Workplace resilience: Why it’s important and 7 ways to build resilience at work

The fast past nature of the modern workplace, with deadlines, competing priorities, stakeholder needs and constant communication means that workplace stressors are taking their toll on the physical wellbeing and mental health of employees. 

We may not be able to avoid some workplace stress, but we can manage how we bounce back from it. That’s what resilience is – being able to come back from challenges and adversity – ideally stronger, more knowledgeable, and ready for action.

Building resilience isn’t just important at work. It’s an important part of overall mental health and wellbeing. Generally speaking, resilient people are optimistic and able to see a positive angle and can stay balanced in the face of difficult situations or setbacks, as part of an overall positive work culture.

📝 All articles on Wysa are reviewed by mental healthcare professionals before publication, who check that the content is thorough and accurate, and references the latest evidence-based research. Learn more. 

What are the 5 Cs of resilience?

A handy way to remember what affects resilience is to think of the five Cs –  Centering (Coping); Confidence (Control); Community (Care); Commitment (Calling) and Compassion (Character).

Knowing that you are grounded and able to cope with a stressor, having confidence that you will be supported by a caring community and being committed to the overall goal can be helpful in enhancing our resilience when things get difficult. With knowledge of your own character, strengths and motivations you are better able to make a plan and tackle a problem. 

In addition, being able to be compassionate to yourself and others, and having positive relationships are essential for overall wellbeing, and that ‘community’ of support at work can make it easier to face workplace stressors, with a purpose towards an end organizational goal. 

Why is it important to build resilience at work?

Resilience in the workplace is essential for reducing stress, countering negative emotions, and building a positive workplace culture. The Global Employee Mental Health Report from Wysa found that over 33% of employees worldwide reported feeling ‘not okay’ at the start of the workday. This number kept rising throughout the workday, reaching its peak at 40% towards the end of the workday. 

All in all, 75% of employees reported low to moderate energy on average throughout the day. These findings correlate with the low productivity expected when people are depressed. As depression symptom severity goes up, so does the per cent productivity loss; there’s a 15% productivity loss for those with mild symptoms, up to 43.4% for those with severe symptoms.

⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.

So it’s clear that something needs to be done when it comes to managing workplace challenges and improving resilience, through systems and tools that people will use and engage with. Resilience is associated with work happiness, employee engagement, greater job satisfaction, work happiness, and organizational commitment. Mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually, or 5% of the GDP, according to a report published by the Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

What are some examples of resilience at work?

So what does resilience at work look like? Here are 3 examples of situations and what a resilient response would look like.

  • Imagine you’ve asked someone to create a presentation for you. They send it back and it’s not quite what you’ve envisaged. Someone with poor mental resilience would feel angry and overwhelmed that they now had more work to do. A resilient employee would look at what they have, recognise there is still work to do, and address their colleague with structured feedback to make sure that the next iteration is what is needed.
  • A manager may have been given a task and a deadline and divided this up amongst a team. But then someone goes off sick. Resilient managers won’t get stressed, but will look at the work outstanding, what that team member was planning to do and their progress, and create a strategy for completing the workload – or feel comfortable enough to ask for an extension.
  • The company pitches for a big contract – and doesn’t win it. Resilient teams ask for feedback, look back over their process and outputs, and create a plan so that they are in a better position next time. With a resilient mindset, they tackle the next pitch head-on and with confidence.

The positive impacts of resiliency in the workplace

1. Improved employee performance

A resilient workforce is likely to be a productive and high performing one. It makes sense – if we know that we can overcome challenges and get over hurdles, we’ll feel more confident and able to tackle whatever the future throws at us. 

This means that employees are more motivated – and motivation is highly correlated with performance and productivity when coupled with a positive psychology approach that builds resilience. 

2. Reduced stress and burnout

When employees have too much to do and don’t know how to handle it, they get stressed and burned out which can result in negative emotions. Resilient employees feel more confident that they can tackle any difficulties and can utilise opportunities to be energised and grow, their enthusiasm will be greater and they will be more able to do great work.

3. Improved company culture

People will be more comfortable in businesses where people know that they can handle any challenges or difficulties, with support from leaders and colleagues. Not only does this make for better workplace culture but helps improve employee satisfaction and retention rates. It makes sense – when you know you can do a job to the best of your ability within a psychologically safe work environment, backed up by healthy relationships you’re more likely to enjoy being there, and that attitude will ripple out. Building a great company culture and fostering resilience in the workplace is essential for individual happiness and organizational health.

smiling employees in a meeting

Tips for employers: 7 ways to build employee resilience

1. Resilience training

Help your team members understand what sort of unexpected challenges might arise and enable them to build strategies and plans to tackle them. Not everything can be prepared for, but having some kind of knowledge can help build a mental toughness that creates a resilient worker. This workplace training shouldn’t be a one-off, but part of an ongoing personal development plan that helps build overall resilience skills.

2. Team building

Strong relationships are really important for overall workplace resilience. Knowing there are people in the business who have your back and you can go to for support really helps in forming a resilient frame of mind. If you have an organizational culture where people communicate, not only is it great for specific work issues but can help with better mental health. 

Creating an open and communicative workplace culture where people feel able to discuss any issues and ask for help where needed goes a long way to building emotional resilience. This can be done through team building activities where people are asked to brainstorm solutions to any common workplace stressors, or through more informal activities such as coffee mornings and team building exercises where they are building genuine connections and can demonstrate resilience in a safe space. As most jobs are not done individually, this approach to team resilience can help people manage stress and work together with a group understanding and social support.

3. Break down tasks

Rather than looking at a project as one big output, break it down. We receive millions of pieces of information per second through all our senses, but can only process a handful. By creating structured plans where a project is broken down into tasks it is easier to tackle one thing at a time and not be overwhelmed and is a healthy attitude to problem-solving. Often not being able to influence decisions such as schedule, assignments or workload can lead to stress and burnout

The same comes of our working day. Normalize taking breaks and pausing to reset – working at a million miles an hour isn’t good for mental health or emotional resilience, and burned-out employees can’t do good work, and if they take time off or leave, any time at all. A five-minute check-in with Wysa can be a great way to pause and reset. 

The CBT based exercises on Wysa can help you to learn how to break down overwhelming struggles into simple steps that can be tackled in a more accessible way, and the techniquescan be applied to work life as well as personal life.

4. Adjust work expectations

It’s important to be reasonable about work expectations. Ask if a deadline is really a deadline, or if someone needs to be in the office five days a week to achieve their job. Often organizations do things the way they have always been done, but taking a more flexible approach can mean that employees can use their own strategies and skills to face the workload and challenges, thus supporting their mental health.

5. Involve senior management and leadership

Our relationships, including supportive co-workers and managers, have been shown to have a strong impact on workplace resilience. Leadership buy-in is essential for a resilient workforce. Resilient leaders know the benefits of building resilience and be able to help support employees to build it.

Use data from your employee assistance programme to understand what the challenges are that are facing your employees, and how together as a team you can address challenges as a team to create a positive effect and build a resilient team. Wysa’s tools for employers allow leaders to take an overview of anonymised aggregated data to see what the biggest stressors are for employers, with a view to being able to address them at a macro level.

This isn’t about just getting over the immediate issue, but having a future focus that shows you are working towards a more resilient workplace culture. To do this you need to have team leaders who are well-versed in what makes resilient workers and how they can help team members become more resilient. 

6. Think mindful

Mindfulness and meditation can be a great way to build resilience as it helps distance oneself from issues and develop new ways of responding to stressful situations. Mindfulness is our ability to be fully present and aware rather than overwhelmed or overly reactive to a situation. By being grounded we can take a step back and tackle a problem head-on, rather than allow it to engulf us. Wysa’s self-help library features over 150 activities and resources that are designed with clinical knowledge, and many use mindfulness.

7. Offer resources and tools

Behavioural healthcare is all about taking a whole person and holistic attitude to employee mental health, emotional wellbeing and physical health, and employees play a key role in supporting their teams. Employee assistance programmes that are rooted in occupational health psychology are essential for creating a workplace that has psychological resilience. There are a number of mental health apps for employees out there, and Wysa’s workplace tools help with developing resilience through a range of CBT-based techniques, meditation and more. By building emotional resilience and having practical tools to develop healthy responses, employees will be able to manage struggles better both in their personal and professional life. 

Photo by Christina Morillo

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