Top tips for building resilience among employees

Need to know: 

  • Resilience training is not the only benefit that can help employees build the necessary skills.
  • Looking at what is on offer in an existing benefits programme and researching free sources of support can help employees deal with stress and pressure effectively.
  • Equipping mangers with the tools to spot the signs of pressure and help team members can boost productivity and engagement.

The need for resilience, which is defined as the ability for people to bounce back after encountering the challenges of life, is no doubt more prevalent in 2020 than any other time in most adults’ working lives. Not only are employees dealing with the challenges of everyday life, but they are also dealing with the stress and strains of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

Resilience does not come naturally to everybody and it can greatly impact an employee’s productivity and levels of engagement in terms of adversity. So how can employees create a resilient workforce?

Rob Baker, chief executive officer (CEO) at Tailored Thinking, says: Stress isn’t necessarily a negative thing, it can be a positive. Stress can encourage us to develop and grow, [we] can re-frame it as a challenge. However negative stress is unwelcome and an employee may feel it is out of their control. It is usually connected with feelings of not coping and it’s this area in which people need to learn how to manage.”

Create an overarching resilience strategy

Creating a resilience strategy rather than sending staff ad-hoc communications will help employees have the tools at hand to deal with any pressures they may be facing.

“A resilience programme will let people step back and see what key things are affecting them negatively and, by understanding what they are, they can make small steps to address them,” says Baker.

“The best thing an employer can do is boost morale around stress and resilience by giving people the language to talk about these issues, share tools and ideas that people can explore across the board to manage their own wellbeing, and have those conversations with their colleagues.”

Utilise resources you already have

Not all organisations will have the funding to create a resilience programme from scratch in the current climate, however, it can be as simple as making the most of the benefits they have at hand. Employers may already have webinars or online content available as part of their mental wellbeing provision or employee assistance programme (EAP). It might be just a case of signposting this content to employees.

Contacting a local mental health charity could open up a wealth of material for organisations to direct employees towards, says Naomi Thompson, head of organisational development at Benenden Health. “Mental health charities have been working hard to put together webinars and materials to really help [a] workforce, as to how they respond to change, or life events, or stress, or offer self care tips, or lessons to help with the grief cycle,” she says. “It’s really helpful to normalise how employees are feeling because it gives them an explanation as to how they are feeling and that it’s normal, so people don’t feel alone and there is an end to this, and they are going to get through it.”

Get employees to create personal action plans

Benenden introduced a resilience action plan at the end of 2018 after its employees completed resilience training. The action plan allows employees to question themselves as to what they look like at their best when they are feeling great and the telltale signs that they are feeling under pressure.

“Whether people choose to share it or not is up to them,” says Thompson. “Whether they complete it or not is down to them but we do encourage them to create an action plan and keep it as a living and breathing document. Firstly they give employees time to reflect and be self aware, because it’s the key to resilience understanding [themselves] a bit more and how [they] respond to things. It also gives employees some accountability as to what they need to do to be at their best and bring action into play.”

Acknowledge pandemic specific challenges 

For some employees it is the unfamiliar way of working that the pandemic has forced upon them that is causing undue stress. Employees are putting pressure on themselves to answer every email as soon as it comes in, or have the added pressure of balancing caring duties or distractions in their makeshift home offices. Some employees may be feeling guilty that they can no longer conform to the traditional nine to five.

Organisations, therefore, need to communicate to employees that flexible working is perfectly acceptable and the focus should be on deliverables rather than set hours, says Baker. 

“Setting objectives can bring back a sense of control to what an employee is doing; framing the day,” she explain. “A lot of employees will jump straight into their emails at the start of the day but just taking a step back and thinking of what the key things are that they’d like to achieve today, and maybe starting a diary or a to-do list; doing tasks that matter in terms of workload to avoid it being overwhelming.”

Equip line managers with the right skills

Due to the cost-cutting elements brought on by the pandemic, it is not necessarily realistic to offer organisation-wide resistance training, however, if there is budget available, offering this to line managers will equip them to spot the signs of any team members that are struggling to cope.

“The role of the manager and the team leader has four times more impact than any other wellbeing prevention, so [they] can provide all the mindful apps, yoga and all the free fruit, but it’s all a lost cause if [employees] don’t feel supported or included by their manager,” explains Thompson. “Training managers to have honest open conversations, as well as being able to spot the signs and put action plans in place, is completely necessary.”

Resilience strategies should continue evolving 

One thing to learn from the pandemic is that personal challenges do not stay the same. Work-life balance and financial security are causing a lot of stress and pressure this year, but employees might be coping with different issues next year. 

Avneet Kaur, principal wellbeing solutions lead at Aon, explains: Communicating benefits isn’t enough. Organisations need to react quickly to the changing needs of its employees. During the pandemic, organisations have moved really quickly but new changes are still happening and how they will impact employees, we’re still not sure yet.

“Resilience can’t be done overnight but employers can take smaller steps right now in order to get the workforce resilient. Organisations should be focusing on areas based on what their people need; do a survey. Just delivering an EAP doesn’t really help, [they] want to make sure people are using it.”