How to build resilience in the workplace
We have long known resilient staff perform better in the workplace, and now we know how to build a workplace that encourages resilience in staff.

In its most simplistic form, resilience is the ability for a person to continue to move forwards in the face of distraction and particularly when things get tough. But in the workplace resilience means much more than that.

It is a feeling of security and trust in an environment of prudent risk taking. It’s knowing your exact role in the greater strategy, and how your work fits in even in an environment of great change. And it is a feeling of ownership and accountability over achievable projects. If a workplace doesn’t offer all of these and more, then its staff are less likely to be resilient.

“Ownership is very important,” says Warren Kennaugh, behavioural strategist and author of FIT: When talent and intelligence just won’t cut it. “But you must also create an environment in which people don’t feel the need to hide from the fact that things are not working.”

“Keep the goals simple, making them things staff can focus on and manage. Let people know how their roles connect to the end game. Then support them and coach them. Empower them and hold them accountable. If they understand the connection to the big game and they’re supported and empowered, that creates a fantastic culture.”

Executive Coach Lisa Lurie, director of Exec Ascend, agrees. Lurie has done a great deal of work in the corporate and professional services arena around resilience, influence and change management, and particularly around resilience for women.

Resilience is part of a much bigger field, Lurie says, that also includes equanimity (calmness and composure), well being, sustainable high performance and more.

“The work environment can definitely enhance an individual’s resilience,” she says. “An environment in which there is a good level of personal control - where an individual can really claim accountability and can manage their own destiny and outcomes, whether it's on projects or in terms of how they deliver their roles - can build and enhance resilience.”

One essential ingredient of such an environment is being prepared for mistakes and setbacks and having a healthy attitude towards failure. According to Lurie, there are two ways leaders can measure failure. They can see it as the individual not succeeding in their role, or they can appreciate it as an opportunity for growth and learning.

“Instead of having to hide failures or fear their repercussions, staff should be encouraged to grow by learning,” she says. “I see that as a defining issue for leaders and organisations in building resilience.”

“A balanced approach to negative outcomes gives people permission to go for things in a way that they might not otherwise try, because they no longer fear failure. That creates the opportunity for innovation, problem solving and working with a growth mindset.”

Kennaugh shares Lurie’s passion on this point. The moment mistakes are disallowed is the moment the business officially kills off resilience, he says.

So how does a manager encourage resilience on a personal level, as opposed to an environmental level within a workplace? Kennaugh says it begins with managers ensuring that expectations of individual staff members are grounded, realistic and achievable. In addition to this, staff must be provided with all of the necessary resources and training to get the job done, and should be granted the opportunity to focus on achievable projects in order to get there.

“If they’re taking on too much at once, they begin to feel that the end goal is a physical impossibility, that nobody in the world could do what you want them to do,” Kennaugh says. “Set up for sustainable success by keeping everybody’s heads in the game, focusing on the specific and achievable project at hand.”

This method of breaking up large tasks into smaller, achievable chunks and goals allows people to tackle challenges with a positive mindset and see progress, and provides motivation to persist through challenges, Lurie says. Creating an environment in which staff can think about what is working well can help problems and setbacks seem smaller and within their control.

“In business you see a lot of people hitting their heads against brick walls, trying to influence things they can’t actually control,” she says. “Resilient people spend time and energy focusing on situations and events they can impact, typically resulting in them having a more positive future outlook.”

Once people are in a good space in terms of resilience, change is smoother and easier to communicate. People are happier to make a slight change of course because they never feel as if it will result in a loss of control. In this environment, resilient leaders are easier to identify as they are more confident to take charge, to self-manage and to inspire others.

A resilient office then, becomes a place that is far more powerful than the sum of its parts. It is a place of innovation, well being, high performance and engagement. It is a place where productivity and satisfaction meet. It’s where we all want to be.