There is a lot of talk about resilience these days — on a personal, professional, and societal level. Resilience is what will allow us to get through, and succeed, in these times of high uncertainty. But what is resilience, and how do we become resilient? In the corporate world, how do resilience and effective leadership go together — is there a role for employers to promote resilience? And, can a company’s actions now, during these extraordinary circumstances, serve to make it stronger in the future?
What is Resilience?
The basic definition of resilience is “the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster). There is no doubt that collectively, and individually, we have experienced a lot of change lately. The way we lived and worked just a couple of months ago is radically different from how we go about life today and there is great uncertainty of what lies ahead.
While resiliency isn’t something you can build overnight, it is a skill that can be learned and modeled. As Paula Davis-Laack (J.D., M.A.P.P.) says in Psychology Today: “When resilience becomes a practice, you can better anticipate and manage risk, deal with setbacks more appropriately, and stay engaged during times of challenge.
Research shows that resilient employees — those who not only bounce back from adversity but also thrive — are those who build strong connections and relationships with others and where these connections are characterized by effective communication and well-defined leadership.
Clearly, the current pandemic is an extreme example of adversity, but the principles that guide a workplace culture of resilience, in general, can still play an important role today. According to the article “Resilience in the Workplace” from PositivePsychology.com, a positive work culture that builds towards resilience is one in which team members are encouraged to:
- Speak up, and ask any questions
- Openly share bad news, and report early warning signs of potential problems
- Maintain composure during emergencies and times of heightened stress
- In case of needing further support, seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority
- Keep an eye on one’s work colleagues, and be there to offer support throughout the challenge — before (to minimize the impact of the stressor), during (to manage the heightened stress) and after the stressor (to “mend” once the stress has passed)
- Be able to express when there is a need in the workplace to switch to and from “emergency” modes of operating
The Cornerstones of Resilience
A sector of society that is built on resilience in order to function is the military. Mark Lloyd served in the Canadian Military for 15 years and is now a Project Manager at a software company in the US. In a recent conversation he shared some of his thoughts on resiliency, and how what he learned in the military translates to civilian and corporate life.
Mark points out that being resilient, in many ways means being prepared. In the military that’s how you ensure people are able to perform in difficult situations and can adapt to the unexpected. Of course, in civilian life and in the corporate world, life is not as clear cut as it is in the military where everything is governed by a set chain of command and where you know what to expect and what is expected of you. But, the basic ideas for building resilience in the military, have a lot to offer the civilian world — the cornerstones being clear communication and controlling the things you can control.
Communication might be the most important component of resilience. During unpredictable times, in particular, Mark says, people like to know who is in charge. A company that can communicate what’s going on will impact the confidence of its employees and in turn their ability to engage at work. Mark notes that his employer, for example, has increased communications from the CEO to keep employees informed of what’s going on strategically, and what the impact will be on the company as a whole. It’s a simple measure that signals deliberate actions, and that builds confidence among employees.
Likewise, in Mark’s smaller workgroup, they have changed how they communicate with each other. There are work meetings as needed online of course, but the bigger changes have come outside of work. “Now, we’ll have a Zoom game night, or a happy hour, to stay connected and just make sure that everyone is doing alright.” The checking-in and open line of communication is important because everyone’s circumstances are different and the insight into what influences someone’s ability to cope and work is essential if you want to have a well-functioning team.
Uncertainty adds to the stress people feel and negatively impacts the ability to perform and collaborate. That’s why it’s important on a corporate level, not only to communicate clearly but also to demonstrate a level of control over the things that are controllable — whatever those are. Mark gives the example of his own company where they have announced cost-saving measures such as no bonuses until they know more about the long-term effects of the pandemic. While no one is happy about losing their bonus, knowing that the company is controlling what it can now, to safeguard for the future, boosts confidence and trust among employees.
Building for the Future
In the corporate sphere, it falls to the leadership to model and reinforce the behaviors linked to resilience. If done consistently, the results can be significant, as it can help engagement in the short term while building a stronger more attractive work culture for the future. Mark thinks that how a company is reacting to the current situation — the quality of their communication, the deliberateness of their actions, and level of support they offer employees — will impact how the company fares in the long run in terms of employee retention and trust and that, by extension, will impact business success.
By: Felicia Shermis