By Lani van der Merwe, Organisational Development Consultant at OIM Consulting
You’re most likely familiar with the definition of fitness, as it applies to your body. If considered fit, you might be able to run, swim or cycle for longer periods or at high intensity, with your body easily accommodating the exertion. You probably can do other kinds of taxing physical activities without too much hassle and recover quickly; donning your trainers to do it all over again.
Because that’s really the secret of physical fitness. To achieve and maintain fitness, practise, repetition and discipline are needed.
If physical fitness encompasses the body’s ability to function optimally and without injury across a range of tasks and scenarios, psychological fitness refers to how mentally and emotionally proficient we are, particularly as it relates to our work. And just as with physical fitness, psychological fitness carries over to other areas of our lives, determining our ability to cope with the various social and interpersonal situations that we might face daily.
As an organisational development consultant who specialises in the mining sector, if I were to categorise a miner as being ‘psychologically fit’, this would mean that they had not only the ability – but also the energy, motivation and general chutzpah – to perform their job effectively.
Rising burnout within the mining sector
Sadly, within a mining context, mental health is seldom prioritised. This is particularly concerning given the dangerous environment, coupled with challenging working conditions and the pressurised, target-chasing nature of the work.
One research paper that studied the state of mental health in miners found that the environment lent itself to mental health conditions, triggering issues such as anxiety, job stress, depression, sleep disorders, mental fatigue and more. The research results could be categorised according to four key themes: psychological problems and personal factors; psychosocial problems & health-related factors; well-being and physical problems and organisational factors – with the first theme being the most prominent.
Under this theme, the paper stated that “…workers can develop depressive disorders, moderate-high job stress, significative level of anxiety, sleep disorders or problems related.” The literature also cited high job demand/low control and security, high effort/low reward, higher work-family interference, violence at work and low social support as psychosocial problems and health-related factors, while quantitative overloads were found to deteriorate the psychological well-being of workers, resulting in mood disorders, substance abuse and health problems.
The reality is that psychological unfitness is all too prevalent in the mining sector. A great deal of focus is dedicated to the physical aspects of the role, ensuring that workers are physically able to perform their jobs. There is also an emphasis on sharing skillsets and toolsets that promote safety, while little attention is given to workers’ states of mind.
Enhancing psychological fitness
When engaged by a mining organisation to conduct front-line leadership development, OIM Consulting conducts two initial assessments that measure individual risk propensity and general psychological fitness. These surveys often reveal a high level of burnout that permeates the workforce. People are stressed and irritable; they certainly don’t want the extra workload that embarking on our programme entails. They believe that it will take energy away from what they are currently doing – and energy is something already in short supply.
There is a very real danger attached to this. Psychological unfitness can lead to mistakes that can cause injury or even loss of life. On the other hand, it can also lead to absenteeism, presenteeism or ‘quiet quitting’ – a trendy new catchphrase that refers to an employee doing the bare minimum. Someone who ‘quietly quits’ is not refusing to do their job – which would lead to the appropriate disciplinary action being taken – but rather refuting any expectation to go above and beyond in the call of duty. All of these can have a detrimental impact on the output of an organisation.
To address these, our programme focuses on giving front-line leaders miners tools that will help them actively tackle stress and gain more meaning from their work.
We demonstrate the difference between eustress and distress; the former typically being short-lived, motivating and galvanizing you into action, while distress is overwhelming, continues for a long time and decreases performance. We also highlight the importance of proactive recovery and the role that lifestyle plays. We then work with trainees to design a plan that will allow them to structure their day in such a way that they can deliver on their work commitments while carving our time for recovery and recharging their mental batteries.
Just as in the case of someone who is physically unfit – which means that they’ll take time and effort to recover after physical strain – so does psychological unfitness limit our ability to perform to the best of our ability, day in and day out. These skills need to be applied every day to achieve fitness. It should also encompass a holistic approach, that includes exercising, eating well and not abusing substances. The physical and mental are always interlinked.
Ultimately, we aim to demonstrate that achieving – and sustaining – psychological fitness is a marathon, not a sprint, and only constant effort will ensure success.