Rob Archer, Director at LPP Consulting, kicked off 3M’s Safety Network Live in Bracknell (UK) on 27 September with a fascinating talk about stress and resilience – which featured the inner chimp, sex and bananas.

Rob Archer has worked with many high profile clients, from premiership footballers to BP, helping them to manage and prevent stress. He started this morning’s talk by looking at the advantages athletes have over the average worker when it comes to stress, namely using stress to win, the exercise they are undertaking and the money they may be rewarded with at the end.

But, most importantly, he looked at the pattern of stress at peak pressure at the top, and the downtime or rest at the bottom; that is essential to any athlete. This wave, which Rob called the ‘wobbly line’ is key to good, productive performance as without the chance to recover – people will burnout as they face exhaustion.

Replicating this wobbly line in the safety profession can be hard. Not everyone feels that they can or should incorporate the rest time – the things that give us meaning, purpose and joy – into their busy working lives.

Audience members listed smart phones, email notifications, guilt and deadlines among some of the triggers that cause them to reach peak pressure. And exercise, family time, walking the dog and even rifle shooting as the things that help them to refresh and recharge.

However, the demands are rising and too many workers are sitting on a flat line near to the top of peak pressure rather than the wobbly line which allows for essential recovery time. If we continue to live at the top of the wobble we will burn out, become less productive and make mistakes – which can be dangerous for ourselves and those around us.

The second part of Rob’s talk looked at energy management, a key foundation in this area, and the key way to avoid a burnout. Rob looked at the brain in four parts; emotions (the inner chimp), thinking (the pilot), habits (autopilot) and observations.

The inner chimp is our ability to react emotionally to a situation – or as Rob liked to refer to it: “it’s all about sex and bananas”. Essentially it is knee jerk and about a quick win. The habits and thinking modes look at when we have to either think something through to come out with a solution, or when we do it without having to think about it, on autopilot.

All of these ways can create risky situations in the workplace whether it be that we are on autopilot and miss a hazard, or that we react emotionally with our ape instinct and choose a suboptimal, easy approach to a task.

Finally Rob concluded with a look at marginal gain, reflecting back on what he had discussed so far. The audience gave themselves a number out of ten of where they placed their level of energy management and then looked at simple but effective ways to better that score, by just one point. These included turning off email notifications when working on something, prioritizing work, varying jobs and managing tasks more efficiently.

Reflecting on the session Rob said: “It’s been a really great event and lots of people seemed really engaged. What I was trying to do in my session was think about the health aspect of health and safety looking at three things: firstly how well do people manage their energy – as so many people get drawn into working relentlessly hard with no recovery which is not only bad for our health, it’s bad for performance.

“Secondly, we looked at decision making styles under pressure and how we use the different parts of our brains – and the implications those have on health and safety, and crucially, how aware we are of them as the more aware we are, the more control we have.

“And lastly we looked at how we change behavior, making small marginal gains within our habits. I really hope people enjoyed the session and that they took away their own marginal gain to experiment with”.

Source: Safety & Health Practitioner (UK)