A colleague of mine heard the Chief Medical Officer for the SAS say at a recent conference that, “What we have in the SAS is love for each other”. When would you ever hear this sort of comment in the Board Room of UK Ltd? How many managers or partners would say this of their colleagues? Advertisers know that emotional responses are around four times more powerful than rational ones and can therefore drive buying decisions by pulling emotional strings, yet how many of us are willing to recognise and talk about emotions at work? Though many of us realise in the abstract that emotional engagement could be far more powerful than rational engagement, putting emotional intelligence – or more radically, “love” – on the agenda at a Board meeting could, I imagine, be more than a little controversial.
I would like to throw this challenge out to UK businesses: is the way we are working, really working? Isn’t it time to recognise and work with the emotions of our leaders and workforces in order to build true long-term resilience, engagement and health?
And so to the link with stress management. We tend to deal with stress management reactively rather than proactively. Lawyers Hogan Lovells announced in The Lawyer on 13 September that they will be reviewing stress management in the tragic wake of a partner’s suicide. The Firm’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Carolyn Lee said, “Many corporations shy away from the topic of stress because they don’t want to be perceived as a stressful place to work”. That is certainly true, but it does not represent a solution.
To manage stress as fully as possible in the workplace it is necessary to understand that it is not just the situation that causes our stress responses but also the emotional importance which we assign to a given event or situation. If employers really want powerful and sustainable resistance to stress then they must build the emotional resilience of the workforce. We must treat the causes of stress, not just the symptoms, in order to achieve sustainable long- term effectiveness.
In recent years, the “go-to” strategy to deal with the economic challenges has been cost-cutting and process efficiency – which often equates to asking more for less from our employees. It is no wonder that this has often led to low engagement, poor health and absenteeism. One of the most important assets in any organisation is the people – yet how many leaders honestly ask, “How do we really create a resilient workforce?” If organisations could take a fresh approach – work with their people to help them feel valued rather than just lucky to have a job – what difference would that make? How much more engaged would the workforce become and how much might this raise their resilience and consequently productivity?
My personal view is that, as a nation, we cannot afford to ignore this for much longer. Stress is inevitable and sometimes healthy, but more often not. It is the effective and systematic management of stress that will set apart those people and organisations who can succeed in life.
It is my Number One belief that there must be more than a shift in mindset. The ability to shift the emotional response to stress is the key is to stopping the damaging physical effects which stress can have on your body. By harnessing this control we can keep our workforce in a place of positive performance to their own benefit and that of the employer rather than stand helplessly by as they crash, exhausted and alienated.