Fostering Resilience in the Workplace

True resilience is more than simply bouncing back from a setback or challenge. We’re not spring-loaded, impenetrable orbs after all. Some of the most transformative self-awareness and personal growth comes from processing challenges or failure. Resilience is what prepares us so we can withstand adversity and come out of it stronger and better.

Building resilience is like winter-proofing your garden. Making an effort to systematically nurture, insulate, and protect yourself is the best way to weather even the bitterest winter season.

Like most skills, developing resilience is not something that happens overnight. It takes time and dedicated practice to develop and continuously improve our ability to respond with resilience. By adopting a few simple techniques, we can build up our personal winter-proofing so we can activate resilience when we need it the most.

What does resilience look like?

From years of studying workplace and organizational behaviour, researchers have found several common factors that contribute to resilience in the workplace.

  • Optimism - Never underestimate the power of positivity. Everything is easier with a can-do attitude. While some people seem like ‘born optimists,’ if we acknowledge responsibility for the tone and message of our thoughts and actions, we can start to frame everything from a much more optimistic perspective.
  • Ability to manage emotional balance - Managing balance in our emotions helps us resist the urge to catastrophize. By getting in front of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions, you’re in a better position to sidestep an emotional response and focus on purposeful action.
  • A sense of safety - Facing change or responding to a setback is difficult because it disrupts the routines and systems that we’ve found comfort in and success with in the past. Encouraging resilience starts with facilitating a strong support system where teams can share their feelings and fears, with access to the resources they need to navigate the challenge ahead.

Tips to strengthen resilience

Take time to reset throughout the workday

The better we are at managing regular stress and avoiding burnout, the better prepared we will be to manage bigger challenges and setbacks.

In his digital article for HBR , Rich Fernandez suggests “detachment breaks” to help promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity, and focus. Basically all of the building blocks of resilience. Based on the idea that our ultradian (hourly) as opposed to circadian (daily) rhythms demarcate the “peaks and valleys of energy and productivity that we all experience,” regular breaks throughout the day help reset focus and improve our capacity for resilience in the long-term. High-focus, high-clarity cycles typically last 90-120 minutes, so schedule regular breaks, even if only a few minutes at a time, to reset yourself.

Train for mental toughness and flexibility

This is how resilient people build the emotional balance they need to be responsive rather than reactive. According to Fernandez, developing mental agility “hinges on the ability to mentally ‘decenter’ stressors in order to effectively manage them. ‘Decentering’ stress is not denying or suppressing the fact that we feel stressed — rather, it is the process of being able to pause, to observe the experience from a neutral standpoint, and then to try to solve the problem.”

Instead of being overcome by ‘stinking thinking,’ step back from the immediacy of the moment and work through what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Recognize the thoughts and emotions that will not serve you and look for opportunities where you do have some control or influence in the situation. “We often tell our children who are upset to ‘use your words,’ for example, and it turns out that stopping and labeling emotions has the effect of activating the thinking center of our brains, rather than the emotional center — a valuable skill in demanding, high-performance workplaces everywhere,” Fernandez explains.

Practice regular self-care

Lawyer and positive psychologist Paula Davis-Laack knows firsthand the importance of managing stress and avoiding burnout. “A critical part of resilience is self-care and recovery, and resilient employees know how they spend their energy each day and they take time to re-fill their tank,” she explains.

Detachment breaks are important for mini-resets, but longer breaks provide an opportunity for truly restorative recovery. Start by designating ‘off hours’ when you stop answering calls or emails and take vacation time regularly. Even if you don’t go anywhere, it’s incredibly beneficial to invest in the time you need to fully recharge. Opportunities for self-care include exercise, meditation, reading, or socializing.

Grow your grit

According to Davis-Laack, another element that resilient employees share is grit — “the passion and perseverance to pursue your long-term goals.” Grit and resilience go hand-in-hand. And you can’t have grit without having goals.

On the road to reaching those goals, you’ll encounter success and setbacks along the way. “Working on truly challenging goals means you’re going to experience obstacles, and you won’t be able to bounce back from them or get grittier without resilience,” Davis-Laack explains.

Cultivate value and meaning beyond the paycheck

Stress and burnout are common threats to our resilience, but some of the greatest challenges are variables beyond our control. Economic volatility, natural disasters, and market changes are forces that the average business-owner has no control over. If you get caught up in the grind and churn of it all, staying motivated will be next to impossible.

Finding meaning in your work beyond surviving the grind and earning a wage builds engagement and, ultimately, resilience. “The most successful and resilient people I have worked with are there for more than a paycheck because they see how their work has value and impact,” says Davis-Laack. Seeing how your role contributes to something that is fundamentally important to you will motivate and inspire you to persevere.

More than ever, workplace resilience is an important measure of organizational effectiveness and success. When the toughest winters test our mettle to the extreme, resilience is what helps us emerge better and stronger when spring finally arrives.