Psychological Resilience and Stress: Reduce the Risk

financial stress

Psychological resilience and impact of declining mental health in the workplace was a focus by the Chandler Macleod Group as Finalists in the “Excellence in Safety and Risk Management” category of the RCSA Awards. The event for 470 guests was held in Melbourne last week and Dr Susanne Bahn from Tap into Safety was a guest. Chandler Macleod Group has placed a clear focus on improving the wellbeing of their internal staff and their candidates. Because they serve such a wide array of industries, they are in a key position to make a significant difference in the level of support they provide for staff at risk of mental health decline. Chandler Macleod Group is an avid user of Tap into Safety’s solution.

This article details mental health and wellbeing issues and presents key psychological resilience protective factors and strategies that organisations can use within their workplace wellbeing programmes.

Psychological Resilience and Stress

Absenteeism and presenteeism as a result of declining mental health costs Australians $15 billion every year.

Mental stress is both good and bad. Good stress is our motivator for example when we push ourselves to complete a task on time and on budget. Stress is bad when we have prolonged feelings that make us feel easily agitated, frustrated, moody, we feel like we’re losing control, or when we have difficulty relaxing. There are a number of coping strategies that we can use to deal with stress – exercise, time with family and friends, reading a good book. Everyone handles stress differently with varying levels of psychological resilience. The more stress we are put under, the more pressure we feel. Many of us have strong psychological resilience and the capacity to withstand the pressure.

There have been a number of studies that have tested resilience and stress and have determined three key protective factors:

  • Coping Skills – Our ability to “look on the bright side” of things, or regulate our own emotions.
  • Sense of Control – The degree to which we feel in control of our lives and the things we can achieve (psychologists call this self-efficacy).
  • Social Support – The degree to which we have support from our friends and family.

How well we’re able to handle stress depends on our level of psychological resilience. But some people struggle, their resilience is low and the pressure becomes too much and impacts on their work and personal life. In 2014, one in five Australians (21%) reported that they had taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.  How can organisations overcome this and reduce this risk?

  • Selection: The level of ‘fit’ between an individual and their role should be assessed before the appointment. With the help of psychometric testing, organisations (especially those involving high-stress environments) can reduce the risk of negative mental health consequences associated with workplace stress by recruiting people who possess levels of psychological resilience that match the role’s environment and tasks.
  • Job Analysis & Redesign: Positions should be reassessed to ensure that they are appropriate for both employees and the organisation.
  • Communication of Stress Accountability: The responsibility for managing stress lies first and foremost with the individual, and employees should be aware that they are required to make an effort to reduce their own levels of stress.
  • Self-Management: It is important for individuals to maintain ‘the basics’ of looking after themselves, including breaks, maintaining an appropriate diet, exercising adequately, and getting a good nights sleep.
  • Psychological Risk Management: Implementation of a formal programme to firstly identify hazards (stress factors), assess the risks of these factors, and to enable risk control strategies.
  • Policy: Consider the ‘official’ line on stress. Where existing policies and procedures designed to reduce stress are already in place but not working, it is time to evaluate their effectiveness.
  • Performance Management: Performance management as a process should be used not only as a means to measure performance and focus attention on high return activity and development but also to understand stressors and proactive steps to achieve better outcomes.
  • Training & Development: A variety of training, development and coaching programmes may be useful in limiting the impact of stress. Studies have proposed that training people with coping skills through resilience training can enhance their resistance to workplace stress and increase the frequency of help-seeking behaviour.
  • Leadership Development: Stress in leaders is a major contributor to derailment behaviours such as micromanagement, arrogance and lack of awareness of others around them. Leaders require the ability to identify stress and to act upon its presence, both in themselves and their reports.
  • Cultural Change: If factors contributing to stress are deeply embedded in the way things are done in an organisation, purposeful and structured strategy is required.

What Does the Regulator Suggest?

The Australian Regulator, Safe Work Australia, has recently published National Guidance Material on work-related psychological health and safety. They have firmly placed psychological risk in the workplace hazard arena that has traditionally focused on physical injuries. Preventing both physical and mental injury is now required within a holistic approach to managing workplace safety. Psychosocial hazards should be identified within the risk-management process and managed using the hierarchy of controls.

Safe Work Australia suggests that psychosocial hazards may be identified by:

  • having conversations with workers, supervisors and health and safety specialists
  • inspecting the workplace to see how work is carried out, noting any rushing, delays or work backlogs
  • noticing how people interact with each other during work activities
  • reviewing relevant information and records such as reporting systems including incident reports, workers’ compensation claims, staff surveys, absenteeism and staff turnover data
  • using surveys to gather information from workers, supervisors and managers.

They recommend in complex situations to seek advice on specific risk identification and assessment techniques and the help of specialists.

Another key message from the Regulator is around intervening early. The Guidance Material provides information on reasonably practical steps and suggests that organisations need to:

1. Identify and respond to any signs of psychosocial hazards and risks in the workplace that are not being well managed and where the controls are not effective.

2.  Intervene whenever they become aware a worker is becoming stressed and get them the help they need. Organisations are required to have procedures in place to support workers who reach out for help and provide access to counselling and extra workplace support.

3. Investigate the psychological health and safety risks which have affected that worker but which might also be affecting others.

4. Provide help and support for workers while a stress claim is being lodged. While this it is not a legal requirement it will help support the worker’s recovery and is considered best practice.

Identify and Address Early Indicators of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Psychometric testing is an early intervention mechanism that helps organisations to look beyond surface-level characteristics and ‘types’, to assess for deeper indicators of psychological health e.g. resilience, emotional control, social sensitivity and the capacity to proactively bounce back from setbacks and obstacles. Psychometrics can also inform and support resilience and wellbeing development programmes for existing employees. Over time, organisations can utilise psychometrics to identify and support those who may be at risk of mental health decline, while building an increasingly resilient workforce. Tap into Safety is a tool that can be used to support a psychometric assessment programme.

Chandler Macleod Group has collaborated with Tap into Safety and is using the training and support materials.

We believe Tap into Safety to be an amazing e-mental health tool, which as part of a comprehensive mental health programme, can start driving much needed industry improvement in this area.

Gary Whittaker, General Manager – Staffing Services WA/SA/NT, Chandler Macleod Group

Tap into Safety offers training delivered online and via smart devices, anywhere, anytime on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using fun animation. As part of a well-being programme, the Tap into Safety mental health training helps business to intervene early and support worker mental health better by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training.

In Summary

Psychological resilience protective factors including coping skills, sense of control and social support help us to bounce back from stressful workloads and high-stress environments. This article outlined what measures workplaces can use to reduce the risk of mental health decline in staff in high-stress positions. The aim is to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism and increase mental wellbeing. Psychometric testing is a tool that can help to identify and support those who may be at risk of mental health decline while building an increasingly resilient workforce.

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