Sometimes, the stress just piles up. Even if you’re doing everything you can to look after your staff’s wellbeing while keeping them engaged. Sometimes, things just go unexpectedly wrong, like 2020 as a whole. Two years on, it’s more important than ever for managers to know how to grow employee resilience in the workplace.

What is resilience, and why does it matter at work?

Resilience is basically the ability to tolerate stressful situations or challenges, and to function effectively while doing so. Managers have a duty of care to protect their staff from undue stress or personal risk. But you’re by no means a perfect shield, and you simply can’t be everywhere at once. So you’ll need to build employee resilience to new challenges to ensure they can cope with the demands of the workplace.

Nature or nurture, some people just have a more resilient disposition than others. But the good news is that resilience is still a skill like any other. And that means you can improve at it.

How to grow employee resilience

1. Understand the basic elements of resilience at work

The five pillars of resilience at work meld neatly with wellbeing. They are:

  1. Emotional wellbeing – how well you manage your emotions and thoughts, and how healthy and realistic your views are of yourself and the world. This is the most fundamental pillar of resilience.
  2. Inner drive – your ability to set goals and motivate yourself, as well as adopt a forward-thinking approach to progress.
  3. Future focus – your level of foresight, as well as an ability to focus on solutions and positive change. It also encompasses acceptance of failures and adversity.
  4. Relationships – having a strong social network with friends, family, and colleagues which provide emotional and physical support.
  5. Physical health – recognizing the importance of looking after yourself physically, as poor physical wellbeing can directly impact the other pillars.

By recognizing how many different personal elements must be tended to, you’ll be in a good starting position to develop your and others’ resilience. It’ll enable you to identify areas that you or others already perform well in and those which need working on.

2. Understand strengths and develop weaknesses

A person can only develop their resilience with self reflection. They need to identify which areas they need to work on and develop into their strengths too.

Giving and receiving feedback helps with this. Weekly employee check-ins, frequent 1:1 sessions between managers and employees, and prompting people to complete 360 feedback are great ways to start.

When people get in the habit of identifying their strengths and weaknesses, they learn how to focus on success and opportunities for growth. They’ll feel like nothing can stop them.

3. Improve emotional wellbeing to grow employee resilience at work

Building emotional resilience at work takes time and a willingness to break out of deeply-rooted harmful habits. For example, negative automatic thoughts are a barrier to many people’s resilience.

The best way is to challenge these is head on. Write down negative thoughts when they happen and analyse their validity. You’ll learn to challenge these thoughts rather than drown in them.

4. Promote an inner drive

Being self-driven will bring you greater success and productivity at work. And prevent things becoming overwhelming. Without it, people can often feel like projects are dragging and may not put their heart into them. Your people need to feel engaged, especially during tough times.

Having clear goals boosts inner drive and, with practice, helps maintain momentum. Use goal-setting frameworks like SMART or OKRs to set realistic, relevant, and effective objectives.

5. Employee resilience grows when you’re future focused

A growth mindset helps employees to future-gaze constructively. This promotes openness to change and adaptation and enables healthy responses to challenges and problems.

Critical thinking and accountability are important here. Leading by example will promote this in your team. Critical thinking requires stopping and thinking logically, rather than being swayed by emotions. It also means being human. Admit you don’t know everything and can ask questions to learn more.

6. Develop healthy relationships

Relationships take time and can’t be forced. But feeling better understood, supported, and inspired by others makes them worth the effort. Three areas to focus on are: challenging toxic relationships, building genuine connections, and finding or becoming a mentor.

If there are people who bring you and others down at work, think about what can be done. Often, people don’t realize what they’re doing and how it affects others until someone else challenges it. Honest feedback can help with this. It also helps develop resilience at work.

Building genuine connections is as simple as expressing real interest in others, including their differences, and being mindful of their views and values. Being open to how others live expands your own perceptions and expectations.

A mentor gives you a safe space outside your immediate team to express and challenge yourself.  Encourage your team to learn from those around them. This could be as simple as observing from a distance or having more formal arrangements.

7. Support physical wellbeing grow employee resilience

A person’s physical state is closely linked to their mental and emotional one. There’s only so much you can do to support others as physical fitness is personal.

However, you can help people gain the physical and emotional rest they need by promoting a good work-life balance. Fair workloads, clear goals, and proper deadlines help here. When people work after a proper break, they’ll be much more switched on and feel resilience at work.

8. Provide personal and professional development

Ongoing development is key to building resilience. Team leaders need to encourage this. Personal or professional development plans (PDP) are a good tool here. Effective PDPs can prevent development from feeling overwhelming. Clear succession planning will also help here. As well as setting clear and actionable steps will make building resilience feel more tangible.

Multitasking does more harm than good for employee resilience

Getting snowed under with urgent tasks creates a strong temptation to try and do everything at once. But if you’re stressing out about your workload, multitasking can actually be counter-productive. According to the American Psychological Association, “context switching” (suddenly changing from one task to a functionally different one) can reduce productivity by up to 40%.

So you might have all the responsibilities to manage. But your best bet is still to allot times in the day to do different things. Ensuring employees stay resilient to new challenges can be difficult. But often, it’s as simple as making sure they don’t bite off more than they can chew.

HR leaders have known about APA’s findings about context switching for years. But that doesn’t mean they’ve faded into irrelevance. More recent findings show just how impactful interruptions can be. One study found that frequent interruptions at work increase employee exhaustion by 9%. Other research shows that interrupting employees for just 2.8 seconds causes them to make twice as many mistakes as an uninterrupted control group. Part of how to grow employee resilience is encouraging them to focus on one thing at a time.

Encourage staff to treat new challenges as a learning process

The fact that your team are in the world of work with school behind them doesn’t mean they stop learning. In fact, emphasizing continued education in the workplace should be a high priority for your business. Not only does helping your employees to develop professionally inspire loyalty to your organisation, but it also boosts employee resilience to new challenges by giving them the tools to overcome obstacles independently.

Teaching your staff to view challenging situations as a learning process can help make those challenges less stressful. Knowing you can learn from an experience reinforces that, even if things go wrong, you’ll be able to do better next time.

As a manager, you need to know how to grow employee resilience in your team. And we don’t just mean telling stressed-out staff to stop crying and get back to work. We mean supporting people so they have the inner-strength to handle what work throws at them.

A good manager serves as a mentor to their team, giving them the benefit of their experience. To do this, you’ll need to provide them with feedback which goes beyond a traditional 1:1 performance review. You’ll need a way of providing feedback on a more regular basis between reviews. For example, With our employee check-in system. This also gives employees the opportunity to bring problems to your attention so you can help them overcome issues in the most effective way.

Provide access to mental health support

Understanding how to grow employee resilience to new challenges is all well and good. But it’s important to remember that resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability. No matter how tough you think you are, everyone has their breaking point.

Providing access to mental health resources is essential to ensure that workplace stress doesn’t spiral into more pervasive mental health issues. Unfortunately, many people still struggle to seek help with their mental wellbeing. And that’s due to the old-fashioned stigma around mental health that’s been challenged in recent years.

Employers and managers need to lead the charge on better mental wellbeing from the top down. If we can, then it has the potential to drastically increase resilience in the workplace. If workers have the emotional intelligence to be able to protect their own mental health, then they’ll be much better insulated from the stress of new challenges in the workplace.

How social connections make us more resilient

Even by itself, isolation can be incredibly stressful. Many of us learned this the hard way during the pandemic. As a result, feeling socially isolated reduces our ability to tolerate additional stressors. Recently, remote work has risen to previously unprecedented levels.

This makes it very difficult to boost employee morale to face new challenges. So, understanding how to grow employee resilience in your remote teams is especially vital.

There was a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, titled Fostering Social Connection in the Workplace. It found that 61% of CEOs who reported feelings of loneliness found that it negatively impacted their performance. That stat rose to 70% for first-time CEOs.

Social wellbeing is important for overcoming workplace stress. Friends and colleagues at work can effectively help you share the burden. These are people you can go to for help, advice, or just a good old-fashioned rant over lunch.

So it’s in your best interests as a manager to encourage social bonds between members of your team. You might try organizing optional out-of-work social events. Or just let them have a bit of a natter at the beginning of the weekly group meeting. Reinforcing this social connection becomes even more vital if you’re managing a remote team. You’ll want a consistent schedule for group video stand-ups to emulate the face-to-face conversations they’re missing out on.

So those are our two cents on improving employee resilience to new challenges. But don’t forget, we write about a range of topics every week, from the onboarding process to employee turnover!