The Leadership Imperative: Improving Mental Toughness in the Workplace

In the past two blogs, we have discussed the impact of mental toughness (also called mental resilience, perseverance and grit) on both individual and organizational performance. We explored the impact the global COVID pandemic has had on mental resilience, and we reviewed a bit of the research exposing the lack of mental toughness in the world today.

Finally, we scratched the surface to uncover how individuals can fuel their own mental toughness by being more mindful and deliberate in their day-to-day lives. In short, when we refer to mental toughness, we are referencing the ability to cope with uncommon stress, to maintain a positive attitude and to persist in the face of adversity.

Through our discussions over the past two months, it has become evident that mental toughness is a critical aspect of success in today’s fast-paced business environment. More and more, companies are becoming aware of the need to promote mental well-being in the workplace, including overall mental health. There are several companies that are well-known for their efforts in developing mental resilience among their employees.

Google has become known for its focus on employee well-being and mental health, offering numerous programs to help employees better cope with stress. These programs include mindfulness training, yoga classes and access to mental health resources such as counseling and support groups. The tech giant also encourages employees to take time off when they feel the need to do so, and provides a supportive work environment that fosters collaboration and community.

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia has been recognized for its unique approach to employee well-being. The company offers a number of programs to help employees manage stress and build resilience, including on-site meditation and yoga classes, mindfulness training and access to outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing. Additionally, Patagonia encourages employees to engage in volunteer work and other meaningful activities, which can help promote a sense of purpose and well-being.

Customer-relationship management software company Salesforce has a strong focus on employee well-being and mental health. The company offers various resources to help employees build resilience, including mindfulness training, stress-management programs and mental health support services. Additionally, Salesforce has developed a supportive workplace and leadership culture that values collaboration and open communication, which can help foster a sense of community and belonging among employees.

The U.S. Army and other branches of the military are known for their emphasis on mental toughness, which is an essential attribute for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to have in order to succeed in the challenging and high-stress environment of military service. In addition to requiring all new Army soldiers to undergo Basic Combat Training (BCT), the Army also employs specific programmatic approaches to building mental toughness among its soldiers, many of which can be applied to other organizations.

Leadership Development: The Army places a strong emphasis on leadership development, which is an important aspect of building mental toughness among soldiers. The Army offers a variety of leadership training programs, including the Officer Candidate School (OCS) and the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES). These programs help soldiers develop essential leadership skills such as decision-making, problem-solving and effective communication, which can help them build mental resilience.

Resilience Training: The Army offers resilience training programs to help soldiers develop the skills they need to cope with stress and adversity. These programs include classes on stress management, mindfulness and positive thinking. Soldiers are also encouraged to seek mental health support when they need it, and the Army provides a range of resources to help soldiers cope with mental health issues such as PTSD and depression.

Physical Fitness: Physical fitness is an important aspect of building mental toughness in the Army. Soldiers are required to maintain a high level of physical fitness, and the Army offers a variety of programs and resources to help soldiers achieve and maintain their fitness goals. Physical fitness can help soldiers build mental resilience by improving their overall health, reducing stress and boosting self-confidence.

Realistic Training: The Army places a strong emphasis on realistic training, which exposes soldiers to challenging and unpredictable situations that require them to adapt and overcome obstacles. This type of training helps soldiers build mental toughness by exposing them to the stress and uncertainty that they may encounter in combat situations. Realistic training also helps soldiers develop problem-solving skills and the ability to think quickly under pressure.

Overall, the U.S. Armed Forces takes a comprehensive approach to building mental toughness among its members. These programs help military men and women develop the skills they need to cope with stress and adversity, which is essential for success in military service.

Some common themes among companies that are taking proactive steps to increase the mental toughness and resilience of their workplace can offer a framework for companies looking to build mental toughness among their workforce.  Such common themes include the following:

Offering Mental Health Support: One of the most important things that companies are doing to build mental toughness is to offer mental health support. This includes providing access to counseling services, support groups and other resources to help employees cope with stress and mental health issues. Many companies are also investing in mental health training for their managers and supervisors to help them to recognize potential issues more quickly, and then to better support their teams.

Promoting a Culture of Wellness: Another way companies are building mental toughness among their workforce is by promoting a culture of wellness. This includes encouraging healthy habits such as regular exercise, healthy eating and promoting proper sleep habits. Many companies are also providing access to on-site fitness facilities, healthy food options and other resources to support their employees’ general well-being.

Encouraging Work-Life Balance: Many companies are also recognizing the importance of work-life balance in building mental toughness among their workforce. This includes offering flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting and encouraging employees to take time off when they need it. By promoting a healthy balance between work and personal life, companies can help employees reduce stress and maintain a positive attitude.

Providing Ample Professional Development Opportunities: Providing professional development opportunities is another way that companies are building mental toughness among their workforce. This includes investing in training and development programs to help employees acquire new skills, knowledge and abilities. Many companies are also providing mentoring and coaching programs to help employees reach their full potential. By providing opportunities for growth and development, companies can help employees feel more engaged and motivated in their work.

Fostering a Sense of Purpose: Fostering a sense of purpose is another important aspect of building mental toughness among employees. Many companies are doing this by clearly communicating their values and mission and aligning employee roles and responsibilities with the company’s goals. This helps employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s success and feel more invested in the company’s mission.

Offering Focused Resilience-Building Programs: Companies are also building mental toughness by deliberately and specifically building resilience among employees. This includes providing training on stress management, time management and other skills that can help employees cope with adversity. Many companies are also developing programs that expose employees to a range of new and challenging experiences, such as offering “stretch assignments,” offering various experiential learning opportunities and providing opportunities for employees to develop problem-solving skills and other capabilities that are essential for resilience.

In the final analysis, mental toughness is an important aspect of success and fulfillment in today’s world, but more specifically, in just about any workplace. Companies that proactively seek to recognize the resilience gap among their employee population and take specific steps to close those gaps are not only positively impacting the lives of their employees but also increasing the likelihood of sustained success of their organizations.