Resilience, another management buzzword?

Management buzzwords are like political scandals, they come along all too regularly and they always make you suspicious! Recently I’ve heard the term ‘employee resilience’ being used a lot, I’ve heard it in HR circles, networking events and in the media. I get a little sceptical about the latest management buzz words and I fear resilience has fallen into this camp. So is it a lot of rubbish then? Well, not entirely and in this blog I’m going to use my experience and expertise to talk about employee resilience and how it can be achieved.
What do we mean by resilience? I quite like this quote from the Oxford dictionary (it’s basic but sums things up succinctly) ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’:
But why are we talking about it, it’s not exactly a new term is it? Part of me fears that some employers are using the phrase cynically i.e. because employees are faced with increased workloads, less money, less security and poor leadership some bright spark has thought “the answer is we need to make our staff more resilient”!  It then conjures up a rather bizarre image in my mind of someone being hypnotized to make them more resilient. Cynicism aside, resilience is incredibly important. We live in a rapidly changing world, very few things are now certain (apart from tax and death I believe) and setbacks and change are inevitable. I understand too there is a business case and a moral one for having a work force which can continue to add value against this backdrop. On the plus side human beings are incredibly resilient creatures, it’s the reason we’ve been able to spread across the globe and beyond. So what we need to do is to tap into some of the key factors which enable human beings to be resilient. The ones I have listed below are generic which I see as being core features for building resilience
Exercise & Diet - Human Beings were designed to be on their feet and our bodies are used to physical work. It helps us deal with stress and helps to avoid the physical symptoms of stress. Employers can encourage their staff to be active and there are both government initiatives and private companies to help with this. A contact of mine, Jamie Henderson from Fruits in the City provides fruit to businesses. Seems like a small thing? Don’t underestimate the importance of healthy body/healthy mind!
Empowerment & Failure - I think this is a huge one. As someone who has started my own business I have suffered many setbacks.  Failing is important and much as I’d rather it wasn’t! Accepting this makes it easier to fail but the important thing is I can do something about it when I do. For the avoidance of doubt I’m not advocating failure all of the time which is clearly not a good situation but then no one sets out to fail all of the time so it’s a mute point. If they do they’re clearly in the wrong job or market which is a different conversation. Anyway, I digress...
All too often the freedom to act in a company is limited and people become stuck in a situation which they can’t possibly control and this is itself stressful. People who are empowered are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. We know this on the back of research conducted decades ago by industrialists and academics far brighter than you or I. Intrinsically motivated people who are doing work they are motivated to do are far more likely to bounce back from setbacks and cope in a tougher environment.
Emotional Support – Remember that no man (or woman) is an island. As someone who is self employed I understand the need for a support network. Unfortunately many people don’t have support. Managers play an important role here. Are they approachable, tolerant and willing to listen? If they’re not, it is hardly conducive to creating a resilient environment.
Another practical solution for employers is an Employee Assistance Programme which often provides the services of a trained counsellor. All too often I’ve seen these fall by the way side and become an unused expense.  This is a shame because an independent, trained therapist can do a world of good. In the USA having a therapist seems to be second nature but one of the big tragedies in this country is that we associate therapy with negative connotations and social stigma. If you are using an Employee Assistance Programme it needs to be advertised properly, supported by management and measured (so as to evaluate the service).
Giving the Skills – Yes there are coping strategies to help people become more resilient and these can be taught. For example recognising the signs of stress, ‘bouncing back’ from setback, regulating emotions etc. It can be part of the solution but not the whole one.
Matching Strengths – I think this is important. If you have employed people who have an aptitude for their role and want to do it, they’re more likely to be resilient during the down times. Therefore think about recruitment, think about using tools such as the DISC or Strength Finder assessment. If you are able to match the right people to do the job in the first place (and I don’t mean by just looking at qualifications and experience), they’re more likely to be resilient. Although I will add that even the best people will have their resilience sorely tested if they’re poorly managed, not empowered and unsupported.

Personal Responsibility - I have issue when employee wellbeing or resilience is seen as soley the employers responsibility. The whole thing starts to become paternalistic and for me I find this counter productive and certainly not what empowerment should be about. In fact it really turns me off. Quite simply I believe that if you treat people like children they will act like them. I fear that we live in something of a victim/h&s obsessed society and the key thing about resilience, as with any wellbeing, is that people have to WANT to help themselves. You can take a horse to water and all that...which is why I come back to what i said earlier which is 'enabling'. Employers can enable people to be resilient but equally people i.e. the individuals can enable themselves to be resilient.
I hope these are useful and as ever I’m interested to hear your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. This is a good post on an interesting topic, thanks David. I've been doing a bit of work on resilience over the past 6 months, using the "resilience engine" developed by Jenny Campbell at Lifetime's Work in Edinburgh. She has been doing in depth research in to this area for some time now.

    I think you make a number of very salient points about resilience. What is perhaps most interesting to me is that you reference the term 'employee resilience' whilst also alluding to the fact that there are many things that people do out with their working lives that support resilience. For me, this is key. Being resilient isn't about being able to cope with increasing expectations / demands at work. It is about the whole person, and their ability to adapt to/deal with the challenges associated with different aspects of their life which, either individually (but mostly when combined) have an impact on their ability to bounce back and respond effectively.

    So, in summary I would agree that the term 'employee resilience' is something of a buzz word, and if it is simply used as a tool to get people to do more then it doesn't really seem to be in their best interests. However, 'personal resilience', which will inevitably consider the impact work has on an individual's life and vice versa, does feel like something that could be better understood and is worth investing time in.