A challenging time for UK business
Recent years have been challenging for UK businesses. Amid political volatility, technological upheaval and economic uncertainty, it's not enough merely to be successful: the capacity to sustain success through known and unknown challenges and risks is just as important.
In this context, “resilience” has emerged as crucial measure of a business' health. Resilience encompasses operations, finance, brand strength, cash flow, and many other areas. One of the most important indicators of a business' resilience is the strength of the people who make it up. Employee wellbeing, staff turnover rates, and hiring ability are all crucial indicators.
Bolstering workforce resilience is therefore an important part of ensuring overall business strength. But how do you do this? The best way to encourage resilience is through a culture of openness, in which it is “ok to not be ok”. But culture change is difficult. It takes time. There are, however, some simple steps businesses can take to help them get there. One of the simplest, and most effective, is resilience training.
The value of prevention
Employers have, in recent years, woken up to the fact that mental health is no longer an issue they can afford to ignore. In any given year, one in four 1 people will suffer with mental health issues.
In 2018, 69% of referrals for rehabilitation through Aviva’s Group Income Protection were for mental health conditions.
Companies first have a moral duty to take the mental health of their employees seriously. It’s only right to expect bosses to care about the wellbeing of those keeping their businesses running. However, there is a clear commercial case to be made as well: in the UK, presenteeism and absenteeism – often the result of wellbeing problems – cost the UK economy £73bn 2 each year.
A series of recent roundtables, hosted by Aviva in conjunction with the British Chamber of Commerce, assessed business’ current thinking on employee wellbeing. CEOs, MDs and HR professionals representing the broad spectrum of UK commerce agreed that current measures, most of which focus on firefighting, are uneconomical.
A major point of consensus arising from the sessions was the value of a more preventative approach. When it comes to mental health, early intervention is often the most effective way of avoiding escalation. And the best way of preventing the escalation of minor problems is to foster a culture in which employees are comfortable voicing their concerns. Sometimes a conversation with management, in which an employee feels understood and listened to, is all it takes to avert a mental health crisis.
Changing an organisation’s culture takes time. Openness isn’t something management can instil overnight. There are, however, some more immediate steps companies can take to boost workforce wellbeing. One of the most effective is “resilience training”. While many of the businesses at our recent roundtables had some awareness of resilience training, very few had incorporated it into their on-boarding processes. The ones who had said it had been helpful.
The idea that resilience can be learned can seem counterintuitive. We tend to think of resilience as a constant, i.e. something someone either possesses or lacks. However, studies have shown that training – incorporating role play, classes and seminars with insights from academic psychology – can significantly boost employees’ capacity to manage the intense demands of 21st century working culture. Resilience training helps with conflict resolution, prioritising of workload, communication with superiors and how to manage stress. Critics have said it’s a way for employers to boost employees’ ability to shoulder unreasonable quantities of work. However, used effectively, it should teach employees how to communicate – confidently and without fear of repercussions – when their workload is too much.
As awareness of the impact of mental health disorders has expanded, so too has our understanding of what it means for employers to take care of their workforce. Effective resilience training has the potential to drastically reduce both absenteeism and the equally important challenge of ‘presenteeism’. It’s not about teaching people to persevere through unhappiness; it’s about maximising their capacity to be fulfilled by work. And, if it is incorporated into an induction process for all new employees, it can be the first meaningful step toward that elusive culture of openness – a culture in which it’s “ok to not be ok.”