There’s more to resilience than meets the eye – it’s not simply another word for ‘coping’ and it is a little more complicated than the famous World War II slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
Resilience was first studied back in the 1950’s and 60’s and was centred around children that appeared to grow-up relatively unscathed despite coming from severely disadvantaged backgrounds. Early resilience research suggested personality traits were responsible, but further studies went on to analyse the additional importance of support structures and protective factors. More recent research includes cultural, community and social contexts as well as how these factors influence an individual over time.
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of trauma or tragedy, threats or other significant sources of stress”.
Today, it is regarded as an important counterbalance to high levels of stress and poor mental health, particularly in the workplace. There is even a specific psychometric tool which has been developed to measure resilience and its impact on wellbeing, called WRAW (Wellbeing and Resilience at Work).This tool identifies 5 ‘pillars’ of resilience including:
- Energy (sustaining and renewing physical energy)
- Future Focus (having a clear sense of purpose and direction)
- Inner Driver (Sustaining self-belief, confidence, motivation and perseverance)
- Flexible Thinking (having an open and optimistic mindset)
- Strong Relationships (building open and trusting relationships with others)
Although some people may exhibit inherent resilience traits, it is generally believed that everyone has the capacity to develop particular behaviours, thoughts and actions to bolster their own resilience. However, developing resilience is not a quick fix, but takes time, commitment and support.
Specific ways to build resilience at work include learning to:
- Engage in self-care and pay attention to nurturing and protecting mental and physical health
- Discover strengths, values and self-worth, to avoid comparing to others
- Celebrate successes rather than dwelling on negativity and being harshly self-critical
- Practice optimism
- Be curious and enjoy discovering new things
- Be agile and flexible, to help cope with change and uncertainty
- Treat problems as learning processes and use challenges as opportunities to acquire new skills
- Nurture and develop good relationships with family, friends and work colleagues
- Recognise that asking for help is a strength not a weakness
Organisations can do a lot to help their people by providing supportive environments and cultures to enable this type of learning to take place. Skilled people managers, genuinely open and trusting communication, collaborative teamwork, supporting work-life balance and health at work initiatives, together with specific and targeted training can help to not only nurture resilience, but just as importantly, reduce the levels of stress in the first place.