30 Ways to Manage Stress in the Workplace

30 Ways to Manage Stress in the Workplace

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) is how strategists describe the modern workplace. Everything is also moving faster. Many work processes that used to take weeks – letters, reporting, travel – are now instantaneous. Humans are not equipped for this turbulent assault of information, opinion, news, competition and distraction.

Many feel overloaded, busy and stressed. A quick look at the rise of anxiety, depression, attention disorders, sleep problems, relationship conflict and stress-related health conditions, will leave you in no doubt that the workplace has a big problem. Here are our top thirty recommendations. We will work through language, leadership, rhythm, culture and personal responsibility.

Language

1. Stop using the word “stress” as fast as you possibly can. It is sloppy language that will confuse everyone. The language in your workplace is subtle but powerful. Get it right.
2. Define external pressure as challenge (never as “stress”). When things are VUCA, let people know that it is intense “out there” and you have challenges to address.
3. When you feel challenged but still motivated and energised let people know that you are fully engaged (never “stressed”). If you are on top of your game, say “relaxed and in flow”.
4. When you feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable and fragile, you are “distressed”. Distress is suffering and counter-productive. Distress is the body’s alarm system. You need to hear it and take action to bounce.
5. Define the difference between acute and chronic distress. Occasional, short bursts of distress are normal and adaptive. This is the acute stress that happens with a fire alarm. Persistent and relentless distress is abnormal and dangerous. This chronic distress is perhaps the greatest risk to your people and your business. It is the mental health disorder of our time.
6. Be clear that the opposite of distress is not disengaged. The solution is relaxed effectiveness. The question to ask is “how do we get back to relaxed effectiveness quickly.

Leadership

7. The solution starts at the top with simplification. The fastest way to solve the problem is for leaders to enforce clarity. Define the objective and the key results needed to secure them. Remove distraction and goal conflict from the top down.
8. Leaders and teams must clarify each day’s key actions that will support desired results. Rather get one thing done well each day than make a little progress on ten things.
9. Leaders and managers must learn how to model calm, respectful and focused behaviour. When leaders show anger, disappointment and fear, distress rages through the organisation.
10. Be strictly focused in all meetings and teamwork. Remove devices and clutter. Multitasking is massively ineffective. We waste massive amounts of mental energy by switching attention. The average i-gen switches attention every 19 seconds. Overload, withdrawal and distress follow.

Rhythm

11. Help your people design and follow daily rhythms. Work is effective in bursts of high intensity on a single focus. Each person must learn when they need to take a quick and effective rest. For example, focus for 40 minutes followed by a 3 minute walk and stretch.
12. Make sure people get up and about for tea and lunch breaks. If possible get outside for some natural light and a brief walk over lunch.
13. Negotiate times or signals to reduce unwanted interruptions. Be firm with those who do not respect focused bursts.
14. Encourage daily stand-up meetings for each workgroup. These should be at the same time and ideally at the start of the day. Connect as human beings and then share your key goal for the day.
15. Keep meetings short
16. Consider having meeting-free hours during the day so that they can plan to get things done.
17. Answer e-mails and messages in short bursts no more than four times per day.
18. Work on one document or platform at a time. Use airplane mode when you can.

Culture

19. A key role for the board and leadership team is to model behaviours that set the culture of your organisation. Truth and respect are the foundations of culture. Demand honesty and expect everyone to be treated with respect.
20. Set high standards for impulse control. Outbursts of anger (shouting), sadness (tears) and fear (avoidance or panic) create waves of distress that echo for decades. Make sure everyone knows how to restrain outbursts, calm down and have a constructive candid conversation.
21. Be proactive and generous with apologies. We are human and we make mistakes. Be courageous and humble. Immediately step forward when you behave without honesty or respect.
22. Train your people in empathy. Empathy is at the core of communication, collaboration, innovation and high performing teams. Empathy requires that you be physically present, emotionally attuned and can take the perspective of others. If people feel listened to and understood, distress is massively reduced.
23. Train people in influence and communication styles. Diversity at work demands that we learn how to understand and connect with different perspectives and styles. These are not rigid diagnoses. We can learn to recognise different styles and how to adjust and be more flexible with our own.
24. Train your people in conflict resolution. Human interactions are messy and conflict will occur. Conflict is a primary cause of distress and mental illness. It can be managed. Show people how to respectfully disagree, debate and resolve differences without compromising truth, respect and compassion.

Personal Responsibility

25. Be clear in your expectation that you expect people to know how to bounce, recover, relax and rejuvenate. While work is a significant source of distress, family, health and finances play a role. A significant solution to the problem of distress is personal responsibility for making the time and practicing the solutions.
26. Ensure that your organisation makes the necessary resources to support effective bounce and recovery available. Including assessments, workshops, digital training, practice tips and coaching (or EAP).
27. Ensure that your people understand the importance of sleep. After excessive device time, sleep disturbance is a key cause of anxiety and depression (distress). A good night’s sleep at the right time is a primary solution.
28. Train your people in the evidence-based skills of relaxation, breath control, emotion regulation and attention training. We recommend avoiding confusing words that might cause religious or philosophical friction. Give people every possible support to build the right practices into their lives. Encourage practice at work.
29. Socialise the concept of smart switching. Many of us remain in the work grid through the evening and the weekend. As people learn to switch from work to home and family, resilience will build.
30. Encourage laughter. Don’t be too serious. Perhaps every workplace needs a joker.

 

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40 Resilience Training Results

40 Resilience Training Results

At The Resilience Institute, we have made a business of securing the benefits of resilience for our clients around the world.

We tracked the impact of resilience interventions using our 60-factor assessment, the Resilience Diagnostic. The data clearly shows that resilience strengths (the top of the spiral) improve and resilience risks (the bottom of the spiral) reduce after training.

Graph of results from resilience training interventions

Resilience Strengths

Good things that get significantly better:

  1. Relaxation: taking time daily to relax
  2. Health awareness: having an annual health assessment
  3. Fitness: doing some activity at least 5 days a week
  4. Sleep quality: having a deep and refreshing sleep
  5. Nutrition: making an effort to eat well
  6. Purpose: having a clear, defined purpose in life
  7. Fulfilment: living an enjoyable and worthwhile life
  8. Focus: having a clear and focused mind
  9. Influence: being able to persuade others to new ways of thinking
  10. Creativity: able to express creativity at work
  11. Optimism: able to think and express positively
  12. Decisiveness: confident in making decisions
  13. Compassion: making an effort to help others
  14. Assertiveness: confident in voicing an opinion in groups
  15. Tactical calm: able to calm down quickly in conflict

Resilience Risks

Bad things that reduce significantly:

  1. Hypervigilance: overactive mind at night
  2. Insomnia: broken and disturbed sleep
  3. Worry: worry about the future (anxiety)
  4. Self-critical: critical and hard on oneself (depression symptom)
  5. Chronic distress: symptoms in stomach, chest, skin, shoulders, headaches
  6. Boredom: bored at work and home
  7. Hostility: frustrated, irritable and impatient (anger)
  8. Overload: workload exceeds available resources
  9. Sloth: too busy to exercise
  10. Self doubt: low self confidence (depression symptom)
  11. Disconnected: distant from others (major risk for depression)
  12. Sleep delay: sleeping in over weekends (effectively causing jetlag)
  13. Fatigue: exhaustion at the end of the day
  14. Indecisiveness: confused about daily decisions (depression symptom)
  15. Immune failure: suffering from colds, flu and lethargy

And how does this affect the organisation?

  1. Every one of these gains has been linked to a positive return on investment in productivity research
  2. Staff turnover reduces and morale improves
  3. People recover from distress, anxiety, and depression
  4. Work and interactions are more calm, focused and empathic
  5. Conflict reduces markedly
  6. Physical wellbeing is one of the most significant gains
  7. Absenteeism and insurance costs reduce as people get sick less
  8. Leadership becomes more effective, focused and caring
  9. Collaboration, innovation and fulfilment increase
  10. The organisation has strategic agility

Summary

Organisations exist through people, and people are a complex mix of physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual perceptions and behaviours.

While we all have unique strengths and weaknesses, resilience training provides a foundational skill set that enables us to recognise how we are responding to life’s challenges (insight) and then to execute real-time adjustments for better outcomes (mastery).

When we master bounce in adversity, learn how to better connect with others, and discover flow in our life and work, the result is sustainable, successful organisations that are grounded in resilient, productive, mentally healthy people.

Resilience interventions clearly improve the resilience of large populations. N=3,693.

View the resilience research report for more insights from our data mining. Discover resilience training options for the workplace.

 

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Dr Sven on Meditation

Dr Sven on Meditation

By Dr Sven Hansen.

Meditation has gone mainstream for good reasons.

The evidence confidently shows physical, emotional and cognitive benefits [i]
Roughly 2,500 years of dedicated practice proves safety
Meditation presents as a foundation competence for our future
It can be the most enjoyable part of your day and enlightens the rest
So, why isn’t everybody meditating? Even, philosopher of our time, Noah Yuval Harari [ii], recommends meditation. He believes it generates the mental and emotional resilience required in our future of artificial intelligence and increasing human redundancy.

The first reason is overload – the very reason we should be meditating. The second is language. Meditation or mindfulness can trigger xenophobic reactions or seem too intense. The third is the immaturity of the field with a flood of overenthusiastic novices. The fourth is a failure of execution.

The last is the one to be confronted. The knowing-doing gap.

To be fair, I recommend that you secure your sleep and exercise first. To meditate when you are sleep deprived or unfit is wasteful. However, for many their meditation practice is the solution to sleep and the motivation to move.

If meditation is your next challenge, here are some tips to get the wins.

1. Get the language right
Meditation is our word for a strategic investment. Tactical Calm or Breath Control is for quick relaxation. Tactical Focus is for practical attention skills. We have dropped mindfulness as too broad. Be confident in the word you choose. You do not want to feel embarrassed or ashamed when you talk about it. Fortunately, there are many paths.

2. Allocate the time
While at first it feels like booking a dentist appointment, you have to get serious about allocating protected time. There is a theme that the minimum investment for sustainable gains is 8 minutes per day. Be on time for this appointment every day. Imagine it as a confirmed meeting with the CEO of life – which is exactly what it is. Even if the appointment is a mess, stick with the full allocated time. Two to five minutes is a good start.

3. Play – be curious and creative
A big disappointment is when you sit down to control your mind and find perfect bliss. To your dismay, as you sit your mind dissolves into agitated chaos. Within minutes you are miserable – appalled to discover that you have absolutely no control over your thoughts and feelings.

Be relaxed and playful. You are entering a virtual world with a whole new set of rules. You have switched external stimuli such as weather, work, gadgets, and relationships to an inner world of biochemistry, emotions and thoughts. For many this is foreign territory. You will have to learn to relax into this new drama and get to know the characters.

Watch the pain and see how it tugs for attention and sympathy. Really focus into that feeling of anxiety and experience how it wants to take control of your mind and movement. Look clearly into the bubbling stream of thoughts and images and how easily they can snatch away your commitment to focus on your breath – even hijack the entire practice.

Your job will be to discover who you are in this kaleidoscope of sensations, feelings and thoughts. I sense that itch. I feel that frustration. I notice that thought. Be present and attentive to the “I”. Keep coming back to yourself as the subject, the watcher or the witness.

4. Establish your base practice
Your base practice is to sit comfortably on chair or cushion:

Keep your spine light and long.
Let your shoulders roll backward and down.
Breathe through your nose.
Relax your chest and let your sternum sink downward.
Exhale completely over six seconds and pause gently.
Inhale slowly and evenly aiming for four seconds.
Keep your chest, neck and face relaxed
Allow your belly, side ribs and loins (over kidneys) to expand.
Keep your face and neck relaxed.
Notice your pulse, muscle tone, and skin
Focus on the rise and fall of your upper belly – ‘rising…..falling…..rising…’
Breathing at 10 seconds per breath means 48 breaths. Simple. Yeah right.

5. Commit to daily discipline
Regardless of how messy, wasteful, frustrating or disappointing the experience, resolve to sit down tomorrow and repeat. You will miss the odd day. As much as possible secure a daily practice. Even if you need to lie in bed and breathe at the end of a hectic day, it is something. There is also a case for taking a minute every hour through the working day to sit up, relax, drop your attention to your breath and breath slowly (6 out, 4 in) for 6 breaths.

6. Set your basic rituals
Starting a new practice or daily ritual is challenging at first. After about six weeks it will become a routine that requires little thought or effort. For the first six weeks simply sit and breathe with an open, non-judgemental presence to the sensations, feelings and thoughts. Gently fix your attention on the rise and fall of breathing. Use the exhale as an anchor.

As your practice steadies, prepare with a few stretches or yoga poses to mobilise your joints, stretch the muscles and engage your diaphragm fully. Select a place that is quiet, peaceful and comfortable. Once your breath and attention are a little more stable, sense the life force in your body. Encourage feelings of peace, gratitude, appreciation and kindness. Let your mind settle quietly on your point of focus. Reach into the “I” or subject and be present to the show. Your sense of self becomes more stable. This is meta-awareness or meta-cognition. You have a reference point that is separate from the senses, feelings and thoughts.

As you grasp this meta-awareness, begin to lengthen your practice out to 20 or even 40 minutes.

7. Explore variations for deeper practice
When ready, explore meditation variations. In my own practice, I start with a tactical focus to initiate my practice. On Monday I generate feelings of calm, on Tuesday vitality (energy), on Wednesday love, on Thursday contentment (gratitude) and Friday, joy. This is an excellent way to build strength in your positive emotions and if feels like a good build for the week.

Once you are deep in meditation there are three main branches [iii]. All are based on your now practiced ability to sit calm, clear, and present to your breath. The first is focused attention. Select a focus. The rising and falling of the abdomen, the flow of breath at your nostrils or simply a word or a visualisation. Resolve to hold your attention on that focus. Imagine your attention like a beam of light. You are the source that must direct, focus and fix the beam of light on the focus point.

The second is loving kindness. Start with feeling your body and sinking into a sincere acceptance, gentleness and kindness toward yourself. This is called self-compassion. Then bring to mind parents, partner, children and loved ones. Extend a genuine intention that they be peaceful, loving and joyous. As your capacity for loving kindness grows, extend that intention to your communities, all people, all sentient beings and ultimately the universe.

Finally, there is open presence. Imagine the “I” as subject or witness to body, emotion and mind (objects of awareness). You are reversing back up towards the source. You create distance from body, emotion and mind. Become one with awareness. When you ask the questions ‘who is aware?’ or ‘who am I?’, you begin to experience open presence. It is vast, expansive, free and beautiful.

Meditation can be fun. Come and play.

[i] The Science of Meditation, Davidson and Goleman, 2017

[ii] 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Noah Yuval Harari, 2018

[iii] Altruism, Matthieu Ricard, 2015

See article

 

30 Ways to Build Workplace Resilience

30 Ways to Build Workplace Resilience

By 

Resilience in the workplace is a leading issue for boards, CEOs, and the People and Culture leadership.

The workplace drivers for resilience are clear:

  • People and teams in flow multiply productivity
  • Mental skills – specifically situation agility – are essential
  • Productivity requires emotional maturity and collaboration
  • People need support in wellbeing and lifestyle disciplines
  • Change and complexity require bounce and mental fitness
  • Solving digital overload and distraction are essential
  • Solutions for increasing anxiety and depression are urgent
  • Mental health is a lead safety concern

With over 20 years’ experience, our team has delivered resilience training and solutions to businesses, government, schools, competitive sports and entrepreneurs.

Here are 30 ways we have identified to build workplace resilience:

1. Start with the CEO and board.

Resilience is a strategic issue for all workplaces. There are critical risks if your people’s resilience fails and significant advantages to all aspects of human productivity when resilience is secured. When the CEO and board support and lead the initiative, employees are more confident in the approach.

2. Define resilience clearly.

Resilience is a learned ability, through practical skills, that enables our capacity to bounce in adversity, grow our master skills, connect with others and find flow in work. Having a common definition of resilience enables individuals and teams to build insight and activate the right response when required.

3. Frame resilience in the positive.

With the right skills adversity and challenge become a force for engagement, collaboration, innovation and organisational strength. Resilience is more than just bouncing back from challenges – it is a web of competencies that enable us to lead a safe, well and effective life.

4. Use resilience as a framework.

Integrate, align and simplify your people initiatives including safety, mental health, well-being, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, leadership and high performing teams. Fragmented programmes can cause confusion and apathy when teams are already feeling the pressure. Using a common framework builds consistency and reliability.

5. Socialise the idea.

Involve your people in dialogue around the concept of resilience and the benefits.

6. Create enthusiasm for action.

Invite speakers and encourage people to share stories and favourite examples of resilience in action.

7. Offer all staff a Resilience Diagnostic.

A confidential, voluntary and secure assessment is essential. Ensure that each participant receives an actionable and educational report.

8. Examine the company aggregate report.

While protecting individuals, the data can be aggregated to show where your risks and strengths lie. This will guide your solution.

9. Engage the team in an effective debrief.

It is essential that each participant has the opportunity to understand what the report means and how they can use it as a platform to drive their resilience building plan.

10. Plan targeted workshops.

From your company report define the key points of focus and engage the right team to train and support your teams.

11. Make digital training and support available.

Workshops, videos, practice tips, self-assessments and a simple research resource can be on every device.

12. Encourage people to share with family.

Resilience is always closely intertwined with resilience at home. Let your people share resources with family.

13. Invite family to a workshop.

This can be a great way to build community and make a real contribution to the families that support your people.

14. Train leaders to support resilience.

Leaders must understand the concepts, learn to walk-the-talk in their own behaviours and explicitly coach for resilience.

15. Leaders must understand how resilience fails.

Be sure to train your leaders and managers to recognise the signs of resilience failure and make sure they understand the basics of attention disorders, autism, anxiety and depression.

16. Be sure your EAP is engaged.

Let your EAP provider know what you are doing and make sure your people know that support is available.

17. Don’t rely on a workshop to solve resilience.

Resilience can only grow when people are encouraged to practice the skills. Have regular training and learning labs.

18. Integrate resilience into team behaviours.

Expect team managers to understand how bounce, tactical calm, personal mastery, empathy, focus and flow support a team’s work.

19. Create and maintain rhythm.

People are not computers. We work best in short bursts of intense activity with brief effective breaks. Make sure the office supports regular breaks and disciplined bursts of activity.

20. Provide goal setting and tracking.

Modern apps and wearables allow people to set goals and track progress. This can be a powerful force for constructive change.

21. Remove junk food and sugar drinks.

Provide healthy options.

22. Organise fresh fruit bowls for each office.

Not expensive and powerfully symbolic.

23. Bring natural light into the office.

Natural light, plants, greenery and views lift productivity.

24. Encourage walk and talk meetings.

This supports rhythm, movement and and a deeper form of communication.

25. Send out weekly tips on practical actions.

Make the practice tips bright fun and visible in public places.

26. Encourage social activities around resilience.

Make it fun, social and sometimes competitive.

27. Campaign for resilience over at least three years.

Repetition and mastery matter.

28. Reward people and teams that achieve.

Look out for those who demonstrate success and celebrate their story.

29. Keep your leaders visible and active.

When your people see leaders paying attention to and working on their own practices you gain momentum.

30. Repeat the Diagnostic.

We recommend that the diagnostic can be done twice yearly. Learn what is working and keep improving your strategic resilience.

Safetyism, Snowballs and Fragile Youth

Safetyism, Snowballs and Fragile Youth

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Book Review: Coddling of the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt, 2018

We parent, teach and support. We want the best for young people. What we are seeing is a collapse of mental well-being. At the same time, events of intimidation, violence and witch hunts increase.

Lukianoff and Haidt take us on an evidence-based and carefully considered journey through modern parenting, teenage mental illness and education. They describe how we are losing the pursuit of truth and growth. Society is being pulled apart by partisan politics and intolerance. Young people are not coping well with this.

Most importantly, the authors detail what we can do to improve this situation. What they describe is American but the signs are global. The solutions are practical and immediately applicable in families, schools, universities and societies.

The book is excellent.  Three ideas:

Safetyism

Overprotective society, parenting and education is depriving young people of growth. They are missing the opportunity to engage skilfully with truth, diversity, risk assessment, empathy and situation agility (the authors use Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)). The i-Generation, born after 1995, suffers rapidly increasing rates of anxiety, self-harm and depression. They are poorly prepared for the challenges of work, relationships and politics.

The authors recommend using safety for physical risk only. They encourage us to help our youth take risks through free play, debate, conflict resolution and respect for truth. Social media must be limited – particularly for young women.

Snowballs

A school demands that student never touch snow because it may produce a dangerous snowball. Similarly, we have invited and expanded the concept of threat to include diverse views, free speech, “micro-aggressions” and “avoiding triggers”. Thus universities have, since 2013, experienced an alarming increase in mental illness and campus violence. Research from left-leaning perspectives is all that remains. Moderate views have been silenced. Social media helps us name and shame those who voice disquieting views. If that does not work, students increasingly resort to violence. All because someone touched the snow.

Fragility

Young people are complex adaptive systems. Genes create a rough template upon which the challenges of life – most specifically play and direct social interaction – work. We must play and practice to develop our neural wiring and the skills required to thrive. Jean Twenge shows that teen development is now delayed by three years. They are physically safe but mentally vulnerable.

The authors recommend that we rethink and look for proven wisdom. Treat our youth as antifragile. They have specific suggestions for parents, junior and senior school and universities. Much is based on teaching young people to own and master their emotional and cognitive responses. “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

Bravo!