Build a future-ready sales team Register now Register now

How to build resilience: Why resilience is a top skill needed in today’s workplace

Why Resilience is a Top Skill Needed in Today’s Workplace

Jump to section

What is resilience?

The importance of building resilience

Resilience improves organizational and employee performance

Resilient leaders

Examples of resilient behavior

How to build resilience: a step-by-step guide

Most successful L&D interventions for building resilience

How coaching builds resilience

In my work as a researcher at BetterUp Labs, I have an opportunity to speak with business leaders across multiple industries about their biggest challenges. One constant theme —change at breakneck speed has become the norm in business today, and it’s overwhelming our workforce.

Workplace environments are at a breaking point. Employees are under enormous pressure to continuously adapt to new technologies, shifting priorities, and ways of working—and they aren’t equipped to keep up. Often, neither are their organizations.

What is resilience?

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.” At BetterUp, we believe that resilience can help people not only recover from challenging experiences, but that it can also facilitate their growth and development. Data from our members shows that those experiencing higher change (stress) also experience higher growth.

Coping with change can be difficult for most of us. As humans, we are biologically wired to prefer routine, so we often focus on the negative during uncertain times. We also may not have developed the skills that can help us manage stress and navigate challenging situations.

But change can actually offer opportunity for employees to learn and develop—if they have the resilience to help them through. Consider the nature of a palm tree. Palm trees are able to weather storms because they have a stable foundation that enables it to flex with strong winds. They are able to bend—but not break—despite the conditions.

Like the palm tree, employees who develop resilience factors can learn how to bounce back from change and even grow from difficulties and adversity.

Resilient leaders build resilient teams.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Subscribe

The importance of building resilience

Given the rapidly evolving needs and landscape of organizations, cultivating employees’ ability to, not only bounce back, but grow from challenges and adversity, is a key strategic priority. People will perform better if they aren’t just keeping their heads above water or constantly needing to recover from extreme stress, but instead are actually energized by the opportunities for growth and self-learning that come with constant change.

Workplace stress takes a massive toll on the American workforce, resulting in 120,000 premature deaths per year and healthcare costs amounting to 5 - 8% of total annual national healthcare costs. Resilience as an individual psychological capacity can act as a buffer. Indeed, it is no accident that many leaders have successfully navigated enormous adversity or challenge in their past.

Resilience improves organizational and employee performance

In today’s organizations, resilience has become a key human capacity required for peak performance, and an increasingly important characteristic for organizations to cultivate in employees.

Research shows that resilience can be a powerful buffer that enables organizations to remain profitable and competitive, even during turbulent times. In their book, The Agility Factor, Williams, Worley and Lawler highlight that organizational agility is highly correlated with organizational resilience and together, both factors determine the adaptive capacity of an organization. This adaptive capacity enables organizations to quickly perceive and respond to changes, whether it’s grabbing hold of a new business opportunity or addressing a potential threat.

Resilience also shapes the way employees respond to and manage the stress of change. BetterUp Labs found that employee resilience is associated with decreased stress and that people low on resilience are 4 times more likely to burnout.

Resilience is also associated with increased work engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. This is likely because people who are better able to bounce back from stress and adversity apply those skills to the workplace as well. Rather than giving up due to the inevitable setbacks they encounter in the course of their work, they’re able to carry on and focus on the big picture.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Subscribe

Resilient leaders

The resiliency of leaders impacts how they lead and the performance and engagement of their teams. BetterUp Labs has found that when leaders experience stress, they report engaging in fewer inspirational leadership behaviors such as sharing optimistic visions of the future, setting ambitious goals, and communicating confidence in reaching those goals. Leaders are also less likely to engage in fundamental management behaviors such as clarifying roles and goals and recognizing performance.

Instead, stressed leaders are more likely to take a passive approach to leadership, only intervening once there are performance problems, or avoiding making decisions or taking responsibility all together. This can have a trickle down effect to their teams, influencing their attitudes and behaviors about work.

In contrast, our research shows that resilient leaders are more likely to engage in inspirational leadership behaviors, such as providing creative perspectives to help problem solve or encouraging others to meaningfully contribute and participate.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Subscribe

Examples of resilient behavior

What makes some employees more resilient than others? What are their resilience examples? It’s not that resilient individuals have fewer stressors at work—they are just better equipped to cope with the challenges they face.

Research shows that resilient employees engage in three behaviors that help them remain focused and optimistic despite setbacks or uncertainty:

  • Emotional Regulation. This skill involves the ability to monitor, recognize, and respond to our emotions effectively, so they don’t impede with our functioning. Developing strong emotional regulation skills helps build resilience by allowing us to continue functioning through a wide variety of internal experiences, including those that are difficult.
    For example, having the ability to notice when you are bothered by something a coworker says lets you pause and make a decision about how to respond. Storming out of the room or responding in anger may be less desirable than taking a few deep breaths or addressing the issue.
  • Self-compassion. This behavior focuses on bringing mindful, kind, and forgiving attention to our experience, rather than harsh self-criticism. It can help support resilience because it helps us soothe difficult emotions and harness powerful sources of motivation during challenging times.
    For a resilience example, consider the reaction we might have to being denied an internal transfer to an aspirational role. Self-compassion allows us to recognize our own disappointment, sadness, and rush of insecurity as legitimate and normal. We allow ourselves to feel it rather than beating ourselves up for both the failure and not being over it the next day. This doesn’t mean wallowing, but it acknowledges and honors our humanness in a way that is ultimately strengthening.
  • Cognitive agility. This skill involves recognizing when our thinking about a situation has negative results and shifting how we think about it in a way that benefits us. It helps support resilience because it allows us to continue functioning regardless of the situation.

As an example of resilience,  consider what happens when you realize you’ve been left off a meeting invitation. You can choose to tell yourself a story about an intentional act of disrespect from your coworker—or about the  kind of annoying mistake you yourself too often make. Reframing your thinking to something that results in more positive emotions generally creates more possibilities.

How to build resilience: a step-by-step guide

The good news? Resilience can be learned. In fact, we found that people low in resilience can see a 125% increase with just 3-4 months of coaching. Even throughout the COVID-19 crisis, our members grew in resilience by 17%. 

How to build resilience? By understanding it. Resilience is a factor of mind and body. It should be encouraging to know that, as important as resilience is, many of the resilience factors that drive it are within our power to change. With that in mind, here are 5 steps to start building your foundation:

  • Pay attention to your health. People are 3.5 times more likely to be resilient when in good physical health. The relationship is bidirectional. Research has found that while physical health supports resilience, resilience also leads to better physical recovery.
  • Get enough sleep. BetterUp Labs has found that employees that get adequate sleep are 4.2 times more likely to be resilient.
  • Practice reframing threats as challenges. Cognitive appraisal is the way in which we view an event or situation — including its meaning, magnitude, and what is required to overcome it. Challenge appraisals focus on the possibility of growth or benefit and the perception that we have the capacity and resources to cope with the situation. That view results in feelings of energy, anticipation and excitement, which tend to mobilize people for action and problem solving.Threat appraisals involve the perception that the situation is beyond the person’s ability to handle and involve fear, anxiety, and anger, which tend to encourage people to fight, flight or freeze. Threat perceptions tend to initiate an emotional coping response rather than a problem-solving response.
  • Mind your mindset. Resilience is influenced by our beliefs, attitudes and mindsets. For example, self efficacy will determine whether we approach a situation with energy and vigor, or withdraw and retreat. To a large degree, self efficacy can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Another important mindset is the extent to which we believe we have control over the outcome of our lives, a construct known as the locus of control. People with a more internal locus of control believe they control their own outcomes and are better able to cope with them rather than feeling victimized. People with an internal locus of control are six times more likely to be resilient. Becoming aware of mindsets that don’t serve you is the first step to changing them.
  • Get connected. The social support network that surrounds the person is one of the most important external resilience factors. A person’s social network provides a critical buffer against the stresses on resilience, not only because the social support helps people manage stress, but because social support helps people solve their challenges and find new opportunities. In fact, one reason extroverted individuals tend to be more resilient, may be because they are more likely to reach out to others when they need help.
  • Practice self-awareness. Paying attention to the stories and self-talk we do in our heads can help us recognize when our resilience is stressed or we need some maintenance. Make a point of noticing what you tell yourself to get an early warning that resilience is low. 

While we can build resilience, these steps aren’t entirely straightforward. You are raising the hood and tinkering with the processes of your own internal engine, after all. Most of us will benefit from support in building resilience.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Subscribe

Most successful L&D interventions for building resilience

Organizations have introduced a variety of L&D programs today aimed at helping employees better manage stress—but most are missing the mark. Initiatives such as global wellness programs are beneficial to employees, but they don’t have the components or structure that supports the development of meaningful and lasting behavior changes.

Based on a meta-analysis of 37 studies of resilience programs in organizations, research shows that individually focused resilience development programs such as one-on-one coaching and mentoring tend to perform better than group-level training, computer-based training, and train-the-trainer programs.

These results support what we’ve seen working with organizations to build resilience. After just 3-4 months of coaching: 

  • resilience increased by an average of 9% 
  • burnout decreased by 19%  
  • stress decreased by 24%

Coaching is effective because it is personalized to the individual. We all have traits and qualities that make us respond to stress in different ways, and we come from different circumstances and work contexts. Coaches are able to meet employees where they are—to better understand the whole person and help them develop skills in the context of their unique work situations. Coaches also provide the support that is needed when doing the hard work of making changes.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW

Stay up to date with new resources and insights.

Subscribe

How coaching builds resilience

Coaches can work with employees in multiple ways to help them develop skills that increase their resilience. Here are a few examples of interventions a coach would use to help an employee:

  • Teaching reframing techniques. The way in which someone views an event— including its meaning, magnitude, and what is required to overcome it — is one of the most significant contributing factors in resilience. Coaches can teach employees cognitive reframing techniques, which help them see the new possibilities in a situation. With this new perspective, employees are better able to bounce back, grow, and move through the challenge.
  • Providing social support. At both an individual and organizational level, social support is a critical factor in our capacity to bounce back from challenges, stress, or hardship. The trusting relationship between a coach and client can provide a source of social support for the client. Coaches can also help clients build or draw on social networks from within the organization and outside support.
  • Developing strengths. Increasing an employee’s confidence and self-efficacy can create buffers against stress. Coaches help employees build these skills by highlighting their strengths and exploring how to use them to address challenges.

While the world of work won’t slow down, organizations can help equip their employees with the skills they need to adapt. Resiliency is key to creating an agile workforce—and helping employees learn how to not just adjust, but thrive in change.

For a deeper look at employee resilience, read BetterUp’s report 5 Key Questions about Employee Resilience.