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How to Build Resilience

Resilience is critical for day-to-day wellbeing at work; how well we cope and how well we bounce back. How can you help your people build resilience?

May 24th 2017

Resilience is critical to how confidently your people take on challenges, how well they cope with pressure and how well they bounce back from criticism and crises. Some people assume it’s just ‘how you are’, but actually, as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg points out, “…it’s a muscle you can flex and build yourself.”

Our psychologists have identified eight things that make a real difference to resilience and have devised a range of actions you can help your people to take to build resilience, individually and within your corporate culture.

Eight small steps to help your people build resilience:

1. Reach Out Week

Having people we can depend on when things get tough is a key part of coping.

If people don’t feel they have positive networks at work there are all kinds of small steps they can take to improve them. Reaching out to work colleagues is a great start.

Launching a ‘Reach Out Day’ or a ‘Connect Week’ to encourage your people to help one another with different work tasks can be really productive. They each get new ideas and new input, but most importantly, they may find they’ll have someone they feel they can turn to when things get challenging.


2. Celebrate successes – however small

Here in the UK we have a culture where celebrating personal success is somehow frowned upon. “It’s not British.”

But the reality is celebrating success is an important part of resilience. If your people only concentrate on the things they should have done better, they are wearing themselves down.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, when faced with the sudden death of her husband and the overwhelming sense of grief, wrote down 3 small positive things at the end of each day. That was an important small step for her.

In her new book,  ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy’, Sheryl writes:

“Tragedy does not have to be personal, pervasive or permanent, but resilience can be. We can build it and carry it with us throughout our lives.”

Encourage individuals to celebrate their successes and they will soon notice the difference. So will you.


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

3. Teach them to handle stress in a positive way

Do your people know how to handle stress in a positive way?

The American Heart Association suggests four ways you can turn stress on its head:

  1. Positive Self-Talk: “I can do this” Even better, write it down!
  2. Emergency Stress Stoppers – like deep breathing, time-outs, writing lists.
  3. Find Pleasure – yes it’s allowed! Do something for you.
  4. Daily Relaxation – incrementally building up your relaxation skills with yoga, meditation, exercise or whatever suits you.

Share these kinds of ideas with your people and get your leaders committed to this approach, and you may be able to avoid losing people to long-term stress or permanent burnout.


4. Promote change and flexibility

Our own research shows that people who are prepared to be more flexible are less likely to be anxious or depressed. Which means they are more able to be resilient.

Why not encourage your people to Do Something Different by launching one of our Change Management Platforms, just like Google, American Express and Remploy have done over the last few weeks.



5. Encourage socialising

Research reported in Psychology Today shows that socialising can provide a number of benefits to physical and mental health. Indeed connecting with friends may also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia.

Sometimes people are so busy at work they don’t take time to interact properly with colleagues. Encouraging your people to take time out with Water Cooler Moments, Lunch Drop-ins or just to talk instead of email can benefit everyone.


6. Help your people create a more positive view of themselves

It’s very human to worry about what others think of us and to let this grind us down.

But studies repeatedly show that it is just as human to overestimate the impact of our failures, shortcoming or mishaps.

In one recent social experiment a team invited people to look in a mirror and describe what they saw. What they didn’t know was that there were strangers on the other side of the mirror, giving their first impressions.

Take a look here – it’s amazing how differently and how much more kindly people probably view you and what you do. (Skips the ads, it’s worth a watch.)

Just sharing this clip around your workplace might help some of your people to reappraise how much energy they waste unnecessarily worrying about what others think of them.



7. Reframe the drama. Share the crisis

Dr Steve Peters, the psychiatrist credited with helping the British Cycling team to world dominance has written in his book, ‘The Chimp Paradox’ about how so many of us live in constant crisis. He describes how our primitive responses can take over, sending us into a cycle of anxiety and stress. Peters’ describes how we all have the Chimp in us; its drives, although there to keep us safe, can work against us, leaving people in what can be an almost constant state of Fight or Flight.

If you have people who seem to be continually trapped in crisis mode, what can you do about it?

Often it’s about two things. The lens they are looking at everything through. And prioritising what needs to be done.

Talking to someone sympathetic is a good way to get some perspective and may lead to practical help. You can do this informally or formally.

Encouraging them to take a little time out to list what has to be done and then helping them to work out what matters most is a good way to get some prioritising underway.


8. Seeing mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn

Building resilience may mean you have to challenge the corporate misconception that holds that mistakes are bad.

In fact mistakes or failure are the fastest way to learn. What’s more, scientists at Stanford University have found that making mistakes actually grows your brain. The brain fires off synapses, even if the student doesn’t know they have made a mistake.

Professor of Mathematics Education, Jo Boaler, in describing the work by Jason Moser and his team says:

“When teachers ask me how this can be possible, I tell them that the best thinking we have on this now is that the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.”

If you want to your people to be more resilient, and you want to build a corporate culture of resilience, you have to celebrate failure.

In a corporate context, this means learning from failures, but moving on fast. Sharing the vision, what’s next, what’s exciting and making sure your people have a clear understanding of where they fit in.

Do Something Different’s Building Resilience programme can introduce many of these ideas to your people at scale in the form of small positive actions.



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