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Building resilience: Encouraging mental fortitude in the workplace

December 1, 2021

Resilience is a key strategy that helps employees tackle stress and workplace conflicts, address challenges on the job, and thrive in their job and home life.
Health and Benefits

With the employee health spotlight firmly fixed on proactive health, building resilience is becoming more of a priority.

Both employers and employees can reap significant benefits from a workplace culture that helps workers to endure and adapt to life and work challenges more easily and effectively.

But creating a resilient workforce and healthier culture takes ongoing commitment.

Here, we outline why building resilience is so important in today’s climate and highlight ways in which companies can support their workforce, from engaging leadership to resilience training.

Setting the scene

The pandemic compounded already established issues around compromised emotional wellbeing.

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, job insecurity, health concerns and social disconnection, mental health became more of a prevalent and pressing issue for employees, and subsequently, their employers.

According to WTW’s Benefits Trends Survey 2021 (WTW BTS 2021), eight in ten (81 per cent) employers were concerned about stress, burnout, and mental health issues.

Although emotional wellbeing support was a priority for many companies in the pre-pandemic era, with the economic cost of ill mental health on business well-documented, the increased level of need triggered by the Covid crisis was unprecedented.

Unsurprisingly, companies struggled to keep up pace with this unexpected surge in mental health issues, with more than one third (39 per cent) of BTS 2021 respondents admitting that support around emotional wellbeing had been a weakness for them during this period.

However, with companies now emerging from the storm, armed with learnings and grappling with a new model of flexible and hybrid working, bolstering emotional wellbeing amongst the employee base has become an area of increased focus.

In fact, 65 per cent of companies have said that they intend to enhance mental health support as part of their benefits offering in the next two years.

Tech in action

By leveraging certain technologies and offering access to apps that support mental wellbeing, employers can offer an effective, low-cost, preventative approach to strengthening psychological resilience, via a medium that employees are comfortable and familiar with.

A wide range of research now supports the use of mindfulness as an effective tool for reducing the impact of stress, anxiety and depression, and some apps have gained a large following for their science-based techniques.

From AI chatbots and online support forums to meditative apps and relaxation tutorials, there are a myriad of tech-based benefits that can help boost employee mental wellbeing and build mental fortitude.

According to WTW’s Emerging Trends in Healthcare Delivery survey, almost half (47 per cent) of businesses currently offer mindfulness, sleep and relaxation apps, with an additional 26 per cent planning to do so in the near future.

It is important to remember that employer intervention will not be welcomed by all employees. Employers should seek to support employees by arming them with the right instruments to manage their own health, at their own convenience.

To allay any concerns around health data security, employers should be transparent with employees and provide any necessary updates should storage or security measures change.

Finding balance

Another way to boost emotional resilience is to actively seek to reduce stressors and promote balance in the workplace – be it office or home-based.

In the wake of the pandemic, incidents of presenteeism, where employees continue to work when they are mentally unwell, and ‘leavism’, where employees are unable to ‘switch-off’ from work, rose sharply.

According to CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report, more than three quarters (77 per cent) of employers observed presenteeism in employees working at home, whilst seven in ten (70 per cent) said leavism was an issue.

In order to create a sustainably resilient workforce, there needs to be opportunity for replenishment.

Breaks, for example, are important for restorative purposes but are often overlooked. According to WTW’s latest Barometer research, almost two thirds (64 per cent) of non-smokers and non-vapers do not take regular breaks at work.

This is despite more than half believing it would improve their health and wellbeing and their productivity levels if they did so.

Employers should encourage workers to take regular breaks, away from their desk, and, if office-based, look at providing a dedicated space where workers can recharge.

Ensuring work goals are realistic, encouraging staff to work regular hours and take regular leave, and keeping work correspondence within working hours, will also help reinforce this message of balance and help employees find a sense of stability.

A source of support

Building resilience is about equipping employees with the tools to manage their own emotional health but a wider support network can underpin this self-care model.

For example, training line managers to recognise symptoms that indicate a worker is struggling can enable early intervention, before matters escalate.

Companies are recognising the key role managers play in bolstering employee health, with almost half (44 per cent) of companies planning to focus on manager training to identify and assist employees in their health and wellbeing in the next two years, according to the WTW BTS survey 2021.

Furthermore, more than a third (38 per cent) of employers are considering or planning to implement employee networks, such as employee champions, networks or resource groups, to support wellbeing.

There is a growing encouragement to use benefits which support emotional wellbeing, such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which provide staff with access to trained, independent, counsellors at their convenience.

More than 9 in 10 companies are now offering this to their employees, with the remaining 9 per cent intending to offer it within the next two years.

Offering multiple sources of internal support and signposting employees to the most appropriate external sources of support can help drive home the importance of proactive mental health care and encourage employees to seek help at the earliest opportunity.

Cultural shift

Emotional wellbeing must become part of the company ethos in order for effective company-wide changes to be made.

And there are significant business gains to be had from taking such as an approach. A Deloitte report found that organisation‑wide, preventative activities to improve employee resilience can achieve a higher impact than remedial, individual‑focused activities, as well as a significantly higher ROI.

Normalising mental health, providing tools for employees to manage their own stress levels, encouraging open conversations amongst teams, and forging internal support networks all work in tandem to bolster resilience and promote widespread mental fortitude.


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