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Karen Liebenguth


Executive and Leadership Coach & Workplace Wellbeing & Conflict Resolution

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Resilience isn’t just a nice-to-have. Here’s why.


The workplace throws up a steady stream of obstacles and challenges e.g. colleague relationships, organisational ways of working, workloads etc., and it’s our resilience or the ability to cope with the obstacles that come our way, to bounce back, learn from mistakes, to make amends when necessary, and most important of all, begin again without rumination or regret, which determines our wellbeing at work.

Resilience was once seen as a rare human feat – but now, research shows that within a well-functioning emotion system, resilience can be standard and that people’s levels of resilience are not set in stone, but can be improved through experience and training (Barbara L Fredrickson, PhD.)

Greater resilience cultivates a positive mindset

People who are more resilient than others think and do things differently.

Consider this statement for a moment and then imagine the potential benefit to an organisation if we encouraged employees to ask themselves: ‘How do I tend to respond to difficult or challenging times at work?’

Some people fly off the handle, others crumble and let thoughts take them on a downward spiral and others find they are good at taking knock backs on the chin, brushing themselves off and moving on.

Let’s face it, we’ll all get our fair share of crises, challenges, pressures, conflict and difficult situations at work, some big, others small, but some of us are so much better at recovering from these difficult times and situations.

Why is that?

It comes down to resilience.

With resilience comes empowerment

You’ll find that some employees are prone to feeling the victim or hard done by colleagues or a manager when things go wrong.

In contrast, when things get difficult, resilient people are able to pause, take a few deeper breaths and feel grounded again.

This creates a gap where they can make a conscious choice as to how to respond to what’s happening, rather than a knee jerk reaction.

Resilient people also have a more balanced view on any given situation.

When things go wrong, they are able to keep perspective and recognize their skills and what they have achieved in the situation (as well as what’s gone wrong) and bounce back more quickly.

Resilient people embrace their every day working life and all its ups and downs, and when something doesn’t work, well, it’s time to try something else until they find something that does!

In a crisis situation, resilient people are more likely to ask: what’s the best thing that can happen here? (rather than expecting the worse which cuts out possibilities and the potentially good stuff).

So how do you develop a resilient workforce?

Share these top tips for practicing and building a resilience toolkit with your organization:

1. When we face a crisis, we all benefit from some space, a change of scene – so encourage staff to go for a walk or swim or to go to the cinema to create the headspace they need to gain perspective and reflect on some specific, achievable, small and manageable steps that can be taken to improve things going forward.

2. Practice SSRI (Strategy, Strength, Resource, Insight). In a difficult or challenging situation encourage staff to ask the following questions:

  • Strategy: What are some of the things I can do in this situation? (This question generates choice in how to respond vs knee-jerk reactions.)
  • Strength: What can I draw upon within myself (what are my personal resources)?
  • Resources: Who can help me? What else could help me?
  • Insight: What are some ideas that guide me? Pause and listen to yourself.

3. When staff feel overwhelmed by a situation, if they are experiencing tension in their body, racing thoughts, shallow breathing – our body’s response to anxiety, encourage them to:

  • Pause and take three deep breaths. This will take around 15 seconds, allowing the person to feel more grounded and helping them to gain some perspective on the situation
  • Take a moment to acknowledge that something is going on that is upsetting or annoying
  • Generate choice in how to respond to the situation– this comes from a creative mind rather than a reactive mind.

4. Encourage staff to practice self-compassion. Often when we find ourselves in a difficult situation we add further pressure by judging ourselves harshly (in fact, self-judgments often cause the most stress).

By listening to ourselves and by bringing a kind and understanding attitude, e.g. ‘It’s only a mistake, not a failure, I can learn from it.’ Or ‘I’m not stupid, I’ve done my best, and we all have played a part in this outcome, we will learn from this experience.’

5. When something doesn’t work out, encourage staff to ask themselves: What can I learn from this, what can I do differently next time?

It’s a very powerful question that keeps us moving forward rather than staying stuck.

6. You may want to consider offering a six-week mindfulness course for the workplace to your staff or 1:1 mindfulness training sessions to foster self-management skills as part of your personal development programme.

7. When staff face a difficult situation at work and they are unable to see a way out, encourage them to pause, breathe and ask themselves the following three questions:

  • What is the best that can happen now?
  • What is the worse?
  • What is most likely to happen?

Or get them to try this Five Sense Check – it’s a great stress buster and a powerful tool for centering oneself.

The Five Sense Check

  1. Notice what you see around you (really look at what you see)
  2. What are some sounds you hear around you (let the sounds come to you)
  3. What do you feel? Maybe a tingly feeling in your body, air on your face, your clothes on your skin, you heart beating in your chest, a tightness in your chest or pressure in your head.
  4. What can you smell? There is always a certain smell in the atmosphere. What is it?
  5. What can you taste? What is the taste in your mouth? What is the taste of your lunch sandwich?

Having greater resilience skills doesn’t mean that our working life (and life in general) will be without its fair share of ups and downs, but it does mean that we can stay in the driver’s seat, in charge of what’s happening – however tough it is – that we don’t have to move to the passenger’s seat anymore, feel a victim or bury our head in the sand.

As a result we feel more resourceful and happier inside as well as in our job and wider life.

Author Profile Picture
Karen Liebenguth

Executive and Leadership Coach & Workplace Wellbeing & Conflict Resolution

Read more from Karen Liebenguth

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