This last year and a half of the Covid pandemic has certainly tested our resilience – both professionally and personally – in terms of how we have reacted and adapted to new ways of working and being in the world. I know that I have gone through waves – sometimes coping well (as many of the aspects of lockdown suited my personality) but finding other days challenging and upsetting. So, what has this period taught us about resilience and what do we, as HR professionals, need to consider going forward in terms of developing both organisational and personal resilience?
The dictionary definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’ I like the definition provided by Amit Sood’s, the executive director of the Global Centre for Resiliency and Well-Being, “It’s your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns,” as this highlights that it is not just about coping with uncertainty and change, but also involves learning from the challenge, adapting, and growing.
CIPD research on Employee Resilience (March 2021) states that resilience is strongly related to wellbeing, psychological stress, proactive work behaviour, creative behaviour, commitment to change, performance, work engagement, organisational commitment, burnout and exhaustion and job satisfaction. So, it’s an important skill and attribute to be developed!
According to recent LinkedIn research, resilience is now the number one ‘power skill’ to develop in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, and Australia. (LinkedIn Learning (2021))
Resilience in an organisation needs to be understood and developed at all levels – strategic, operational, and behavioural.
A key area for HR input is to develop the leadership capabilities within the organisation’s management team, to ensure that managers are equipped with the skills, insights, knowledge, and tools to respond in an agile and resilient way to difficult and challenging situations. HR and the management team must then ensure that these skills and tools are integrated at every level in the business, to support both team and individual resilience. The CIPD (2021) states ‘Through their decisions, communication and role modelling, senior managers determine the targets, resource allocation and management structures that shape how demanding and supportive work environments are. Going through unpredictable and challenging scenarios, staff need to feel supported, encouraged, and motivated.
HR also needs to be directly involved in the organisation’s risk assessment and business contingency planning processes, so that both the people and organisational development issues are considered and addressed. Key decision makers and managers need support and mentoring in terms of developing the organisation’s capabilities in horizon scanning, trend analysis, scenario planning, risk assessment and decision making.
Now is the time to reflect and analyse how the organisation handled uncertainty and change through the last 18 months. What lessons can be learnt? What worked well and what not so well? How can this be translated into tools and approaches to build resilience going forward? What new ways of working will staff and the organisation to deal more effectively with challenging and unpredictable times?
Just as critical as developing organisational resilience is to take this moment in time to reflect on our own mental, emotional, and physical personal resilience. How have we coped and managed in these last 18 months? What have we learned, both in terms of our own resilience and in terms of how that directly impacts on the people we manage or work with?
Some individuals are more naturally resilient than others, but resilience and adaptability can be supported and developed, at any stage of our lives.
One way to do this is to seek support. Reach out to those you know who exhibit resilience and adaptability – either in your family/friendship group or through your professional network. Who can mentor and guide you, model and support you? Be willing and open to ask for and accept help.
There are many useful online and in-person sources of support and guidance. Two current initiatives in Northern Ireland are Women in Business’ October programme, Build Workplace Morale, Combat Burnout and Become a More Resilient Person and Legal Island’s new podcast series, Workplace Wellbeing, Mental Health and Resilience.
One to one resilience coaching also offers targeted support in a safe space to explore and develop resilience skills and strategies.
Mindfulness author, Mark Bertin (2021) identified other additional practices for building resilience into your day:
Many of these practices should be built into our corporate wellbeing strategies and proactively encouraged and supported.
Breazeale (2021) adds to this list in terms of building resilience in a work context, recommending being more flexible in approach, being open to problem solving individually and, in a team, finding purpose and meaning in your work, building your capacity to see the ‘big picture’ and, I think critically, being able to appreciate and use humour appropriately! I have got through many difficult work scenarios through the support and encouragement of colleagues, their ability to remind me to look at the ‘bigger picture’ and to focus on what’s really important in life.
Our mindsight and thought patterns are critical to developing resilience. Martin Seligman, psychologist, provides a very helpful insight, outlining that the way we explain setbacks to ourselves is critical to resilience. He breaks this down into three elements:
Permanence – People who have more resilience see the effects of bad events as temporary rather than permanent. For instance, they might say “My boss didn’t like the work I did on that project” rather than “My boss never likes my work.”
Pervasiveness – Resilient people don’t let setbacks or bad events affect other unrelated areas of their lives.
Personalisation – People who have resilience don’t blame themselves when bad events occur.
So how do we face into even more change and uncertainty? By focusing on what is within our control, by becoming aware of our thought processes, by reaching out and connecting with others, by accepting help when needed, by accepting that change is inevitable and looking forward with hope and humour.