Business in the Community’s Wellbeing Leadership Team has identified energy and resilience as one of six priority topics to improve mental health capability. Costain and Anglian Water Group co-hosted a wellbeing champion forum on the topic on 10 September during which Dr Angela Armstrong focused on the role of leaders. She discusses the changes required to reduce workplace stress.
According to the UK Labour Force Survey, a staggering 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/181. Stress and burnout are prominent in the workplace and, without attention from organisations, leaders and employees, the situation will continue to worsen.
Many companies are putting significant effort into supporting employee wellbeing by making the ways that individuals can create energy – such as through sleep, nutrition, hydration and movement – more accessible. These may include remote working or flexible hours, healthier food in the canteen, filtered water in the office or offering subsidised gym memberships. These are the basics of any wellbeing strategy.
Companies are also investing in remedial efforts for those who are already on the road to burnout and need to recover energy. These include mental health first-aiders, increased occupational health provision and ongoing pay for people on long-term absence due to stress.
These efforts are much needed. However, resolving the root-cause is always more effective and efficient than remedial action. To stall or reverse the trend of increasing stress absence and presenteeism, companies must take action to change their culture from one that wears stress as a badge of honour, to one that recognises that resilient employees are more productive, have better self-esteem and boost office morale.
The good news is that solutions to building personal resilience are readily accessible, frequent and free. The bad news, if you can call it that, is that the solution is not a novel, radical or ground-breaking intervention.
What is needed is to review management and leadership practices where everyday decisions erode energy and reduce agency. Many leaders are ill-equipped to discuss mental health and fear saying the wrong thing; they assume the role of parent and increase the sense of helplessness often felt by the person experiencing stress. When I was on my own road back from burnout, the most productive conversations I had with colleagues were the ones that reminded me I had agency, that I could ask for what I needed and resolve my stress. We get the same feedback from delegates at our workshops and people we have coached one-to-one.
Employers, employees and leaders must play their part in the solution. My book, The Resilience Club: Daily success habits of long-term high performers, contains 30 practical habits that are within the control of the individual. When leaders invest in their own self-care and role model resilience behaviours they inspire other employees to do the same. Incorporating resilience workshops into management and leadership courses provides core skills for conserving and directing energy, increasing agency and minimising barriers to wellbeing at work.
Angela is the Owner and Lead Coach/Facilitator at angelaarmstrong.com.
- Working days lost in Great Britain; Health and Safety Executive; available at hse.gov.uk