The challenging working landscape
When presented with the concept of mental toughness it's common to associate it with the world of sport. As the Olympic athletes prepare both physically and mentally for the 2012 games in London it's interesting to consider what made the difference at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing between individual success and failure.
However, mental toughness is increasingly viewed internationally by business as an important measure of whether employees have the resilience and capacity to withstand the particular challenges post 2008 and the subsequent downturn in world economies. Mental toughness is seen as particularly important in the Middle East region given the compound impact of the 2008 crisis and social change of the 2010 Arab Spring, in which circumstances the work environment is especially challenging.
What is mental toughness?
One of the world’s leading academics on mental toughness, Dr Peter Clough Ch. Psych., defines mental toughness as the quality which determines in large part, how people deal with challenges, stresses and pressures irrespective of prevailing circumstances. Mental toughness explains how individuals develop resilience and an inner drive to succeed. It is fast emerging as a key component for individual and organisational performance. Studies now show that it explains up to 25% of individual variation in performance.
Research in the Psychology Department at the University of Hull, under the direction of Dr Clough, identified four key components of mental toughness, known as the 4Cs – Control, Challenge, Commitment and Confidence. This research has subsequently been independently validated by research in Canada, Italy and the UK. The studies in Canada (University of Western Ontario 2008) and Italy (Universities of Parma and Moderna & Reggio 2010) showed that mental toughness is a personality trait with genetic elements to it.
It is now possible to describe mental toughness and be able to understand how it relates to individual performance. The research shows there is a strong link between mental toughness and stress management and, therefore, peak performance.
Why is it essential in the Middle East?
The first validated and reliable psychometric measure of an individual’s mental toughness, MTQ48, has been developed to assess an individual’s capacity to deal with stressful situations. AQR helped establish the questionnaire and identify the relevance of mental toughness to the occupational world. AQR have pioneered MTQ48 in the Middle East and, in October last year, launched the first Mental Toughness Center for Education in the Middle East at the Dubai Women’s College (DWC).
The center facilitates the dissemination of information about mental toughness and its application in the education sector as well as building and co-ordinating research in this area. They continue to run regular accredited licensed user workshops, details of which can be found on either AQR or DWC websites.
Given that the Middle East suffers from high levels of youth unemployment, resilience and the capacity to bounce back when faced with difficulties are key attributes for long term career success. According to the IMF, the ‘youth bulge’ in the Middle East could further exacerbate youth employment levels by 2020. Disaffected youth could result in unrest, so governments in the region are likely to increase the focus on organisations attracting national talent into the workforce with those with high levels of mental toughness being considered the most desirable.
How can you assess employee resilience?
Mental toughness is not only applicable to young nationals but also to others working in the Middle East, the majority of who have chosen to move to the region to work. It's a factor in being able to deal with change and challenge, considerations many ex-pats can readily associate with.
MTQ48 is successfully being incorporated into leadership & management development programmes throughout the Middle East. Programmes run for the AD Ministry of the Interior, Al Ain Hospitals, Kuwaiti Petroleum, Qatar Petroleum and Abu Dhabi Airports have been instrumental in helping leaders, coaches and line managers frame their feedback using the questionnaire in order to develop their employees.
Interest in MTQ48 is high in the region. Typically organisations seek to use the questionnaire as an assessment tool to understand each individual employee’s level of mental toughness across the 4Cs and to tailor strategies to help them perform better under stress and respond effectively to challenge. Developing a workforce capable of high levels of mental toughness is an important consideration for HR professionals in today’s working environment where employees are increasingly subject to stress, pressure and challenge.
A version of this article first appeared in the Digby Morgan newsletter.