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Focus on ‘Resilience’ to Improve Wellbeing, Says Shell's Health Chief

At first reading, this might send shivers down the spines of those of us working in the stress management field. However, if you look more carefully, I do not believe the implications are so dire.

'Organisations should focus on improving resilience rather than managing stress if they want to improve workplace wellbeing and drive business performance'

Shell’s VP of Health Alistair Fraser, speaking at the Good Day at Work conference in London.

He suggests that focusing simply on stress management can drive negative behaviour and lead to a kind of “trained helplessness”. He told the conference that’s why Shell had shifted its focus from stress to resilience training, a decision he called “a no-brainer”.

At first reading, this might send shivers down the spines of those of us working in the stress management field. However, if you look more carefully, I do not believe the implications are so dire.

Fraser seems to be implying that simply focusing on stress management could lead employees to anticipate stress or even seek it out, as if to vindicate the overwhelming evidence of numerous studies into workplace stress. I can see some justification for this view.

Having worked in the employment and mental health field for the last ten years, I have felt that stress management is often seen as a ‘bolt on’ or additional duty of management. This can lead to management by crisis, rather than by good practice. I don’t think this leads to healthier, more productive work environments. Certainly, organisations that are waking up to the problems of stress within their workplace might need to put special emphasis on new stress management policies and educate their managers on the importance of managing stress. There, I believe, we in the stress management business have a positive role to play. Education is the key to successful policy implementation. However, I believe that stress management should eventually be a natural process within the total staff management function. It should be an ongoing, osmotic process that is neither conspicuous nor extricable.

I have become increasingly persuaded that stress management should be more of a partnership between employee and employer. Employers certainly have a lead role within the partnership (they set the agenda, implement policies and manage the business) and a poor employer, unaware of their duty of care, can fatally undermine any productive relationship, but employees have a responsibility to maintain their health (both mental and physical), insofar as they are able, to be productive and effective to their employer. If you are worried that I am asking employees to become automatons, simple work units, ask yourself if you would be happy to pay a local trades person for services they did not provide if they claimed ill health. Why should an employer be any different? I am simply suggesting that employees will lead happier, more fulfilled working lives, and be able to maintain an appropriate work life balance if they enter into an open and honest partnership with their employer. And resilience is almost certainly the key to maintaining the most effective partnership. In that I agree with Fraser.

Resilience in the Workplace training for employees and employers can help to focus on the positive aspects of well-being, rather than the negative aspects of stress. Resilience acknowledges that we will all experience setbacks and difficulties during our working life, but these can be overcome if we adopt the right mindset and follow some basic attitudinal practices. I am not asking for everyone to become a beaming ray of sunshine. We are allowed our personal cynicism and scepticism,but there has to be a place for the acknowledgement of positives, the celebration of good practice and the simple belief that,more often that not, we can overcome difficulties. That is resilience.

That is why my business places the same importance on Workplace Resilience as Managing Stress at Work. Further details of training for your staff and managers in both these fields can be found at www.mindsetwessex.co.uk.

Adrian Embling

Adrian Embling

​Adrian Embling is the director of Mindset Wessex Limited, a Swindon-based mental health training company.

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