As many countries enter into the warmest stages of summer, with record high temperatures and several difficult months behind, it is perhaps time for reflection and review of what has happened in the first half of the year. For many this might feel as the first summer that resembles some kind of normal, as the previous two were still subject to heavy restrictions on movement both locally and internationally. For instance, in Europe most governments have lifted all the restrictions, and even countries that have been extremely cautious such as Japan are now allowing tourists again, albeit with some limitations.
This could be an opportunity to recharge for everyone, and the resilience industry is no exception. Mental health issues such as burnout have long been a menace to professionals whose main job is to constantly monitor and respond to incidents and crises, which are among the most stressful type of situations. Taking a moment to reflect upon how the world has changed in the past two years and letting go of the mounting stress and anxiety are not only desirable but necessary to ensure good levels of concentration and personal well-being.
The American Psychological Association reported that higher than normal stress levels have become pervasive, especially among professions such as health services and teachers. While there is no specific research on the state of mental health among resilience professionals, it is reasonable to assume that the situation might very well be the same. What some refer to as black swans – incredibly rare and high impact events – have been occurring at more frequent rates, and as a consequence crisis meetings and responses can hardly be considered as something extraordinary anymore. This is why the whole resilience industry needs to look at the state of workers’ mental health and make sure deterioration and eventually burnout do not happen.
Burnout has been defined as a mix of “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a decreased sense of accomplishment in one’s occupation”. It affects both personal aspects such as sleeping and eating habits and work performance through detachment, loss of interest, and struggle to focus on the job. Needless to say, these are especially important factors to consider in professions that can affect people’s safety and jobs, as in the case of the resilience industry. General tips to avoid burnout consist in keeping work organised, establishing clear priorities, and taking breaks when necessary. However, due to the exceptionally heavy workload experienced in recent times, organizations might want to step up their efforts to protect employees’ mental health.
In recent years, an increasing number of organizations have begun to offer yoga and mindfulness classes as an additional support to employees, as research shows that even a short ten-minute break practising mindfulness can help get some distance from stressful situations. Mindfulness consists in a series of meditation techniques that help the person become aware of their own emotions and process what happens to them in a more functional way, alleviating stress and anxiety. Showing that the organization cares about people’s well being can easily translate into competitive advantage to recruit top talent. It is no coincidence after all that such programmes and activities are always part of firms’ marketing campaigns to boost their reputation.
However, it is very important to remark that engaging in these activities alone won’t cut it, since these efforts need to go hand in hand with functional attitudes and relationships among staff. In other words, a mindfulness or yoga class is not enough to offset the dynamics of a toxic workplace, even though it can be of great help as a coping strategy.
In this regard, it is important to have champions that can promote a positive culture. One such example would be that of Google’s famous engineer Chade Meng-Tan, who is a supporter of emotional intelligence and has been encouraging staff to engage in meditation with his course named “Search Inside Yourself”. He highlighted how emotional intelligence is extremely important to have a functional workplace, which leads to higher earnings for the organization.
Scientific research has demonstrated that techniques such as mindfulness do contribute to reducing the effects of burnout, such as headaches, stress, depression, and physical pain. Specifically, a technique known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was applied in a scientific experiment at Lehigh Valley Hospital & Health Network in the US, with very encouraging results. Healthcare personnel proved lower levels of stress, anxiety, and detachment from their job after applying mindfulness and meditation techniques, although the study underlines once again that this should only be a part of much broader health and well-being programme.
Burnout and mental health deterioration in the workplace are two growing issues and it would be a mistake to ignore them or postpone dealing with them. Meditation techniques definitely help when practised privately and can also be of great support when allowed during the working day. Sceptics might not buy into them, claiming they are more of a marketing effort; however, the evidence – scientific and otherwise – suggests that there is more to it.
Author: Gianluca Riglietti
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