Mentoring Mondays

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5 Ways to Boost Resilience

There is a lot of discussion these days about “resilience,” work-life integration and mental health in the workplace. The following is a condensed version of a 2017 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “5 Ways to Boost Resilience” by Rich Fernandez.

“Currently, a quarter of all employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.” Many of us now work in constantly connected, always-on, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. Since the pace and intensity of contemporary work culture are not likely to change, it’s more important than ever to build resilience skills to effectively navigate your work life.

“Factors that lead to resilience include optimism; the ability to stay balanced and manage strong or difficult emotions; a sense of safety and a strong social support system. The good news is that because there is a concrete set of behaviors and skills associated with resilience, you can learn to be more resilient. So, how can we develop resilience and stay motivated in the face of chronic negative stress and constantly increasing demands, complexity and change? Here are some tips, based on some of the latest neuroscience, behavioral and organizational research:

Exercise mindfulness: (Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.) How can you or your team start bringing mindfulness into the rhythms and routines of your daily work? One company found that implementing multimodal learning and skill development solutions such as: a combination of mobile learning, on-site training, webinars, and peer-to-peer learning networks promotes the greatest chance for mindfulness to become a core competency within an organization. Integrating mindfulness into core talent processes such as onboarding, manager training, performance conversations and leadership development is critical, yet, most organizations are not yet at this stage of adoption.

Compartmentalize your cognitive load: We receive an enormous amount of information every second, yet the brain can effectively process only 40 bits of information per second. One practical way to think about this is that, though we cannot decrease the amount of information we receive, we can compartmentalize our cognitive tasks to optimize the way we process that information. Be deliberate about compartmentalizing different types of work activities such as emailing, strategy or brainstorming sessions, and business-as-usual meetings. Grouping work is useful when you consider that switching from one type of task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and reduces productivity. Create dedicated times in the day to do specific work-related activities. 

Take detachment breaks: Throughout the workday, it is important to pay attention to the peaks and valleys of energy and productivity that we all experience. Mental focus, clarity and energy cycles are typically 90-120 minutes long, so it is useful to step away from our work for even a few minutes to reset energy and attention. Research suggests that balancing work activity with even a brief time for detaching from those activities can promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus, ultimately growing our capacity for resilience throughout the course of the workday. The long-term payoff is that we preserve energy and prevent burnout.

Develop mental agility: The ability to switch from a “respond to” rather than “react to” mode.  When we are able to cognitively take a step back from our experience and label our thoughts and emotions, we can create options and choose wisely. This is a valuable skill in demanding, high-performance workplaces everywhere.

Cultivate compassion: One of the most overlooked aspects of the resilience skill set is the ability to cultivate compassion – both self-compassion and compassion for others. According to research cited by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration. Individual, team, and organizational success rely on a compassionate work culture.

“Finally, the ability to build resilience is a skill that will serve you well in an increasingly stressful work world. Building an organizational culture that encourages and supports resilience training just makes good business sense.” 


Source:  Harvard Business Review, June 2017.

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