When I was a consultant for a big consulting firm in Washington DC in the 90s, the definition of resilience at work was very clear: work long hours, bill many hours, eat a lot of pizza, drink heavily, overcommit, never ask for help, and never show or admit weakness.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what resilience at works looks like now, 25 years later. It is a fascinating time as we see three significant leaders stepping down over scandals in their organizations. These are people who a month ago probably would have fit a traditional business definition of resilience. The former CEO of Volkswagen, for example, worked his way to the top position and was recognized by Forbes as #58 on their list of powerful people last year. His name is now inextricably linked with cheating.
It is time to clarify what resilience means and look at how we can foster it in the workplace. There are two definitions that are important:
The dictionary definition:
â€œThe ability to bounce back from adversity; the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens.â€
Dr. Michael Ungar's (The Resilience Research Center in Canada) definition:
â€œIn the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.â€
What this says to me is that being resilient includes asking for and receiving help. Moreover, it does not require that people be treated poorly or that their wellbeing be ignored. In fact, it is just the opposite. Treating people disrespectfully and denying physical and emotional health undermine resilience.
There is no doubt that, regardless of how much advance planning we do, things go wrong in the workplace, and we will need resiliency. If they do not go wrong, we should question whether we are setting our sights too low. Projects fail, customers become unhappy, deadlines are missed, people get sick, etc/ Sometimes these events are within our control and sometimes not. It is what happens after the event happens that fosters resilience and can lead to individual, group, and organizational success.
The way to build resilience in the workplace is inconsistent with the culture described above and inconsistent with the general activities of many organizations and individuals. Think about how often a negative event occurs and it is the fallout from the finger pointing, attempt to avoid being blamed, and cover up that cause the biggest problems. Key factors that interfere with resilience include:
Lack of sleep.
Time wasted blaming others or ourselves.
Belief that the company or oneâ€™s direct supervisor is not concerned about your wellbeing.
Lack of collaboration and mutual support.
Demeaning your own or others' sense of self worth.
Endless hours spent hunched over a computer without interruption.
Abusive post mortems (I think the name says it all) focused on identify who to blame or how to avoid blame.
Instead, to foster resilience in the workplace:
Demonstrate resilient practices through healthy behaviors such as adequate sleep (this might mean not sending that 2 AM email), stepping away from the computer, conducting productive meetings, and eating healthy.
Create an environment where it is acceptable to ask for help and where people are rewarded for asking for help and for helping others.
Set realistic timeframes and goals and adjust them if necessary rather than looking to find someone to blame.
Be kind to others and express gratitude and appreciation.
Problem solve rather than blame.
Collaborate and look for ways to support others.
These steps alone will create a more resilient more effective workforce and will lead to fewer mistakes and improved outcomes.
Interested in learning more about how to create a resilient work environment? Contact me.
I am a strategic planning and implementation consultant with extensive experience helping government, business, and non-profit organizations achieve their vision. I have more than twenty years of experience in management and IT consulting, facilitation, program management, business relationship management, business process redesign and IT Service Management development. I am also a Certified Health Coach and HeartMathâ„¢ Mentor.
I have often seen projects, programs, and strategic plans fail or not be fully implemented. One of the contributing factors is often a work force that is over-stressed, unhealthy, and not committed to the end result. At the same time, corporate health and wellness programs tend to be underutilized with employees not taking advantage of available opportunities.
One common key component of successful strategic planning, successful programs, and successful project management is a fully engaged workforce. By incorporating health and wellness into these efforts, rather than having health and wellness programs as separate functions, the employees have a voice in what is included in the program and see their ability to influence corporate strategies. They are also more likely to embrace these strategies. In my experience, including employee wellness in corporate strategies demonstrates the organizationâ€™s commitment to their employees and leads to a more productive, healthier, more creative, and more engaged workforce.
My focus is working with organizations to help them grow and reach the next level.