Fighting Workplace Stress – How Resilience Can Help Improve Mental Health

March 17, 2016| By Anke Siebers | Disability | English | Deutsch

Workplace stress can lead to diminished job performance, personal unhappiness and psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. It has a significant effect on health and the economy. Stress is the second most reported work-related health issue in Europe – after musculoskeletal problems. It is estimated 75% of European workers, more than 40 million people, report being affected by it.1 The impact of stress varies greatly across individuals and those less affected are said to have “resilience”; an important personal quality in today’s high pressured workplace.

But what exactly is resilience? It is the ability to be successful in adverse circumstances, to keep calm and solve problems effectively in difficult situations. Being resilient doesn’t mean being free of stress or negative emotions. The road to resilience rather lies in overcoming negative emotions and developing coping strategies that allow an effective navigation through crises.2

People with a high level of resilience are optimistic and have the ability to reframe a problem in a context that facilitates other interpretations and different courses of action. Such individuals believe they have control of their lives and a significant influence on the outcome of events. Resilient people also form beneficial work relationships and are good at networking. Support from others helps them cope and reinforces their resilience.3

The fact that resilient people can reframe problems allows them to generally have more control of their impulses, adjust to their environment, show empathy and talk about their feelings, admit their weaknesses and ask for help, respond very positively to attention and focus on performance.4

Some people are naturally more resilient than others. However, resilience can be learned. To cope with work-related issues people need to be problem-centred and pro-active. They should focus on previous experiences and draw on personal strength to get a better understanding of the strategies that were successful in the past. These can be applied to tackle different situations. In addition, the attitude towards adversity needs to be re-adjusted to see crises as challenges rather than insurmountable problems. The key is to take action, experience strong emotions and accept help.5

Becoming more resilient can help improve mental health. Resilience has been associated with higher motivation, greater flexibility, more cooperation and less absenteeism from work. It helps to recover strength in the most testing situations and in the long run to stay physically and mentally healthier.6

Insurers see a higher number of claims in disability insurance as a result of stress. However, with the demands of the world we live in, workplace stress is unavoidable. That’s why insurers need to better understand how they can help claimants to better cope with stress and facilitate their return to work.

For more about the prevalence of mental health condtions, and the disabling effect they have on people around the world, see the Gen Re blog series on mental health.

  1. European Agency for Safety at Work (2015). Facts and figures about stress and psychological risks.
    The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (2015). Stress in the workplace.
  2. Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2004). The power of resilience: Achieving balance, confidence and personal strength in your life. New York: McGraw Hill.
  3. American Psychological Association (2015). The road to resilience.
  4. Werner, E. E., & Smith, R. S. (1982). Vulnerable but not invincible: A longitudinal study of resilient children and youth. New York: McGraw Hill.
  5. Britt, T. W. & Jex, S. M. (2015). Thriving under stress. Harnessing demands in the workplace. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. McDonalds, S. (2014). Building individual resilience to improve workplace wellbeing and work outcomes. InPsych 12/2014. www.



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