Resiliency Within the Workforce

February 22, 2023 | Amber Williams

Smiling woman seated at her kitchen island, drinking coffee, working on her laptopTalk of workforce burnout and the importance of resilience is everywhere. At a time when self-care can feel like a luxury one cannot afford, leaders may wonder what more they could possibly give to others—and this is exactly the type of question we should all be asking! Resilience is important at work. It has been linked to satisfaction and engagement, as well as to mental and physical well-being.

Leaders must manage two key responsibilities when it comes to workforce resilience. First, they must manage their own resilience and practice self-care. Second, they must lead and ensure a healthy and supportive work environment.

What is Resilience?

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the “process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” Or, put another way, it’s about the way we readjust, recover, and grow in response to change and stress.

People need time to deal with and recover from the demands and stresses from our personal lives and work. Resilience is not about avoiding stress, but about making time for recovery. While trauma and stress are not new to our workplaces, the recognition that there is a workplace role is still developing.

Katherine Manning at Harvard Business Review calls for leaders today to ground principles of trauma-informed workplaces into their organizations. She describes three key concepts including acknowledgement (“I will be heard”), support (“I can get the help I need”), and trust (“I will be treated fairly”) as fundamental to workplaces that support employees through traumatic experiences.

Making Time for Your Recovery

As a leader, you set the standard for your team—and in doing so, you communicate expectations for others. If you are burning out, it will reflect in your leadership and often will be mirrored by those following your example. On a personal level, there are many skills and practices you can adopt to develop your own resilience. Some evidence-based approaches to improving your own resilience include:

  • Exercising mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness or improving your ability to focus is associated with improved job performance, decreasing stress, and improved judgment and problem-solving. Meditation, taking a walking break, and breathing exercises may be simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day.
  • Taking enjoyable breaks throughout the day. Spending a few moments to identify what brings you joy and incorporating those things during short breaks throughout the day can reduce your stress. Perhaps it is taking a pet for a walk, listening to or playing music, gardening, doing a puzzle, or talking with a partner or friend to make the most of brief times away.
  • Working on responding rather than reacting. Pausing for a moment to observe and try to look at a situation from a neutral perspective can change how we process stress and help us to respond, rather than react in a difficult moment.
  • Developing compassion for yourself and others. Developing compassion—for ourselves and others—increases our happiness and well-being while supporting the development of positive relationships and enhancing our ability to cooperate and collaborate with others.
  • Making meaning from your experiences. Taking time to make meaning from trying times allows us to look back and find some good from the experience—be it gratitude that didn’t exist previously, recognition of personal growth or strength, or even new prospects that did not seem possible before.

Creating a Resilient Environment for Your Team

As a leader, we can also build a trauma-oriented and resilience-supportive working environment. This can include modeling personal resilience strategies, talking openly with our teams about how we are managing our own struggles, expressing gratitude, and listening to others. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Supporting supervisors. Support for supervisors can include training them to recognize and respond to burnout and other distress. It can also mean ensuring they are frequently checking in with their staff and that they have opportunities to connect with other supervisors regularly for peer-to-peer support.
  • Strengthening communication. It is important that supervisors focus on communication skills. During times of stress, our communication patterns may be disrupted and we are more likely to misread or misunderstand others. We may communicate less frequently due to time constraints, or we may appear distracted or unfocused, leading others to feel that they are not being heard or understood. We may also become more quickly frustrated with others. Ensuring strong bi-directional communication is critical. Offering opportunities for dialogue can also help engage staff in identifying policies and practices that can be changed to demonstrate care, reduce stress, maximize flexibility, and afford employees more control.
  • Finding the sources of burnout and making changes. Spending time asking about—and listening to—what your team is experiencing is essential to discovering the root causes of what is causing burnout. Suggesting self-care strategies without also working to address the source of the stress can lead to staff feeling more stressed and create a lack of trust.
  • Enabling the organization to adopt resilience-oriented practices. Leaders can address workplace contributors to stress and burnout though setting, influencing, or interpreting organizational policies and practices to create an environment that supports resilience. Even though some of the sources of burnout may be difficult to address immediately, it is important to think about what you can do to decrease stressors, while planning to address the bigger challenges.

Leading by Example

Leaders have endless demands on their time each day. Developing the discipline to practice and model self-care and paying attention to how your organization is contributing to, or helping to ameliorate, the stresses and traumas employees experience is critical to becoming an effective leader.

Actions always speak louder than words. How leaders walk the talk and follow through will determine their success. Maybe now would be a good time to take an enjoyable break and then pick up the phone to talk to a staff member about opportunities they see for improving your workplace.