Resilience at work: I am not a piece of nylon

Jo Hooper

Resilience. The word sticks in my throat. When I returned from three months off work with anxiety and depression last year, I was told that I needed to build my resilience. It made me feel shit. Like I wasn’t recovering quickly enough. That I wasn’t doing well at work. As though I  wasn’t contributing enough, didn’t have a place.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resilience is:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Toughness. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I am not a piece of nylon.

I am not going to spring back quickly after spending time on the depression slide (much less enjoyable than your average helter skelter, but with a similar amount of twists and turns).

But more to the point, recovery is not resilience. Teaching someone to be resilient isn’t helping  them to recover from, or protect themselves from, a mental health issue.

However, according to the latest CIPD Wellness at Work report, organisations appear to be confusing resilience training with mental health support in the workplace.

The CIPD found that 86% of organisations were taking some action on mental health in the workplace – 32% of those organisations offered training to their staff on building resilience.

I had a very negative reaction to this statistic – as you might be able to imagine from the above. But, is it just me? I wondered. Do I just have resilience PTSD?

So I asked the mad and sad club community. I had some very interesting responses, which I thought might be enlightening.

I asked members what they thought of the idea of resilience training….

I also asked for people’s experiences, opinions and feedback…

While there were some positive experiences, overwhelmingly, the feedback was negative.

Resilience training does of course have a place and can be useful, but it shouldn’t be confused with mental health support. The impact that the word resilience can have on someone who’s struggling with their mental health is significant.

Anxiety isn’t a weakness and treating it as a lack of resilience makes you feel that you are being called weak. Often people with anxiety are more resilient than those who don’t have it as every day is like a resilience test.

Nicola Budd, artist

If you’re thinking about commissioning support around mental health at work, I’d encourage you to think simple.

Try to focus your efforts on:

  • Understanding mental health issues and how they can affect your people
  • Learning how to talk about mental health issues confidently – at an organisational level, managerial or individual
  • Taking simple, tangible action to improve the experience of your people who are struggling – start with training your managers in how to spot the signs and approach people they are worried about

I hope this insight helps to illustrate that how you communicate about mental health at work is incredible powerful – and potentially triggering. Tread with care and sensitivity.

If you’re interested in more of these sorts of human insights and advice on how to act on them in your workplace, I am running a one day workshop in May – find out more and book your place here.

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