My biggest bug-bear around the concept of ‘resilience’ is that it often gets used to let others off the hook.
A colleague shared a really interesting article with me the other week where the author was criticising the use of resilience techniques for exactly that reason. The author said that a local authority in London had evicted residents from a block of flats, and when the residents were distressed at this situation, the council paid a company to work with them to help them develop ‘coping’ mechanisms. The thrust of the article was that by telling individuals to be more resilient, organisations think they can effectively do whatever they want, however badly, and blame the individual if they don’t cope well with whatever gets thrown at them.
Sadly we do often see similar situations in organisations, where a ‘wellbeing’ strategy will be developed, usually by HR or OD, and everyone’s pleased with themselves for ticking that off the ‘to do’ list. But if this lands in an organisation with a culture of blame, micromanagement, bullying etc, then it’s a complete waste of time and effort, and worse, can be adding insult to already injured staff who are, of course, intelligent enough to see through it. As one respondent to my own research on resilience said:
“Sometimes you can think that things are being put on, like ‘it’s ok, we’ve put a stress management course on’, and it can come across as a bit maybe patronising or a bit tokenism.”
Let’s be really clear; organisations hold the power. Organisations also have a duty of care to look after those people who work in them, and to not act in a way which makes them unwell in the first place. However, ‘organisations’ are essentially just groups of people – us – so we have to be extremely careful about how we use our power and how we look after each other.
Much research, including the recent Police Federation survey and Front Line Review, makes it clear that it is often poor management, especially poor change management, which makes people unwell, and we also know that line managers have the biggest direct impact on our health and wellbeing in the workplace, so we have an important duty to make sure that our management approach is one that facilitates health and wellbeing, and not the opposite.
So first and foremost the organisation has a responsibility to look after its very greatest assets – its people.
It is ALSO true that there is much that we can do to look after ourselves. Life is inevitably a mix of good and not so good times, of calmer and more turbulent and trying times – these mixed experiences are just part of being human, so wouldn’t life be a little easier if we were better able to really enjoy and appreciate the good times and also better able to deal with the challenges?
In addition, we know that even when change is well managed, it can still impact on us because change inevitably involves some element of uncertainty and its human nature, and completely normal, to be curious, and sometimes anxious, about that.
This is where resilience really comes into its own.
And as it happens, there is much that we can do to boost our resilience. In fact, there is so much that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one blog. In some recent ‘Thriving Through Change’ workshops that I delivered with colleagues, I highlighted a number of evidence based tools and techniques for reducing stress and boosting resilience, that we can all try and which can easily be built into our daily routines.
The starting point to all of these is to understand the importance of putting yourself first. Sound selfish? Think of the airline safety briefing, and the instructions you are given to follow if the oxygen masks are deployed – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Why do we need to do that? Because if we can’t breathe, we can’t help others. And it’s a good metaphor for life.
Looking after, and being compassionate towards ourselves first helps us to better deal with the ups and downs of life, and means that we are also in a better place to help and support those around us, so self-compassion really is a win:win scenario.
So what does it mean to be self-compassionate? Well the three main components help us to get there:
- Firstly, be kind to yourself. Take care of your body and mind through things like good nutrition, exercise and practices such as mindfulness and yoga; talk about the things that are bothering you and take regular breaks to disconnect and recharge;
- Secondly, consciously notice your thoughts and feelings and don’t try to suppress the uncomfortable ones – recognise that they’re all equally part of being human, alongside the good ones! Aim to keep things in perspective and cultivate a habit of seeing positives and learning from your experiences; and
- Finally, social support is critical for resilience so stay connected to friends, family and colleagues and know that you are never on your own.
Of course that’s a very high level summary and there are lots of tools and techniques that we can use to help us with each of those.
For more information, you can have a look at/listen to the following resources:
- Video: Stop chasing self-esteem and just be self-compassionate with Kristin Neff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEyJ_H1U5SQ
- Blog: The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness, by Mariana Pascha https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
- Book: A Year of Self-Compassion (2015) by Amanda Super
- Book: Awakening Compassion at Work (2017) by Monica Worline and Jane Dutton
Organisational Development Wellbeing Lead for the National Police Wellbeing Service