Building resilience to navigate a crisis – how organisations can help

It goes without saying that resilient organisations are amongst the most successful.  But the change thrown at us by the Covid-19 pandemic is on a scale that few of us have ever experienced.  We all face unprecedented levels of stress from adapting to remote working to juggling work with family life.  The lines between work and home are increasingly blurred meaning people struggle with stress on both fronts. 

Financial worries, anxiety and social isolation are at an all time high.  Research by the Mental Health Foundation during the lockdown in the UK found that more than six in ten adults felt anxious or worried whilst more than one third (34 per cent) of those in full time work were concerned about losing their jobs.  Managing our emotional well-being is of paramount importance. This is where building resilience comes in. 

What is resilience

Psychological resilience refers to our ability to effectively cope with stress during a period of change. Resilient people are able to bounce back from negative emotional experiences.  In the current pandemic, organisations have had to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. Even post lockdown they will face the challenge of a world that is no longer the same.

Fortunately, resilience is something we can develop.  Psychologists generally agree that whilst we may have some inherent resilience due to biology or life experiences it is a skill that can be learnt.   Research suggests that building resilience will lead to important outcomes.  For the individual – protection against mental health problems like depression and anxiety, better sleep and physical health. For the organisation, lower levels of absenteeism and employees who perform highly (Resilience Institute 2019, Mental Health Foundation, 2010).

So how do we help people to build resilience ?  Here are three ways to get started.

Self awareness

Building resilience is very difficult for anyone unless they have an idea of where they starting from.  There are a number of very good tools out there to help.  BeTalent for example offer a questionnaire that assesses resilience on nine polarity scales including dimensions such as Pessimistic-Optimistic; Fierce-Calm, Impatient-Composed.  Their straightforward report highlights a person’s top three strengths and their risk areas.   An accredited practitioner is trained to take someone through their report and help them to explore changes they can make.

Another way to help people assess levels of resilience might be more of a workshop approach. This could explore what resilience is, what attributes we may already have and which ones we need to develop.  BeTalent’s resilience cards offer one way to facilitate this kind of intervention.

Either way, assessing current levels of resilience enables people to put in place strategies to address any gaps and to build coping mechanisms.   

Work environment

It is important to think about how we set up the work environment and culture in such a way that people can access resources they can use to become more resilient.   Do we have opportunities for people to learn skills such as mindfulness or offer physical activities like yoga?  How do we celebrate success to boost confidence levels ?  Have we equipped our people with skills to manage working at home, for example by talking to them about how to maintain boundaries between work and personal life. 

These are just a few of the many areas we could consider to ensure that we are offering opportunities for people to build resilience.  Some of these may not be as straightforward under the current lockdown conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic but many organisations have started to realise that working remotely does not have to mean disconnection.

Social support

People who have better levels of social support are generally more resilient.  Having someone that listens during a crisis can make all the difference.  Organisations that develop the ability to listen to people have higher levels of engagement and employees with better mental health.

Of course the sudden change to remote working challenges our ability to listen.  Working in an office made it much more straightforward to talk informally and have a good idea of people’s well-being.  In a remote world it is possible for people to be suffering with mental health without anyone even realising.  It is crucial to develop new ways of listening and ensure we listen on a regular basis. 

Some organisations are using weekly pulse surveys with a few simple questions to check in on how people are doing.  Others use regular daily team catch ups and 1:1s.  Whichever method you choose it is important to think about ways to connect and to listen to people’s experiences.  Demonstrating empathy and giving people opportunities to talk will go a long way to helping them feel supported.

An opportunity to face the challenge

Over the past few years there has been a rise in awareness of the importance of mental health and an increase in willingness to talk more openly.  Despite these encouraging signs there is a long way to go.  The ‘Mental Health at Work 2019 Report’ found that of the 4,000 UK employees surveyed, 2 in 5 have experienced poor mental health as a result of work but a mere 44% felt comfortable talking to their line manager.  If that was the situation almost six months before the Covid-19 pandemic then we should be very concerned about the state of people’s well-being right now. 

The Covid-19 pandemic presents us with an opportunity to look our environment, our culture and our communication to make sure that we address these challenges.  There is much we can do to support people in building resilience.  This in turn will mean our organisations can do the same.

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