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Personal resilience in the work place

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Expert Opinion
March 9, 2022

If employers didn’t appreciate the importance of personal resilience before, the pandemic has undoubtedly provided some hard lessons. At work and in their personal lives – and often both – innumerable people have experienced anxiety, uncertainty, change or loss that tested their ability to cope.

Our adaptability in the face of extreme challenges or pressures varies, depending on character, what we’ve been through before, and various other factors. We all adapt differently, and some may take longer to adjust to change.

Employers have to adapt too, with varying effectiveness. Understanding, assessing or supporting your people’s resilience in a work setting is complex because it’s about how they feel, not just how they function. The committed, hard-working, and highly motivated team member or manager may be performing well yet be all the more prone to burnout. High stress and high standards together can be an intolerable burden.

Resilience and stress

Stress levels rise when we are in a situation we cannot control. I may lose my job in the restructuring. This new manager is setting unrealistic targets. Work and life are out of balance. A loved one is ill or vulnerable.

Personal resilience does not tame the uncontrollable. It helps us focus on what we can control – or at least influence – and the positive actions we can take. The resilient individual will be sufficiently self-aware and self-confident to interpret their reactions to the situation. They will also interact with others positively to address the problems or challenges.

If we don’t have that innate resilience, we can develop it by training our minds to recognise the signs of stress and respond. That might involve a breathing exercise, meditation, exercise or some other form of self-care to help regain control over the emotional response. Then, one can follow steps to guide us through a more considered and resilient reaction.

Employers, too, can help build personal resilience in the workplace. As with so many other aspects of people management, this requires engaged leadership, good communications and tailored training.

Building resilience at work

Senior managers need to demonstrate they care about their people’s stress levels and mental health. This employer empathy is essential to remove any stigma, embarrassment or fear that may prevent employees from admitting they are struggling. Also, line managers and supervisors are less likely to get behind a resilience or wellbeing initiative that lacks leadership buy-in.

Openness about personal, sensitive matters like anxiety and burnout won’t happen without a regular flow of clear and credible communication. This must be two-way, so employees can ask questions, seek reassurance and support colleagues. In turn, this feedback not only reinforces the culture of trust and accountability fostered by enlightened leadership, it can also inform a programme of resiliency training or wellbeing support.

Building personal resilience in the workplace

Training needs to start with middle managers and team leaders to raise awareness of their own self-awareness and personal vulnerability. This allows them to be in a position of empathy, understanding and reflection to offer the best support and truth when dealing with their teams and people in need. One should tailor a company-wide programme to raise personal resilience to people’s needs. These range from advice on managing emotions, interpersonal frictions and work pressures, to improving sleep habits, diet and physical health. It must be reflective and tangible to the challenges or personal growth aspirations they face daily.

Building resilience at work isn’t just the right thing to do for employees. Businesses that raise personal resilience benefit too, research shows. This is not least from the higher productivity and commitment of more satisfied, valued and focussed colleagues. Of course, this brings with it an increase in people and organisational performance.

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