Resilience at work

Resilience is a person’s capacity to respond to pressure and the demands of daily life. Dictionary definitions include concepts like flexibility suppleness, durability, strength, speed of recovery and buoyancy. In short, resiliency affects our ability to ‘bounce back’. At work, resilient people are better able to deal with the demands placed upon them, especially where those demands might require them to be dealing with constantly changing priorities and a heavy workload.

Resilience is not a characteristic gifted to some individuals and not others. The key here is that resilience is not a passive quality, but an active process. How we approach life, and everything it can throw at us, has a massive impact on our experience. Resilient people do more of the things that help maintain that responsiveness, and it is relatively easy for those of us who are feeling less resilient to develop habits that will increase our ability to perform under pressure, and perhaps more importantly, to live better despite circumstances that try us to the limit.

“Why is it that some people thrive in the face of challenge and adversity at work, while others panic and withdraw into themselves? And why is it these same people who appear to get ahead while others tread water, or slowly drown in turbulent waters of life?

Most people think that a combination of intelligence, long working hours and lots of experience allows people to thrive in potentially hostile working environments. In fact, it is those with resilience who cope best with challenges like constant organisational change and upheaval, impending staff cutbacks, looming deadlines, argumentative meetings and incessant competition from business rivals.

The good news is that although some people seem to be born with more resilience than others, those whose resilience is lower can learn how to boost their ability to cope, thrive and flourish when the going gets tough.” (Centre for Confidence and Well-Being, 2006)

How to develop resilience

The ability to cope well with pressure, adversity and uncertainty relies on developing behaviours, thoughts and actions. Anyone can learn these habits and create strategies to help increase resilience and hardiness.
Resiliency experts say that that people are helped by a particular pattern of attitudes and skills that helps them to survive and thrive under stress.

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.” (Maddi and Kkhosshaba, 2006)

Building and maintaining personal resilience

Resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. For example, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the USA, most people got on and rebuilt their lives, and the anticipated rise levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) never occurred.

Developing resilience is a personal journey involving thoughts, behaviour and actions. Anyone can do it.

9 Ways to build resilience

  1. Cherish social support and interaction. Good relationships with family and friends and others are vital. Being active in the wider community also helps.
  2. Treat life as a learning process. Develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills and build achievement.
  3. Avoid making a drama out of a crisis. Stress and change are part of life. How we interpret and respond to events has a big impact of how stressful we find them.
  4. Celebrate your successes. Take time at the end of each day to review what went well and congratulate yourself. This trains the mind to look for success rather than dwelling on negativity and ‘failure’.
  5. Develop realistic life goals for guidance and a sense of purpose. Do something each day to move towards them. Again, small is beautiful; one small step amid the chaos of a busy day will help.
  6. Take positive action. Doing something in the face of adversity brings a sense of control, even if it doesn’t remove the difficulty.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps to build resiliency.
  8. Keep a realistic perspective. Place challenging or painful events in the broader context of lifelong personal development.
  9. Practice optimism. Nothing is either wholly good or bad. If we allow our thinking to dictate how we view something it will take over. Make your thinking work for your benefit, rather than letting it stymie you with doubt or by seeing only the bad side.

These are not the only ways to strengthening personal resilience. For example, for some people keeping a journal is useful, those with a religious conviction find prayer helpful, practicing mindfulness or meditation help some people connect with themselves and restore a sense of purpose. The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

See also

Managing challenging times

7 Ways to change your thinking.

References and reading

Brinkman, R., Kirschner, R., (1999), Life by Design; Making Wise Choices in a Mixed-Up World, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Burns, D., (1999), The Feeling Good Handbook, Penguin, London.

Comas-Diaz, L. et al  (2006), The Road to Resilience [online], American Psychological Association,  Available from: http://www.apa.org [Accessed: 29.6.2010]

Maddi, S. Kkhosshaba, D. (2005), Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You, American Management Association, New York

Norem, J., (2001), The Power of Negative Thinking; Using Defensive Pessimism to Manage Anxiety and Perform at your Peak, Basic Books, Cambridge, MA.

Positive Psychology Resources, (2006), Resilience at Work [online], Available from: http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk [Accessed: 29.06.2010]

Seligman., M, (2003), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.