Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Danielle King and Megan McSpedon of Rice University explain how leaders can better understand resilience in the workplace and pose three questions to guide efforts to boost resilience within an organization.
Understanding key 'resilience pitfalls'
Before leaders take steps to help their employees become more resilient, the authors suggest first evaluating whether their pattern of thinking falls into either or both of the following "resilience pitfalls":
Thinking of resilience as a personality trait
While some individuals demonstrate "trait-like" consistency in their resilience over time, King and McSpedon caution against thinking of resilience as something people either do or do not possess. According to the authors, "when we only think about resilience in this way, we place sole responsibility on employees and ignore the organization's role in providing appropriate support."
Rather than thinking of resilience as a trait, they suggest thinking of it as a state that anyone can achieve. "This requires fostering environments that proactively enable and support resilience," the authors add.
Stigmatizing employees when they face adversity
When employees inevitably face hard times—either in the workplace or at home—organizations should refrain from stigmatizing them when they express frustration, anxiety, or overwhelm.
"Feelings of frustration following an unwanted change, or feeling overwhelmed by balancing work and caretaking responsibilities, is not 'non-resilience,'" King and McSpedon write. "Employees can have complex emotional experiences while continuing to work towards their goals."
Rather than trying to discourage negative feelings, organizations can take note of those types of feelings and evaluate whether something within the organization needs to be addressed.
3 questions that can help guide resilience efforts
As leaders begin their efforts to boost resilience, King and McSpedon pose three questions:
1. Can the organization reduce or remove the adversity?
"Before deciding how to tackle resilience among employees, it is important to determine whether the organization can address the adversity itself," the authors write.
If an organization cannot eliminate or mitigate the source of their employees' adversity, King and McSpedon suggest focusing efforts on "informing and supporting employees' strategies toward resilience."
If an organization can eliminate or mitigate the adversity by addressing things like abusive work cultures, unrealistic employee task loads, or pay inequity, they should focus their efforts on implementing strategies to reduce their employees' need for resilience in those cases.
2. Do all employees face similar levels of adversity?
When leaders are developing a resilience effort, the authors highlight the importance of considering whether the adversity varies among employees based on their identity, level, or tenure.
If the answer varies, King and McSpedon suggest implementing programs for different groups and offering personalized resources that acknowledge different experiences and needs.
If adversity is relatively constant, they suggest forming general resilience efforts that include a set of resources and recommendations for each specific adversity.
3. How can leaders play a role in supporting employee resilience?
"Leaders can and should play an active role in supporting employees' resilience," King and McSpedon write. "Although there is a tendency to romanticize leadership — placing sole responsibility on these individuals for positive and negative outcomes — leaders do indeed shape organizational culture and norms, and play a key role in creating a climate of shared resilience responsibility."
King and McSpedon suggest that leaders should reflect on the following:
- What resources can I offer to help support employees' resilience?
- What types of behaviors do I reward? What does that say about the things I value and want my employees to prioritize?
- What accommodations do I offer? Does this signal an understanding that adversity may alter an employee's production?
- Do I provide space for "a range of employee emotions"?
According to King and McSpedon, organizations should always encourage resilience among their employees. "All jobs include tasks susceptible to stressors, so there is a need for resilience across occupational stages, levels, and types," they write. "The personal and professional benefits we experience when we are resilient make attempts at remedying resilience more fruitful than abandoning resilience altogether."
"Effective and sustainable resilience efforts can only happen if the responsibility of resilience is shared," they add. (King/McSpedon, Harvard Business Review, 6/17)