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How can HR leaders help employees develop resilience?

17 Sep 2019 By Angela Armstrong

Practical tools and role models are the key to a healthy and engaged workforce, according to Angela Armstrong

As awareness of the impact of the workplace on employee mental health increases, companies are keen to ensure conversations about stress and burnout have a positive impact and don’t make matters worse by including clumsy wording or ineffective platitudes. These conversations are contagious, as well as the moods associated with them, which is why it is critical we transform workplace conversations from who has the most stress – and stress as a badge of honour – towards building resilience as a foundation for sustainable high performance. 

Resilience is the ability to take the challenges and changes of life in your stride and say yes to the opportunities that excite you. When introducing resilience, it’s important to message both the pain (stress and burnout) of not acting and the gain (opportunity and vitality) of building your personal resilience, as people are motivated differently. 

It also enables you to capture the attention of those who are already on the road to burnout and would benefit from taking remedial action, and still appeal to those who are currently performing well and, if they take proactive action, will have the resilience habits to help them sustain high performance and accelerate their career.

Be explicit about how increased resilience contributes to sustainable high performance as you improve your ability to experience pressure yet not become stressed, and also raise your self-efficacy. For example, uncovering your core values and getting better at managing your emotions improves resilience and efficiency because you are more congruent with decisions you make and are able to interact with others with less friction.

For companies, having more employees who are healthy and productively engaged in their work leads to less interpersonal friction, improved teamwork, stronger financial results and a greater impact on the society the company was created to serve – not least because employees are happier humans who are more productive, achieve more and have better self-esteem. The knock-on effect positively affects personal relationships, parenting and community spirit too. 

Use a resilience framework 

One tried and tested way to introduce the theme of resilience is to ask employees to evaluate their current resilience habits using a simple ‘wheel of resilience’ self-assessment and scoring themselves 0-10 across the seven resilience categories (focus, role models, energy, emotions, downtime, optimism and meaning). 

Most people have a ‘lumpy’ wheel – knowing where they have existing strengths and areas for development typically prompts conversations about sharing best practice and highlights any common areas of need. It is important to encourage employees to develop resilience across all seven categories, rather than mastery in one, so they will have the right resilience tool whatever the challenge in front of them. 

One size does not fit all, so signpost a range of practical resilience habits and encourage the individual to select and adapt the implementation of the habit to their current context so it becomes part of how they deliver their day job. Many resilience habits, such as planning your energy rather than your time, are a new way of doing something you have to do so take no extra time.

Leaders go first

Leaders and managers are role models for others by virtue of their position, whether they seek to be one or not. For resilience practices to become embedded, leaders and managers need to be visible about their own resilience practices, or articulate what they do that’s not seen (for example, having an early night). Of course, it’s OK for leaders to also struggle from time to time with developing their own resilience; a degree of openness and candour reassures others that ‘we’re all in it together’ and the target is to make progress, not be perfect. 

The uptake of resilience practices can be improved if people understand the link between increased resilience and sustainable high performance, are able to tailor their resilience habits to them and see positive role models. Ultimately, for a business to have the best chance of succeeding, resilience should be a priority for employees, HR and senior leaders alike. 

Angela Armstrong is the author of The Resilience Club

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