Report on “Promoting workplace well-being – Developing resilience” talk given by David Craigie, 6 and 8 April 2011.
The Business Matters Trust is very grateful to Shepherd + Wedderburn for hosting the 6 April talk and providing a buffet lunch and to Edinburgh City Council for hosting the 8 April talk and providing refreshments.
Iain Archibald welcomed guests to the first in a new series of lunchtime talks under the umbrella title “Promoting workplace well-being”. He introduced David Craigie, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, who led those present through a well-structured and very informative presentation on “Developing resilience”.
The slides from the PowerPoint presentation which David used can be viewed and a recording of his 8 April talk (32 min) is available by using the icons at the foot of the page.
After each talk there was a lively and useful Q&A session. A detailed summary of these sessions appears lower down this page
What follows is a summary of the key points David made in his talk.
He started by explaining what he would cover: the importance of workplace well-being, some risk factors for stress at work, suggestions as to how we might develop personal resilience, and how we can promote positive management techniques for the benefit of ourselves and those we may manage.
David highlighted the common cold as a very useful analogy for stress: there are many external factors which can cause us to acquire a cold and in many instances we are not able to control these, e.g. a person sneezing beside us in the bus; but there are strategies which we can adopt to minimise the risk of picking up a cold, e.g. eating a balanced diet and building up good immunity.
Using HSE statistics, David highlighted the definition of work-related stress and also the effect that it has within the workplace in terms of absence and illness. Like the common cold, stress is always present but across the working population the effect of it is much greater – with people who suffer from it losing on average over twenty days per year because of stress. He drew our attention, using a real-life case study, to the need for, and benefits of, early intervention to tackle the issues behind stress.
David then outlined the six areas of risk for work-related stress and expanded each with detail and examples to allow us to recognise how they might affect us in our working life:
Faced with these external factors we might feel challenged and slightly overwhelmed. David drew our attention to the key strategies we can use to develop our own resilience:
- Be self-aware
- Listen to those around you
- Think holistically
- Be pro-active rather than re-active
- Don’t neglect physical health
Then for each of the six areas of risk David outlined practical, effective ways in which applying these strategies could lessen the risk of developing work-related stress.
David concluded that there is no one magic technique which can eliminate the possibility of work-related stress. He emphasised the importance of being part of a network of people, helping each other and ourselves.
Moving on to the second part of his talk, David highlighted the importance of the manager’s role in promoting positive management within the workplace. When stress comes, as it inevitably will, there are different ways in which managers react, some positive, some negative. He used recent research supported by HSE, CIPD and Investors in People to identify the four key management competency areas:
- Management Style
- Leadership, planning, empowering
- Awareness of the individual
- Situation management
He pointed us to associated behaviours where a manager can develop resilience in his team such that the individual employees benefit and the organisation as a whole does too.
David brought us some insights from a recent training event for trainers which he had attended. He urged us to ask the question: “What motivates your team and/or colleagues?” Knowing the answer to that question and using appropriate management behaviours will lead to each individual finding that their resilience levels improve and their experience of stress diminishes.
Iain thanked David for his time and willingness to share his expertise and wisdom with us.
Consultant to business matters
A sample of the Q&A…
- Do you work with organisations after they have carried out a risk assessment for stress?
A. Yes. Following a [Health and Safety stress] risk assessment, the organisation can choose how to proceed. The guidelines would suggest that the organisation identify the key areas that are problematic, perhaps run focus groups to verify the findings and then implement different solutions that are tailored to the organisation.
- How could an organisation recruit people who can cope with job demands?
A. From the assessment side of things, if job demands have been identified as an important part of the role, then you could use a psychometric test as one method to help measure resilience. You could also look at this through assessment centres and interviews etc.
- What personality traits are linked to resilience?
A. There are various factors – an ability to cope with deadlines, with pressures etc. Some people will thrive on pressure and even enjoy the challenge of “stress” as they feel their performance improves. You can train people to a degree, but there will also be an underlying aspect of personality differences. It is possible to measure and recruit based on resilience.
- What psychometric tests can measure resilience?
A. There is a whole market out there of psychometric testing. Some questionnaires will be geared towards an individual’s ability to cope with pressures and stress and demands etc. [David mentioned he was happy to discuss this personally if any are interested]. You are not restricted to only using psychometrics, as you can also use references and past experiences as a measure.
- What training is available to an individual looking to improve resilience within a role?
A. Recent research from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) is looking at this topic with regards to manager competencies. In many ways it depends on the individual situation. If the role has a lot of conflict and tension, you could explore the factors involved in the problem – is it to do with communication, time management, a need for clarification, or perhaps even just a need for work-life balance? Training could be tailored to the individual. Some more generic management training, using tools such as 360 degree assessments, can help identify a manager’s ability to deal with different aspects relating to stress/well-being at work. This can help with development and growth and can be done across whole organisations, rather than just for an individual. The methodology is important and needs to be handled carefully – individuals will be concerned about what will happen with the results, e.g. is it part of an appraisal, could it affect jobs, or is it uniquely a learning and development tool? This can open the door for individual or departmental coaching.
- In the UK, do you think we do enough to assist managers in their role with regards to stress?
A. The short answer is “probably not”! There is still a stigma attached to stress, although there appears to be a slight culture shift happening. Well-being is beginning to be recognised by organisations as important, and many now offer Employee Assistance Programmes. The key to helping people is recognising that it is not a single-factor issue. Many years ago, the problem might have been seen as “you’re working too hard, you’re feeling stressed, you need to stop working”. This posed a problem for organisations, who understandably didn’t want their staff to stop working. Now we are beginning to appreciate that the situation is more complex. Perhaps some people need assistance in returning to work sooner, or have other ways of supporting them in the workplace.
If you have a manager, then that person can get to know their team and how best to support individuals within their team. Help can be more tailored when dealt with in smaller groups or units. Managers are key to this process, which is why research is beginning to focus on this issue. Very often managers are promoted in order to take on more work, without actually being given the time to manage people. There is a difference between managing work and managing people. Sometimes a manager would benefit from having their workload lessened, to allow them to manage more effectively. This might take some time to happen in the reality of today’s organisations however!
- How did they identify the different aspects (e.g. being sociable) of the role of manager in well-being at work?
A. Researchers have looked at the link between manager behaviours and well-being at work, and this included asking employees [and managers and HR personnel] about manager performance, using “upwards assessments” and other methods, such as 360 appraisals. One aspect that emerged was that being sociable was a positive factor. This can obviously be taken too far, but having a relaxed approach, a good sense of humour etc. can help.
- Does a manager have to be sociable outside of work as well, or is it sufficient to be sociable in work only?
A. My personal thought is that the individual needs to be comfortable with their approach. If they are very uncomfortable in their attempts at being sociable, e.g. forcing themselves to go to parties etc.; then people will easily pick up on this. It is important to work out what you are comfortable doing as a starting point. Knowing your team is also a factor. Some people will be very private and will not appreciate an intrusion into their private lives. A lot will depend on the culture of the organisation, to know what is appropriate. There could be problems with too much socialising also… but this is a different problem!
[An additional comment from the floor was that being sociable could be something as simple as asking people how their weekend was].
Humour is also important, but must be handled carefully. What one person finds funny, another might find offensive. However, it can help for people to know that it’s okay to laugh at work and that it doesn’t have to be serious and confined all the time, as long as it is appropriate and polite.