlikely to provide what stressed employees really need, because they don't answer the real questions: Why does your workforce need help with resilience in the first place? What is draining their resilience, and how can we address that root cause?
We recently conducted a survey across almost 600 managers to find out what people find most important in building their resilience at work. The answer was surprising.
43% of respondents said that the most important factor was a supportive boss. This was more important than clarity about business direction, clarity of role, sufficient resources, regular breaks and holidays, formal reward and recognition, and manageable volume of change – combined.
30% said that a difficult boss is the biggest drain on their resilience.
We then went further. We asked what a supportive boss does, and what makes a boss difficult. The answers to this surprised us even more. Fundamentally, the most important elements in building a resilient workforce boil down to the way the boss communicates.
A supportive boss will listen to their team, be respectful, and give their team the space to do their work while offering constructive feedback and advice. A difficult boss will micromanage, constantly criticise or offer no feedback, and radiate a lack of confidence in their people.
The reality is that if you get interpersonal relationships right at work, it is far easier for people to deal with even the most difficult of circumstances, such as a large workload and ongoing change. Clean lines of communication make people feel supported and trusted, even when the going gets tough.
Get it wrong, and they will feel under pressure and alone – and they'll struggle.
When it comes to building a resilient workforce, then, look first at your leaders' relationships with their teams. Invest in giving your leaders practical skills in being supportive, and get toxic bosses to change their ways – or remove them from your organisation.
Meditation sessions, healthy eating and exercise classes are the cherry on top.
If building that resilient workforce is a priority for you, then contact me and let's arrange a complimentary Resilience Strategy Session so I can understand more about the challenges you're facing, and explore whether one of our programmes is a good fit for your organisation.
[Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]