What is Resilience in the Workplace?
The modern workplace is constantly undergoing profound and far-reaching change. Employees are beset by a continual barrage of challenging questions such as, ‘Can I keep up with technology?’ ‘Will my job still exist?’ This naturally leads to uncertainty and in turn to stress and anxiety for workers who rely on their jobs to provide for themselves and their families.
The key question to be answered in such an environment is, are these stressful conditions necessarily detrimental to the long term wellbeing and success of the employees affected?
You might expect the answer to be a ‘no-brainer’, “Yes!”
But could it be that an employee’s personal resilience has more to do with their health and career success than we might sometimes think? A research project by two management consultants examined this very question.
A twelve year study by S. Maddi and D. Khoshaba observed the workers of a large US telecommunications company during a time when this industry was undergoing deregulation. This workplace was constantly changing and jobs were at stake. Nevertheless, this research showed some surprising results.
Almost half of the workers lost their job and a further two-thirds underwent stressful life events (including divorce, mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and heart attacks). In spite of these real life challenges, one-third of the employees not only survived the tremendous obstacles they faced, they actually thrived!
A question of perspective
The employees studied in this research all faced the same momentous challenges. What was it that allowed a significant proportion of them to find and follow a path through to a better life?
In order to answer this question, let’s consider another one: ‘Why is it that we all find the lives and exploits of great leaders, athletes and adventurers so inspiring and motivating?” What is it about their stories that stirs our emotions so powerfully?
Let’s briefly consider the achievements of two of Australia’s greatest modern explorers. James John ‘Cas’ Castrission and Justin Roderick ‘Jonesy’ Jones, were included in the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015 by the Australian Museum.
An excerpt from the exhibition notes says, ‘These two young Aussie adventurers were the first to kayak unsupported from Australia to New Zealand, and then completed the first unsupported walk to the South Pole and back.’
Again we must ask, how were these men able to succeed where others failed. Clearly there is no single answer. Obviously meticulous planning, considerable courage and significant resources are required, but many have these, only to turn back shortly after they have begun. Let’s turn once more to the notes from the Trailblazers Exhibition to glean some further insights:
“[Their first] major expedition in 2007–08 – [was] an unsupported paddle from Forster, on the New South Wales north coast, to New Plymouth, New Zealand. For 62 days they lived in their double kayak, battered by 10-metre waves and 50-knot winds as they completed the 3318-kilometre trip. When the pump that provided their fresh water broke, they didn’t give up, but manually pumped salt water through a desalinator for three hours a day.”
This brings us back to the topic at hand and helps us to understand the important findings of the study by Maddi and Khoshaba.
Interestingly, they wrote a book in 2006 entitled, ‘Resilience at work: how to succeed no matter what life throws at you.’
In many ways this book reveals the necessary qualities of resilience exhibited by our explorers, Cas and Jonesy
Resilience can grow
The first and most important finding of this study is that, just like Cas and Jonesy, you can grow your resilience in all aspects of your life. While it’s true that some people are more naturally resilient, people with lower levels can learn to boost their ability to cope, thrive and flourish when the going gets tough.
Become a workplace adventurer
The first thing you will need to do is to develop the explorer-like trait of hardiness which was discovered to buffer or reduce the negative effects of stressful events or hardship. Yes, it is possible to learn strategies to boost hardiness and workers who did this were able to build personal and workplace reliance.
In order to unpack this, let’s consider what adventurers and resilient workers do the same.
Like the strong bonds forged between men like Cas and Jonesy, resilient workers develop high quality relationships which are marked by the following features: effective communication, where someone listens actively and is responsive to their colleague and their emotions; sacrificial service, where a worker will do what they can to help another person to achieve success in the workplace; consistently building trust with others; fun loving, resilient workers don’t take the work environment too seriously which helps them to keep stress from becoming overwhelming.
The final observation about resilient employees was that they were true to their ‘real’ self. They behaved in ways which were in alignment with their values and beliefs. Like Cas and Jonesy, they displayed real grit.
These insights have been brought to courtesy of world record breaking adventurer, James ‘Cas’ Castrission. Now a world renowned keynote speaker and leadership consultant, Cas has a passion for teaching and inspiring personal resilience.
Click here if you would like to book Cas to speak at your next event or conference.