Episode 145: How to Know if You’re Being ‘Resilience Victim Blamed’
What is your first thought when you think of the word ‘resilience’? For many professionals and organisations, this means becoming superhuman — someone who can do anything despite the stress, heavy workload, and emotions. Not only is this perspective wrong, but it’s also impossible!
We’re all human. So why do we expect perfection?
In this episode, Rachel dives into the concept of resilience victim blaming and how you’re led to think it’s your fault when you can’t perform superhuman standards. Resilience is about choices and shifting how you respond to situations. You have a choice, even if you don’t think so now. In fact, you may even need to make tough decisions for the sake of your well-being.
If you want to know how to become more resilient and prioritise choices for your welfare, stay tuned to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Understand the true meaning of resilience.
- Discover how to thrive in your workplace and take back control of your life.
- Overcome learned helplessness by choosing for yourself.
[00:29] How Time Affects Well-Being
The biggest barrier to well-being is neither knowledge nor money. It is the lack of time and headspace for well-being.
Many professionals and organisations often get resilience wrong.
They think resilience means to become superhuman or change the current system with superficial improvements.
‘The biggest barrier to well-being is not knowledge. It’s not money. It’s not anything apart from the time and the headspace to be able to put those well-being factors into place.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
‘When organisations put fruit bowls into their offices and maybe give you a cycle to work scheme… it can feel really irritating and sometimes does more harm than good. People think to themselves, “They’re only doing this because it’s so awful to work here.”’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[03:39] You Can’t Wait Around for Systemic Change
[04:52] How to Thrive in the Workplace
‘If you put somebody who has a lot of really good resilience skills in an absolutely toxic, very difficult organisation, and you tell them they just have to produce results, and that person works and works, and sets no boundaries, that person will also burn out.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[07:00] The Choice to Overcome Learned Helplessness
‘Many of us have this learned helplessness, thinking that there is nothing we can do. [But we] always have a choice. There are lots of small things that we can do.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
‘In the past, we’ve been able to absorb the extra work… You just don’t notice it anymore because we are so used to doing it. They say that if people stop doing that extra work, then the NHS would just collapse.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
‘You can’t work harder and harder anymore. You need to make some difficult choices… That involves saying no to some things, and saying no is difficult.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[11:06] How to Prioritise
- Before knowing when to say no, you need to identify when you need to say yes.
- What do you need to prioritise? How can you look after yourself? How can you change your mindset?
- You can either change your environment or change how you respond to your surroundings.
- Know what you need in order to thrive.
- Remember, resilience is not being superhuman. It’s about your choices.
‘Well-being and resilience is not about helping you become more superhuman so that you can survive in a stressed and broken system.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
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In today’s high-stress work environment, you may feel like a frog in boiling water. The pan has heated up so slowly that you didn’t notice the feeling of stress and overwhelm becoming the norm. You may feel it is impossible to survive AND thrive in your work.
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Rachel Morris: This is a You Are Not A Frog Quick Dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling energised and inspired. For more tools, tips and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not A Frog wherever you get your podcasts.
When I first started teaching well-being and resilience, I went into some law firms to do some lunchtime learning sessions. I was doing a session on well-being for a load of young female lawyers, and we were talking about the various well-being factors, and how to fit them into your life, and how to get a bit of time to do that. I realised that they weren’t really listening. They were checking their phone a lot.
I said to them, ‘I’m just getting a feeling that a lot of what we’re talking about isn’t really landing, I just wanted to sort of check what’s going on for you.’ And they said, ‘No, this is all really good stuff. All this well-being stuff, we can see how important it is. But we just don’t have any time to do it. We just don’t have any chance of getting to any of this at all.’ That was the first time that I had realised how intricately connected well-being, resilience, and time management really, really were.
Because the biggest barrier to well-being is not knowledge. It’s not money. It’s not anything apart from the time and the headspace to be able to put those well-being factors into place. Because anything that’s on the list of well-being factors that I talk about all the time, such as connecting with people, doing physical activity, eating well, stopping to notice all those things take a little bit of time, certainly, to plan, if not even just to do.
If you’re short on time, then quite often you feel that your well-being is suffering because you aren’t able to get those things in. This is where I think professionals and organisations get resilience so wrong. They think that either resilience is about teaching people how to be a bit superhuman to be able to cope with working in a very stressed and overwhelmed system, or they think it’s about the system having to totally change in order to make it better for the people that work there.
What happens is you end up with this culture that just feels like resilience victim blaming. It feels like someone’s being repeatedly punched in the head, and that if you’re suffering with a headache from being repeatedly punched in the head, then that’s your fault, and what you need to do is just get better at tolerating being repeatedly punched in the head. And then maybe what the system can do is give you a helmet so that the punches don’t hurt quite as much.
When organisations put fruit bowls into their offices, and maybe give you a cycle to work scheme, and a free yoga session at lunchtime, it can feel really irritating. And not just irritating, actually, sometimes, does more harm than good because people think to themselves, ‘Well, they’re only doing this because it’s so awful to work here.’ So this fruit and bicycles approach to well-being and resilience in organisations just doesn’t work. Nor does trying to make people superhuman so that they can survive working in a really, really tricky environment.
Now, I know what lots of people say about resilience — that it is a little bit like pulling bodies out of the river, resuscitating them and sending them back to work. And actually, what we should be focusing on is going up the river, and working out who’s chucking the bodies in in the first place and stopping the body’s going in. Now, I 100% agree. That is system change that we really, really need to look at, but most of us are not in charge of the system. Or we may be in charge of very small parts of the system. And I know the majority of my listeners work in the NHS, which is an incredibly complex system. There is no one NHS, lots and lots of little organisations bonded together. But actually there is no one thing that you can do throughout the NHS to make the system better, and there are people working on this.
Just sitting here waiting for the system to change and saying, ‘Well, you know what? The system needs to change, and if the system needs to change, then the bodies stop being thrown in the river, that’s when it’s going to be okay.’ That just doesn’t work because if we wait ‘till that happens, then we’ll never be okay. We’ll never be able to thrive at work. So we need to take a different approach. We need to think about what we can do to actually survive and thrive in the workplace.
It is not about being able to put up with being repeatedly being punched in the head. It’s about making some choices so that we avoid the punches in the first place. In order to have really high performance, you do need a good workplace and you need resilient people, and then you’ll get someone who has been able to give their best.
But even in a good workplace, if you’ve got someone who doesn’t have many of the, sort of what we call resilience, productivity, self-management skills, then you will probably get quite low performance from that individual, even if they’re working somewhere really, really great.
Conversely, if you put somebody who has a lot of really good resilience skills, if you put them in a absolutely toxic, very, very difficult organisation, and you tell them they just have to produce results, and that person works and works and works, and sets no boundaries, and that person will also burn out. Okay? That is bad news. No matter how many life skills we have, if we are in a very, very toxic environment, then that is bad news for us.
I know that there’ll be some people listening who know that they are in a really toxic environment. My challenge to you would be, are you choosing to stay there for the right reasons or the wrong reasons? Do you have any choices that you could make to go work somewhere different? I once had an appraisal, and halfway through my appraisal, I said to my appraiser, ‘I just sometimes wonder if I’m in completely the wrong job.’
They turned to me said, ‘Actually, Rachel, no. You’re just in the wrong workplace. You’re just in the wrong practice.’ I changed practices, and it was much, much better. So if you have that choice, and you are somewhere that you know is toxic, then make that choice just to go into different workplaces, because you do not have control over much of your workplace culture.
If you know that you’re working somewhere with a toxic culture and you have any power or authority in that organisation, then what can you do to try and address that? Because people will burn out, and people will leave. But let’s face it, most of where we work tends to be sort of somewhere in the middle between good and bad workplace. There’s some things that are really good about it. There’s some things that are really difficult about it.
There are some things that can change. There are probably some things that aren’t ever going to change. And the question is, if you are choosing to continue to work there, what are you going to choose to do so that you don’t burn out, so that you can survive, or even maybe thrive in that workplace? That is what true resilience is about. It’s about those choices that you make because you have chosen to work in a particular place.
The questions that you need to start asking, firstly, are there any quick wins that we can do as a group here? Getting the well-being basics in so that you can connect and get yourself that all-important peer-group at work. I know after COVID that there are some consulting teams that haven’t even seen each other face-to-face because all their interaction is now online. What can you do to build those informal connections?
How can you get the well-being basics in place? And that is something you do for yourself. Taking a break, even if you have patients waiting. Just saying, ‘I need 10 minutes to go and refresh myself, and go for a walk.’ Because many of us have this learned helplessness, thinking that there is nothing we can do. But like I said in the previous quick tip on You Choose, we always have a choice. There are lots of small things that we can do.
Now, this is where I will lose 8% of the audience because people can get very cross when they are told that, actually, you are in control over what you choose to do, the conversations you have, the times you agree to work. Now, there might be some consequences if you don’t agree, but you’re in control of the choices that you make. You’re in control of how you look after yourself. You’re in control of how you interact with people at work.
I think this learned helplessness in healthcare has come over many, many years. There was a study in 2016, published in the BJGP about why GPs under the age of 50 were leaving medicine. There were all sorts of reasons, from sort of the administrative burden to the pay. But the biggest thing, by far, was because of the effects of the job on their well-being. And the authors Natasha Doran et al., compared GPs to frogs in boiling water. 20 years ago, the work was just not like this.
But of course, so the same goes, if you put a frog in a pan of slowly boiling water, they don’t notice the heat being turned up. I think that has happened to a lot of healthcare professionals. We have not noticed that heat being turned up so that it just becomes normal to be doing 12, 13, 14 hour days, to be dialing in at weekends, to be finishing your paperwork — to be doing way beyond what you are paid to do, or way beyond what you can do.
Healthcare professionals have been a bit like a sponge. In the past, we’ve been able to absorb the extra work, and this has even been acknowledged in the House of Commons report from 2021. And they said that actually, this excess workload, it’s like the pattern you can’t see on wallpaper. You just don’t notice it anymore because we are so used to doing it. And actually, they say that if people stop doing that extra work, then the NHS would just collapse.
So if health professionals stopped doing the extra work, there would be no NHS. The problem is, what you do when you’re 24 hours a day are used up. And your usual thing has been work harder and harder, but you can’t work harder and harder anymore. You need to make some difficult choices. So we need to make some choices about how much more work we are going to absorb. And that involves saying no to some things, and saying no is difficult.
We’re going to talk about that in another Quick Dip. But in order to say no, we need to know what we’re going to say yes to. What is it that we’re really going to prioritise? How are we going to choose to look after ourselves to make sure we’re getting that lunch break? To make sure we’re getting home at a decent hour so that we can look after ourselves and spend time with the people who are really important to us?
How are we going to change our mindset so that we are not constantly taking things personally or worrying about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet? And how are we going to get the help that we need to process the traumatic stuff that we deal with on a day-to-day basis? So these are all questions for you. These are questions about how are you going to choose to survive and thrive in a system that is really tricky, that is complex, that is stressed, that is under ginormous pressure.
I’m afraid I think with the political environment, with the cuts that are going to be happening even more, it’s going to be really, really difficult. But you have the choice. You can either change your environment or go work somewhere else. And for some of you, that might be a choice that you need to make. Or you can make some changes in the way that you are responding and reacting to situations.
You can go and get some help with that. And a really great book is to read the Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. Absolutely amazing and completely changed the way I thought about things. You can think about how you’re prioritising your time, and we’ll put some links to the podcasts we’ve done around time management and prioritisation.
You can think about what help you need. What help do you need, what help will you choose to get in order to survive and thrive in the work that you are choosing to do? Because this is all about staying inside your zone of power and looking at the stuff that you can control, not getting stressed about the stuff that you can’t control.
Well-being and resilience is not about helping you become more superhuman so that you can survive in a stressed and broken system. It’s about helping you make the choices, the difficult choices, that you need to make on a daily basis if you are going to choose to work in the job that you love. So you choose. What are you going to do? Where are you going to work? And how are you going to thrive?