The Power of Skills: Resilience

19 Apr, 2022Renske Start
Anouk de Jong, Learning Designer and Trainer at Lepaya is co-author of this article

In 2019 Forbes notes that stress is on the rise. In the UK, research by the Health and Safety Executive supports Forbes’ claim by showing that just over 0.6 million workers suffered from work-related stress, anxiety, and depression in 2018/19, contributing to 12.8 million lost working days. (1)

The high rates of stress, as measured by the Healthy and Safety Executive, were associated with tight deadlines, pressure to meet targets, lack of control over workload, lack of support, and organizational changes. These also being the most likely reasons employees will leave an organization

Now that we can work from anywhere, employees feel and are more taxed than ever. Employees having to pick up an ‘always on’ attitude because of rising workload is not new, however shuttling in between two offices, at home and externally, it is becoming harder and harder to shake the pressures of work. (2)

Employee well-being

Since 2019, and the research done by both Forbes and the Healthy and Safety Executive, stress levels haven’t subsided. On the contrary, 2021 was the third year in a row that well-being was noted as the main concern of leaders.

Well-being is a big focus for organizations. As mentioned, when employees are thinly stretched, they cannot engage, won’t feel motivated and subsequently can’t perform effectively in their role.

But at the same time, well-being is a very broad term. So what should organizations and leaders exactly focus on?

With technological changes and advancement, including a pandemic and subsequently a skills gap, employees are encountering many changes. To their roles, their work environment, and to the way they work. If employees want to adapt to these various changes and challenges, they will need the right tools that make sure they can increase their capacity to adapt to these changes.

It’s pivotal that employees bounce back from challenges, and importantly can grow from challenging situations. However, this is no easy feat. Not for employees to learn, or for organizations to train their employees in. So where to start with building workforce resilience?

What we have seen is a shift from a focus on physical health towards that of psychological resilience. Where encouraging teams to have sport activity lead team days doesn’t do the trick anymore, but where it’s about creating an environment that supports resilience, teaches how to navigate stress, and stimulates employees to bounce back. (3)

What is psychological resilience?

Psychological resilience is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as being ‘able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions’. (4) The term is not short of definition, it can be defined as personality or characteristic trait, an enhancing capacity for coping with adversity or a dynamic process of positive adoption in the context of adversity. (5)

The exact definitions are diverse, but what all these definitions have in common is that resilience is about a dynamic process that supports employees to adapt to, face a challenge and helps them bounce back from it. In order to grow from challenging situations or stressors. ‘Positive adaptation’ notest that it is about overcoming obstacles. (6)

As said it allows employees to bounce back from challenging situations. Where a personality trait narrows resilience to a fixed idea, of whether employees have it or don’t have it, talking about a process or capacity shows that resilience is dynamic. A process that can be taught, and be made familiar, yet will always stay dynamic. As it focuses on signaling and recognizing the different nature of stressors.

Resilience proves a very valuable tool set at that. Learning and going through the process of resilience for employees can mean a better self-image, positive attitude, managing feelings and impulses well and gaining confidence in strengths and abilities. With resilience employees can experience autonomy, mastery and vitality. While starting to view setbacks as impermanent, and as opportunities for growth. All resulting in happy and healthy employees, higher retention and productivity. (7)

“Ability to bounce back is described as the difference between successful and unsuccessful people.” Harvard Business Review

Where do organizations start with developing workforce resilience? 

Research showed that training in building resilience in the workplace can show improvements on health and well-being. (8)

“With secondary benefits associated with enhanced social support, optimism, self-efficacy, active coping, self-esteem, and positive emotions. These outcomes have been linked with better adaptation to pressures.” (9)

So where do you start when you want to help employees in becoming resilient?

Workload can be lessened, a bit, but it will always exist. This goes for most challenges or changes that employees can encounter.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Stress is not something negative or positive per se, it’s just present. Something you want to move through and use to your advantage. So it’s about managing expectations, managing the mindset towards stress and managing levels of stress. The process of resilience teaches exactly this. Resilience is a step by step dynamic process we can train. It gives employees the tools to handle stress more positively.

This starts, as the BBC notes, with mindset. Mindset is the keyword in acquiring the skill of resilience. With a focus on mindset, training the skill of resilience should equally focus on the role of context specific appraisals of one’s own ability to cope with and recover from adversity. (10)

Resilience is a process that is different every time. However; we can strengthen our attitudes and behaviors related to resilience.

That is why in turn a skill-based training model should recognize the contributions of both traits and context if it wants to manage workforce resilience. (11)

So where do you start supporting employees to manage resilience?

Train them to: 

  1. Create a mindset that broadens their view on stress: you can’t appreciate the light without darkness. Stress can be bad when it’s too much, but stress can also motivate and help us perform. 
  2. Stimulate a growth environment. Establish a safe space where employees can talk and focus on well-being.
  3. Communicate your training / growth plan. Acknowledge disengagement and distraction, share a plan for productive conversations, reiterate organizations core values and identify future steps. 
  4. Train employees to take ownership. Don’t look at your situation or environment but at yourself and the actions you take. Focus on what you can influence.

“Resilient people tend to worry less, have more cognitive flexibility, and are more likely to use an optimistic or positive attributional style to explain negative events.” (12)

Who doesn’t want that for their employees?

Training employees to recognize and manage obstacles will develop them into employees capable of overcoming the biggest challenges. When they are able to make the most of difficult situations, they will be able to perform and outperform any changes or challenges.

Whether employees have to adapt to working from home, face a reorganization, or automation of their tasks, they will be able to adapt and show a flexible mindset. Not having to give in on productivity, performance, motivation and engagement.

Interested in the Power Skill resilience?

Check out our page on the skill of resilience and what it can do for your organization.

The Power Skill: Resilience

Want to hear more about building resilience?

Practical tips & tricks on how to train employees, and how to implement workforce resilience into the organization?

Ask us about our previous webinar on: The Power of Skills: Resilience, hosted by Anouk de Jong.

Get in touch


Sources about managing workforce resilience and how to adapt to change

  3. Deloitte Human Capital trends
  4. Soanes & Stevenson, 2005
  5. Connor & Davidson, 2003(Lee & Cranford, 2008. (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000
  6. Positive
  7.  Helmreich et al., 2017
  8. Helmreich et al., 2017
  10.  Joseph, 2011; Major, Richards, Cozzarelli, Cooper, & Zubek, 1998; O’Leary & Ickovics, 1995
  11. Gartner research
  12. Gillham, Shatte, Reivich, & Seligman, 2001; Seligman, 2006