Events of 2020 have proved the value of personal resilience

No-one could have predicted what 2020 would deliver.  A pandemic, lockdown, moving the workplace into the home. We are in uncharted waters. The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Resilience is an almost stoic quality, and a pandemic a time of crisis. It almost feels like they are a match made in heaven.  But how does this affect organisations? What can be done? Is it really that important to build employees’ resilience?

The short answer is yes, it’s essential. Recent statistics show the need for a resilient workforce. When confronted with challenging situations (read pandemic) higher resilience individuals are more likely to bounce back than people with lower resilience: they are 20% less likely to display low levels of productivity and motivation, suffer from depression or abscond from work.

New studies show the importance of leadership strategies in shaping the resiliency of a workforce.  There is a reciprocal and dynamic relationship between leadership fostering resilience and workers remaining resilient and even loyal to their employer.  A Qualtrics 2020 Global workforce study even found correlates between employee’s level of resilience and their intention to remain within an organisation.  It is now incumbent on team leaders and managers to increase workers resilience in order to maintain the effectiveness of their companies in times of crisis.  So how do we do this?

There are two main differentials.  Firstly, there is the overall strategic leadership style and secondly, there is finding and using resources (often interventions) proven to grow baseline levels of individual resilience.  There is, if you like,  a top down approach (leadership) and also a bottom up approach (individual improvement) to increasing workplace resilience.


Effective leadership

In a time of crisis people look to their leaders. Resilience leadership leads to what academics call psychological safety.

A recent 2020 Workplace Resilience Study by ADP Research, conducted before and during the pandemic, found workers’ levels of resilience were closely tied to their immediate team leader. When leaders allowed workers freedom to use their expertise and fostered an environment of “trust” this had a direct relationship on the intrinsic level of resilience a person feels. Interestingly building blocks of trust included leaders facing challenges realistically and openly when compared to being overly optimistic or simply ignoring challenges.

Practical top down leadership approaches include the atmospherics of workplace resilience. Consider a worker, now tested by unfamiliar working conditions, who feels unsure about their company’s future and their role within it. Intrinsic resilience is being tested by extrinsic circumstances and it is incumbent upon a leader to provide a feeling of safety via assurance and clear and positive messaging.

To have a workforce humming at peak resilience, apt leadership is only half of the puzzle. A bottom up approach towards workplace resilience is also necessary. Unlike other traits resilience is learnable and there are a host of options available to increase employee’s resilience for a thriving organisation. Bottom up strategies usually require a financial outlay. However, the 2019 Deloitte mental health report stated an (up to) £11 ROI for every £1 a company invests in a mental health prevention and/or resilience campaign.

Traditional bottom up methods include companies raising awareness by coaching employees on a regular basis, often in person. These methods include mindfulness based cognitive behavioural therapy (MCBT) and other positive psychology interventions. Research shows that prevention programs can decrease mental illness incidents by up to 38%. Many EAP’s and Social Enterprises provide such services.

The current pandemic has changed so much in the workplace, but a crisis may also be understood as an opportunity and the higher the resilience of an organisation the better their position when rivals falter.  Creating the psychological safety of resilient leadership and increasing each individual’s baseline resilience can work harmoniously to create the most effective workforce possible to take advantage of such circumstances.

Image by J Garget