By Dr. Felicity Baker, Clinical Psychologist, Ultimate Resilience (https://ultimateresilience.co.uk/)
The challenges brought about by the pandemic have left leaders more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression than ever before. In our recent blog we explored the impact of leader stress on staff wellbeing, highlighting the importance of targeted support for leaders in creating a sustainable wellbeing culture. Here we discuss how support provided through resilience supervision can uniquely help to prevent leader burnout.
Barriers to seeking help
Acknowledging there’s a problem is the first step to accessing support. But this can be difficult as there are often many barriers.
For example, many people fail to notice signs and symptoms that indicate they are stressed or overwhelmed until it’s too late. Some try to block out the challenges they are facing as a way of coping. But often, without realising it, our ways of coping can keep stress going. For example, we may find ourselves overworking, staying up late to check emails, or drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. We may avoid thinking about work challenges by spending lots of time gaming, shopping or watching tv, procrastinating and putting things off.
If you are in a leadership role it can be even harder to acknowledge you are struggling. Stereotypes of what it means to be a leader make it difficult to admit that you don’t have all the answers. You may struggle to acknowledge mistakes or the challenges you face.
Internal barriers can also get in the way of asking for help. For example, you may tell yourself you ‘should be able to cope’, or that ‘asking for help is a sign of weakness’. As a leader you may put additional pressure on yourself, thinking ‘I’m being paid to get everything right’. Furthermore the isolated position of many leaders can make it more difficult to reach out and access support.
How does resilience supervision prevent leader burnout?
Regular resilience supervision for leaders can mitigate these problems by ensuring leaders have the support they need, when they need it, without having to ask for it. The formative and restorative functions of resilience supervision allow leaders to manage interpersonal challenges, overcome isolation, and problem-solve ethical dilemmas and interpersonal dynamics. This reduces reliance on less helpful coping strategies.
By providing the skills to proactively manage stress effectively, leaders are able to maintain personal and professional resilience. This is essential for establishing a culture of greater staff wellbeing and resilience across the organisation.
Key features of resilience supervision
- Managing interpersonal challenges
A key function of supervision is to provide space to process the difficult and distressing aspects of a role or job.
Leaders routinely face challenging interpersonal situations, such as delivering bad news or dealing with conflict. But they are rarely offered support through these experiences. Failure to process the psychological and emotional fallout of regular exposure to emotionally challenging material makes them increasingly vulnerable to stress and burnout.
The safe space provided by supervision allows the leader to step back from challenging situations. Doing so enables them to reflect and make sense of them and, crucially, to leave them at work. When leisure and family time is not contaminated by troubling experiences and unsettling feelings, the rest and recuperation required to be motivated and engaged at work can take place.
- Overcoming isolation
Leadership roles are typically isolated. It is common to cope with this by establishing a type of ‘emotional detachment’. This can be helpful and effective up to a point. But can also be counterproductive, creating a barrier to acknowledging and processing emotions. Troubling emotions and experiences can then stockpile. This increases the potential for mental health issues to develop, such as vicarious trauma and generalised anxiety.
Supervision provides connection and an outlet for these emotions. It offers the opportunity to engage rather than to detach and to collaborate in finding ways of better managing the impact of challenging work experiences.
- Finding solutions to ethical dilemmas and interpersonal dynamics
Supervision supports leaders to explore and resolve the many ethical dilemmas inherent in their work. It provides space to think through and understand interpersonal dynamics at work and to enhance self-care skills.
When we are under threat it can be difficult to think clearly or find solutions. The psychologically safe space created by regular resilience supervision calms the stress response, allowing leaders to reflect. Through the process of reflection, problem solving can take place.
By examining challenges and set-backs, leaders find ways to recover, to move forwards and to grow through the experience.
- Preventing burnout
Regular, scheduled resilience supervision protects leaders from stress and burnout by ensuring they have access to ongoing support before they reach crisis point. This proactive approach helps to identify and manage challenges early. It allows leaders to develop the psychological and emotional resources that help to prevent chronic stress and burnout. In maintaining their own mental and physical health, leaders can be available for their teams and organisations, supporting resilience and actively promoting a culture of wellbeing.