Only a third of UK employees feel resilient, survey finds

Research shows low levels of psychological robustness even before the Covid crisis fully hit, as experts warn businesses to take this more seriously

Only one-third (29 per cent) of UK employees reported feeling resilient at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a report by Aon has found. 

The survey of 2,500 employers and employees across the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands revealed that UK employees with poor resilience had 59 per cent lower engagement and were 43 per cent less likely to want to stay with their employer than those who felt resilient.

Compiled based on a survey conducted in March 2020, The Rising Resilient report found that while 80 per cent of employers from all countries agreed health and wellbeing initiatives were beneficial, this was not necessarily leading to the creation of resilient workforces. Only 29 per cent of UK employees were found to be resilient based on three core indicators: the employees’ sense of security, sense of belonging and ability to reach their potential. 

Just over two-fifths (43 per cent) of UK employees reported not feeling secure, more than half (52 per cent) did not feel a sense of belonging and 56 per cent didn’t feel they could reach their potential. 

Sarah Giles, wellbeing, resilience and performance coach, said the findings confirmed her sense that “not many organisations had put resilience training in place before the pandemic”, highlighting the impact this was likely to have had on staff as they contended with the various challenges of the last six months. She added that people had responded to Covid differently because of their individual resilience levels.

Giles said the issue was often that “a lot of employers expected their employees to be resilient” without recognising their own role in fostering this as an organisation. She said the problem lay with businesses recognising the importance of understanding and building resilience in their workforces. 

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“Resilience is about how effectively we can handle challenges in life. It’s looking at how we control our thoughts and emotions to enable us to cope better during challenging times. Resilient people will see challenge as an opportunity rather than a threat,” said Giles. 

The Aon survey also found UK employees were less likely to receive a broad wellbeing programme – supporting physical, social, emotional, financial and professional needs – compared to the wider EMEA group. Aon suggested a “well-rounded health and wellbeing programme” contributed to resilience levels. However, only two-fifths (40 per cent) of UK employees said they benefited from a broad wellbeing programme, compared to 45 per cent of mainland Europe employees. 

Sam Dunn, head of corporate wellbeing at The Soke, agreed many organisations only “paid lip service to resilience and wellbeing” because of a lack of understanding. 

“Those more insightful organisations understand that the impermanence, complexity and challenge in today’s commercial world means that pressure is always in the system and that to survive and be successful focusing on resilience is not only important but essential,” said Dunn. 

Regardless of whether they were found to be resilient or non-resilient, UK employees also had lower perceived health status (70 per cent) compared to the wider EMEA group (76 per cent).  

Non-resilient workers were also found to have lower energy and enthusiasm for work. Only 37 per cent of non-resilient UK employees said they had high perceived energy levels, compared to 83 per cent of resilient colleagues. Meanwhile, a similar number (35 per cent) of non-resilient UK employees felt they had high enthusiasm for their work, compared to 82 per cent of resilient UK workers.

Dunn said health and wellbeing programmes and building the right culture were the “best starting points”. “In addition to initial wellbeing programmes there needs to be sustaining mechanisms built into the organisation to both hold on to the initial benefits of wellbeing programmes and build an environment where it is not only OK, but also encouraged that employees take time to focus on their own wellbeing,” said Dunn.

He added that organisations that did not focus on this were “missing something that gives true competitive advantages at the same time as fulfilling a duty of care towards employees”. 

Giles added that wellbeing programmes often failed to focus on emotional wellbeing and that resilience was “often missed among all the ‘nice to have’ initiatives”.

“If there was more focus on building resilience employees would have a more positive approach to work and be able to cope with change. It would also help keep them motivated and more engaged. And of course there would be less absenteeism as a result of burnout,” she said. 

She said the coronavirus crisis was, if approached the right way, a chance for employers to build staff resilience. “We can all learn resilience to help us, so [Covid] is an opportunity to strengthen our own resilience. It will help us to plan, prepare and cope during a future crisis,” said Giles.