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How to become more resilient at work

October 12, 2020
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How to become more resilient at work

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.  Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.  How to become more resilient at work is to bounce back, or respond to setbacks, faster.

Some people, as a result of their previous experiences or even their nature, appear more resilient than others.  Despite natural tendencies, resilience is a skill that can be learned by anyone!

What about resilience in the workplace?

Most workplaces provide challenges and setbacks.  Some of these can cause stress, which often leads to serious problems.  But our reaction to stress, rather than the stress itself, is what studies have found actually causes us harm.


What actually is stress?

Stress is the body's reaction to perceived pressure and is designed to help us respond faster or focus on a perceived threat.   This is fine when you are in danger, or you need to push yourself in a competitive or demanding situation.  This kind of stress is short-lived.  Stress of this type is called acute stress and recovery from it is swift.

On the other hand, if our bodily system, which causes stress, is active for long periods then you have chronic stress.  Therefore, being more resilient and managing this well reduces harm that your reaction to chronic stress can cause.

Stress triggers

Stress should not be considered a negative influence on your life.  It is your body trying to help you manage a situation.  However, there are negative triggers of stress that you will need to identify and treat.  These could include taking on too much work, dangers in the workplace, or even workplace bullying.  Having a support person to discuss these concerns with is key to working through these problems.  Understanding you don’t have to deal with negative stress triggers on your own is vital.

On the flip side, positive triggers to stress are those that provide opportunities to win or succeed in something.   They often include personal or professional development opportunities.  Taking on a challenging project, needing to learn a new skill, facing a fear such as public speaking, or starting on a new job should be considered positive triggers.   As stress can help you focus and give you more energy it can be your ally in these situations.  So, your attitude to stress in general is key at building residence at work.


Examples of resilience in workplace

A top sportsperson and had only been married for a couple of years.  Their job was demanding but they were quite happy in it.  The job was a means to support both their sporting life, and new family, and they treated it as such.

Their employer described them as steady under fire.   They were described by their supervisor in the following way, "If you want something done quickly and professionally, give it to them..."

Most of all, they were resilient; no matter what the job threw at them, they rolled with the punches and bounced back.

Another larger example is supplied by a study[1] over twelve years of a large American company during a period of massive change.  During this time about half the employees lost their jobs, with many resulting personal tragedies.

However, the resilient ones not only survived but treated the changes as opportunities and rose to the challenge transforming the business.  Those resilient staff who lost their jobs found new opportunities to transform their own lives outside of the company.  The good news is that you can learn how to become more resilient at work!

For yourself: How to become more resilient at work

1. Be positive!

Treat adversity as a challenge and useful lesson.  Do not give up.  Be grateful for all that is good and there is much that is.

2. Develop your emotional insight

Learn about yourself, what are your fears?  What are your strengths?  What is important to you?

3. Have a healthy balance in your life

Work is not everything.  You need times when you relax, you unwind and you recuperate.  Your family and friends need you; make sure you don't let work destroy what is really precious.

[Working from home?  Check out our article on improving your work life balance while working form home.]

4. Spirituality is not superstition

You might be surprised to learn that people who are spiritual have greater resilience at work[2]. If you find meaning to your work, this counteracts against stress.

5. Perspective is everything

Chances are you will not remember what was stressing you out a month ago, let alone last week.  So how important is it in the grand scheme?  Is it worth getting wound up about?  Try not to sweat the small stuff, and remember you are only one person and can only do so much.

6. Keep a sense of humour

Crap happens.  Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine, and look for opportunities to laugh!

For your team: How to foster resilience in the workplace

There is a variety of ways to foster a more resilient team.  A team whose members are resilient is far better prepared to withstand and overcome its challenges.   Managers promote cohesion of their team and strengthen it when they actively foster it.  Here are some strategies:

1. Using guides and checklists

For problems that can be anticipated and likely to cause staff stress, these are a useful resource for giving staff something they can refer to when presented with the problem.  Having a clear checklist is a way to break down stressful events into manageable steps, and clear directions on who needs to do what, when.

2. Training for resilience

There is value in promoting resilience and having team resilience training.  Many members of your team will know little of this.  Deliberately setting aside time for this training shows its importance.

3. Debriefing sessions

After a major event, there is great value in giving staff a thorough debriefing.  It’s a great time to reflect on what went well, and congratulate and reassure staff, as well as identify new ways of working that could improve the situation if it were to happen again.

4. Team culture

A leader has the key responsibility to create the best environment for those they led.  They can promote a positive work culture by consistently :

> Be positive

> Leading by example and showing resilience

> Remaining calm and well-mannered during periods of extra stress.

> Be available to your team when needed.

> Take employees' concerns seriously.

> Support staff during crises.

> Encourage staff to speak up in a positive way.

> Promote resilience and help your staff to be resilient.

> Be decisive, and prioritise conflicting work when needed.

> Have fun!  Celebrate the successes and recognise a job well done.

Final thoughts

A resilient workforce grows overtime through reinforcing the right behaviours and giving your team a safe, inclusive, and caring environment in which to thrive.


[1] Maddi, S. R., & Khoshaba, D. M. (2005). Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you. Amacom Books.

[2] Pierce, G. F. (2010). Spirituality at work: 10 ways to balance your life on the job. Loyola Press.


Recommended reading:

Building Resilience At Work - K McKewen

Resilience at work: How to succeed - Maddi & Khoshaba

Spirituality at work: 10 ways to balance your life - GF Pierce