In business, we’re taught to focus on solutions — to not even bring an issue up until you’ve found a workable answer to it. So knowing when employees are struggling with resilience can be difficult to identify, let alone know when it’s time to get training for your team.
Resilience is supposed to be the solution. Employees don’t want to admit it might be the problem too.
Resilience is the set of skills we use to adapt and make it through tough times. The specific skills change, but the definition remains the same: the ability to recover from a setback. In the workplace, we put the emphasis on the first half of the definition. Resilience starts to mean our ability to persevere no matter what and, understandably, people wonder what they’re doing wrong when they can’t. In reality, the second half is just as important. To solve a problem, you have to recognize it first.
Resilience training is an opportunity not just to build the skills to move through, but to build the skills to recognize the problems and ask for help in the first place.
Understanding the role of resilience training in the workplace
First of all, it’s important to remember that building a resilient workforce shouldn’t be your primary goal as a manager — that should be removing as many obstacles as possible from your team’s path. That said, there will always be struggles outside your control, whether within your workplace or without. By promoting resilience, you’ll help your employees adapt to the changes and challenges that come.
Because resilience is personal — an interior set of skills you draw on when stress and burnout threaten your well-being — resilience training can take any number of forms. Some of them may already be a part of your well-being program, like mindfulness exercises or communication techniques. Others are likely new: Think affirmation practices to build self-esteem or problem-solving exercises to practice mental agility.
Instead of trying to cover everything, try to find out where the needs are most acute. Is nonstop change driving the need for resilience? Long hours? Intrateam misunderstandings? Knowing what struggles the team is facing will inform the coping skills you should cover. It will also prove you care — the first and most important step to growing trust and resilience.
Knowing what will work best for your team requires an understanding of the stresses that they’re under and the skills they already have access to. It also requires leadership to take an honest look at their goals for building resilience in the first place.
The importance of resilience must go beyond productivity
Increased resilience will improve productivity in the workplace, but that can’t be the only reason for offering training. It also has to be motivated by a genuine desire to hear and understand the challenges employees are looking to beat.
Resiliency isn’t an absence of struggle, the same way bravery isn’t an absence of fear. If you want to build resilience, you have to embrace the struggles before learning to overcome them, not deny their existence and power through. That means starting with the problem, and making space for it to exist in the open. If your company’s approach to resilience only allows for the triumph at the end, not the struggle at the beginning, it will become just another impossible virtue of the perfect employee.
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The pressure to perform is what makes resilience so valuable in the workplace. It gives people something to fall back on. Use it as just another tool to increase productivity, and it will only exacerbate burnout, not prevent it.
Creating an environment where employees can discuss resilience and mental health
Though psychology has long understood failure of some kind as a necessary part of resilience, admitting difficulty of any kind isn’t always something employees are comfortable doing. After all, if it comes time for layoffs, who goes first: the dutiful worker struggling in silence or the colleague willing to admit burnout is affecting them?
In truth, it’s the latter employee who’s more likely to contribute to a resilient workforce, both by acknowledging their own struggles and finding support, and by encouraging their peers to do the same. It’s these individuals you should be cultivating — more often than not, they’ll serve as proverbial canaries in the coalmine.
To encourage employees to speak up, leaders at every level of the company have to take the first step. Vulnerability is rarely considered a key leadership trait, but for years we’ve advocated that it should be. Research shows again and again that employees need to trust their employers, and trust only exists when everyone can show their humanity. By sharing their own challenges, honestly and fully, managers will show employees that it’s safe to do so — in fact, that it makes them look like leaders.
That’s especially true for immediate managers — who most employees say matter more to their well-being than company leadership. If you truly want your team to be resilient, you have to make the kind of workplace where they feel safe admitting to difficulties in the first place.
How to expand the resilient person into workplace resilience
Whatever training program you decide on, make sure the entire company has an opportunity to get involved. Yes, individuals need to take charge of their own well-being, but resilience works best when everyone’s a part of it.
Resilience is interdependent. Colleagues need to trust each other enough to ask for help, and they need to know their peers will be there to help them. They need to trust their leaders enough to be open about their challenges and, and know those leaders will do the same. And they need to know the company as a whole is resilient, that it has the systems, communication and tenacity to make it through any situation without leaving people behind.
2020 will have proved whether that last part is true. It’s also proven exactly how valuable resilient employees and a resilient workforce can be.
Resilience can only come to people, and to companies, that have learned to embrace difficulty. The struggle is the necessary first step, much as everyone may want to skip straight to the overcoming part. Learning how to spend enough time with that struggle to understand it will prepare your team to overcome it.