Resilience isn’t just for dealing with the tough times.  We can learn and build new ways of facing personal and professional challenges.  Consider these strategies…

How to Build a Stronger Work Life: Reconsider Resilience

Dr. Marla Gottschalk

I’ve often wondered why building resilience isn’t a key business imperative. Because being human, is often at odds with work life. Our work can routinely bring stress, negativity, setbacks and outright failures — and we are challenged to employ strategies to combat the effects.

We often frame our conversations about resilience with stories of extreme hardship or extenuating circumstances. However, resilience could serve as an ever-present, daily mentor — helping us to rebound from the collected pressures of work life. Most of us forge on, taking little note of the collected toll.

This can be a serious mistake.

Through all of the trials and tribulations, we rarely notice that our psychological resources are waning.We muddle on. We develop idiosyncratic mechanisms to bolster our mood and maintain motivation. However, the damage can accumulate and we become less able to bounce back. Months later, we may realize that we still lament the project that has been cut, laid off co-workers or failing to land an important client contract and our energy levels are affected. When the next event unfolds, we find ourselves essentially bankrupt. Devoid of the necessary resources to meet the challenge.

There have been a number of discussions on the topic, including protecting ourselves from overload, banking positive currency and practicing self-compassion. However, what if we could take resilience one step further? Could we effectively build our skills (and our team’s skills) in this area — just as we challenge our muscles in the gym?

Can we learn to think and act more “resiliently”?

Well — yes. There is evidence that resilience can be learned. The work of Dr. FredLuthens (who explores the construct of Psychological Capital) has completed research examining this area which could be fostered by organizations and shared with their employees. Supporting research completed completed by Ann Masten also provides foundational elements. This includes addressing 1) asset factors (elements that enhance our resilience, such as a stable home life or a healthy way to examine failure), 2) lowering risk factors (for example, a lack of a mentor) and 3) altering our perceptions concerning the potential to influence work life circumstances.

Here are a just few ways to apply this knowledge to our daily lives:

  • Facilitate network building. Building long-term asset factors, provides a stable foundation to help us deal with stressful work situations when they do arise. Consider losing a job for example; stronger networks can help employees move on more effectively by providing access to critical information concerning roles and growth needs.
  • Clarify strategy and goals. Reducing risk factors — elements which weaken our psychological safety net, is also vital. For example, knowing “why” we are completing a task and how our role contributes to outcomes is critical. If we fail to believe that our actions have meaning, we are less likely to forge on.
  • Utilize the “staunch reality” viewpoint. One scenario that quickly depletes psychological resources, is sticking to a game plan that is simply not working. Understanding that we have the ability to influence outcomes by embracing realistic assessments of workplace situations — can help us to prepare. This honest view is necessary to review history, properly identify setbacks, evaluate potential impact and brainstorm possible responses before they occur.
  • Aggressively focus on strengths as a “vaccine”. We can mitigate the negative after effects of stressful events, with a focus on positive elements. This includes the identification and utilization of an individual’s stronger vs. weaker skill sets. A focus on the latter, can quickly deplete our psychological reserves.
  • Explore the sources of “drain”. The elements that drain our psychological reserves can be varied (and often surprising). Consider the sources that affect you and meet with your team to determine where the leaks are occurring. Brainstorm actions to stem the tide.

How do you build (and protect) resilience for yourself or your team? Share your strategies.