According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is simply “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”
From a business perspective, there is a direct and adverse link between high levels of negative stress and employees’ productivity. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation in the UK estimates that every year approximately 17 million working days are lost due to factors such as stress, anxiety and depression. It’s now clearer than ever that stress is often the cause of lower productivity, absenteeism and higher staff turnover.
However, employees who possess stronger resilience skills can cope with the demands and challenges they come across in the workplace. Resilient employees can cope and often flourish in environments with constantly changing priorities, heavy workloads, organisational change, staff cutbacks, tough, long and argumentative meetings or even with competition from their colleagues.
On the other hand, high levels of stress and a lack of resilience can lead to company-wide tension creating a toxic environment, resulting in missed business opportunities, disgruntled clients and lost deals.
There are numerous potential sources of stress in the workplace that can slowly accumulate and lead to negativity:
All of these factors increase pressure on managers and senior leaders who now more often than not, turn towards building team resilience as a solution.
Building resilient teams
Numerous psychological studies (for example those conducted by George Bonanno) have shown that there’s one trait all resilient people have in common. This is the ability to have a positive outlook on a situation when facing any issues or stress factors that may arise. While being more positive may sound like a cliché, it has proved to increase flexibility as employees with this attitude approach adversity as a challenge, instead of as a problem.
This proves that the way to building more resilient teams is through helping to create an atmosphere of positivity, trust and social support. Below is a list of five strategies every leader can and should take to increase their employees’ resilience.
1. Trust and support network
Trust comes down to relying on other team members to do the right thing and to have each others’ backs. This refers to:
Employers, managers and supervisors trusting their employees
Employees trusting senior managers
Employees trusting their colleagues
As such, trust can be a source of safety, allowing employees to feel more comfortable and open to share their thoughts and feelings as well as ideas. A high level of safety and security, increases the stress threshold thus improves resilience.
The key to establishing a culture of trust is communicating openly and honestly. Regular team meetings, ideally in informal settings could create a space and time for more relaxed conversations. Encouraging and inspiring healthy debates and open conversations ultimately leads to development of strong networks of supportive relationships within an organisation. These relationships constitute informal social support system that, according to experts, can increase your teams’ resilience.
Mindfulness is a psychological process based on bringing attention to experiences happening in the present moment. In other words, it’s about being connected, aware and present. It’s been proven that organisations that apply mindful tactics, are better equipped to deal with stress. What’s more, mindfulness increases productivity and creativity, improving resilience and emotional intelligence.
Mindful practices could be integrated into core team management processes such as onboarding, training, performance reviews and leadership development. The key is to give all employees a variety of powerful techniques that they can apply at home, in their personal lives and in the office.
You might want to start with outsourcing corporate mindfulness workshops or upskilling your L&D team to deliver mindfulness trainings and rolling out exercise programmes. You could introduce mindfulness practises into your company’s life, for instance by allowing and helping your employees:
To start their working day with a few minutes of meditation or contemplation
To pause throughout the day to be fully present in between the tasks
To take a moment to review the events of the day before they leave the office
If you are committed to investing in mindful practices, you can organise regular meditation sessions for the employees and even set up meditation rooms in your offices.
3. Clear purpose
Employees who have no strong sense of why, perform their tasks with less enthusiasm and energy. After all, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about job if we aren’t sure whether our work is needed. This kind of belief (or the lack of it), affects employees’ ability to confront and carry out difficult and tricky tasks.
On the other hand, understanding organisational objectives and seeing where they fit in the bigger picture, can help employees believe that what they do plays an important role. Adding the meaning to their work by helping them to see how they contribute to achieving the goals and fulfilling the company’s mission, will develop the sense of purpose and build up their resilience.
This means that leaders who nurture the idea of having a common goal and bring everyone to work together towards achieving the same outcome are able to make their employees believe that their work is meaningful. In order to shore up their resilience, leaders need to continuously remind their teams why they do things they do.
Being fully aware of their purpose is a source of support for employees going through tough times. As a leader, you can set, encourage and foster the clear sense of purpose by regularly communicating with your employees on:
Why are certain actions, projects and tasks being carried out? What is behind certain changes, events or decisions? What is the rationale behind the moves taken by leaders, colleagues or other teams in the organisation?
What is the end state of where they, their team and the company want to get to?
What are the steps that need to be taken, what is the plan?
What is their role in the company, in the structure? How they can help? What is their contribution?
4. Cognitive restructuring
Our language and the way we express ourselves shapes our thoughts. Our thoughts influence the intensity of our feelings and what and how we think about difficult situations. As our feelings and thoughts affect on our core belief system, using negative language may develop negative and unhelpful patterns in our minds which will reduce our resilience.
To put it in the simple terms, our words can either build or damage our resilience. Using cognitive restructuring practices can change the way leaders and teams think about negative situations.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique that challenges negative and unhelpful patterns that undoubtedly occur in our minds, for example:
It’s not worth working on a project unless the job can be done perfectly.
It is absolutely horrible when things don’t go the way I think they should go
I should be worried and stressed over anything that is unknown and uncertain, because it’s potentially dangerous
I must be liked by everyone I know, all of the time
It’s easier to avoid challenges and confrontations than to face them
To use cognitive restructuring effectively when working with their team members, leaders should pay attention to any potential negative predictions that their employees may express. The negative patterns in minds might make it hard for the employees to consider positive outcomes of discussed challenges and it’s in the managers’ power to change that. A manager can:
Start with calming the employee down by taking them to a different environment, outside of the office or for a walk
Encourage the employee to talk about the upsetting situation(s) and about the employee’s feelings about those. This will allow the employee to analyse their mood and understand what they feel
Notice any assumptions an employee is making about given situations or possible future developments
Try to gently dispute any negative statements. Mind that these negative statements might come from employee’s lack of self-esteem, self-doubt or even fear
If an employee doubts a project they were given will work, it may be that they don’t believe they have enough skills to do it. In such case, it may be of help to them if a manager lists out their skills and strengths that will be essential in completing the project., using examples from previous projects to show the employee their abilities.
Finally, a leader should help to stir the conversation onto more fair and balanced thoughts about the situation and about the employee’s thoughts and feelings.
Everyone’s reaction to stressful and upsetting situations is different, but their resilience can be built and developed over time.
It is important to mention that a manager or a leader who appears confident on the outside, may find it more difficult to deal with stressful situations than a more junior worker. The latter may appear to lack confidence, yet still deal with a heavy workload and stress well. There is no clear rule or measure allowing to predict who will be good at coping with their emotions nor when.
Resilience is complex and can be acquired or lost through experiences. Being aware of how to remain resilient and how to help your team members to boost their resilience is a key to building strong and successful teams.
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