Best practice report: Mental Toughness

February 23, 2015 by Limited

Survey and Research


Stress-Coping Strategies Reduce Absenteeism

Stress is a common problem in today’s world. Workplace stress in individuals is associated with a pattern of negative physiological states and psychological responses: it occurs when employees try to cope with the responsibilities and pressures related to their jobs, but encounter difficulties or experience anxiety when trying to manage the situation. A stressed person may feel that his or her well being is threatened and, for various reasons, is unable to cope with this. Stress can manifest itself through decreased motivation, fatigue and deteriorating work performance. In most cases, the causes of stress cannot be prevented; however, the consequences can be overcome by using appropriate strategies to cope with stress.

People cope with stressful situations in different ways. A study led by the Faculty of Management at the University of Primorska in Slovenia focused on stress detection among middle managers at large and medium sized enterprises in the country. [19] The study examined various strategies for coping with stress and associated absenteeism (see Figure 4, opposite). The managers participating in the survey generally described their work as being stressful, with heavy workloads. It was found that the managers that employed problem-focused strategies for dealing with stress experienced significantly lower levels of stress and work absences than those using emotion-focused strategies. The study concluded that organisations would benefit from providing stress-management programmes to teach employees how to use appropriate coping strategies when faced with stressful situations. [20]

Comprehensive Fitness Programme for Mental Resilience

Jim Pasquarette, the programme director for the United States Army’s comprehensive soldier fitness programme, believed resilience training would produce significant savings, since it helped soldiers and their family members deal with adversity and thrive in their daily lives. The training was part of broader efforts by the Army to develop a more resilient and capable force. The programme aimed to teach soldiers how to be psychologically strong in areas of adversity. All participants were required to complete a questionnaire to measure their psychological health. The resulting scores gave an indication of where strengths lay and areas in which they could improve. Online resilience modules were available in areas requiring improvement. Brigade teams that had undergone mental resilience training performed significantly better than those not having received the training. [21]

Workplace Stress Leads to Health Issues for Nurses

Nurses are often faced with a large amount of work- place pressure. As the following studies show, this makes them vulnerable to physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.

  • According to a 2012 British Medical Journal study, nurses in the United Kingdom were at high risk of work-induced stress, with 42 per cent of nurses describing themselves as burnt out.
  • A 2011 workforce survey by the Royal College of Nursing in the United Kingdom indicated that 76 per cent of nurses reported being under more pressure than one year ago. Healthcare staff had three times the average incidence of mental ill health, stress, depression or anxiety.
  • A 2009 study of NHS staff reported “a strong busi- ness case for investing in staff health and wellbeing. Organisations that prioritise it perform better, with improved patient satisfaction, stronger quality scores, better outcomes, higher levels of staff retention and lower rates of sickness absence.”
  • According to a 2011 Nursing Standard survey of 2,554 nurses, when asked “what would improve patient care?”, most respondents answered, “having more staff”. The second highest response was, “to know that their work as nurses was valued”.

For these reasons, building resilience in nurses has been recognised as an important factor in helping them remain caring and focused on patients’ needs. [10]

Hardiness Helps Nurses Cope with Stress

A specialised survey of 15 nurse managers in a tertiary hospital (a large hospital providing specialist health care following a referral) was undertaken to find the correlation between stress, hardiness and sick hours. The stress and hardiness data obtained from the survey was analysed in connection with sick time used by the nurse managers. The following combinations of hardiness (or resilience) versus stress level were documented (see Figure 5 opposite).

  • High Hardiness with High Stress (Gold level): Nurse managers reporting high hardiness and high stress took an average of 13.7 hours of sick leave. This represented 58% fewer sick hours than colleagues reporting low hardiness and low stress.
  • High Hardiness with Low Stress (Silver level): Nurse managers reporting high hardiness and low stress took an average of 20.8 hours sick leave – or 36% fewer sick hours than their low-hardiness, low stress counterparts.
  • Low Hardiness with High Stress (Bronze level): Nurse managers that reported low hardiness and high stress took an average of 28.6 hours sick leave, which was 11% fewer sick hours than their low hardiness, low stress counterparts. This was a counterintuitive result. Both of the high stress groups (Gold and Bronze) took less sick leave than their lower stress-level colleagues.
  • Low Hardiness with Low Stress: Nurse managers reporting low hardiness and low stress took an average of 32.3 hours sick leave; this was the maximum level taken.

These findings suggest an opportunity to cultivate hardiness by using a combination of hiring practices, development training coping skills, and supportive workplace policies. This will ensure the continuity of nurse management leadership. [12]

Career CEOs Need Mental Toughness

A 2011 study by Egon Zehnder International examined the profiles of the United Kingdom’s leading businessmen and women in the top FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies. The study found that CEOs needed mental toughness to be able to cope with investors and the media, as well as being separated from their families for long periods of time. Top FTSE companies were hiring CEOs who were not only younger than before, but also much younger than their boards.

  1. More than 40% of FTSE 100 CEOs were in their thirties or forties; 56% were in their fifties and only 3% in their sixties or over.
  2. For FTSE 250 companies, 3% of CEOs were in their thirties, 40% in their forties and 45% in their fifties.
  3. More than 50% of FTSE 100 CEOs had been appointed in the past four years and stayed for an average of six years.
  4. Chief executives had become progressively younger since 1997; at the same, time boards of directors were getting older, as a result of the requirement for them to comprise men and women with a wide range of experience. [22]