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The Single Most Important Skill You Need To Thrive At Work

(Source: www.forbes.com)

This decade marks the most radical disruption of the workplace in our lifetimes.  The confluence of big data, information transparency and innovative business models compels organizations of every size to change at head-spinning speed. In the next few years, as artificial intelligence and cloud computing spread to every corner of every business, the pace of change will only accelerate.

Organizations are also changing fast, scrambling the old order. Five generations are active in the workforce. Old organization charts give way to temporary teams. Remote and on-site employees work together in real time. Innovation, emotional intelligence and so-called “soft skills” like communication and creativity are the new competitive edge.

This exciting new world also threatens a significant human cost. The tsunami of changes has swept away old barriers between work and life. We work in 45-minute increments all day and check our work messages, email and project status reports first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We expect instant response from ourselves and others. Our powerful technology has, paradoxically, made us more stressed than ever. And stress is killing us. An incredible variety of stress triggers, from email alerts to noisy open offices to nonstop meeting schedules, seem built into most of today’s fast-moving, always-on jobs. Stressed-out people suffer low productivity and high rates of depression, absenteeism and “presenteeism,” (showing up physically but checking out psychologically). These negative effects, multiplied by every affected employee, represent a huge gap between an organization’s actual and potential performance.

You can’t ignore these amazing technologies or turn back the clock. Their benefits and promise are too great.  That leaves leaders with the question of dealing with the rising tide of stress, and there are three possible responses:

-Do nothing and try to endure the stress. This is a one-way ticket to burnout.

-Turn to tricks like Reset Pods or Foosball tables to help people cope. Teach a mindfulness class or suggest a mood-tracking app. These might give temporary relief, but they don’t empower employees to manage stress over the long term.

-Or you can build the practice of resilience into the culture of your company and the core skills of your workforce.

Why should leaders care about resilience? Simply put, resilience is the power to manage stressful situations, life changes and adversity, and bounce back. Clinical studies identify seven learnable skills like emotion control, empathy and impulse control that increase resilience. The overall resilience of a workforce can be measured as the degree to which people use those skills.  That measure is what I call a company’s “Resilience Quotient”—a quantified profile of employees’ ability to rebound in the face of challenges.

In the 20th century, we learned to measure intelligence with the I.Q. About 20 years ago, serious business thinkers agreed that E.Q. was a significant metric for predicting success in organizations. Today, an R.Q. might be the most important metric of all, because knowing it and building it into your organization is key to long-term survival.

Resilience, like stress, is highly individual, and building a high company RQ means getting the right skills to the right people. For example, high levels of empathy and emotion control are appropriate for someone working in a call center. The skills of problem-solving and realistic optimism strengthen product development teams, where creative solutions and temporary failures are built into the innovation cycle. Highly stressed executives need to reach out and connect with others instead of burying themselves in email. Although anyone can acquire resilience, it has to be built on an individual basis just like any skill set.

Steps to a higher RQ

Increasing the Resilience Quotient of a workforce begins with data—a survey to understand which teams, departments or groups are coping with stress well, and which are not (data is aggregated and made anonymous to protect privacy). While leaders typically expect high stress levels in areas like sales or call centers, they are often surprised that people in other jobs and departments are equally or even more at risk. What matters—and thus what you measure—is not the absolute level of stress in a job but the gap between a job’s stressors and an employee’s ability to manage those particular stressors. A person who thrives at inbound sales calls might be temperamentally unsuited to managing people and silently, even unconsciously, consumed by feelings of inadequacy. Thus, you measure how stressed-out people feel. (The survey instrument is similar in structure to surveys that measure engagement, loyalty and other workplace factors.)

Analyzing the data from this perspective, make a brutally honest assessment of the causes of stress. Some stressors, such as a soft economy or disruption in your industry, are external and unavoidable. Focusing on what you have the power to change, follow the analysis and carry out a three-pronged, targeted assault on burnout:

First, remediate what can be fixed quickly, for example by lowering noise levels in a work area or instituting flexible hours to alleviate stressful commutes.

Second, empower individuals who self-identify as stressed to increase their resilience skills. This is a long-term undertaking, similar to re-skilling the workforce in a changing industry. There is a role for familiar steps like getting more sleep or mindful breathing. The longer, strategic course of action is to help every employee acquire the seven resilience skills. As more employees become adept at managing stress, a positive cycle takes over and resilience becomes part of the company culture. As a company’s RQ rises, overall stress levels decline.

Third, build resilience into the strategic domains of hiring, team-building, training and succession planning. It’s especially important for executives to practice resilience skills, not only to manage the high stress of their jobs but to affirm to all employees that yes, resilience is valued and respected at the top. I’m astonished at the number of executives who wear their burnout as a badge of honor, especially because the most successful business leaders consciously manage their stressful lives. The more leaders grow in empathy, focus, self-confidence, positivity and other resilience skills, the better they perform.

Recent studies correlate a higher RQ with positive business outcomes, including job satisfaction. In today’s tight labor market, reducing the number of “voluntary quits” alone is one of the best reasons to build resilience into the life of the company. And when the next storm hits, the company will sail through in safety.

More Info: www.forbes.com

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