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What is Resilience?

Last updated on 25th April 2023

A new report from Aon examined the views of employers and employees across five major countries in Europe and claims that just 30 per cent of employees are resilient while also suggesting that resilience can triple when employers adopt a well-rounded programme of support.

Employees with poor resilience have 55 per cent lower engagement at work and are 42 per cent less likely to want to stay with their employer. In the UK, 29 per cent of employees are resilient, and those with poor resilience have 59 per cent lower engagement and are 43 per cent less likely to want to stay with their employer.

What is resilience?

Resilience is a term that is used quite frequently, but what is resilience? Basically, it is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or to be able to remain calm in the face of tough situations and difficulties. It derives from the Latin “resilire” meaning to recoil or rebound. It is a misconception that resilient people are tough and unemotional.

Resilient people also experience the same feelings and emotions as everyone else during challenging times, it is just that they use healthy coping skills to not get stuck in a highly disruptive emotional or physical state, but overcome, bounce back and move on stronger following their challenges.

Such challenges can include, but are not limited to:

  • The death of a loved one.
  • Divorce or relationship break-up.
  • Financial problems and difficulties.
  • Job loss.
  • Illness.
  • Change or uncertainty.
  • Medical emergencies.
  • Natural disasters.

“Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing. Resilience isn’t a personality trait – it’s something that we can all take steps to achieve.” (Source MIND)

There are different types of resilience which can influence a person’s ability to cope with various forms of stress:

  • Mental resilience – This is the mental strength to solve problems, move forward and remain hopeful even when you are facing setbacks. It is the ability to adapt to change and uncertainty.
  • Emotional resilience – This helps you maintain a sense of optimism when times are difficult, being aware of your emotional reactions and being able to regulate your emotions during times of stress.
  • Physical resilience – This is how your body deals with change and recovers from the physical demands that the stresses of difficulties can put upon it.
  • Community resilience – This is the ability of groups to recover from difficult situations by working together to overcome problems.

As MIND states, “resilience isn’t a personality trait”. Resilience is the result of a complex series of internal and external characteristics, including genetics, physical fitness, mental health and environment. Some people have these resilience abilities naturally, being able to remain level-headed in the face of challenges; for the rest of us it is something that we need to learn and develop.

Businessman showing resilience by working late hours

What is resilience in the workplace?

In a work environment, resilience is being able to perform your role, remain well, both mentally and physically, and succeed through change, challenge and uncertainty. Predominately because of the COVID pandemic, the past couple of years or so have seen many changes, challenges and uncertainty in the workplace.

Possibly as a result of these difficulties, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in the UK:

  • There were an estimated 828,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression and/or anxiety.
  • 17.9 million working days were lost in 2019–2020 due to work-related stress, depression and/or anxiety.
  • 51% of all work-related ill-health, and 43% of all working days lost due to ill-health, is attributed to stress, depression and/or anxiety.

The challenges of remote working, anxieties around sharing workspaces after so much time focused on social distancing and staying apart, together with worries about job security in these uncertain times are all contributing factors to work-related stress, depression and/or anxiety, as too are the normal rigours of working life.

Such as:

  • Not being able to cope with the demands of your job.
  • Long working hours.
  • Lack of appropriate resources to perform your role.
  • Not fully understanding your role and responsibilities.
  • Not receiving enough information, training and support.
  • Being unable to control the way you work.
  • Having trouble with relationships at work, or being bullied or harassed.
  • Lacking control or engagement when undergoing organisational change.

Everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks at work; some might be relatively minor such as missing a deadline, or a colleague leaving so the workload increases, whilst other setbacks can be on a much larger scale such as organisational changes, restructures or redundancies.

Being able to maintain high performance and positive wellbeing, even when times are stressful, requires resilience to positively impact your response to demanding work situations. Resilience gives people the strength to tackle problems head-on, overcome adversity, and move on with their lives. They learn to use their experiences to be more prepared for next time, which leads to inner confidence.

Those who lack resilience are more likely to experience “burnout” and may find themselves turning to unhealthy, destructive or even dangerous behaviours such as using alcohol, drugs or even food to cope.

Why is resilience important in the workplace?

Maintaining a happy, healthy workforce that can cope with unexpected challenges and bounce back after adversity makes good business sense. Without support, people become less productive if they are subjected to continual stress and anxiety. Their judgement and decision-making can be compromised and this may lead to mistakes happening, and they may become irritable and communicate poorly with colleagues or customers or service users.

When employees begin to feel the effects of work-based stress, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, the sick absence rates in the organisation tend to increase, putting more pressure on employees who remain in the workplace – thus creating a vicious circle. It also negatively affects budgets if temporary cover needs to be hired to cover the absences.

There can be an even greater impact on the workforce when management is not resilient. It can negatively affect the performance and engagement of their teams. Rather than providing creative ideas, problem-solving or encouraging others to contribute meaningfully to overcome any issues, these managers may be likely to take a passive approach, avoid making decisions or taking responsibility altogether. This may well negatively influence employees’ attitudes and behaviours about work.

Some non-resilient employees may feel that they have little option but to leave their jobs, to step away from the situation, and this will have the effect of increasing staff turnover and incurring the associated costs. It will also have an impact on the remaining staff, their motivation and perhaps their stress levels.

Resilience amongst employees in the workplace is associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organisational commitment and employee engagement. Raising the resilience in employees contributes to improving their self-esteem, their sense of control over their working life events, it provides a sense of purpose at work and improves employees’ interpersonal relationships with colleagues, customers or service users.

Aon’s report, Become A Rising, Resilient Business, suggests that despite health and wellbeing initiatives being well-established with employers, with 80 per cent agreeing that they are beneficial for their organisations, the programmes do not result in creating resilient workforces.

According to Aon, just 30 per cent of employee respondents are resilient based on three core indicators – the employees’:

  • Sense of security.
  • Sense of belonging.
  • Ability to reach their potential.

However, the research claims that in the UK, specifically, 43 per cent of employees don’t feel secure, 52 per cent don’t feel a sense of belonging and 56 per cent don’t feel they can reach their potential. Resilience triples when employers adopt a well-rounded health and wellbeing programme supporting the physical, social, emotional, financial and professional needs of their employees.

The business case for health and wellness in the workplace is well established. Most employers understand that having ill and unproductive employees making products or interacting directly with customers or service users is a business risk. Focusing on health, wellness and productivity should be a priority for organisations in times of economic uncertainty and increased stress. Resilience in a work environment means people can better adapt to adverse situations, manage stress and retain motivation, enabling organisations to better manage change and to thrive.

Woman exercising after work to build resilience

How to build resilience in the workplace

Employee welfare goes beyond issues of productivity and profit. Ultimately employers have a responsibility and it is one that the vast majority take very seriously, to safeguard their workers’ health both mentally and physically. An organisational culture that has employee wellbeing at its heart is a better place to work.

Creating a resilient workforce and more healthy culture takes commitment, not only from the employees themselves but also in the shape of support and resources from management and employers.

To be able to learn and develop resilience in the workplace, individuals can:

  • Focus on what is within their control – When faced with a crisis or problem, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by things that feel far beyond your control. Instead of wishing there was some way to go back in time or change things, it can be helpful to try focusing only on the things that you can directly impact.
  • Make calculated decisions – Resilient people seek out new opportunities despite the possibility of failing. They take calculated risks rather than play it safe, making conservative decisions or repeatedly holding back their ideas. Calculated risk-taking is a part of life that helps them grow professionally and achieve their goals.
  • Stay positive and keep a positive outlook – Resilient people stay strong during stressful times, such as if there is an extra workload to take on; instead of complaining or whining about being overworked, the resilient person will focus on finding ways to make the job as easy as possible. In the end, it will make you feel satisfied with the work accomplished rather than feeling overwhelmed or put upon. Looking for the positives rather than the negatives in situations helps to build resilience.
  • Stay calm during a crisis – Resilient people can keep their heads even when everything is going wrong. When most people are getting stressed out when there are too many things to do and very little time to finish, the resilient person maintains their composure in these high-pressure situations instead of panicking, which helps others to remain calm too.
  • Resolve problems proactively – Don’t let things slide or sit back expecting things to resolve themselves and then get upset when nothing gets done. Resilient employees proactively address issues, even when dealing with difficult people, by seeking solutions as soon as they can see an issue surfacing.
  • Develop a network of likeminded colleagues – Working with others with similar positive outlooks means that joint efforts will lead to success. Don’t shy away from being different if others’ attitudes are negative and toxic; call out undesirable behaviours and explain how it affects the work environment.
  • Keep healthy – Resilient people maintain a healthy lifestyle and are mindful of the effects of stressors on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. They are kind to themselves, forgive themselves when they make mistakes and reward themselves for successes.
  • Practise self-awareness – Knowing yourself, your stressors, your limits and your effect on other people can help to give an early warning that resilience is low and enable you to do something about it.
  • Reflect and learn Everyone makes mistakes in the workplace, but it is how we learn from them and move on that makes us resilient. We all know that occasionally we are bound to experience disappointment at work, but resilient people view negative situations as opportunities for learning about themselves and others. By reflecting on how you handled yourself in the situation, what your weaknesses were, what made you feel discouraged, and why it didn’t work out, you can learn from your mistakes.

Managers play a vital role in determining the health, wellbeing engagement and resilience of their teams. A line manager’s behaviour and the culture they create in their team is the biggest influence on an employee’s work experience and resilience.

Research by the CIPD identified five key behavioural areas that are important for line managers to support the health, wellbeing engagement and resilience of those who work for them:

  • Being open, fair and consistent.
  • Handling conflict and people management issues.
  • Providing knowledge, clarity and guidance.
  • Building and sustaining relationships.
  • Supporting development.

In the context of the challenging world of work, the ability of employees to cope with adversity and display resilience is essential to individual, team and organisational success and even survival. Line managers will gain considerable benefits from supporting their teams to be resilient, both through having fewer people management issues to deal with and through having better-performing, more creative and thriving teams.

Managers can do this by:

  • Building and sustaining relationships – This is a central part of building resilience, reducing your and their stress and helping team members to cope.
  • Providing information, clarity and guidance – This ensures that people know what to expect, to feel that their work is manageable and to access the resources they need.
  • Being open, fair and consistent, particularly being positive and appreciative – This will help people with building their confidence and optimism.
  • Supporting development – This will help people gain confidence and access resources.
  • Handling conflict and people management issues effectively and in a timely manner – This will prevent interpersonal conflict from getting in the way of team members providing support for one another.

The CIPD research identified a range of specific behaviours which managers can show will help build the high-quality relationships that are important for resilience; these are:

  • Concern for wellbeing: Showing empathy, concern and consideration for employees.
  • Interest in individuals: Taking an interest in employees as individuals.
  • Sociability: Interacting with employees in a friendly and sociable way.
  • Availability: Providing opportunities for employees to speak one-to-one.

If managers set goals that are motivating, that is, objectives that are stretching but achievable, celebrate successes in the team and coach their people to be ambitious, cultivate supportive work environments, and communicate and manage work and resources in such a way that people know what to expect, they can expect their people to become more resilient.

The top priority for enhancing employee resilience is for managers to build and sustain good relationships with each member of their team, with an underlying attitude of support and respect.

Organisations can introduce a variety of initiatives to help build resilience in the workforce. These can include:

  • Training including topics such as time management, personal effectiveness, dealing with change.
  • Wellness programmes focusing on both mental and physical health including, for example, managing stress.
  • One-on-one coaching and mentoring either internally within the organisation or externally.
  • Providing social support including Employee Assistance Packages (EAP).

By focusing on employee resilience and wellbeing, organisations can provide the tools for employees to build up their physical and mental toughness, and reduce sick absence and healthcare costs over the long term.

How to demonstrate resilience in the workplace

There are a number of characteristics that resilient people possess and are able to demonstrate in the workplace when they are experiencing setbacks, challenges or uncertainty.

These include:

  • Having a realistic sense of control over their choices and recognising the limitations of this control.
  • Viewing change as an opportunity or challenge rather than as a setback.
  • Developing positive working relationships with others in the workplace and the ability to engage their support as and when needed.
  • Having patience and a high tolerance of negative influences.
  • Marinating a realistic, optimistic outlook.
  • Having high levels of adaptability.
  • Having personal and professional goals.
  • Maintaining a strong sense of humour.

An example of demonstrating resilience in the workplace might be an organisation moving from working in-person to working remotely. Rather than criticising this change and being reluctant to adapt, resilient employees can adjust their styles or behaviours to demonstrate their adaptability. This flexibility enables them to adapt quickly, keeping the quality of their work unaffected.

Demonstrating resilience in the workplace has the following benefits:

  • People who perceive themselves as being resilient report feeling more at ease when managing job-related tasks.
  • Practising resilience at work reminds us that our careers aren’t defined by the challenges and difficulties we face in the workplace.
  • Being resilient improves work quality and helps to attract positive attention from management.
Business team communicating well

How to improve resilience in the workplace

In organisations where employee resilience is strong, there are a number of common factors, including but not limited to:

  • Organisational values are considered and team ethics are strong.
  • The overarching organisation goals are clear.
  • Job roles are defined and understood by employees.
  • Communication is supportive and assertive.
  • Decision-making is based upon agreement, not just top-down.
  • Transparency runs through the organisation.
  • People can bring their “full self” to work.
  • Conflicts, when they arise, can be resolved.
  • Leadership and senior management are respected, trusted and supportive.
  • Good career growth, training, responsibility and exposure.

Organisations and managers can improve resilience in their teams by understanding their employees’ needs and struggle areas. Learning about these struggles is essential because resilience aims to make individuals stronger by helping them face challenges. Encouraging employees to accept and work through their failures can help foster self-resilience within the workplace.

A workplace that encourages resilience may find it helpful to have strong leaders who can demonstrate resilience to their employees. Employees can learn from this positive example and, as a result, they might feel more motivated to strengthen their resilience at work.

Provide outlets for stress. Offering stress-relief opportunities to employees can help build resilience because it gives them time to recover between projects.

Enable workplace flexibility. An organisation can implement more flexible work arrangements, for example, providing opportunities to work from home or hybrid working. Encourage employees to utilise their holiday allowances and to take breaks in the working day. Providing employees more flexibility or supporting their ability to take breaks can help reduce stress and burnout.

Final thoughts

Throughout life, an individual’s attitudes and coping skills – in other words, resilience – can help make the difference between them being able to manage and even thrive in a crisis, or instead, suffer distress. Luckily, resilience is something that we can all learn and develop.

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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