Why care about resilience?
Many organisations in both commercial and public sectors, including the UK Government and police forces, have identified an epidemic of wellbeing problems in the workplace. Whether as a result of excessive workloads due to financial pressures or funding cuts, increased volume of new types of work, or greater expectations due to expected improvements in performance, the workplace has become a more stressful and challenging place to be. We need to know how to thrive in this pressure-cooker environment.
However, I do not believe that wellbeing is the heart of the issue at hand today. That is not to discount the range of wellbeing problems that people are experiencing, nor to say that wellbeing programmes do not work; rather, the way we are addressing these problems seems to be focused on curing the symptoms rather than addressing the cause. In the words of the learning and development director of one UK constabulary, ‘We need to be working upstream of the problem’.
Life is unpredictable, and anything can go wrong for anyone at any time. Surely it would be better to enable people and organisations to handle change and be ready for the unexpected, instead of just expecting them to routinely pick up the pieces?
The real problem is around resilience. We are not as resilient as we need to be. Focusing on reducing symptoms of stress and burnout in your organisations may well achieve some positive results; however, who's to say that these problems won't crop up again and again when work pressures increase or life gets tough?
Expanding the perspective
A lack of resilience means you cope less well with the stress and changes that the workplace can bring. A study of 2000 UK adults found that 50% of participants think that low resilience has a negative impact on their performance at work, and over half believed that low levels of resilience have an adverse effect on motivation levels as well as the ability to cope with change. The workplace wellbeing epidemic could therefore be described as a resilience epidemic!
The impact of not being resilient cascades from organisations to the people within them, the families of those people, and thus to society as a whole. So it feels important to change this situation. For if we don't, there's a risk that we will become slowly worse and worse at dealing with change that is simultaneously increasing as our world becomes more and more complex. Just consider the complexity of hybrid working, for example.
High levels of resilience positively impact all of these contexts, as I'll cover in the next instalment of this series. People who are more resilient are able to handle the daily stresses of life calmly and more effectively - we all know people who find an inner strength when faced with a chaotic situation, and despite what is going on around them, have an ability to see the bigger picture, identify the necessary actions and just get things done.