Resilience in the Workplace

Resilience in the Workplace

Eileen Blackburn


Resilience in the Workplace

Continuing on the theme of wellbeing at work, Eileen Blackburn, Principal Partner in our Edinburgh office reports on some of the issues discussed at the recent Investec / French Duncan lunch where resilience in the workplace was the key topic.

The idea for a working lunch to discuss wellbeing in the workplace (and in particular mental wellbeing) came from a discussion between Laura Lambie, of Investec, and myself.   We had both seen the format which involved providing a comfortable relaxed setting to allow an open discussion among women with various levels of experience from varied backgrounds working well.   We agreed that good mental health in the workplace is very important, but what does that look like?  We wondered what was being done to promote resilience and wellbeing at work, not just in our own businesses but in others, and if there could be lessons to learn from sharing experiences and knowledge. 

We were fortunate enough to persuade Jill Maclean of People Strategies to lead the session.  Jill shared her own insights and gave us some food for thought to provoke our thinking and to stimulate discussion.   She gave us various definitions of resilience to consider and we discussed the components including self-awareness and social support.  We considered our own behaviours against how others see us against the components of resilience – to see ourselves as others see us.

We were introduced (many of us for the first time) to the Chimp Paradox (click here for video summary), and Jill explained the importance of each of us recognising our own chimp and how to live with it, quoting Professor Steven Peters - “One of the key secrets of success and happiness is to learn to live with your Chimp and not get bitten or attacked by it. To do this you need to understand how your Chimp behaves, and why it thinks and acts in the way that it does. You also need to understand your Human and not muddle up your Human with your Chimp.” – source, The Chimp Paradox  Professor Steve Peters. 

A key part of the discussion was the recognition that people need to feel empowered at work and that autonomy is important.  Workers need to feel in control of their own responsibilities and support and feeling part of a team is also important.  Workloads need to be manageable and people need to have the information and resources available to carry out the work.  One delegate joked about how she had presented a former line manager with a post-it pad bearing the legend “nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself” and described how that manager managed his own time poorly and that had a detrimental and debilitating effect on those who reported to him.  Frequently they had their day’s work planned out, only to be interrupted by unreasonable demands to have other, unscheduled pieces of work completed within unreasonable timelines.  

One subject that came up time and again during the discussion was the rapid rate of change in the workplace.  Delegates discussed their own experiences good and bad.  Many mentioned that time spent working (as opposed to being “at work”) was now much less binary than previously.  The great e-mail debate invoked a lot of discussion.  One delegate commented that she could only really manage her in-box if she tackled it on a Sunday, but she recognized that if she was sending messages to her staff on a Sunday, even if she did not expect a response, or for action to be taken until during the working week, this approach to managing her own workload, may not be encouraging to others.  Would they feel guilty for not responding?  Would they feel the messages were intrusive and encroaching on time away from the workplace?

The Scandinavian style of working, where there is a clear delineation and where workers are often encouraged to designate specific times during the day to dealing with emails was debated.  Many delegates could see the benefit of this while others felt it would be difficult to be so disciplined.  The desire to respond immediately is often overwhelming, but constantly looking at the email in-box can be extremely distracting.

As the discussion developed we looked again at what resilience means to each of us.  Various definitions were offered, and we looked at quotes from a variety of well- known figures which were extremely thought provoking.  My favourite came from Nelson Mandela “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”. This is a more eloquent version of my own personal quote (think Ally McBeal and her theme song) which comes courtesy of   Chumbawamba – “I get knocked down – but I get up again.  You’re never gonna keep me down”.

At the end of the session there was a consensus that it had been a worthwhile and rewarding experience and one which we would repeat within six months, but the next time we would extend the invitations beyond our female peers.

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