Building Resilient Workforces
Research shows that resiliency is an important characteristic of successful workplaces and employees. Research from the Journal of Research in Personality indicates that resiliency is “positively related to job satisfaction, work-life balance, and quality of life; and negatively related to physical/psychological symptoms and injuries at work” (Siu et al., 2009). Furthermore, research from MHR International Group indicates that “workforce resilience improves performance.” In order to continue developing successful workforces and employees, employers must now navigate how to continually support resiliency building. Below we discuss how employers can create workplaces of resilience and help employees become more resilient in the face of today’s challenges including mental and physical health, family relationships, financial situation, fears about global unrest, and the affects of inflation.
“Resilience is our ability to bounce back from life’s challenges and unforeseen difficulties…” - Michael Rutter
Building employee resilience
Employees are the building blocks of the workforce. Because of this, it is important that employers invest in the individual resiliency of their employees. When employees themselves are more resilient, research indicates that they will experience increases in “job satisfaction, work-life balance, and quality of life.” This same research also indicates that they will experience fewer negative “physical/psychological symptoms” such as depression, anxiety, the physical impacts of stress, and fewer “injuries” in the workplace (Siu et al., 2009). Dr. Karen Lloyd, Dr. Abigail Katz, and Dr. Nico Pronk summarize the need for employee resiliency well in their 2016 publication:
“If workers do not have emotional resilience skills and habits to help support them during these times, their productivity declines. Work-related requirements such as precision and accuracy, problem-solving, interpersonal communications, as well as speed and quality of work output will suffer. This general state may be considered part of presenteeism, which is typical when workers are demoralized, distracted, overwhelmed, or otherwise not coping well with stress. It is important to note that the stressors may be from work-related or personal issues, but frequently, stress in one sphere is accompanied by stress in the other…” (Dr. Lloyd et al., 2016)
In response to this increased need for employee resiliency, we outline several ways that employers can help their employees build greater resilience.
Focus on mental health
Current mental health crisis
Research from MHR International Group states that resilient organizations must have employees that have the “right skills and support to work at their best all the time.” They also indicate that leadership emphasizes “empathy” and “emotional intelligence.” According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in American” report, Americans are living in an “unpredictable state of prolonged hypervigilance and growing financial strain.” With 87% of adults feeling like there “has been a constant stream of crises over the last two years” and many American adults reporting “worse mental health, lower physical activity, disturbed sleep, and increased reliance on unhealthy habits,” the American population is stressed and experiencing what some have called a “mental health crisis” (APA, 2022).
Impact of mental health on resiliency
Resiliency has a unique connection to mental health. Research from the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences indicates that resiliency is associated with “positive indicators of mental health” (Hu et al., 2017). Furthermore, the American Psychological Association states that to build resiliency, individuals should practice mental health strategies such as keeping “things in perspective, accepting change, having a hopeful outlook, learning from the past, helping others, practicing mindfulness, building connections, and if needed seeking out a ‘licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist’” (2020). The Mayo Clinic echos these recommendations and states that “if you don’t feel you’re making progress… consider talking to a mental health professional. With guidance, you can improve your resiliency and mental well-being” (2020).
Examples of mental health resources
Because of the connection between mental health and resiliency, employers should consider the positive impact that mental health resources can have on employee resiliency. One way that employers can provide mental health resources is by offering insurance policies that include coverage for mental health care. The APA states that out of those who did not receive treatment from a mental health professional, 39% of them noted cost and insurance coverage for their lack of treatment (2022). Furthermore, the CDC recommends making “mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees,” offering “free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional, followed by directed feedback and clinical referral when appropriate,” offering “free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs,” distributing educational materials about “the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and opportunities for treatment,” hosting “seminars or workshops that address depression and stress management techniques like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation,” creating “quiet spaces for relaxation activities,” providing managers with “training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression,” and giving employees “opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress” (CDC, 2019).
“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.” - Sharon Salzberg
The connection between flexibility and resiliency
Research from MHR International Group explains that resilient organizations need to have “the capacity to flex without breaking.” They elaborate that this flexibility can look like “scaling up and down, reconfiguring the organization, and reallocating resources in response to new opportunities.” The University of Pennsylvania has developed the Pennsylvania Resilence Program. Their program enhances factors associated with resilience which includes “flexibility” (Craig, 2022). Furthermore, Cambridge University suggests that “flexibility in emotion processing is more conducive to resilience than a general positivity bias” (Koole et al., 2015). By encouraging employees’ own flexibility, employers support their employees' ability to be resilient in the face of adversity or challenges.
How to encourage flexibility
Employers can encourage employees to be flexible in their thought processes, approaches, and responses to challenges and setbacks in the workplace and in their personal lives. One way employers can encourage flexibility is by allowing employees “time to think.” According to Entrepreneur magazine, “giving your employees time away from drilling down into email, communicating in meetings, or marathoning through a project…allows them the mental energy to individually brainstorm, internalize information, and devise some of their best action plans” (Beckstrand, 2017).
Another way that employers can encourage flexibility is by valuing failures. Seeing failure as an opportunity to grow gives employees the confidence to be flexible and think “outside the box” without fear of unexpected results. Furthermore, this mindset can help employees come up with creative solutions to supply chain challenges being faced by manufacturers today.
Meeting employee needs
A key strategy that employers can use to develop resilient employees is providing for their needs where appropriate and capable. For example, employers can help employees meet their fiscal needs by considering the current rates of inflation in the USA. According to the APA, 87% of USA adults state that the “rise in prices of everyday items due to inflation” is a significant source of stress (2022). However according to the Society of Human Resources, “planned pay raises…are unlikely to keep up with inflation” and the “real value of wages [are] on a steady decline when measured against rising prices” (Miller, 2022). Employers can also ensure that their employees have all their workplace needs met. Do they have the resources necessary to do their jobs well or do they waste time looking for resources?
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” - Dieter F. Uchtdorf
How to build a resilient workforce
According to MHR International Group, “93% of HR professionals agree that building the right levels of workforce resilience is a top priority for HR.” They also found that 82% of the most resilient organizations had greater “customer satisfaction” when compared to their competitors, unlike the least resilient organizations. Furthermore, 76% of the most resilient organizations have a positive brand reputation and rate highly for employee engagement. Lastly, they found that 86% of the most resilient organizations “rate very highly for employees having a positive attitude at work compared to 18% of the least resilient organizations (MHR, n.d.).
Resiliency offers several benefits to an organization. However, how do leaders build resiliency in their workplaces? How do they lead workplaces that are “thriving… through good times and bad” (Harter, 2020). According to Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Laura Everest, resilience is “a strategy” (2021). If this is true, what strategies can employers use to create resilient workforces? What culture, tools, and ideologies are necessary for a resilient workforce?
Invest in diversity of all types
One way that employers can create more resilient workforces is by hiring a diverse workforce. This diversity goes beyond just race/ethnicity and into age, gender, culture, and other categories. As seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, some populations can be more directly affected by national or global difficulties than others. For example, the CDC shared that “older adults are at highest risk” when contracting COVID-19 (2022). Because of this, many older adults retired earlier than usual, either temporarily or permanently (Fry, 2021).
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicates that employers who employ a diverse age range can be more resilient to the “live events for certain age groups - like the birth of a child - or other health events or risks” that require time away from the workforce (2020). By employing a diverse workforce, employers incorporate a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and experiences into their workplace as well. These varying perspectives can give employees access to new ideas and solutions to challenges they would not have thought of otherwise; ultimately increasing their resiliency and ability to respond to crises and challenges.
Create a culture of creativity and innovation
Aided by diversity in thought and experience, creativity and innovation can help workforces be more resilient to challenges. According to MHR International Group, “the most resilient organizations are also considerably more innovative.” According to Psychology Today, being creative in times of challenge or crisis “is reimagining our environment and shifting our perspective to discover new possibilities, even when our fight or flight response is kicked into high gear” (Davis, 2020).
By instilling a culture that values creativity and innovation, employers encourage their employees think outside the box when facing challenges and setbacks. One way employers can encourage creativity is by providing employees with “time and space to reflect and experiment” on solutions for problems (Davis, 2020). According to Raymond A. Mason School of Business, some strategies for increasing creativity and innovation include, allowing employees to “propose bold ideas,” housing “dedicated brainstorming sessions,” encouraging employees to “speak up with action plans,” allowing “for failure” and “failing wisely,” “celebrating innovation,” and having a standardized process for “soliciting new ideas.”
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” - Steve Maraboli
Resilient workforces must have the “capacity to flex without breaking” and the “ability to adapt quickly to changes in the external environment” (MHR, n.d.). Research from Sander L Kool, Susanne Schwager, and Klaus Rothermund indicates that “flexibility in emotion processing is more conducive to resilience than” simply staying positive. By having a culture of flexibility, workforces can more readily adapt to external challenges, ultimately increasing their resiliency both fiscally and emotionally during difficult times. For example, when stay-home orders were in place across the globe, flexible workplaces were able to quickly transition to work-from-home employment. Not only were these companies able to continue building revenue, but employees were more emotionally resilient as they did not have to worry about income and financial needs via job loss.
There is a variety of ways that employers can create a culture of flexibility. One way is by having flexible work arrangements such as flextime where employees “structure their own workdays and weeks,” compressed workweeks, job sharing, remote work, and permanent part-time arrangements (Boogaard, 2021). The Society of Human Resources also shares that flexible work arrangements can include hybrid work arrangements, snowbird programs, and shift work. Others recommend that employers “build an environment of mutual trust,” “limit meetings” to only what is necessary, “set clear objectives,” “provide the necessary training,” and “consider employee feedback” (Brierly, 2019).
Invest in technology
Research from MHR International Group “has underlined the importance of technology” in supporting a resilient workforce. They recommend that businesses transition to an “intuitive and easy-to-access platform” and that they progress with developing innovative technology (MHR, n.d.). Their findings are echoed by Gallup with findings that state employees need “the right materials and equipment” to reduce “stress,” “build high-performing teams,” and ultimately increase resiliency (Harter, 2020). By investing in a cohesive and easy-to-use platform for communication, collaboration, and task completion such as Google Suite, employers ensure that their employees have the resources they need.
There is a variety of ways that organizations can encourage resiliency through workplace cultures. The Society of Human Resource Management states that leaders can set clear expectations for employees, give employees “opportunities for employees to do what they do best,” encourage “connection to the mission or purpose of the organization,” and encourage a commitment to high-quality work (Harter, 2020). The MHR International Group recommends employers create a “strong core culture and ethos so that the organization is able to retain its sense of cohesion and purpose,” establish a culture of efficiency, and encourage managers and leaders to lead with “empathy and emotional intelligence, driving a culture of change and instilling resilience in others.”
The main takeaway
Amidst the challenges of the past two years, business leaders have been racing to find ways to create more resilient workforces. In this article, we discussed several key strategies that employers can use to encourage resilience for their employees individually and increase resiliency in their workplace via strategic investments and cultural changes. For the executive coach, these resources and ideas can be great discussion topics for peer group sessions. For the business leader looking to increase the resilience of their workplace, the ideas and resources above can be referenced and examined for application to their own workplace.
“To fight for change tomorrow we need to build resilience today.” - Sheryl Sandberg
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