It’s an old joke. There’s a little boy who always gets on everyone’s nerves because he’s so upbeat and resilient. When he gets in trouble with his parents, he just laughs and asks what’s next. Exasperated, his mother takes him to a doctor and asks what to do. Simple, says the doctor, take all his toys out of his room and then fill it with dirt.
Then tell him he’s been naughty and send him there. That will teach him. So the mother does that. Then, to her surprise, she hears a lot of noise coming from the room. Her little boy is laughing. She opens the door and there he is, knee-deep in dirt and digging away. “You can’t fool me,’’ he says. “This is like a farm, where’s the pony?”
Resilient people are a certain breed. They can go through tough times but they’ll always find a silver lining. They are the sort who will experience something bad and say, it could have been worse or what did I learn out of this. Resilience is what you have when people are able to work through tough times and come out intact.
With organisations changing all the time, managers have to create systems that build the physical and emotional resilience of the workforce. Think of it: if you fail to do that, talented staff will walk and productivity will slip.
With those traits in mind, you can see there’s lots of ways to build physical and emotional resilience.
Crisis management exercises and tests are always good. There are techniques for training staff to manage high stress. It can include everything from discussion groups, relaxation and meditation exercises, physical exercise sessions and nutritional advice. Can’t train everyone because everyone is spread out.
That’s not a problem: put it on the Intranet or run it in team meetings. It’s also a good idea to train employees in soft skills such as time management, communication and lifestyle management. These are the sorts of skills that are critical for personal resilience and effectiveness.
It is important for employees feeling pressurised to have the means to solve problems on their own, and have a certain degree of control over their working life. If staff can have some input into the amount of work they have and flexibility around the hours they work, it can help them deal with pressure better. This can be critical because excessive work conditions can undermine resilience.
Managers need to look at overtime levels or the number of time-off-in-lieu arrangements. People have less resilience if they’re overworked. Also, lines of communication with staff need to stay as open as possible. At the same time, the managers need systems in place to monitor stress levels. And because resilience brings skills of adapting to change, it’s a good idea to constantly keep rolling out stretch goals and challenges.
Resilient people thrive on that. Also, get them to develop learner mindsets. Resilience is about growth and development so encouraging people to train up and take courses fits in with the resilient mindset.
This is where managers need to provide performance feedback and manage underperformance. There needs to be coaching and mentoring. Lots of attention should also be given to managing the inevitable critical incidents and blow-ups. Managers will need strategies around conflict management and grievance handling.
Another good idea is to provide career coaching, helping people build themselves and giving them the tools to cope with all the change. Managers should also keep their eyes open for early warning signs to prevent burnout.
At the organisational level, strategies such as well-developed recruitment and selection processes incorporating psychometric assessment can ensure better job-person fit. This can be particularly effective in reducing the risk of psychological injury resulting from non-work factors such as personality styles that increase the likelihood of individuals becoming vulnerable to distress under certain circumstances.