We often talk about work in terms of how to keep things running smoothly. How to help people excel, and how to promote innovation. But, let’s face it, sometimes, things go wrong. Even the best business in the world is going to be stress-tested on occasion. So it’s time to take a look at both the meaning and the benefits of workplace resilience.

What do we mean by workplace resilience?

The basic idea of resilience is fairly straightforward. It’s the ability to tolerate difficult or stressful situations while still functioning. In psychological terms, according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology:

‘Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.’

Along with general toughness, resilience is also about adjusting to new or unexpected situations. There are a lot of factors that can affect a person’s psychological resilience. Three of the most major being:

  • The ways people view and engage with the world.
  • The quality and availability of social resources.
  • Specific coping strategies.

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve addressed this topic. In the past, we’ve explored strategies for growing employee resilience at work. And we have a growing body of content around workplace stress and wellbeing in general. But, before we dive into the benefits of workplace resilience, let’s have a quick recap.

Resilience on the employee level has five supporting pillars:

  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Inner-drive
  • Future focus
  • Relationships
  • Physical health


Employee resilience may be the main thing we’re focusing on today. But it’s not the only form of resilience at work you need to worry about:

Systemic resilience

It doesn’t matter how hard-working your people are if their tools aren’t fit for purpose. Of course, these days, it’s a bit more complicated than a broken pick-axe or a dull knife. In today’s tech-driven work environment, it’s all about the resilience of the virtual tools we use.

As part of an interview with McKinsey’s Martyn Harrysson, Splunk CEO Gary Steele laid out the need for resilience in digital systems:

‘Back in the nondigital past, companies had all sorts of workarounds to continue operations. But when everything’s digital, you have no choice but to be resilient.’

And, with public-facing systems existing in a virtual space, it’s not just random misfortune businesses have to worry about. There’s also the issue of targeted attacks:

‘There have been several fundamental changes. First, because there are more customer-facing applications, the number of cyberattacks has grown significantly. There are more threat actors, be they state or nonstate actors, and organizations are trying to protect a much more complex environment. As a result, you’ve got a combination of more threats, a higher-threat landscape, and more digital assets to protect.’

In short, your tools need to be accessible and functional. But they also need to be secure.

Resilience in leadership

Your leaders needs to be able to respond well to adversity and unpredictability. And it’s not just internal obstacles you need to worry about. Societal events, like recessions, political shifts, as we’re sure you’ll remember, pandemics.

How senior leaders and managers respond to a crisis directly affects the ability of others to be resilient. Most (if not all) the benefits of workplace resilience are only achieved through effective leadership.

This is a matter of training. Which, unfortunately, can often be lacking. A poll in 2021 of over 1,000 UK employees found that more than 1 in 4 managers had never received any formal training. Two in five said they’d received training when they first became a manager. Only around a third reported getting trained on a regular basis.

What are the benefits of workplace resilience?

Resilience is something every company needs. It’s something you need to promote on every level of your business, from leaders to employees. Right down to the underlying infrastructure of your place of work.

1: Resilience protects employee mental health

When you get right down to it, job stress is a fact of life. In any role you’re going to feel stressed from time to time. Of course, we’re not saying there isn’t anything to do about it. Leaders should, of course, take steps to mitigate job stress wherever they can.

But, for those times when stress is unavoidable, employee resilience is how your people will cope. In terms of mental health, resilience is all about self regulation. Partly, that means being able to power through the stress.

But poor mental health isn’t something you should ignore. Remember, you can’t have resilience without a solid strategy for employee wellbeing.

Self-regulation means being aware and taking care of your own emotional state. Having the emotional intelligence to know your own breaking point and when to step away is key for long term resilience. For leaders, it’s about having the emotional intelligence to spot when your people are struggling.

2: Resilience can protect physical wellbeing

One of the benefits of workplace resilience you might not think of is curbing rates of illness. When we’re overwhelmed with stress, our bodies’ resources fail. And we become that much more vulnerable to contagious illness. This is part of a broader model of stress reaction developed by Dr Hans Selye, called General Adaptation Syndrome.

Stress also contributes to unhealthy habits, like comfort eating and smoking, which increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems. Self-care is a huge part of long-term personal resilience. But overwhelming stress can often feel like it’s cutting you off from your ability to look after yourself. That’s why resilience is so important on a personal level. If you can manage your stress effectively, it’ll be much easier to keep your self-care routines in place.

3: A resilient workplace can better handle challenges

When your people, leadership and systems are resilient, adversity seems much less overwhelming. When employees have the means to manage their mental health, they’re less likely to get crushed by deadlines. Robust management with proper training is more effective at looking after employees while keeping things running smoothly. And, obviously, it’s easier to land those big clients when your people aren’t bogged down in technical difficulties.

With some exceptions, the goal of most businesses is to achieve growth. But you can’t expect to do that when your people are struggling with what’s on their plates already.

4: Workplace resilience means setting realistic expectations

Let’s face it, overwork is a huge problem. We can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before wellbeing and quality of work start to suffer. One of the benefits of workplace resilience for employees is that it means reasonable workloads. This is where checking in with your people to see how they’re coping can be very helpful.

After all, effective resilience strategy means pacing yourself. It’s the difference between a marathon and a hundred meter dash. People are more productive in the long-term with achievable goals and daily assignments that can actually be done in a day. And this actually leads into the next benefit we want to talk about quite nicely.

5: Employee resilience can reduce presenteeism and burnout

By investing in support measures to improve workplace resilience, you can lower the rates of burnout and presenteeism in your business.

Employees who are under pressure are much more likely to work when sick. They’re more likely to pull overtime to try and fulfill their responsibilities. 80% of UK employees report that presenteeism exists in their workplace.

In turn, that nudges them steadily closer to total burnout. The long-term mental health consequences can be dire. And, on top of that, you’re likely to lose them as an employee altogether.

According to HSE stats, stress, depression and anxiety were the biggest cause of days lost to work-related ill-health. They beat out injuries, physical illness and musculoskeletal disorders. When someone’s in the grip of stress-induced presenteeism, they often only take time off when they’re at their breaking point.

Addressing these issues often means taking a serious look at your workplace culture. But it’s worth doing. Without that pressure, employees are more likely to take time off when they need it. And that’s essential if you want to keep your top talent around for the long haul.

6: A resilient organisation can adapt to what you can’t control

Funnily enough, there’s a whole world beyond the borders of our workplaces. And, sometimes, stuff out there spills over into here. Maybe a recession eats away profits. Perhaps a pandemic shuts things down altogether.

Organisational resiliency means you can react to these circumstances and keep going. When the world seems like it’s falling to pieces, people want to know their employer has their back. In that sense, businesses working flexibly during the Pandemic is a great example of workplace resiliency.

Flexibility is one of the biggest enablers of resiliency. It’s like iron versus steel. For all its strength, iron is brittle. Push it too hard, and it breaks. Steel may bend, but at least it stays in one piece.

7: Workplace resilience builds better relationships at work

Never underestimate the value of social wellbeing at work. With job stress being the fact of life that it is, our workplace friendships are a vital support net. One of the benefits of workplace resilience is that people look out for each other.

You know what they say, some of the strongest bonds are formed in crisis. It’s why our closest work relationships can feel almost familial. These are the people you spend the lion’s share of your waking hours with. Having someone who knows what you’re going through can make a big difference. Even if it’s just someone you can vent to on your lunch break.

On top of that, friendships at work can bolster engagement and even performance. That’s because trust and friendship make it easier for people to collaborate. But also because it’s easier to trust a friend to hold up their side.

So, there you go. Hopefully, we’ve given you some idea of why workplace resilience is so vital for your organisation and everyone in it. If you’re itching to learn more about supporting wellbeing in your workplace, check out more of our content!