Given the state of the economy, it is not surprising that we are seeing survey after survey suggesting that stress is now the leading cause of sickness absence at work, while at the same time presenteeism (that is people turning up to work even when they are ill because of fears of their job security) is on the rise. The latter is worrying because, although people are physically present at the workplace, the evidence is that these people contribute little added value to their product or service.
Indeed, presenteeism now costs double that of absenteeism to UK Plc., running at over £15b per annum. None of this is surprising to the millions of people who have jobs in workplaces where staff numbers have dramatically declined, where workloads have doubled, where the working day is much longer and extending into people’s private life, and where job insecurity is now an intrinsic part of one’s working life in the modern business world. Therefore, managing one’s work-life balance and stress is critical to one’s health, and ultimately to one’s productivity and career aspirations.
As Woody Allen once humorously put it: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.”
How To Build Resilience
One of the ways that individuals can deal with the multiple demands on them in their careers, is to try and build up their own resilience. Resilience is comprised of four primary characteristics: adaptability, purposefulness, confidence, and social support.
‘Adaptability’ is about being flexible, adapting to changing situations. It is about being a ‘glass half full’ type rather than being resistant to change or being a proverbial ‘whinger’. It is very easy for someone to say why something ‘can’t be done’ rather than how it can be done, but being adaptable and ‘willing’ can help prevent some forms of stress at work.
‘Purposefulness’ is having a clear sense of purpose in your job and in life generally, with clear values and a clear direction of travel. It means reflecting on where you are, what you want to do over the next few years and your career ‘port of call’, where you aiming to go.
‘Confidence’ is about developing your competencies, learning how to cope with challenging situations and above all being open to how you feel about things that happen to you. Learning about what coping strategies do and don’t work for you is part of building up your confidence to handle other challenging situations.
And finally, ‘social support,’ which is about building good relationships with others and seeking support when you need it. Being an ‘emotional island’ makes you vulnerable to excessive pressures at work, but having a social network of colleagues and friends who can be there during troubled times is an integral part of the resilience process.
Research has shown that over time our personal resilience at work declines with age, as we lose our sense of purpose and adaptability under the constant pressure of work, and the loss of our social support networks as we move up the hierarchy. But it is possible to reinvigorate these resilience factors as we move through our careers, and given the increasing pressures, we need to.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his play Mrs.Warren’s Profession: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them!”
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