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Mandy Rutter

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What could personal resilience training look like?


Mental health issues received unprecedented levels of media, political and health service attention during 2015, and will continue to do so, not only into 2016, but for the foreseeable future.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012, secured explicit recognition from the Secretary of State for Health, to work towards ensuring ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health, to ensure that people with mental health needs receive the same quality, education and quantity of services as those with physical health needs.

As a result there have been continuous calls for all areas of society to be better informed about how to support, care for and employ people with mental health issues.

And people living with mental health problems have a stronger voice in public debate than ever before, largely through social media. Mental health awareness needs to be a central part of any health and wellbeing agenda.

But it’s a complex, fast-moving and highly emotional topic that needs continuous attention in the business world to ensure we are understanding the issues and following best practice in employment.

As part of the wellbeing agenda, workplace managers need to be confident and skilled in having discussions about mental health with the employees, because if you are an employee with mental health issues (and some 25% of the workforce will be affected at some point in their lives) the behaviour, understanding and support of your manager will make the difference between people performing well, achieving their potential and staying in work, or being victimised, miserable and absent. 

The workplace has the potential to be both the cause of mental ill-health and part of the solution for helping people.

Stressful, demanding and ever-changing workplaces create environments that require employees to be resilient, flexible, confident and self-aware.

The workplace has the potential to be both the cause of mental ill-health and part of the solution for helping people.

These characteristics are very difficult to hold if you are struggling with anxiety, job insecurity, conflict or relationship difficulties either within work or at home.

However, with training, education, resources, and support, employees are able to deliver high quality performance, but also care about their own wellbeing.
Personal resilience training is already becoming an essential part of HR’s wellbeing strategies. The training encourages employees to have ’emotional readiness’ which offers strategies to prepare employees for the roller coaster of feelings that can accompany workplace demands and stress.
The basic ingredients of emotional resilience training include:

  • self-awareness, to understand your own triggers for stress, and how your mind and body respond when you are stressed;
  • self-confidence, to be able to ask for help when you need it and stand up for yourself in difficult situations;
  • developing a network of support, which can include personal family and friends and also professional helpers, such as the EAP helpline;
  • an ability to have perspective of a situation and see the bigger picture, in order to understand what is really important to you in life, and to minimize worrying over the minor things;
  • paying attention to physical needs, such as sleeping, eating, hydrating and exercise;
  • recognizing the importance of distraction, switching off and having fun.

At Validium we worked with Nationwide to devise a Building and Managing Team Resilience workshop as a key part of its learning and development framework. The day-long workshop focuses on real-life experiences and behaviours, with managers role-playing how their approach as leader was helping or hindering the creation of a mentally-healthy work environment.

Managers are given an introduction to the key, relevant principles of psychology and trained on how to save valuable management time by guiding employees affected by mental health issues towards appropriate support, instead of attempting to counsel or problem-solve on their behalf.

25% of the workforce will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives

The Nationwide managers are also encouraged to use a dedicated management helpline, for them to get expert advice on managing employees affected by mental health issues. The workshops aren’t compulsory, and run every month so managers can enroll themselves when they are ready.

Nationwide says that the workshops, alongside its package of support for employees around mental health, has potentially saved an estimated 5,500 working days by significantly increasing the number of employees being directed towards appropriate support before they become too ill to work; proactive support provided to help employees get better as quickly as possible means the average days lost from mental health related absence has fallen to just 28.5 days at Nationwide, compared to a national average of 45 days.

The taboo around mental health continues to be a barrier to proactivity. Managers and employers generally would prefer to only deal with psychological issues on a ‘need to know’ basis, when there’s an issue around absence or damaging effects on productivity.

But there are such obvious and easy gains to be made on workplace wellbeing – perhaps even more so than on the physical side – just by putting in place some practical foundations for thinking about how we cope when things get tough, how we could do it better, and the role managers can play in supporting rather than excerbating problems. 

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