How to build resilience at work

Resilience is a personal quality which employers have come to value increasingly in recent years. It has been shown to protect against workplace stress, increase productivity and performance, and is related to job satisfaction, work happiness and organisational commitment. Resilient teams can thrive even in tough times such as we have experienced recently with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resilience is recognised as both a personal trait and a set of skills which can be acquired over time. As a trait, it is

  • a positive psychological capacity to rebound, or ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure, change, progress, or increased responsibility (Rice and Liu 2016)
  • an innate ‘hardiness’ which buffers individuals against stress and illness (Funk, 1992).

As a set of skills it comprises mental processes and behaviour which promote personal assets and protect an individual from stressors (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2012 and 2013) and help them perform to the best of their abilities, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves (Egeland, Carlson, & Sroufe, 1993; Clough and Earle 2002).

Unfortunately, resilience has been seen as something of a cure all by some employers, and it is important to point out what should be obvious, that you can’t become resilient from attending one resilience training workshop, nor is it a substitute for complying with work health and safety duties. It isn’t an answer to bullying or harassment nor does it mean that employees can work longer hours or endure constant stress without adverse effects.

How resilient are you?

The best way of finding out your level of resilience is to undertake a validated psychometric test. Once such test is the MTQPlus, which measures mental toughness, which measures resilience and hardiness.

If you don’t have access to such a test, you can ask yourself or your team how you scale against these examples of low, medium or high resilience.

Finds it difficult to cope with demanding environments and criticism; overly self-critical and underestimates their skills; worries unduly and feel uncomfortable in groups; prefers established routines and stability.

Able to cope with most challenges but may be affected by difficult situations or criticism; comfortable in most social situations. Will accept a challenge but concerned about failure; usually feels in control but will sometimes be pessimistic or feel overwhelmed.

High levels of self confidence and assurance; keen to take on challenges and very committed to goals. Not disturbed by obstacles or setbacks; in control of their own emotions but may be intolerant of those who are not as tough as them. May take on too many tasks.

Can we develop our resilience?

The answer is yes. Some personality traits which contribute to resilience are an integral part of your personality or acquired in early childhood. Living through trauma, disaster or adversity can contribute to resilience.

There is increasing evidence that resilience can be developed. Recent findings in the area of neuroplasticity indicate that traits can be developed and strengthened.

Ways of developing your own resilience include:

  • Recognise what makes you feel less in control –lack of rest, sudden change – and develop strategies to manage them.
  • Monitor your thinking for negative self talk and replace it with positive self talk
  • Recognise that setbacks are normal and no one has ever achieved great success at their first try. Think of role models you admire and learn how they overcame adversity.
  • Ask others for help or coaching to meet your goal. Break down the goal into manageable steps and plan how you will accomplish it.
  • Reflect on challenges you have overcome in the past and how you did it.
  • “Eat that frog” – do something challenging – a cold shower, a difficult phone call – first thing in the morning. Other challenges that day will not seem so difficult.
  • Increase your familiarity with change by changing your own routines, trying new things.

Creating and supporting resilience in teams

A resilient team will perform better, recover faster from setbacks and cope well with challenges.

Firstly ensure that work health and safety duties with regard to psychological risks and hazards are being met. Other actions are:

  • Foster openness and a growth mindset by encouraging teams to continually add knowledge, share information, develop skills, ask questions and invite input from others
  • Enhance positive emotions by recognising achievement, celebrating wins, fun at work, identifying individual and team strengths
  • Develop team members by providing meaningful stretch challenges, mentoring and coaching suitable to their individual resilience level
  • Provide training on emotional intelligence and collaboration
  • Be sensitive to times of heavy workload, organisational change, stress, team energy levels and provide support.

Looking to find out how to build resilience at work? At WEIR we can assist in building your and your team’s resilience through: