As the complexity and volatility of the markets that companies operate in increase, organisations need resilience to adapt quickly. A resilient organisation is an agile organisation, meaning it has the required flexibility baked into processes and procedures to meet the varying demands of a diverse workforce.

Individuals need to be personally resilient too, and for that to happen they need to operate within a resilient culture. This means a culture where each person they interact with has the same understanding of what that means in behavioural terms and they’re confident that awareness exists because they can see their colleagues and managers doing the same.

Inside a resilient organisation there’s a shared enthusiasm for both the personal and the business benefits of behaving this way and everyone takes responsibility for using their unique and scarce personal resources mindfully and in intentional ways.

The key word here is ‘everyone’ because creating a culture for resilience needs to involve all levels of staff and leadership. At the most basic level, employers have an obvious duty of care, under regular health and safety legislation, not to damage employees in the course of their work. The first line of defence against psychological damage at work is paying attention to potential primary sources of pressure – a vital part of any wellbeing strategy. This is an activity that should be led from the top even if the detail is fed up from the bottom.

However, the employees themselves also have a specific role to play in mitigating those risks on their own account. This starts with them being mindful of their own resilience and stress tolerance and speaking up, or seeking external help if they feel they’re struggling. In much the same way as health and safety campaigns are often personalised over washroom mirrors by slogans such as ‘You’re looking at the person responsible for your health and safety’, a culture for resilience involves all parties being accountable for the choices they make and the actions they take.

There’s often a noticeable energy change when people realise that there are, after all, small adjustments they can make for themselves that will enable them to use their personal resources. This can be done in a way that will allow them to have enough of themselves left over after work for the other relationships and responsibilities that matter to them. Sometimes we see a collective dawning that what they’re getting in their life right now might be closely linked to what they’re doing – that the way they’ve been managing their personal resources may have unintentionally placed them on the back foot. This is why they feel so behind the curve all the time. Even more powerful is the realisation that although they may not be able to directly influence much of what happens to them at work, they can change the way it affects them just by slowing down their response. In short, they see for the first time that they may, after all, have some options and therefore more control than they thought.

This ability to actively choose a way to respond is central to the whole concept of personal resilience. In our complex global economy, the reach of an individual’s control or influence is limited, even among the most senior people. Few people can directly influence the events they must react to but more control over how they react is available than most actually exercise.

This is why emotional regulation is such an important part of developing resilience. When people are effectively hijacked by their emotions, pushing them to merely survive the moment, the range of available response options narrows, with the most readily available often being unhelpfully negative. In the end, how employees respond to demands and challenges as well as how much effort they’re prepared to put into changing their habitual patterns of behaviour is a matter of personal choice. It often comes down to how much they want a better outcome and whether they’re close enough to the middle of the pressure performance curve to be able to make the adjustments.

Unfortunately, once people feel overwhelmed, their ability to adapt their behaviour without help is compromised, which is the key reason why so many people make use of company support services. They already know they may not be able to bring themselves back to the point where they could get a better result on their own.

However, the more people who see the benefits of an adapted response and still have the emotional and mental bandwidth available to develop themselves in this way, the more resilient the culture will become. The more central building and supporting personal resilience becomes to a culture, the more self-sustaining it will be. What gets rewarded gets repeated, in much the same way that what’s punished gets avoided. If it looks important enough to everyone else, then it’s much more likely that people will feel safe enough to try different ways of working. They will be more accountable and intentional about how they use their personal resources on a daily basis and put effort into changing the things that they can change.

Lesley Cooper
Director at WorkingWell | Website | + posts

Lesley Cooper is a management consultant with over 25 years of experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing management programmes. In 1997 Lesley founded WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps companies manage workplace pressure in a way that facilitates growth and development. She is also the co-author of Brave New Leader: How to Transform Workplace Pressure into Sustainable Performance and Growth.