Resilience in the Workplace: How to Be More Resilient at Work
Have you ever found yourself wondering what makes someone successful at work. Chances are, like many people you imagine that the key to success at work is intelligence or going above and beyond the demands of the role such as working extra long hours or taking on extra commitments. However, in modern workplaces characterized by staff cutbacks, deadlines, rivalry and organizational change, success relies on an individual’s capacity to cope and even thrive when faced with stress. Broadly speaking, resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ when encountering the challenges that are an inevitable part of life. The workplace presents a different range of stressors to employees. What is resilience in the workplace? Why is it even important? Can individuals even become more resilient anyway? The exciting thing about resilience is that it is a skill. Like any skill, with practice, resilience can be learned. This article describes resilience in the workplace and provides helpful tips about how people can be more resilient at work. It will define exactly what is meant by ‘resilience in the workplace’, describe some examples of developing personal resilience at work and then explore ways to enhance resilience. Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you to effectively deal with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students or employees.
5 Examples of Building Personal Resilience at Work
How can an individual build their personal resilience at work? In order to address this question, think back to Maddi and Khoshaba’s study of the employees of the telecommunications company in the US. How is it that under such duress, many of the workers were able to thrive? How did they develop resilience?
Resilience is a multi-dimensional construct, and consists of a cluster of factors: behaviors, thoughts, actions, attitudes, and skills.
By taking a positive stance at work, employees are more able to adapt to adversity and also hold on to a sense of control over their work environment. Putting energy and motivation into work, or, having ‘vigor’ – as described by Shirom (2004) – is also associated with building personal resilience. It is the ‘opposite’ of burnout, which is characterized by emotional exhaustion, physical tiredness, and cognitive fatigue or ‘weariness’.
2. Emotional Insight
Another example of building personal resilience at work is by developing and strengthening emotional insight. Insight is closely related to emotional intelligence. Individuals with a level of insight have a level of awareness about the full range of emotions they experience, from ‘negative’ through to ‘positive’.
Individuals can build personal resilience at work by achieving a healthy work-life balance. This is especially challenging in the world we are living in. Technology can mean that employees may have access to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In order to be able to bounce back from stressful situations, i.e. to be resilient, workers need to have the energy that can be easily depleted if a healthy work-life balance is not in place. Workers need time to relax, unwind and recuperate.
Having a sense of spirituality has been linked to developing resilience at work. This may be related to reducing vulnerability and the impact that adversity in the workplace has on the individual. Finding meaning in work, and feeling that this work is contributing to a greater good, can buffer against the effect of stress.
It may also be because spirituality may lead employees to view even stressful situations as having positive aspects, or ‘purpose’, and appreciating potential benefits.
Becoming more reflective is another way individuals can build resilience at work. In other words, being in tune with one’s emotions and emotional reactions can serve to buffer against the effect of stress. Being aware of possible ‘triggers’ to stress can provide individuals with the opportunity to prepare and gather resources so they are better able to ‘bounce back’.
If an employee knows that a particular circumstance will be especially challenging, they can then implement coping strategies, such as seeking support.
How to Build Resilient Teams
There is a range of possible ways to develop resilience in work-teams. Resilient teams are able to withstand and overcome difficulties whilst sustaining performance and cohesion of the team, or even strengthen the team.
1. Checklists and Guides
Some common challenges and stressors can be anticipated at work. To develop resilience in team-members, checklists and guides are a helpful way to provide employees with a resource they can turn to when dealing with the challenge. The resource can be a ‘go-to’ guide for staff. The resource might include tips for troubleshooting, guidelines for escalation (if necessary) and the key questions to consider in difficult situations. A good idea is also to document ‘standard operating procedures’ for the workplace. As well as providing invaluable information for new staff, having these procedures written down and accessible means that the team can maintain their basic work tasks as efficiently as possible. Therefore, when unexpected challenges arise, the staff have freed up some capacity to deal with the stressor.
In any team, experts may at times need to be called upon. A valuable resource is a table/spreadsheet that contains the names and contact details for people who are in the position to support the team when particular challenges arise.
In order to develop the resilience of any team, it is worthwhile to conduct team resilience training (as was described in the previous section), such as facilitated group sessions. The benefit of training for a team is that it helps the team members develop a group understanding, which promotes cohesion of the team and promotes positive team coordination. Some tasks that are physical in nature can be practiced, by handling simulated challenges. This sort of training has been used extensively in training of medical professionals. It is also good for team-members to consider any resilience behaviors that they displayed during the simulation, and an observer may also be involved to provide feedback to individuals. Obviously, due to practicalities and safety reasons, it may not be possible to ‘re-create’ a challenge. In this circumstance, cognitive tasks may be helpful. For example, the person in charge of training could provide the team with a scenario for a possible event (i.e. an emergency) and ask them to think about the problem and discuss what they would do in the scenario. Again, feedback is helpful throughout this process.
3. Debriefing Sessions
After any challenge or stressful event, it is valuable for a workplace to offer its’ employees ‘post-challenge’ debriefing. These sessions will encourage reflection about the experience. It is also helpful to facilitate team discussion about the challenge and how employees coped. This also facilitates team members supporting one another. This process can also include action planning for the team. As well as being a helpful process following a particularly stressful event, team debriefing can also be a valuable thing to do after a period of time when there has been a string of low-level chronic challenges, which tend to deplete teams and are draining.
4. Work Culture
Finally, the culture of a team is a key to promoting resilience. This forms the basis for “team resilience”. It is the responsibility of a team-leader, or supervisor, to create the right atmosphere for his/her team. They can facilitate the development of positive work culture by consistently demonstrating behaviors (described shortly) and also reinforce the behaviors in employees.
A culture of resilience includes team members being encouraged to:
Speak up, and ask any questions
Openly share bad news, and report early warning signs of potential problems
Maintain composure during ‘emergencies’ and times of heightened stress
In case of needing further support, seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority
Keep an eye on one’s work colleagues, and be there to offer support throughout the challenge – before (to minimize the impact of the stressor), during (to manage the heightened stress) and after the stressor (to ‘mend’ once the stress has passed)
Be able to express when there is a need in the workplace to switch to and from ‘emergency’ modes of operating.
Lastly, but importantly, once the challenge has passed, to encourage resilience team members to thank others for their help, and discuss any other challenges.