How to Build Workplace Resilience in the Face of Adversity

7 Mar ‘23
5 min
Work performance
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Clara Isabell Slawik
Zo creëer je een veerkrachtige organisatie (die tegen een stootje kan)
Cultivating workplace resilience is one of the top corporate wellness trends of 2023. Considering that VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) has, unfortunately, become the new normal for many, this isn’t surprising. 


In our fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, the ability to adapt to challenges and overcome setbacks is a necessity. Creating a culture in which resilience can thrive is consequently a powerful key to success.


In this article, we explore the definition of resilience, the different types of workplace adversity, and what you can do on an individual, team, and organisational level to help cultivate a culture of resilience.


Why Is Resilience in the Workplace So Important?


While the research on resilience in the workplace is still emerging, it has been steadily gaining momentum. To better understand its importance, consider the following scenario:


You’re a driven HR manager tasked with handling a company-wide restructuring that involves layoffs and reassignments. This situation can be immensely stressful, both for the HR professional and the affected employees.


Someone with low workplace resilience may feel overwhelmed and struggle to manage the process, leading to a negative impact on the company culture and employee morale.


On the other hand, an HR professional with high levels of resiliency will be better equipped to manage the changes. Because they can navigate uncertainties with more ease, they are more likely to approach difficult conversations with empathy and professionalism. This ensures that the process is conducted in a way that is sensitive to the employees’ needs.


Want to discover the other business mental health trends for 2023? Then take a look at this article


What Is Resilience Really?


OK, we now know that resilience at work is crucial. But what exactly does it entail? And what does resilience look like?


Resilience is a core competency that can be developed and cultivated, enabling individuals, teams, and organisations to face life’s inevitable ups and downs with greater ease.


When we hear the word ‘resilience,’ we might picture quickly bouncing back from hardships unscathed. However, resilience is much broader. Rather than toughening up and simply pushing through difficult times, it refers to our capacity to deal with stress and adapt to change while also learning and growing from those experiences. In that sense, resilience is a multi-dimensional concept that goes beyond only surviving adversity.


To be resilient means being able to face and navigate uncertainty, embrace new challenges, and take risks when needed. It encompasses emotional regulation, self-belief, a positive mindset, and a network of support.


What Is ‘Adversity’ in the Workplace?


Workplace adversity takes many forms, and the type of resilience needed to cope varies across different industries. For example, in the retail sector, employees might be tasked with dealing with demanding customers and high sales targets, whereas people in the IT industry may need to continuously keep up with tight project deadlines and rapidly changing technology.


Adversity can also be caused by organisational circumstances, such as difficult managers or high levels of bureaucracy. Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, even seemingly positive changes can be seen as an adverse factor, creating stress and pressure. Think of a promotion that suddenly leads to increased responsibility.


In a recent survey conducted by Dale Carnegie Training, the following elements were listed as the top five most commonly experienced adverse conditions:


  1. Exhausting workloads
  2. Reorganisation/changing job roles
  3. Difficult relationships with co-workers
  4. Job instability
  5. Conflicting values


Additionally, large disruptions on a bigger scale can also impact industries differently. COVID-19 is a perfect example of this. When the tourism and hospitality industry was brought to a standstill in 2020, an unprecedented loss of employment and revenue followed.


For many UK business owners working within the industry, the uncertainty and lack of clarity were at the forefront of their concerns. There was a general fear that it would take extremely long before pre-COVID-19 business levels would ever be achieved again, if at all. Nonetheless, a study also found differing opinions between businesses within the industry itself, dependent, for example, on how much their trade relied on seasonal highs.  


Similarly, the COVID pandemic had a significant impact on the consumer goods industry. Yet some companies, like Procter & Gamble (P&G), were able to adapt and thrive. They took note of the increased demand for home cleaning and personal hygiene products and responded by ramping up production and investing in new products, such as the Microban 24 disinfectant.


What Benefits Does Resilience Offer at the Individual, Team, and Organisational Levels?


Building resilience in the workplace doesn’t just offer individual benefits. It can also create a ripple effect at the team and organisational levels. (And vice versa, of course!)


In general, resilient staff members are better able to handle stress, maintain a positive attitude, and adapt to change. Increased resilience not only helps someone recover from challenging experiences, but it can also assist their growth and development. This leads to improved job satisfaction, better mental health, and a healthier work-life balance. It also reduces the risk of burnout, emotional exhaustion, sleep problems, low energy, limited concentration, and poor performance.


When we look at the team level, resilience can foster better communication and collaboration, improved productivity, and a greater sense of shared purpose. The potential outcome is a team that performs better, achieves more, and meets or exceeds its objectives.


At the organisational level, promoting resilience can spark an innovative culture that adapts to new challenges and creates opportunities for growth. It can lead to a more motivated and engaged workforce, reducing turnover rates, and boosting employee retention.

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What Fuels Resilience?


Building a resilient workplace is a process that requires both individual and organisational contributions. So, what steps can companies take to make this a reality?


Experts have put forth a few different theories:


One workplace resilience theory proposes that resilience is an innate trait that may or may not be influenced by environmental elements. In this case, companies should carefully screen potential candidates for predictors of resilience skills during the recruitment process. However, if resilience is a malleable trait that can be changed by the work environment in which we find ourselves, this approach may be insufficient.


Over the years, there has been a shift in the scientific consensus towards viewing resilience as a state that arises from a combination of different components. This includes one’s personal traits, values, and beliefs, but it goes beyond that and also encompasses work-related environmental factors such as adequate work resources, psychological safety, and trusting relationships.


As such, focusing on all these aspects via a holistic approach would make more sense.


How Can Leaders Boost Resilience Among Their Teams?


Leaders play a critical role in fostering a culture of resilience within their teams. 


As the saying goes, “no man is an island,” and the same goes for teams. A high level of social intelligence has been put forth as a key resilience-inducing component. Teams that prioritise social intelligence tend to build trusting, supportive relationships and create an environment of psychological safety, both of which have been shown to foster resilience and team effectiveness.


Another driver of team resilience is experiencing positive emotions, such as feeling connected, valued, and empowered.


Here are some concrete ways in which this can be achieved:


  • Encourage open communication, build a culture of empathy and emotional intelligence, and provide opportunities for team members to connect on a personal level. This builds trust and connection.
  • Foster a sense of purpose and meaning in work by connecting employees to the organisation’s larger mission and vision.
  • Encourage employee autonomy and empowerment by delegating responsibilities and decision-making power.
  • Make your team members feel valued by showing them sincere appreciation and recognition. Also provide clear and consistent expectations and performance feedback to help employees feel a sense of control and direction in their work. 


One of the key factors for behavioural change is self-efficacy (the belief that someone is capable of change – a growth mindset)”, says psychologist Paul Hessels. “Highlight and openly appreciate when someone is trying something new. In addition, when someone fails at something, take the time to look at what was learned from that failure. Once people see they’re capable of change, change will become more likely.”


Offer resources for stress management and mental well-being, such as professional mental health services catered to employees’ needs. At OpenUp we offer preventative and individually tailored on-demand counselling services. You can book your free introductory session here.


How Can Organisations Create an Environment That Enhances, Rather Than Undermines Resilience?


At OpenUp, we believe that resilience is a key ingredient for building successful businesses. By implementing the right policies and practices at an organisational level, a more supportive and resilient workplace culture can flourish. 


So, how do you build resilience at work? Here are some tips:


  • Address systemic issues that contribute to stress and burnout. Creating a resilient workplace culture requires more than just promoting individual mental toughness. Even the most resilient employees will struggle to cope with toxic work environments and unrealistic demands. Instead, create an environment that is conducive to wellbeing and healthy work habits, and continuously set out to tackle root causes of workplace adversity, such as poor management practices, lack of work-life balance, and inadequate resources.
  • Embrace innovation and change. Resilient organisations are adaptable and able to respond to changing market conditions and evolving customer needs. Embracing change can also help to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to emerging technologies and trends. This is particularly important in rapidly evolving industries, such as technology or healthcare.
  • Foster a learning culture. This creates a work environment that values growth and continuous improvement. When people are given the chance to learn new skills and take on interesting challenges, they feel more empowered. In addition, providing opportunities for growth and development shows your staff that you value their contributions and want to invest in their future success.


Cultivating resilience with a long-term, holistic approach, creates a culture of strength and adaptability that empowers employees to thrive, dare, and succeed in the face of challenges.


👉🏼 Want to start improving resilience at your workplace today? Book a demo.

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