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How to be more resilient at work

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ResilienceResilience is a much sought-after quality during these times of economic turbulence, says Jessica Pryce-Jones, who examines the positive impact resilience can have on workplace performance and employee morale.


When budget cuts, redundancies and an obsession with the bottom line are leading to unprecedented levels of workplace anxiety, people who stay committed, focused and resilient in tough times are incredibly valuable.

The signs are not promising, however. Recent research by recruitment specialists Badenoch and Clark reveals that the country’s economic woes are having a direct impact on performance because employees feel stressed by their increased workloads. And iOpener’s research shows that though people are working long hours they aren’t being any more productive. In short, the recession affects resilience.

HR departments are very much on the front line, handling lay-offs while at the same time trying to ensure that the people who remain are efficient and effective.

The good news, however, is that you as an HR professional and as a leader can learn to be more resilient, keeping in mind that you have two goals – remaining resilient yourself and developing people management strategies that can foster resilience among others.

Pride, trust and recognition

iOpener’s in-house research has found three key elements that need to be in place for handling adversity and being happy at work. These are having a sense of pride and trust in the organisation you work for and being recognised for your achievements. Incredibly these seem to be more important than either job security or salary.

“A 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback seems to be the ideal for managers – so keep it positive when you can”

How can you tell whether your organisation provides this pride, trust and recognition? Simply ask your colleagues or direct reports whether they would recommend working there to their friends. If the answer is yes, you know that all three are in place. If the answer is ‘it depends’, you have some digging to do.

To do that, think about the focus you or your organisation takes. For example, are you focusing on what’s not working? How high is the FUD (fear, anxiety and doubt) factor? How much management stress is rubbing off further down the organisation? How can you recognise people and their achievements more?

According to our research, money and status are eclipsed by thanks and praise, which are – after all – free. At iOpener we’ve found that neutral or poor feedback has a big and negative effect on overall resilience and happiness at work. Barbara Fredrickson’s research shows that a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback seems to be the ideal for managers. So keep it positive when you can.

The Big Idea

Resilient people seem to have a Big Idea that makes them tick and gives meaning to what they do.

So how do you work out what your Big Idea might be? By asking questions such as what motivates you to come to work? What beliefs do you have which have guided you? What are the high moments you’ve experienced at work? What roles have you had that really meant something to you?

Try and look for what lies behind these answers and you’ll get to your own – and others’ – Big Idea.

Focusing on core work

Core work consists of the tasks that are central to your role. So if you’re an HR manager, it might include recruiting, restructuring or people development. Core work is the stuff everyone finds more engaging than any other activity and matters because doing it seems to lead to greater resilience.

It doesn’t consist of the routine activities that any job involves. So checking emails, attending regular meetings and managing your diary probably aren’t part of the picture. Interestingly, people rate their core work as more intrinsically engaging that coffee breaks, entertainment and even leisure time. So start thinking about your day and evaluating if you have enough core work.

Focusing on core work matters because that’s where you’ll get to increase your potential – something that most people want from their jobs. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re doing things that are difficult and challenging, as long as you feel that you’re learning and growing. Which is why doing something new can be so tough, yet rewarding.

The importance of self-belief

Improving resilience is also about examining feelings as well. One important area is self-belief.

People with higher self-belief tackle more challenging goals, try harder and are likely to be more resilient. And their self-belief seems to rub off on others. You get higher self-belief when individuals can work with what really energises them, rather than what they find draining.

So start thinking about where individuals’ energy lies and enable them to follow that, rather than what Professor Carol Kauffman calls ‘the vale of tears.’

“People with higher self-belief tackle more challenging goals, try harder and are likely to be more resilient -and their self-belief seems to rub off on others”

One useful technique to increase self-belief is to take personal experiences from one context and apply them to another. You can do this by thinking of a situation when what you did worked and you experienced success. How did you go about it? Then think about what could you transfer from that experience to this one?

Developing team actions

Having thought about what affects the resilience of an individual, let’s think about it at a team or organisational level.

Firstly it’s important to develop goals that are truly realisable. With current levels of anxiety and uncertainty, goals that are too difficult, too big and too distant will simply sap energy and resilience. So revisit your goals and objectives regularly and revise them downwards if necessary. That way teams and organisations will still have some sense of achievement. Just remember that constant failure never motivates anyone.

It’s also important that you develop different routes to achieving these goals. When you have a goal that you want to achieve, data shows that any one pathway to it is only likely to be 20% successful. Ideally you should therefore think through six concrete but different ways of achieving the same thing.

For example, if your goal is to increase retention levels, make sure you have up to six ways of achieving this. Concrete goals you might pursue include: running an effective induction programme; conducting focus groups to determine why people quit; standardising and doing effective exit reviews; examining exit data for trends; benchmarking your organisation regularly against similar businesses; and conducting regular performance reviews. Having developed six actions you’ll be more likely to achieve your goal.

As you’ve seen, happy and resilient workplaces are more likely to achieve long-term growth and success in good economic times and in bad.


Jessica Pryce-Jones is a joint founder and partner of iOpener, a consultancy that enables organisations to implement strategy and deliver key results by focusing on happiness at work. For further information email: [email protected]

One Response

  1. Surely just the one big idea?
    The big idea to focus on is the goal of the organisation surely?

    It would be nice if everyone was working toward the same goal. The trick is in communicating it in a way that gets people to adopt it and opt in.

    Great to see recognition that people do actually like to work and gain satisfaction from it.

    That’s why it is so important to design work systems that motivate people through the work itself. The more work they do the more satisfaction they get. If you try to motivate with money satisfaction is derived from bigger and bigger payouts.

    Hasn’t the Credit Crunch shown everyone the value of misaligning organisational and personal goals?

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