Even those of us who are happy at work will say there are still stressors nonetheless – constant change, high workloads, and ‘interesting’ colleagues to name just a few. And then there are the challenges in our personal life as well.
But, why is it that some people are overwhelmed by stress and others maintain their well-being despite the challenges? Why are some people so resistant to change while others take control of the process? Why is it that some people harbour grudges in their relationships, where others will seem to get over it, learn what they can, and get on with the future?
The answer is, of course, our resilience – our ability to bounce back and adjust to challenges that life sends our way. It is our self-righting mechanism, our ability to take action to restore our well-being, when it has been disrupted.
Resilience, while partly genetic, is primarily learned behaviour – the choices we make in how we think and behave when faced with adversity. We cannot always control what happens to us, we can only control our responses.
Resilience can be displayed in many different ways. In individuals it is often seen as optimism, resourcefulness, and determination. In teams it is seen when team members support each other at work and solve problems creatively.
A theme that comes up regularly in the research is that a resilient individual is one who works well, plays well, loves well, and thinks well.
But there are also more specific ‘protective’ factors, identified by the resilience research over the past 40 years, that safeguard our well-being. I have summarised these for you below.
- Build supportive relationships: It is amazing how much stress we can tolerate when we have positive, supportive relationships with our leaders and co-workers. We help to build positive relationships at work when we find time to chat informally with our colleagues, when we genuinely care for each other, offering personal and professional support, and work difficulties out when they occur. Leaders can also make themselves accessible and approachable, have informal one-on-one meetings with team members, and set the example for positive, supportive team relationships.
Laughter is an important part of positive working relationships. It is also a great antidote to stress and a great way to recharge our batteries. Even in very stressful workplaces, there is often still something to laugh about. So consider where the humour is in the situation or at least come with the attitude that each day you will make someone laugh.
- Encourage positive attitudes: It is essential that leaders and long serving staff model helpful attitudes to workplace challenges. For example, if people are complaining, move the focus to generating viable solutions. You can also help those with positive attitudes to be heard more at team meetings. In relation to workplace change, remind people what is not changing and how they have successfully managed change in the past. Talk more about how you can take greater control of the process.
- Take advantage of your personal strengths: Such strengths might include your hope, determination, creativity, willingness to take action, or problem-solving abilities. Become more aware of strengths you possess. The more you are aware of your strengths, the more you can draw on these abilities to help you with adversity. Ask yourself how you can use the strengths that you have to get through a tough situation.
- Address small issues before they grow into major concerns: One of the factors that places people’s well-being at risk is ongoing stressors at work. Most of us can cope well with significant stress at work for a period of time. However, stress that is ongoing, such as unresolved conflict, can certainly come out one way or another – perhaps affecting our morale, performance at work, or our health. So, it is important that we are prepared to act, keeping the focus on what you can do to address your concerns, to deal well with your stress, or, as a last resort, to get yourself into another team or workplace.
- Become more engaged at work: Doing more of the work you love to do helps you to feel more satisfied in your work and less affected by those parts of your work you do not especially enjoy. Speak more to your manager and co-workers about those parts of your work you find especially satisfying. You may be able to negotiate to do more of this type of work and less of the other. I think we need to enjoy at least 85% of our work to help us to deal with the parts we dislike.
If you are in work that is not a good fit for your strengths and abilities, you may be able to take steps over time to find a role that is a better fit. Workplaces can encourage engagement by aligning people’s strengths and interests with their role, giving those who want challenge more of this, and involving people in making decisions about their work. People need to also understand the purpose of their work and how their efforts contribute to the overall outcomes at their workplace.
- Give meaningful recognition: It is amazing how hard people will work and the challenges they will put up with if they are given meaningful recognition for what they do. A genuine ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Sadly, the international and national studies show that only about 1/3 of people believe they receive sufficient recognition for what they do. The challenge is to find recognition that is meaningful to the individual concerned. Although team leaders play a crucial role in doing so, everyone shares responsibility in contributing to the well-being and morale of their team.
- Maintain a good work-life balance: Yes, we all have to work at this. My view is that it is easier to achieve when we do three things – building more of what is quality in our life, settling reasonable boundaries with the demands of our work, and tapping into what is going to motivate us to take action.
Workplaces can help team members find a better balance by being flexible as much as possible with working hours. Some team members will appreciate the balance that comes from being able to do some work from home instead of the workplace.
Some workplaces cater to the health needs of team members by providing showers, bicycle racks, or salary benefits associated with green transport to work – walking, cycling or using public transport.
- Take good care of your health: There is no doubt that resilience is encouraged by sufficient sleep, a healthy and well-balanced diet, and regular cardio-vascular activity. We know that physical exercise is positively correlated with our brain health and our ability to respond well to challenges. Other research has found that people, who have 7 hours of sleep each day, were more resilient than people who have more or less sleep than 7 hours.
Managers, of course, need to be a good role model of living their life in balance. I recall some of my staff saying to me years ago that it made them feel good seeing me go home at a reasonable time as it gave them permission to do the same. If leaders are not modelling this behaviour, their team will believe that working long hours is an expectation of their workplace.
So, how are you going with the above? Consider rating how well you are doing with each of the above on a scale of 0 to 10. Your high scores will affirm what you are doing right. And your lower scores will give you some pointers as to where you need to take action.