Exec Health: The importance of resilience

In the wake of the devastating Christchurch earthquake, the bravery, community spirit and strength of Cantabrians has been extraordinary. From the Prime Minister to health experts, their resilience has been cited as an important quality that will help Christchurch and its people pull through and eventually rebuild their lives.
However, for many the personal stress resulting from this event will be immense and may continue for very long time. Specialist and intensive support may be required to help employees and workplaces recover psychologically from the disaster.
(A useful website for those seeking information on disaster stress is http://disasters.massey.ac.nz/index.htm. Click on “Advice about disaster stress”.)
Though maybe never to the degree of what is being experienced in Christ-church, at some stage in our lives we can all expect test to our mental fortitude.
For some, it will not come in the form of major event or personal loss. Rather it may be small event that causes distress – failure, change of circumstances, or simply gradual ‘grinding down’, where small stresses build on top of one another.
Our ability to manage these challenges depends largely on how resilient we are.
The term resiliency refers to an individual’s capacity to adapt to adversity or change.
Resilient people are characterised by their flexibility and sense of perspective. They are able to accept disappointment or failure, and to learn, and move on, from difficult situation.
Increasingly, organisations are recognising the importance of personal resilience in the workplace. Resiliency training and workshops are now common feature in many organisations’ health, safety and wellness programmes.
The increasing demand for resilience training is largely reflective of the pressures in today’s tough economic climate. Restructuring and redundancy are commonplace, and many businesses recognise they may be asking smaller number of employees to do more with less.
Without the necessary support in place, businesses may face the high costs of staff absence, employee turnover, and low productivity that can result from stress in the workplace.
Workplace stress can have many sources – high workload, organisational or role change, conflict, performance expectations, the way work is organised or environmental factors.
But the problem with making changes to the “work” or the workplace itself is, as the Department of Labour notes in its handbook on managing stress in the workplace, “no two individuals will be affected in the same way by either the work requirements or the work environment”.
Resiliency training works by addressing an individual’s emotional reaction to situation, rather than the situation itself. Each employee is equipped with mental ‘toolkit’ to use when faced with challenges in the workplace.
An example of where resiliency training might be of benefit is for frontline staff that may have to deal with anger from customers upset by price increase.
Another might be for team that has been required to share the workload of redundant employee.

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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