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Moving to 'natural resilience' in business (March 2022)

Around 30% of the population worldwide suffers from a mental disorder, with more than 264 million people affected by depression, and more than 284 million affected by anxiety (Global Burden of Diseases, 2017). In 2018, the Health and Safety Executive reported that mental health accounts for 57% of sick days in the UK, some 15.4 million days per year. This is one of the major challenges of our time and organisations and has a significant social and financial cost. Mental wellbeing goes beyond management of stress and extends to our ability to function and flourish as human beings. It is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as: "Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community" Managing mental wellbeing and improved resilience is therefore critical for all organisations. Indeed, a recent survey by Microsoft and CIPD showed that additional resources to improve wellbeing and resilience was the number one priority for 36% employees. But what concrete steps can organisations take to support the mental wellbeing and resilience of their employees? The BBC highlights the following approaches: Identify and try to remove / reduce your individual stressors; Build psychological resilience - learning the skills that it takes to become more resilient and adopting approaches that support resilience: Healthy lifestyle; Social Support; Develop a resilient thinking style; Develop an internal ‘Locus of Control’; Personal Resilience in a Changing BBC (formal training); Attend BBC Health and Wellbeing events.

The BBC is right to highlight mental wellbeing as a health and safety issue and we would wholeheartedly agree with the approaches it advocates. Through increased access to nature, there is however a practical option that embodies multiple approaches outlined above. This underlines the case for ‘natural resilience’... There have been many studies that highlight the benefits of nature for improving resilience and wellbeing. Significant bodies of evidence support nature's ability to reduce stress, reduce chances of burnout and improve wellbeing. Attention Restoration Theory – The work of Stephen Kaplan and subsequently many others including Braham et al demonstrates that in a world where mental fatigue and burnout is common, nature quickly restores our attention, short-term memory and ability to deal with complex tasks. Stress Reduction Theory – stress and poor mental health is a pandemic of our time. Hunter, Gillespie and Yu-Pu Chen’s 2019 study showed just 25 minutes in nature reduces ‘biomarkers’ of stress by up to 29%. Well-Being – Whilte, Pahl and Wheeler amongst others highlighted the links of nature to wellbeing, concluding that those who regularly visit nature feel their lives are more worthwhile (eudaimonic wellbeing) and are happier (hedonic wellbeing). Eudaimonic wellbeing is linked with greater drive for autonomy and the desire for personal growth, key leadership attributes. The increased recognition of the benefits of nature for mental health have been highlighted by the increase in ‘nature prescriptions’ as an effective intervention within the health sector. This is not surprising given the evidence suggests that it is both effective and value for money...producing an estimated Social Return on Investment of £6.88 for every £1 invested!

The world of work has yet to wake up to the benefits of nature and embrace them as an option to support the wellbeing and resilience of their workforces. The dominant business culture makes it acceptable for large companies to employ in house doctors. Maybe it is easier to reduce the management of mental health at work to a prescription and a pill than to tackle the root cause of it. As humans we cannot be ‘on’ the whole time, living life in the red zone. It results in stress, poor mental health and poor performance with huge social and financial costs. It is not good for individual wellbeing, it is not good in the long term for businesses whose main assets are people. Eva Selhub and Alan Logan’s book Your Brain on Nature highlighted the evidence that office work activities are particularly damaging at reducing our attention and can lead to the sort of anxiety, poor decision making and burnout associated with excessive time spent on screens. So, if science shows unequivocally that nature can be effective at reducing stress, supporting resilience and promoting wellbeing, why is business not using it the way the health sector is to support its employees?

Nature-based programmes draw on evidence from neuroscience and eco-therapy practice and provide practical routes to bring the benefits of nature into the workplace. At Orientate we support businesses by providing practical, nature-based approaches to support wellbeing, resilience and problem solving. Increasing the amount of time people spend in nature creates ‘natural resilience’ within and organisation that empowers people to effectively manage their mental health and well-being. ‘Natural resilience’ helps to foster a healthier, happier and therefore, more effective, workforce. We help businesses to use the outdoors as a practical and engaging element of workforce strategy, enabling businesses to reduce the social and financial costs of mental health. More importantly, going back to the WHO definition, isn’t every business seeking a workforce where employees are productive and resilient, enabling them to realise their potential and positively contributing to those around them. Orientate exists to enable the connection between organisations and nature. We draw on our experience in business; as facilitators and coaches; and experts in the outdoors to provide effective, structured approaches to enable individuals and businesses to partner with nature. We work with businesses to provide a range of practical tools to support resilience and wellbeing. This enables nature to improve employee effectiveness and to promote the reconnection of business with the natural world.

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