Resiliency linked to stress-related problems

Ability to adapt is a critical skill

A growing number of EAP (employee assistance program) professionals are coming to believe that resiliency — the ability to adapt when things go awry — should be the focal point of efforts to prevent or address stress-related problems in the workplace. "Resiliency training is becoming the replacement for the stress management program, and it will take on a greater role in the next five years," predicts George Martin, MDiv, MA, CEAP, president and CEO of CorpCare Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based firm that provides comprehensive EAPs nationwide.

"Typically, resilience is becoming the current topic among those concerned with employee productivity levels, problems at the worksite, and looking at levels of stress or strain that may negatively impact productivity," he continues. One of the most significant benefits of resilience training is that it can be used preventively. "It creates stamina and strengthens the employee at work and at home, so they are better prepared if and when things happen," Martin explains.

The siege mentality

The focus on resiliency, Martin observes, arose as EAP professionals began to notice the development of what they call a siege mentality after the events of 9/11. They recognized the health threat connected to fears of such unexpected events — even events no quite so disastrous, but traumatic nonetheless. "It could be downsizing, economic downturns, or one person doing three people’s jobs," he notes.

Resiliency training, Martin explains, can be applied both to employees and to entire companies. When dealing with individual employees, CorpCare seeks to address the keys to resilience, which include:

  • building a healthy network of co-workers;
  • learning to problem-solve effectively;
  • examining ways to balance one’s emotional and rational lives;
  • becoming strain-resistant by focusing on positive feelings;
  • seeking to develop core self-esteem and confidence, based on some sort of value system.

"Attitudes are critical," says Martin. "When working personally with an employee, we look at what kind of character strengths they use to see them through."

CorpCare uses measurement devices (i.e., questionnaires) to help individuals measure their own abilities to withstand and cope with surmounting pressures, and examines what vulnerabilities they may experience that can set them up for a serious event. "It helps the individual self-score where he may have some vulnerabilities," he notes. This is followed up by interactive training programs, most of which are a couple of hours in length, that give the individual employee some new coping skills, and new abilities to interpret or perceive their situations differently.

"Looking at attitudes differently, perceiving the environment appropriately, and developing perspective helps them continue in a balanced rather than an unbalance life, and makes them able to draw upon other external resources to assist them in handling strain," Martin explains. (These resources include EAP counseling, developing healthy friendships, making healthy life choices regarding wellness-related concerns, and having some health mentors who understand the particular nature of the employee’s profession, and the stressors that impact employees in that profession.)

Lacking coping skills puts employees at risk, he continues. "For example, if employees tend to isolate themselves and not reach out, they are an island to themselves and will be more susceptible to serious negative reactions to adverse events," he notes.

Treating the company

When examining a company, says Martin, he does so organizationally, seeking out the practices it can institute that lead to resiliency, and engendering those practices through coaching or counseling. "On larger scale, a company can take a look at where it also may have a negative impact — What’s their turnover rate? How is employee retention? What are their medical benefits? What health issues hit their employees the hardest? How big a problem is mental health? If an EAP is in place, what are the utilization rates?" Martin poses. "There are all kinds of numbers that can describe where a company hurts."

If a company is insightful, he continues, it will realize these numbers are valuable, and then CorpCare will use the data to help them design a program of intervention and prevention. Resilience can only be engendered, he emphasizes, "If the company will pay attention to the hurts."

Martin says he has seen instances where the occ-health professionals played a pivotal role in such situations. "One client took a very proactive role, instituting all kinds of health-related education sessions, and we used an EAP to provide a number of those programs," he recalls. "An occupational nursing professional could spearhead within their organization this idea of how we create a healthier, stronger work force, ready for anything that hits them," Martin adds.

[For more information, contact:

George Martin, MDiv, MA, CEAP, President and CEO, CorpCare Associates Inc., 7000 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, Building 4, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30328. Telephone: (800) 728-9444. E-mail: george@corpcareeap.com.]