The past several years have both demanded and challenged our resilience. But what does this word really mean? And how can we, as executives and managers, create the conditions that help team members thrive despite relentless pressure?
The concept of resilience goes hand and hand with adaptability, our capacity as human beings to get used and adjust to sudden changes or challenging circumstances. The American Psychological Association notes its essential ingredients include a healthy engagement with the world around a person, the support networks in people’s lives, and the ability to cultivate positive coping mechanisms.
The world of work has a role to play in all of the above. Research from the late 2000s famously suggested the average American will spend 90,000 hours at their jobs throughout life.
There is no real way, despite past expectations, that team members can shed their personal identities, individual circumstances, feelings, and problems at the office door, only to pick them back up again on the way out. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with America’s profound reckoning with racial injustice, made 2020 a watershed year for rethinking our relationships with the workplace. Continued gun violence and challenges to women’s reproductive freedoms have followed.
All these are work issues. Safety, security, and belonging – including the ability to bring one’s full self to the table – are all essential for team members to fully lean into the work they do.
With this in mind, what is it that entrepreneurs, executives, managers, and anyone leading a team can do to play a role in creating more resilient work spaces?
As simple as listening
Listening is an ongoing skill at which we never become perfect, but better with each encounter. For work matters, this might mean being open to feedback from subordinates about a deadline being unrealistic, or their workload being too heavy. It may also mean developing a solution with a team member to respond to something that has happened in their lives that has affected them.
Let team members tell you what you need, and what you can do for them. It’s less about you fixing things from the top down, and more about working together.
Stay attuned to your perspective
Here is a strong example. It’s become popular from the C-suites to LinkedIn for people to voice the opinion that mistakes are actually positives, and can serve as learning opportunities. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, not everyone actually feels that way.
Self-awareness is a crucial part of developing healthy, balanced perspectives. How, for example, do you inwardly respond to mistakes when they happen? And what concrete steps get taken to ensure everyone involved in a mistake or negative experience can recover and learn from it, and then truly move forward?
Reimagine the way you talk about challenges
This is more of an inner, than outer exercise as a manager: Embrace the positive aspects of even intimidating challenges. When you reframe these in your own mind, it will feel much more natural and free-flowing to take a positive approach toward scary or new situations.
Watch out for catastrophizing language. “If we don’t get X done, Y will happen,” may seem like a harmless or even logical thing to say. But in high stakes situations, what this often does is raise team members’ anxiety levels and make learning from mistakes impossible. Instead, people will see it through the lens of guilt and fault.
Replace “I can’t believe this happened,” with “It’s okay. Now, let’s plan so this situation doesn’t repeat itself.”
Create a resilience-building world
Activities are great, and exercise and lifestyle changes are both clinically proven to boost mood levels and optimism. You don’t necessarily need to go rock climbing to create a team building exercise. If a nice day is on the horizon, organize a team hike or day in the park.
Encourage people to do things on their own. If you can, offer things like gym memberships, or give gift certificates to healthy restaurants or food stores as birthday or holiday goodies. Support for community initiatives that help those in need, and show interest in the work team members are doing there. This helps us see the world as a bigger place than just the office – and helping others puts our own challenges into perspective.
Human beings have an innate, evolutionary capacity for adaptation to the adverse. Even when we face significant trauma in life, we can thrive under the right circumstances. Workplaces have a clear opportunity and incentive to promote this, becoming one of the safe, nurturing spaces people can count on in their lives.