“How are you doing?”

It’s a question we hear often, and we might interpret it as caring, inquisitive or conversational. We might not interpret the question of how we are doing as being answered by where we are doing.

Simply put, an expanding understanding of our brain’s reaction to stress tells us that “how” we are doing is largely determined by the parts of the brain that dominate thinking and feeling. “How” we are doing depends on “where” we are within the geography of our brains.

When we are stressed and the fight, flight or freeze response activates, the regions at the front of our brain become less active—those areas that contribute to the brain functions we might consider higher or more advanced: Empathy, creativity, abstract thought, etc.

This simple yet powerful idea is the foundation of FEI’s Move to the Front program. Move to the Front began in 2018 to help different audiences understand how stress, or even trauma in the workplace, could be preventing individuals from bringing their “best selves” to work every day. It’s a unique framework that is applicable to every aspect of organizational resilience, including workplace violence prevention.

As we’ve continued working with the concept, the response from clients who have experienced Move to the Front firsthand has been overwhelmingly positive. Yet while this positive response is very rewarding, another response has been equally powerful: That we’ve helped entire organizations Move to the Front, not just individuals.

Just as individuals are at their best when they are “at the front” and able to freely access their highest brain functions, the same can be said about organizations.

Your organization experiences stress through the collective experiences of its employees. As stress cascades through an organization, the impact on individuals is reflected in the organization as a whole. So if individual employees are finding it difficult to perform at their best, that inability to Move to the Front may also be occurring throughout the organization.

We have many terms for the collective experience: Morale, mood, culture, community. When stress or trauma negatively influences our workplaces, we may only identify that something doesn’t “feel right” and experience a sense of malaise or unease as we interact with people. The inability to acknowledge and address the underlying causes of these feelings in constructive ways is what can lead to deficits in individual, and organizational, well-being.

Understanding the impact of stress on individuals is essential to keeping them resilient and engaged. But as we continue through 2019 and beyond, our hope is to expand the focus on helping individual human beings manage their stress and allow entire organizations to “Move to the Front.”