What is resilience?

Resilience is a term that many of us are familiar with and is typically used to describe an individual’s ability to overcome challenge and change. However, like many psychological terms that make their way into the popular consciousness, there is a tendency for it to either be misused or to be interpreted in many ways. In the psychological literature, it has also been referred to as ‘hardiness,’ ‘mental toughness,’ ‘emotional resilience,’ ‘emotional agility’ and a variety of other labels.

This has led to a range of definitions and conceptualisations. As with anything, the way it is defined can have a significant impact on what it is and more importantly, what value it confers to the individual. One definition that incorporates a range of models shares how resilience is “an individual’s capacity to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks, challenge and change in order to optimise performance and maintain well-being.”

Why is resilience in the workplace important?

There is a large body of research that supports the value of workplace resilience in relation to a number of occupational outcomes. In the short-term, resilience enables us to survive and get through setbacks, challenges and changes that we are experiencing. This is because research has shown that resilience acts as a buffer against the experience of stress, as well as ‘burnout’. Burnout is defined as physical and emotional exhaustion due to excessive stress, resulting in fatigue, quickness to anger and susceptibility to illness.

Resilient people are likely to be more creative, able to adapt to change and persist in the face of adversity. This behaviour results in improved performance in a rapidly transforming workplace. Resilience has been directly linked to increases in performance in the workplace, the military, sports and education. It has also been shown to have a positive impact on other variables including engagement, organisational commitment, workplace happiness, job satisfaction and well-being.

Discover more about the importance of resilience in leadership.

How do you develop resilience?

Research has shown that workplace resilience can be developed. However, to develop resilience, we need to acknowledge that resilience is both a psychological resource and a set of psychological strategies that can be deployed when dealing with challenging situations. This highlights two critical aspects of how we develop our resilience.

Acknowledging that resilience is a resource highlights our need to develop resilience by taking time to renew and replenish ourselves when we can. Accepting that resilience is also a set of psychological strategies shows that we can deploy them to increase the capacity of this resource and, in effect, nurture resilience skills. The use of resilience strategies such as reframing and reflecting on our experiences can help optimise our ability to manage workplace stress, survive negative experiences and use them to learn and grow.

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There are many ways individuals can develop their own resilience. The following may be some useful steps to consider for those who want to develop and build resilience at work:

  • Give yourself the right to renew.

    If you just keep driving ahead, you are not being resilient, you are just surviving. Even when you think you do not have the time to do it, make the time, as renewal is essential for growth. You need to give yourself the opportunity to adapt and recover, so you are able to deal with stressful situations and challenges ahead.

  • Understand your own resilience.

    There are a number of techniques and approaches that can be used to enhance your resilience. Every individual will have differing preferences, strengths and motivations. Therefore, you will need to identify what techniques work for you. Nevertheless, if you can understand your own resilience, you can focus on the techniques that will have the biggest impact on your development.

  • Deploy focused effort.

    Talent alone does not create success and neither does change happen without concerted effort. Therefore, despite resilience being something that can be developed, it is not something that will happen passively, it is something that requires time, effort and personal resources. This effort can potentially carve out neural pathways that help us develop and, over time, become useful habits.

How does resilience help well-being?

Research has shown that an individual’s resilience and well-being are directly related. Typically, individuals who are more resilient are more likely to experience well-being. Consequently, developing mental resilience through training has been used successfully in many organisations to help support the maintenance and development of well-being. The psychological strategies that underpin being resilient have been shown to increase psychological well-being and mental health.

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Why is resilience important for businesses?

As much as market forces and operational systems are critical to an organisation’s success, fundamentally it is individuals who truly make the difference. An organisation’s capacity to survive, adapt, recover or thrive is due to the bravery, creativity and strength of resilient employees, working together to create effective organisations. Researchers have repeatedly shown the benefits of resilience in a work environment, with studies highlighting that resilient employees are better performers at work, experience greater work engagement and are more open to learning (Malik & Garg, 2017).

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Tips for implementing a resilience development initiative

The steps that an organisation can take to help employees develop resilience is dependent on the purpose of the initiative and what you would like to achieve. Nevertheless, some practical steps typically taken when trying to deliver a resilience development programme are detailed below:

  • Identify the individual(s) you want to develop
  • Identify the best mechanism to deploy resilience training (coaching, workshops, e-learning)
  • Deploy psychometric tools to help your employees understand how they are resilient
  • Use resilience training to help them understand what the best strategies are to help build their resilience
  • Ensure that managers are able to help their employees utilise these strategies regularly at work
  • Monitor and evaluate its effectiveness
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How effective is resilience training?

Research shows that resilience can be enhanced in individuals, and training is an effective way of developing resilience in the workplace. In fact, a review of 268 studies concludes that the efficacy of resilience training has an overall significant effect on developing resilience (Liu et al, 2020). However, employee resilience training is only as effective as the way it is implemented and deployed.

Many factors can influence the effectiveness of resilience training including the programme design, the quality of the facilitation, the motivation of the individual and the organisational commitment to supporting the employee’s development. Typically, resilience coaching is shown to be the most effective form of resilience training, with resilience workshops delivered by experts being the second most effective.

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How to deploy a resilience training programme?

Typically, organisations can take two broad approaches with deploying a resilience training programme:

  • A compulsory strategy: Identify people within the organisation that you need to support, then help them as best you can by deploying coaching, e-learning and other building resilience courses. The benefits of this approach are that you are identifying an area where there may be an issue and trying your best to proactively support the organisation to address this.
  • An opt-in strategy: Provide non-compulsory courses and coaching for people to opt-in. This could be advertised internally or delivered via a Learning Management System (LMS). The benefits of this are that those that attend would have a genuine desire to develop and the willingness to expend effort to address it. The only issue is that there may be employees who need support but may feel like they are too busy to attend.
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