Not just Zumba classes and lettuce leaves for the worried

 

Budget cuts, redundancies, reorganisation , out sourcing , increased workloads, changes in working practices, increased use of technology, stress is part of the modern public sector work experience we just have to learn to live with it. So toughen up or to put it in HR speak become more "resilient". 

 

Resilience training is the latest organisational response to stress. It is all to easy to characterise this as, we can't remove stress but we can make you better at coping with it. However there is more to it than that.....

 

Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back from adversity and hardships, feeling stronger and more capable to cope than ever before. Resilience training programmes claim/aim  to  provide  leaders, managers and teams with the necessary skills to achieve this.


 

Resilience training may appear to  focus on the individual and therefore risk being dismissed as nothing more than advising staff to, "Eat and sleep well, moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake and exercise " described by some as Zumba classes and lettuce leaves for the worried. Some times the advice is simply unrealistic like learn to say " no " to extra work or stating the obvious as in " take all your annual leave" and " make time to do things that make you happy". 

 

Resilience training becomes much more credible and useful when it looks at the behaviour of managers and the culture of the organisation. Managers can either increase or decrease stress in their staff. Managers can reduce the stress an individual is feeling by helping them distinguish between urgent and important and making clear when they allocate tasks how this fits with existing priorities. So for instance recognising it's a perfectly legitimate question to be asked , " which of the tasks you have already allocated to me do you want me to drop or move to the bottom of the to do list in order that I have the space to do this?" It's not helpful to say, "everything is a priority". The willingness or reluctance to have this conversation says much about the management relationship. 


 

It's not easy if your boss doesn't want to hear it. I was part of a senior management team made up of confident, capable and assertive individuals and yet despite the fact that we resented spending our family Sunday evening reading reports for Monday morning SMT meetings we put up with it because the boss made it clear he considered the sacrifice part of the job. 

 

Whilst external factors like central government imposed time scales, targets or budget cuts inevitably cause stress with in an organisation how things are done in the organisation will amplify that stress or moderate it. The tone is set from the top, senior managers model the management style within the organisation. A sense of belonging to a supportive team is crucial to being resilient.  Do people take an interest in colleagues work, are they willing to cover for each other, will overworked colleagues make the time to join the interview panel so you can get that post filled, will they take their turn in attending the much loathed evening meetings with residents, will they take on the awkward  task of chairing in order that a much delayed disciplinary involving your staff can go ahead without further delays? 

Even though they are short staff will they release people to join your project group or undertake a disciplinary investigation? 

 

Managers who them selves are over stressed because of the actions of their boss 

 are a nightmare to work for, typically they don't recognise they are stressed, they become inpatient and make unrealistic and unreasonable demands, they have difficulty making decisions being both indecisive and over influenced by the last person they spoke to, instead of supporting and encouraging they become over critical and look to allocate blame. Over stressed managers don't inspire they bully.

 

Over stressed staff are not productive they are risk adverse they can become cynical, anxious and fearful they are reluctant to use their initiative and constantly refer up or send arse covering emails. 

 

Resilience training with leaders, managers and teams can provide the opportunity to recognises the drip, drip effect from long hours, heavy workloads, changing working practices , intrusive technology and job insecurity. The training should prompt insight into the effect of management behaviour and look at how the organisation addresses bullying, whistleblowing, dignity at work, remuneration, and work life balance. The aim is to creat an organisational culture where all staff have space to be open and honest one that gives individuals confidence to acknowledge and talk through problems. 

 

Blair McPherson former director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 
 

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