“Down came the rain and washed the spider out… Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.”
The nursery rhyme ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’, which has captivated the curiosity of Australian families and early learning educators for generations, seems to carry a message of professional resilience-building. To be professionally resilient means:
• having the capacity to thrive in situations of high demand and ongoing pressure
• being able to recover from significant challenges, difficulties and setbacks
• using learnings to reflect on successes and set goals for future personal growth.
Being professionally resilient can prevent, or minimise, the effects of demanding and challenging environments on mental health and wellbeing.
Working in a health or community setting can be both rewarding and challenging; as with the spider in the nursery rhyme who has yet to build a web, it can sometimes seem that there are obstacles which need to be overcome before even getting to the task at hand.
Work stress and burnout in many ‘helping’ professions is often attributed to the demand of managing situations of complexity and uncertainty, lack of control and support, and interactions with various stakeholders that evoke strong emotional reaction.
A productive approach to fostering and sustaining resilience
Rather than only ask how we can prevent stress and burnout, it is equally important to ask how we can foster resilience, and what types of support, work environment, culture, leadership and management practices will facilitate its development.
Working in the health and community sector can be intellectually-demanding work and requires everyday resilience. Educators, nurses, social workers and administrators in the health sector constantly call upon their reserves of physical, emotional and psychological energy to assist.
Professional resilience is about an individual’s capacity to thrive in situations of high demand and ongoing pressure; it involves being able to recover from significant challenges, difficulties and setbacks, and then use these experiences for learning and personal growth in the workplace.
Flexible and creative work environments allow health professionals to be responsive to the interests of their clients, to some extent allowing them to construct knowledge together.
Although there are individual attributes associated with emotional resilience, organisations still have a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of their employees. Some of the ways your organisation can promote professional resilience include:
• acknowledging the demands of the workplace and having realistic expectations of educators
• supporting self-care behaviours in staff
• providing forums for discussion and strategy-sharing
• providing opportunities for staff to express strong feelings
• introducing a mentoring system where educators are given opportunities to share and reflect on their experiences with colleagues
• encouraging opportunities for further education and professional development
• enabling employees to use their strengths in their day-to-day work.