In 2009, during the throes of the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs made a key change to its employee wellness programming.
Instead of focusing exclusively on traditional stress management, the company also started teaching employees a new skill that would help them cope in trying times: resilience.
Now, resiliency programming, which includes lectures and one-on-one coaching, happens year-round at Goldman Sachs offices across the globe. Overall, more than 5,500 employees participated last year.
Managers undergo resiliency training on a quarterly basis, and every other year the company holds “Resilience Week,” in which keynote speakers present on topics like happiness.
Additionally, on-site resilience coaches are always available for consultations on issues including goal-setting, overcoming obstacles, and understanding personal priorities.
According to Laura Young, VP of benefits and wellness at Goldman Sachs, resiliency differs from stress management in some important ways.
“Stress management is more, ‘I’m running into some challenging circumstances, and I need to know how to make changes to respond appropriately,'” Young said.
On the other hand, resilience is a continuum that includes stress management but also encompasses stress prevention and treatment.
“We define resilience as the state of health, energy, readiness, flexibility, and the capacity to adapt to change with confidence,” she said. The goal is to help people perform optimally in both their professional and personal lives.
Perhaps even more significantly, the word “resilience” doesn’t have the same stigma as the term “stress management,” said Laura Putnam, the author of “Workplace Wellness That Works.” According to Putnam, most of us assume that stress-management means “taking ourselves out of the game,” or out of high-performing environments.
Presumably, that’s not something that appeals to most investment bankers.
The goal of resiliency, however, is figuring out how to remain in that competitive environment and perform at your best. “Sharpening one’s competitive edge is what mattered most to employees” at Goldman Sachs, Putnam said; resiliency programs allowed them to do exactly that.
Mindfulness, the practice of being alert and aware in the present moment, is a core component of the programming. For one thing, Putnam said, it helps you think more clearly, which is hard to do when you’re frazzled.
Putnam offered an example of how mindfulness training might help employees perform better at work. Research suggests that there’s a confidence gap between men and women: Women tend to be less self-assured than men, which can hurt their chances of professional success. But when women become more mindful, they’re “more aware of things that trigger [them] in performance settings,” she said.
The shift toward resiliency at Goldman Sachs reflects an overall trend in corporate wellness. “There’s been a turnaround on stress,” Putnam said. “It’s something to be embraced,” instead of something to escape from.
The idea is that you can use stress as energy to help you perform in high-pressure environments like investment banking — instead of letting it hurt your productivity and focus.
Young said it’s difficult to measure the direct impact of resiliency programs on employees’ performance. But survey feedback suggests they feel that they’re benefiting from the resources and that their overall happiness with the company has increased.
At Goldman Sachs and in other high-pressure workplaces, employees want wellness programming to help them succeed professionally — not just lower their blood pressure.
“People are less interested in health,” Putnam said, “and more in doing their best at work and being their best selves.”
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