Why has the pandemic impacted our personal resilience so much, and why is there such a variation between how people are dealing with, or at least reporting how they are dealing with, their current circumstances?
Going through a crisis, whether that be at a global or individual level, can of course, undermine resilience for some individuals, and this is very important to acknowledge. Interestingly though, recent research has suggested that typically, most people demonstrated resilience during the pandemic, with any initial dip in mental health righting itself within a few months (Pierce et al., 2021). So how does this happen, and what aspects of resilience are developed?
At Hult Ashridge Executive Education, together with our colleague Alex Davda, we conducted a small pilot study early in the pandemic, which involved individuals completing a ‘resilience barometer’ over an eight-week period. Each week, participants were asked to rate their current level of resilience across a number of psychological, organisational and social resilience factors. After a week, participants were also asked to reflect on whether they felt their resilience on any of the factors had changed significantly from the previous week, and if so, why.
We found that while most resilience indicators decreased over the first four weeks (some more dramatically than others) the strongest ‘recovery’ by week eight were for the resilience resources of (a) experiencing change as a positive challenge, (b) optimism and (c) sense of control.
This suggests that people’s resilience was boosted by realising that their new circumstances were stretching but manageable, by feeling more optimistic about the future, and by regaining a sense of personal control in a situation of global crisis. Perhaps more fundamentally, it suggests, albeit as a pilot study, that aspects of resilience during a difficult and uncertain time can recover, even before the difficult period has ended.
Here are some tips for accelerating recovery for yourself and others, now and in future crises:
Experiencing change as a positive challenge
- Consider the impact of the crisis on your own life and work situation. Where did you feel the stretch most at first, and how do you feel about it now? What have you done to adjust, and what benefits for the future can you see in how this is all playing out?
- What do you observe about your organisation’s changed ways of working, and how others have responded? What lessons can you share from individuals and teams who have adapted well?
- Look back at difficult experiences and reflect on what you have learned, both as an HR professional and, more importantly, as a human being. What have you learned about yourself that you didn't know before, through the Covid crisis or in previous times of dramatic change and upheaval?
- HR professionals can also act as facilitators of open discussions with employees, encouraging individual and collective dialogue (warts and all) between groups about the diverse experiences of the last year.
- It’s quite common to feel responsible for things going wrong, even when events are happening on a much wider scale. This can have a damaging effect on your optimism and ability to support others. So be strict with yourself – make sure you’re not feeling to blame for things that can’t possibly be your fault.
- Realistic optimism is a powerful tool to remain pragmatic and positive, whilst appreciating what we may find tough. This kind of optimism requires a growth mindset, believing that improvement is possible and having strategies and actions to enable things to work out.
- Honest stories of senior leaders are one of the most important levers to promote realistic optimism in any organisation.
- Employees will no longer accept an unrealistic or foggy portrait of the future, but instead expect some truth; both in terms of the potential challenges and opportunities still to come, even if things are unknown.
- When we initially experience adversity and periods of intense stress, it feels like being stuck in a storm without an umbrella. However, as we go through the experience, individuals and teams begin to realise there are aspects of the situation they can control and accept those they cannot.
- With all the uncertainty globally, HR practitioners can help people find some sense of satisfaction through promoting small positive actions; regular catch-ups, schedule flexibility and encouraging health and wellbeing activities as part of a daily routine.