Why resilience is an organisational responsibility – not a character trait

Resilience may seem like a cloudy concept to many. But the impact it has in the workplace is very real. Organisations that place focus on ensuring their employees have access to the resources that build resilience will be rewarded with higher engagement, less turnover and a stronger organisation for when the next crisis strikes, writes Dr. Antonio Pangallo, Senior XM Scientist of EmployeeXM, Qualtrics.

Does resilience really exist? That was the question weighing on my mind a few years ago when I embarked on my PhD research exploring resilience in palliative care workers. More to the point, is resilience something we are born with, learned, or simply the latest craze in pop-psychobabble?

I’ll cut to the chase. Ultimately, my research led me to conclude that resilience is a set of resources that can be learned or developed over time. We can draw upon these resources in times of stress or adversity to build our psychological armour. I don’t believe we are born “resilient” nor do I believe resilience is a trait we possess across all situations. It is probably more accurate to think of resilience as a vast set of psychological resources we access when encountered with different challenges in our lives.

Leaders who want to provide resources for their employees should know, however, that there is no magic set of “resilience resources.” But taking care of employees and investing in their needs will pay dividends for organizational resilience and the ability to adapt to new and changing market opportunities.

In 2020, resilience has been highlighted as many have battled crises in work and personal lives. In Qualtrics’ 2020 Global Workforce Resilience study, we found that employees’ levels of resilience tended to be associated with  their intention to stay with an organisation. Specifically, we noted that lower resilience resulted in higher turnover intentions. In fact, there was a 20-plus point difference in resilience in those that intend to stay with the organisation over the longer term (over 4-plus years) compared with those that report an intent to depart the organisation in the short term (less than one year).

The study included 1,400 participants in Australia and New Zealand, all of whom were full time employees, from all levels within their organisations. There was broad industry representation, excluding the healthcare industry.

So, if resilience is linked to a fundamental component of engagement such as turnover intention, what can organisations do to help build employees’ psychological armour and contribute positively to  employee resilience?

The power of leaders listening – and acting – on employee feedback can’t be underestimated as a driver of employee resilience. In fact, 92 per cent of those surveyed said employee listening is either important or very important during this crisis.

Listen. Understand. Act.
In our research, we’ve found that employees must measure and emphasise the availability of resources associated with resilience that are available to their employees. These include:

Social support: In the workplace, social support may come in the form of peers, managers, or other organisational support. Access to this support plays a key role in helping employees cope with workplace stressors, avoid withdrawal, and discover better outcomes.

In fact, employees who report manager support are three times more likely to be engaged at work and almost twice as likely to have the ingredients for resilience as those who do not have support from their managers: 89 per cent versus 47 per cent.

In this sense, empowering managers creates a waterfall effect. The more support each person feels from their direct manager, the more resilient and engaged they’ll be.

Listening and acting on feedback: The power of leaders listening – and acting – on employee feedback can’t be underestimated as a driver of employee resilience. In fact, 92 per cent of those surveyed said employee listening is either important or very important during this crisis.

Unfortunately, only half (51 per cent) of employees say they actually get the opportunity to provide feedback to their organisation. Of those who do get the chance to feedback, only eight per cent say their company is “extremely good” at turning that feedback into action.

Action fuels engagement
Resilience may seem like a cloudy concept to many. But the impact it has in the workplace is very real. Organisations that place focus on ensuring their employees have access to the resources that build resilience will be rewarded with higher engagement, less turnover and a stronger organisation for when the next crisis strikes.

This requires us to improve how we listen and support people, ensuring we understand our diverse workforces, and act on the needs of our teams using data.

Leaders who want to provide resources for their employees should know, however, that there is no magic set of “resilience resources.” But taking care of employees and investing in their needs will pay dividends for organizational resilience and the ability to adapt to new and changing market opportunities.

In the workplace, social support may come in the form of peers, managers, or other organisational support. Access to this support plays a key role in helping employees cope with workplace stressors, avoid withdrawal, and discover better outcomes.

5 ways to build resilience
For individuals, here are a few of the different areas that individuals can focus on when thinking about building their resilience resources:

  1. Values – Think about how to help employees align values with those of the organisation
  2. Social support – Whether it’s one person or many, support is effective when the quality of that support is perceived to be genuine and truly helpful. This is not about being extroverted, rather a matter of accessing genuine social relationship
  3. Emotion management – Not letting things overwhelm us is key. We cannot change the world, but we can change our emotions by changing the way we respond to events
  4. Persistence – We should trust ourselves to problem solve and persist through issues that arise. Don’t give up when the going gets tough
  5. Locus of control – Focus and act on what can be controlled, rather than worrying about things that cannot. The key is to accept what’s out of our control and work like crazy to control the things we can

The ability to adapt to life’s challenges is inherent in us all. The challenge now is to identify and develop the resources that will help us build resiliency — individually and as a team — so that when the next crisis strikes, we are even stronger.

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