Resilience (noun) – the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions; physical, mental and/or emotional toughness
Let me begin by confessing that I am by no means the poster child for resilience. I’m a born worrier, and it’s taken me years of hard work to develop the degree of resilience I have. But in some ways, that makes me the ideal person to tackle this topic.
Why Is Resilience Important?
Discussions of the importance of resilience and the value of resilience training are appearing more and more frequently in professional publications. It’s not hard to understand why. Life happens; we all face unexpected blows. But as Gary Hamel observed, “The world is becoming turbulent faster than organizations are becoming resilient.” The same can be said for individuals. The pace of change seems unlikely to slow down, so the question becomes, what can we do to develop greater resilience in ourselves, our teams and our organizations?
Stressors, Stressors Everywhere
Clinicians often group stressors into various categories, but for our purposes, let’s stick to three: physical, mental and emotional stressors. Below are just a few examples of challenges we, or those we work with, may face:
Physical: traumatic injury or illness, surgery, intense physical labor, pollution, allergies, chronic illness or pain, metabolic disorders, hormonal/biochemical imbalances, dehydration, substance abuse, malnutrition
Mental: information overload, unrealistic deadlines, worry, guilt, self-criticism, perfectionism, economic difficulties
Emotional: grief/bereavement, loneliness, resentment, fear, frustration, anger
It’s easy to see how sudden, traumatic events disrupt our lives and cause pain and stress; but often it’s chronic stressors that pose the greatest challenge to our resilience. It’s the slow, but constant drip of water that wears away the stone.
For more examples of stressors, read Types of Stress and Their Symptoms, by Will Joel Friedman.
Responding to Disruptive Change
In his 2005 book, The Resiliency Advantage, Dr. Al Siebert outlined four ways that individuals respond to disruptive change. Some explode, lashing out at others verbally or even physically. They focus on their anger, but do not respond effectively to the change. Incidents of workplace violence or bullying may arise from this response to stressors.
In contrast, others implode, as Siebert puts it. They are overwhelmed by the change, unable to even try to take action to address the change. They retreat into themselves, attempting to avoid the problem. Presenteeism is one example of this response in the workplace.
A third group may be upset by the change, but they soon implement coping strategies. These resilient individuals adapt to the change and survive or even thrive in its aftermath. They come back stronger. This, of course, is the response we all aspire to.
A fourth group exhibits what may be the most toxic reaction of all. They see themselves as victims. Like the resilient, they become upset when disruptive change occurs. But instead of coping, they look for others to blame. This response not only sends ripples of conflict throughout the group, but it locks the individual in a cycle of negativity. As Siebert explains, “They won’t take steps to overcome their difficulties even after the crisis is over.” The “appeal” of this response is, of course, that it relieves the individual of any responsibility to take action to address the issue and adapt to change.
The Benefits of Resilience
Developing resilience offers a multitude of benefits to both individuals and organizations. For individuals, benefits include:
- Adaptability and the ability to bounce back from hardship
- Courage and confidence
- Deeper relationships and a wider support system
- Improved mental and physical health
For organizations, the benefits of having resilient employees impact not only the well-being of the team, but the bottom line as well. For example:
- Reduced absenteeism and presenteeism yields greater productivity
- Less interpersonal conflict yields stronger corporate culture
- Healthier employees and fewer accidents yields reduced healthcare costs
- Reduced turnover/burnout yields reduced training costs
- Greater emotional intelligence yields more effective leadership and an improved customer experience
So, how can we build resilience for ourselves and nurture it in others? Look for Part 2 of this article, available here next Wednesday.