According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘resilience’ is the capacity to recover quickly from setbacks, which in our everyday lives, translates as to how we ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong, whether at home or at work. Fortunately, resilience isn’t just a characteristic that is in our genetic make-up. It is an acquired ability to recover quickly from disappointment or loss. This ability to control our behaviour and mindset can be learned, built and developed.
Studies have shown that the most important factors in building resilience include:
• Having caring and supportive relationships
• The ability to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• Possessing a positive self-view
• Confidence in one’s strengths and abilities
• Possessing good communication skills
• Being able to manage strong feelings and impulses
• Developing good problem-solving abilities
So, if these are the qualities we need to increase our resilience as individuals, what lessons can we learn in terms of the characteristics and culture required to build a ‘resilient’ organisation?
Building resilience by reducing stress
Because our jobs are increasingly competitive and work demands are stressful, organisations find that they need to monitor known stress factors in the workplace that include environmental factors, deadlines, control, support, relationships, role definition and organisational change.
Many organisations face deadline pressures or unanticipated changes in demand, and their workforces need the necessary training and experience to meet these varying pressures on output, often at short notice. Such training might well include time management and interpersonal communication skills, as well as a commitment to the organisation’s mission statement and published goals. Training in effective communication (and particularly in ‘active listening’) give skills that are key to ensuring that managers are aware of any problems within their team and to be in a position to offer early interventions to resolve pressure.
In order that the management of stress becomes integral to corporate culture, initiatives need to be introduced that will raise awareness of stress-related problems. In particular, recognising the early warning signs and symptoms should be an imperative within the management team.
This can be achieved by monitoring sickness absence (especially short-term), carrying out confidential staff surveys, observing working relationships (especially team dynamics), and questioning changes in attitude and behaviour.
Effective stress management training can then build on this by teaching employees about the nature and sources of stress, its effects on health, and the personal skills needed to reduce it. Training may also help reduce stress symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbances, and has the added advantage of being relatively inexpensive.
Commitment to a healthy corporate culture and employee well-being
Employees need to know how to raise concerns about work pressure, for example by speaking to their supervisor or manager, either formally or informally through the appraisal system or existing grievance procedure. The key factor being that employees should find it possible to report stress at work, without fear of recrimination or any other negative outcome from either management or staff.
Depending on the nature of the organisation, external professional, support services and/or complementary therapies such as yoga, massage and meditation may also be of benefit. Typically, however, they should be incorporated within a holistic approach to reducing work-related stress and increasing individual resilience — rather than being expected to resolve underlying problems on their own.
Ultimately, of course, reducing stress-related tension and building resilience is largely a matter of common sense and good management practice, and simply requires employers and employees to work together for the common good. Both share a joint responsibility to identify stressors in the workplace and to remove or reduce them wherever possible — which, when successful, can build a contented workforce within an environment conducive to a successful organisation.
For this to become a reality, organisations need to work towards the creation of a culture that empowers resilience at all levels, from the boardroom down to the humblest employee — a culture where there is a continuous, two-way dialogue between managers and employees: where individual or departmental concerns can be raised in the confidence that remedial action will be taken and where everyone in the organisation recognises stress as an unnecessary and unacceptable drain on creativity and resources.
Or to put it another way, a culture where healthy ways of working have become so ingrained that employees are able to take pressure in their stride.