Building a Resilient Workplace: 5 Valuable Tools and Activities

Building resilience in the workplaceWhen Mark and Joanne were laid off by their company, they were both in shock.

After the initial shock, Joanne reflects, “This is not about who I am. It’s the economy.” She immediately assesses her skills and the job market and updates her résumé. After several unsuccessful applications, she lands a job.

Mark, however, remains angry, in shock and denial. “How could this happen to me? They never liked me.” His focus on failure rather than a pending opportunity left him feeling hopeless.

Although these opposing reactions are extremes, we have all been in similar situations and at times reacted like both Mark and Joanne.

If stress defines who you are, and you feel its effect long after the event has passed, it is time to work on your resilience. The ability to bounce back from life’s challenges and unforeseen difficulties provides you with mental protection from emotional and mental disorders (Rutter, 1985; 2012).

And yet, resilience is not fixed, and there is no limit on how much you can have.

The tools and activities set out in this article will help you develop the resilience to confront stressful events, feel less vulnerable, be more flexible, and overcome the challenges that form part of your life.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our three Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you to effectively deal with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your workplace.

You can download the free PDF here.

3 Examples of a Resilient Workplace

For employees, workplace resilience provides essential support for mental wellbeing and optimizing performance (Robertson, Cooper, Sarkar, & Curran, 2015). For the organization, resilience absorbs the shock of unforeseen events, providing protection and the ability to bounce back (Boin & van Eeten, 2013).

Resilience, whether at an employee or organizational level, can be grown or learned, often in response to adverse situations.

 

Morgan Stanley

On September 11, 2001, multinational bank Morgan Stanley had 2,700 employees in the south tower of the World Trade Center.

The first plane struck the north tower at 8:46 a.m. Morgan Stanley started to evacuate its staff, spread over 22 floors, only one minute later. By the time the second plane hit the south tower at 9:02 a.m., their offices were almost deserted (Coutu, 2017).

How was a bank so well prepared for something that was, at that time, unthinkable?

This was not the first time the World Trade Center had come under attack. After the bombing in 1993, senior management at Morgan Stanley implemented detailed escape procedures and tested them endlessly.

The resilience they built into their organization saved thousands of employees’ lives.

 

Barclay’s Be Well program

Barclays is an international investment bank, headquartered in London, with over 85,000 employees worldwide.

In response to far-reaching transformations in the world of finance, the bank aims to ensure staff are not only ready, but capable of thriving in the face of change.

Over the last 10 years, the bank has held a clear and bold objective: to make a positive impact on the performance and, more importantly, the lives of all who work there.

The Be Well program goes beyond teaching staff to cope with life’s challenges. It promotes mental and physical wellbeing, resilience, financial stability, social and family relationships, and even happiness.

Speakers from around the world are engaged to share health and resilience expertise, fitness technology is offered at reduced prices, and preventative health screening and online education are provided for free.

The bank is building resilience into its workforce, within and beyond the physical and virtual boundaries of its businesses.

 

Allbirds

In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world went into lockdown. The impact was profound.

While many businesses suffered, a few were able to pivot their operations and thrive.

But how?

Sustainable footwear company Allbirds was already in a good position when the pandemic hit. The San Francisco start-up had merged its online e-commerce inventories with those in stores. When the physical stores closed, staff members were reassigned to meet the increasing demands of online ordering.

The impact on the business and its customers was minimal. Even the challenge of being unable to visit the shop physically was overcome by enabling customers to talk to staff through online video channels.

With a healthy growth mindset, the company proved sufficiently adaptable and resilient to tackle both immediate and long-term challenges.

 

Importance of Resilience at Work

stress in the workplaceStress is the norm in many work environments.

However, if left unchecked, it negatively impacts job performance; becomes detrimental to personal relationships; and makes us vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and burnout (Rees, Breen, Cusack, & Hegney, 2015).

However, for resilient individuals, highly stressful environments appear to have no effect, and they can even be seen to thrive.

Aside from the advantages for employees, workplace resilience also provides gains to the company’s operational performance. Building resilience in staff members protects their health, reduces sickness, and supports consistent, higher quality performance.

It’s a win–win situation for any organization. But how do they do it?

When introduced into high-stress workplaces, interventions promoting resilience have been found to improve staff self-efficacy, optimism, job satisfaction, goal attainment, and productivity (McEwen & Boyd, 2018).

We can all build resilient mindsets. It requires the right environment, suitable training, and the opportunity to overcome challenges.

For more on this, look into our article on eustress: What Is Eustress and How Is It Different Than Stress?

 

Resilience Training in the Workplace

Workplace resilience interventions have a positive impact on the lives of the workforce, improving their psychosocial functioning – the relationship between their mind, body, and the environment – and facilitating a growth mindset (Robertson et al., 2015; Rendon, 2015).

According to the biopsychosocial model of workforce resilience, there are three complementary elements involved in resilience: biological, environmental, and social (Rees et al., 2015).

Firstly, choose your parents wisely.

An individual’s biology predisposes their level of resilience and, subsequently, their vulnerability to mental health issues.

And yet, while we are unable to change our underlying genetics, we can transform the environmental and social elements in our lives to positively influence psychological variables that underpin resilience: neuroticism, mindfulness, self-efficacy, and coping.

Resilience in the workplace and beyond is multifaceted and influenced by the presence or absence of many factors. Cultivating each can promote an individual’s ability to cope with pressure and the challenges of life.

 

Measuring Resilience of Employees

how to measure resilienceResilience is on a continuum.

The low end reflects a lack of ability to bounce back, while the high end indicates the ability to recover and even thrive following an adverse event (Joyce et al., 2018).

Measuring resilience allows us to understand how some people remain functionally stable, while others react poorly to acute and chronic stress.

Measurement has its challenges.

Firstly, there is no consensus on a single theoretical framework for resilience. Secondly, how do you measure the ability to bounce back in the absence of a significant threat?

However, a 2011 review of 270 studies found that three tests in particular scored highly in psychometric qualities, internal consistency, and construct validity: CD-RISC, Resilience Scale for Adults, and the Brief Resilience Scale (Windle, Bennett, & Noyes, 2011).

The widely used CD-RISC is a measure of personal competence, acceptance of change, secure relationships, and control influences. It was recognized as a sound measure of resilience and practical for the workplace due to its speed of completion (Lauridsen, Willert, Eskildsen, & Christiansen, 2017).

 

3 Tools for Creating a Resilient Workplace

Resilience is not fixed; it is malleable (Robertson et al., 2015).

Places of work can build and strengthen employee coping by providing the right training and an appropriate environment.

 

Create an ‘Awareness of Pleasant and Unpleasant Events’ calendar

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a technique combining both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness to:

  1. Better understand ‘thinking’ and its impact on feeling
  2. Enhance awareness of moment-to-moment mental processes (Varvogli & Darviri, 2011)

Observing our thoughts in the present and not judging them improves perceptual clarity, energy, and coping.

By asking yourself questions about both pleasant and unpleasant experiences and recording the answers, it is possible to experience thoughts more clearly as they happen.

Answer the following questions Record your responses daily
What was the experience? |
Was it pleasant or unpleasant? |
Were you aware of the feelings during the experience? |
Describe how your body felt. |
What were your feelings, moods, and thoughts? |
What are your thoughts as you write? |

 

There are many other Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy tools, a form of MBSR, from which to choose.

 

Four-step strengths-based cognitive-behavioral therapy model

CBT directs the individual to solve existing problems by modifying dysfunctional or inaccurate thinking.

Padesky and Mooney’s (2012) four-step strengths-based model promotes the idea that there is no single path to increasing positive qualities and resilience.

Therapists work with clients to identify existing strengths and resilience in activities they enjoy, then determine how to apply them in other areas of their life.

Step 1 – Search for strengths

  • Ask the individual to describe something they enjoy and perform regularly (perhaps daily).
  • Once engaged and passionate, explore the obstacles that they overcome.
  • Identify a list of strengths they use to persist.

Step 2 – Construct a personal model of resilience (PMR)

  • Using the strengths identified, the individual and therapist build a personal model of resilience.
  • They then turn specific strengths into general strategies.

Step 3 – Apply the PMR

  • Ask the client how they could use their PMR in other areas of their life.
  • Consider the problems they encounter and scan the PMR for strengths that will help them persist.
  • Focus on staying resilient rather than overcoming difficulties.

Step 4 – Practice resilience

  • Identify real-world opportunities to apply the client’s PMR.
  • Imagine what resilience would look like and how it would feel.

The strengths-based model is a positive and pragmatic approach for clients to build a model of resilience based on existing strengths and successes to implement in areas where they may struggle.

For a more detailed description of the steps involved, review Padesky and Mooney’s (2012) four‐step model to build resilience.

 

The Best Possible Resilient Self

The Best Possible Resilient Self is a positive psychology intervention that asks you to visualize and record your best possible self in the future, having achieved what you set out to do (Carrillo, Martínez-Sanchis, Etchemendy, & Baños, 2019).

This exercise was borne out of the established benefits of writing about trauma and has been shown to increase positive mood and a sense of wellbeing.

Step 1 – Describe a challenging situation.

  • Describe a future personal challenge and what makes it difficult for you.

Step 2 – Visualize your best possible resilient self.

  • Close your eyes and visualize bouncing back.
  • See yourself overcoming each aspect of the challenge.
  • How do you look and feel?

Step 3 – Describe your best possible resilient self.

  • Write down and describe this version of yourself.
  • How does it feel to be the best version of you?
  • How were you behaving, and what were you thinking?

Step 4 – Interview your most resilient self.

  • What would you ask this person?
  • What would it feel like to respond?

Step 5 – Reflect.

  • How do you now feel about the challenge ahead?
  • What did you learn?
  • Do you feel more confident in your abilities?

There are many other strategies for coping and managing stress that we discuss in our article Stress Management Activities and Worksheets that will also positively influence resilience.

 

2 Useful Activities for Promoting Resilience

activities for promoting resilienceExecutives seek “high performance in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid change” from both themselves and their staff (Loehr & Schwartz, 2018).

 

Developing resilience through pushing physical limits

Sports science has confirmed that aerobic exercise stresses the body and mind, and overcoming physical challenges builds coping skills and a resilience mindset.

Fletcher and Sarkar (2016) propose a mental fortitude training program to develop resilience and sustained success. Based on work with Olympic athletes, it became clear that extreme physical challenges lead to positive behavioral change and psychological toughening (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016).

You don’t need to be an elite athlete to see the benefits. Following a six-month training regime for a first triathlon, amateurs significantly improved their mental toughness (Marshall et al., 2017).

The aphorism “what doesn’t break me, makes me stronger” may be accurate.

Regular exercise, pushing beyond one’s comfort limits, can transform a person’s mindset, lead to growth, and enhance resilience across multiple domains.

 

Motivation promotes resilience

Motivation is what maintains, sustains, directs, and channels your behavior over time (Ryan & Deci, 2018). In sports, motivation is seen as crucial to successful performance and helps an athlete maintain focus, energizes their performance, and directs their actions. Within the workplace, it creates a drive to deliver more, become better, and overcome challenges.

The Self-Determination Theory of Motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2018) focuses on people’s inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs. It suggests that humans have an evolved propensity to realize their capacities and attain healthy mental, social, and behavioral functioning.

Situations that enable satisfaction of basic psychological needs – relatedness, competence, and autonomy – reduce the likelihood of mental health issues while increasing a general sense of wellbeing.

Motivation is also crucial to resilience.

Indeed, you are better able to respond to stress when you are motivated to perform an activity for its own sake – known as intrinsic motivation – rather than for external rewards (Weinstein & Ryan, 2011).

If you want to become resilient, find something that motivates you.

Organizations must create environments that nourish employees’ need to feel connected to what they are doing and with whom they work. They must be given the tools and skills to become good at their job and maintain their autonomy in decision making.

 

A Take-Home Message

Merely surviving is not enough to succeed at the highest levels; humans must thrive on the pressure” (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016).

Resilience frees the individual and the organization from paralysis in the face of adversity. It provides the means to flex in the face of challenge, objectively assess the problem, adapt, and adopt new ways of thinking and working.

The benefits of a resilient workplace to the organization are far reaching. An employee able to cope with change and obstacles in both home and work life can perform better and more consistently.

In work, seek out activities that feed your basic psychological needs. Find new tasks and opportunities to increase your sense of autonomy, strengthen your relationships with people you work with, and increase competence through experience and learning.

Outside of work, build resilience in an environment that you are passionate about and motivated to overcome challenges in, then identify strengths and skills for re-use elsewhere.

The tools and activities we shared will help you build resilience, both as an employee and a member of the wider society, and enhance your ability to bounce back.

Thank you for reading.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Resilience Exercises for free.

If you wish to learn more, our Realizing Resilience Masterclass© is a complete, science-based, six-module resilience training template for practitioners and employers that contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients and colleagues overcome adversity in a more resilient way.

 

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About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

Comments

  1. Steven Hughes

    That was a great article Jeremy – “3 Examples of a Resilient Workforce.” I learned some new information and it validated some things I learned previously.

    Reply

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