Is Resilience The Right Message? Three things to consider before starting this discussion in your organization

Many years ago a friend shared this story.  At the birth of their first child they reached a point where the doctor asked them if they wanted an epidural.  They had discussed it during birthing classes and decided to go through the delivery process without it because it was not covered by insurance.  Several hours of real labor had changed his wife’s thinking on the matter and she wanted it.  My friend, still being a rookie at marriage and childbirth, decided to coach his wife through the final stages of childbirth by offering the advice “Suck it up honey”.   I will stop the story here, but will share that they ended up getting the epidural.

Coming back from the recent economic downturn will take resilience from everyone.  How often does the message of resilience sound like the response of the father above when being delivered from others.  This is emerging as one of the hot topics in 2011 as companies grow with limited hiring and budgets.  Here are three key things to remember when tackling this topic:

1. What it means?  In the January 2011 edition of HR Magazine author William Atkinson provides a nice summary of the topic. (link to article)  A key point is this is not a new topic, but the current conditions in the workforce make this critical because the pressure caused by increasing expectations for performance versus the unprecedented push for efficiency.  People have more to do and fewer resources.  In his article, Atkinson refers to a survey that found 75% of people saying they were stressed to unhealthy levels.  The take away is that we need to equip our people to cope with this new reality.

How we should talk about it?  The topic goes beyond the wellness discussion, although how we take care of ourselves is important.  To start, the message has to focus on the reality that all levels of the organization are facing this challenge.  It has been said, but has it been said from the standpoint of “We feel we are doing what we have to do for this business to be successful.  Yet we know that it is stressing people beyond what is healthy.”  Next, focus on open and honest discussions about what stresses each person out, what we can do to relieve the stress, and what can be done to lesson it (both by the leader and the employee).  If there is going to be training, it needs to first focus on equipping the leaders to have these conversations with their teams and provide ongoing support.

Who we should be listening to?  A standard piece of every management library is a stress management book.  If it is not there go buy one.  Jim Loehr is an author that has been around this topic for a while using the analogy of creating a corporate athlete.  Another voice that I like to listen to is Doug Silsbee.  He has placed a few videos that outline his thoughts on the topic that will provide a perspective on how resilience can help and provided some basic stress management techniques.  Here is a link to the videos.

Back to my initial story.  Was my friend purposefully trying to be insensitive to his wife?  No.  They are still married and that baby son is now off to college.  But when stress hits sometimes the words out of our mouth don’t accurately reflect what we are thinking/feeling.  For leaders, just make sure the words out of your mouth take the discussion in a healthy direction, not to a place where people interpret the message as “deal with it”.  This is a topic we should all be talking about.