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Leadership

A guide on resilience, with 6 tips on how to build it at work

Sue Hampson - Last Update: 18 Nov 2021

Contents

What is resilience?

> What types of challenges can test resilience?

> Why do we need to be resilient?

> How to become more resilient

> Six tips for building resilience in the workplace

 

Throughout your career, you’ll no doubt come up against many obstacles and setbacks that challenge you.

Despite the misconception that you’re either born with resilience or you’re not, it is possible to build and hone that perseverance to carry you through when things get tough.

In fact, a 2017 study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that an employee’s resilience in a difficult work environment could actually protect them from negative health outcomes such as stress or burnout.

What is resilience?

The American Psychological Association says that psychologists see resilience as the ability to adapt well ‘ in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress .’

In a work capacity, resilience could be viewed as the way you perform under high pressure or even whether you have the tenacity to ‘bounce back’ after facing a major hurdle.

For example, imagine that a huge presentation that you give to secure more funding for your department doesn’t go well and you’re denied the money.

Your reaction to this sort of situation will determine whether you’ve built up enough resilience to try again or whether this obstacle will hold you back instead.

The good news is that you can start to build up your resilience at any time.

What types of challenges can test resilience?

Your resilience can be tested, no matter what stage you’re at in your career.

Some examples of challenges you might come across include:

  • Receiving negative feedback and feeling as though you’ve failed
  • Losing key members of staff at a critical time
  • Taking on an increased workload
  • High pressure situations or tight deadlines

It’s important not to drop into negative thinking patterns when you come up against a setback.

That could include destructive labelling a situation by making generalised comments such as ‘This is ridiculous’ or blaming others, rather than looking for a resolution.

Instead, try to keep your comments specific to the issue that’s bothering you and focus on finding a solution within the team, rather than dividing everyone.

Developing a positive growth mindset can help with this - more on this later.

Why do we need to be resilient?

Resilience will help you to thrive in a workplace situation, rather than becoming overwhelmed.

It can also drive you closer to reaching your goals, rather than giving up on them when you experience setbacks and obstacles.

How to become more resilient

The psychologist Albert Ellis developed a model for resilience that you can use yourself or within training for your team.

abc model of resilience

The A-B-C (standing for Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences) model places a lot of emphasis on the way we interpret the setbacks we come up against.

For instance, if your manager is off sick for a long period of time, you might instantly feel overwhelmed at the thought of stepping up to take their place. Just the thought of the increased workload, managing people you’ve never managed before and going into meetings with more senior staff could all be terrifying prospects.

But your HR team may already have started recruiting for someone to support you, as well as organising managerial training for you.

As soon as you’re in a challenging situation, be sure to stick to the facts you know to be true before your mind runs away with you. Ask yourself ‘what are the facts here?’ and ask your colleagues for support, rather than trying to deal with everything by yourself.

Remember that the way you interpret the situation will impact your actions and emotions, so it’s important to take your time learning all the facts, rather than jumping to conclusions.

Six tips for building resilience in the workplace

#1. Set SMART goals

Setting yourself realistic and achievable goals will help you to stay motivated and push through any obstacles that stand in your way.

Keep them SMART to give yourself a good chance at succeeding at them:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Further reading: How to write and set SMART goals

#2. Practice self-care and self-compassion

Looking after yourself physically and emotionally is hugely important when it comes to building resilience.

When you know you’re in danger of becoming overwhelmed or your stress levels are too high, use relaxation techniques that work for you like meditation or going for a walk.

Be sure to get a good amount of sleep and talk to yourself in a positive way. Don’t let your inner critic get the better of you.

#3. Develop a growth mindset

A positive growth mindset will set you in good stead for becoming a more resilient person.

When you have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, you see failures as opportunities to learn and grow. A good way to think about this is to say to yourself, ‘there are no failures, there is only feedback.’

Start to see any challenges as a way for you to improve and learn, rather than a setback.

#4. Build a strong support network

Having a good selection of people around you who can pick you up when you’re feeling down is vital.

It’s always good to have a mixture of perspectives to call on so find a good collection of colleagues, friends and family that you can talk to.

#5. Be more assertive

Once you start to become more assertive, you’ll be able to set boundaries for yourself that your colleagues won’t overstep.

For example, if you have a tight deadline for a project and a colleague from a different department tries to give you more work to complete, you’ll be able to assertively state that you won’t be able to take on any more tasks until the initial project is complete.

In turn, this will help to build your resilience against overwhelm.

Further reading: How to be more assertive at work

#6. Reflect on your achievements

Stopping to reflect on your achievements will help you see how far you’ve already come and how much you’re capable of.

Set aside some time at the end of each week to list the small and big achievements you’ve had that week. Whether it’s an important pitch going well or having a really productive 1:1 with a team member, when you stop and reflect, you’ll realise that you’ve overcome setbacks in the past and you’ve made it through.

Resilience is a skill that can certainly be built over time, with the right mindset and support network around you.

Taking the time to strengthen your resilience to setbacks will help you to move forward in your career, rather than being held back by overwhelm or obstacles.