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Hannah Prince

Insights Learning and Development

Business Psychologist

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Resilience at work: the building blocks you need for focus and productivity


How many work days last year did you lose due to stress? Or, if you’re a people manager a more appropriate question might be, how many days might your team have lost for the same reason?

The risk of burnout is high in today’s demanding, constantly connected and always-on work culture. According to a 2017 Labour Force Survey, 12.5 million working days were lost in 2016/2017 due to work related stress, depression or anxiety. 

The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century” and while many stress-inducing qualities of the working world aren’t likely to change, developing resilience within ourselves and our teams can help to improve productivity, morale and motivation.

Here are three building blocks of resilience:

Recognise change is a constant

Evolutionist Charles Darwin reminds us that, “it’s not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.” Because organisational events like mergers, acquisitions and functional restructuring are frequent in the professional world, an inability to engage a degree of resilience in the face of change can incrementally derail effectiveness over time.

In his studies on organisational change management, Australian professor Anthony M. Grant writes, “executives and employees who work in uncertain and unstable contexts sometimes struggle to develop the psychological and behavioural skills needed with organisational change whilst remaining focused on reaching their work-related goals.”

By recognising change is a constant, individuals and teams can develop resilience in order to acknowledge the challenge without letting it derail success. This skill also supports the ability to step outside of ourselves and engage higher areas of the brain.

Develop self-awareness of triggers to keep stress at bay

The causes of stress-related change, how it shows up, and the tactics needed to combat it are different for different people. It helps to control stress when people understand themselves— how they prefer to communicate, understand their preferences, and recognise that other members of their team have different preferences than their own.

Our ability to cultivate resilience is connected to our ability to recognise our stress signals and manage stress in a pro-active manner, even when faced with reactive levels of change. We are resilient when we understand our own and others’ reactions to the change, and when we are able to recognise when our stress levels are getting too high and do something to change its course.

Learning to acknowledge difficult situations, change your perspective and see the world from an alternate point of view makes it easier not to feel overpowered by your professional demands. By leaning on self-knowledge we can take steps in advance to sidestep its symptoms before it rears its ugly head. 

Choose whether to react or respond

Part of resilience comes from the knowledge that you have choice; you can respond in an intentional way that reduces your stress or you can be victim to your circumstances and react to what is happening around you. As we develop an awareness of ourselves, both professionally and personally, we are able to use the knowledge gained to better respond to our circumstances.

In a way, resilience allows professionals to bring an outsider perspective to any given situation, even when in the middle of a stressful event. Through resilience we are able to ask ourselves things like: What is the worst that can happen? What can I control? What is the most worthwhile investment I can make right now? 

This is important because without it, we would be limited by our emotional response triggers and constantly exhibiting our ‘bad-day’ behaviour. With self-awareness, we can step outside of ourselves and stretch outside of our comfort zone to think differently about how to approach the unexpected or overwhelming.

A good investment

Helping yourself and your team members better navigate the challenges of the modern work place is a good investment—not simply because it can make people happier, but because the enhanced skill set translates into real bottom-line results, too. In one PwC study, initiatives that fostered a resilient and mentally healthy workplace returned more than double for every pound spent, in the form of lower health care costs, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased turnover.

One of the biggest wins for sowing the seeds of resilience within your people and teams is that it can blossom and spread throughout your organisation’s culture.

This means that the next time an individual encounters a difficult customer or colleague, they won’t lose a day’s work getting mad or doubting their abilities; they’ll be able to assess the situation, adapt their approach to it, and bounce back bigger and better, with lessons learned for the next time.

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Hannah Prince

Business Psychologist

Read more from Hannah Prince

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