Resilience in the Workplace

2016 dawns with promise, uncertainty, and many challenges – both predictable and unpredictable – in both personal and professional lives. Employees will respond to the year’s challenges with a variety of emotions. Some will be so stressed that their work performance suffers. There is a compelling reason for employers to help these employees manage the many stressful challenges of 2016.  Major Depressive Disorder (MDD, or “depression”) alone impacts 7 percent of the workforce, costing U.S. employers over $100 BILLION in direct (medical) and indirect (lost productivity) costs!

Workplace mental wellness is a major issue faced by employers, and a complex one. Mental wellness includes a wide range of conditions and severities, from mild stress to severe depression, among many others. Mental illness results mostly from forces outside an employer’s control: genetics, family life, disease, personal choices. Workplace stress can exacerbate or even precipitate behavioral disorders in many employees. Employers should not ignore these challenges, but tackle them as part of doing business. But how can employers help employees suffering from stress and possibly mental illness? What is appropriate and legally sound?

Research suggests that employers benefit by helping employees build resilience to stress. Resilience is the ability to “recover from adversity” (American Psychiatric Foundation), and in the employer/employee relationship, the workplace benefits most when both parties make efforts to build and deepen resilience.

All of us can build resilience to manage stress and foster overall mental wellness in a variety of ways, including:

  • Owning wellness. Make daily efforts to take care of your physical, mental, and spiritual self.
  • Taking action. Volunteer, pick up a stray piece of trash, help a neighbor. Making daily efforts to improve the world empowers and rewards.
  • Asking for help. If stress is overwhelming and mental well-being is suffering, reach out to someone you trust or contact a professional. Low-cost or free services exist, so don’t let financial concerns be an obstacle.
  • Employers can support mental wellness and foster resilience in the workplace with these essentials:
  • Leadership. Leaders must embrace the need to support mental health, allocate resources accordingly, and possibly develop new personal skills to model acceptance.
  • Culture of Wellness. Foster open lines of communication; offer resources like an EAP and mental wellness benefits; encourage employees to exercise.
  • Connections and strong teams. Isolated employees are prone to more stress and depression. Intentionally foster connections between employees to build relationships.
  • Training. Spread awareness and knowledge of mental health issues and resources to all employees.

Although there is no universal legal mandate for employers to assist employees with stress and mental wellness, it just makes good business sense to do so. Employees who build resilience and effectively manage their emotional wellness are more productive. There is no single “silver bullet” solution for employers, but a combination of strategic and coordinated efforts is most effective. What will your organization do to make a difference in 2016?

If you’re interested in resources, contact me at jmcdonough@msec.org or 800.884.1328 x5330.

Sources

Employer Practices for Addressing Stress and Building Resilience, August 2013; Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, American Psychiatric Foundation

Employer Perceptions of Stress and Resilience Intervention, JOEM November 2012; Spangler, Koesten, Fox, Radel

Right Direction; Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, American Psychiatric Foundation and Employer’s Health Coalition

Handling Challenging Times, May 2009; Montana State University Extension

Work, stress and health, September 2013; American Psychological Assoc.