Resilience at Work: 7 Ways to Help Leaders & Teams in a Crisis | by Delaney Tosh CPCC, PCC

 

Resilient Leader - Confident Client

During the past few months, I've noticed a dramatic shift in my conversations—with clients, family, friends, even strangers in lineups at the grocery store. The topic of every conversation has the same theme: resilience.

The pandemic has profoundly changed every part of our lives. At first, there was no space in our days to recover from the immense amount of change, overwhelm, uncertainty and the ever-present sense of invisible threat. Our individual and collective resilience took a hit. And worse, all the usual usual habits and tools that top up our wells of resilience were suddenly unavailable.

Now, we're all operating in environments of high stress, constant change and unprecedented complexity. In workplaces, individuals and teams must either find a new equilibrium or falter. Which means that how we coach our clients towards resilience at work will have a significant impact on how we collectively reshape and rebuild our future.

What is work resilience?

Much of the literature on resilience pertains to mental health, well-being or recovery from trauma. While that's all useful, it doesn't specifically relate to workplace environments.

Organizational psychologist Kathryn McEwen defines resilience at work as "An individual's capacity to manage the everyday stress of work and remain healthy, rebound and learn from unexpected setbacks and prepare for future challenges proactively." 1

In other words, resilience at work is about being the best you can be in the workplace environment. This involves three interrelated abilities:

  1. Mastering stress
  2. Adapting to change
  3. Being proactive

Resilience is best thought of as a dynamic state, rather than a fixed attribute of someone's personality. Building and maintaining resilience is an ongoing process in response to the various challenges we face. So, while some of us may have more "instinctive" resilience, we can all learn to develop the thoughts and behaviours that are the foundation of resilience.

A model for building resilience at work

To help individuals and teams build resilience, I use the Resilience at Work Sustain 7 Framework 2 developed by Kathryn McEwen.

This science-based measure of workplace resilience includes the following components:

  1. Living authentically
  2. Finding your purpose
  3. Maintaining perspective
  4. Mastering stress
  5. Interacting cooperatively
  6. Staying healthy
  7. Building networks

Here are 7 ways to grow resilience at work - with sample questions

As your clients face new challenges and increased stressors at work, you can use targeted questions to help them explore each of the seven aspects of resilience.

1. Living authentically

Self-awareness underpins our ability to keep our wells of resilience full. Knowing our core values, signature strengths and levels of emotional reactivity provides us with tools to notice, learn from and manage our behaviours more effectively.

Questions to ask:

  • What are your core values, and which can you draw on now to guide your decisions and actions?
  • Which of your signature strengths are needed right now? Which will best serve you and your team in these new circumstances?
  • What does your emotional landscape look and feel like right now?
  • What tools can you draw on to help you notice and regulate these emotions?
  • How can you help others in your team recognize and manage their emotions?

2. Finding your purpose

During this tumultuous time, many of us are feeling adrift because our sense of purpose has been derailed. For work teams, this loss of direction has had a profound impact.

Even if pre-pandemic priorities have shifted—or are no longer valid—those who can find short-term (or daily) calls to purpose will be better able to adapt and create meaning amidst the uncertainty. So, having a sense of purpose provides an internal compass, which can be a powerful motivator to sustain you, especially during uncertainty.

Questions to ask:

  • What is your internal compass pointed at?
  • What is more important now?
  • What contributes to a sense of belonging, for you, for your team?
  • What will support connection?
  • What can you and your team leverage to strengthen your sense of individual and shared purpose?

3. Maintaining perspective

The ability to step back and see the big picture helps avoid bogging down in the minutiae of daily stressors. In a crisis, this ability is critical.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the state of your thinking right now? Is it problem or solution-focused?
  • What will support you in engaging in a positive mindset?
  • What do you and your team need to reframe to help you move forward amidst uncertainty?
  • What expectations can you let go of?
  • What opportunities are available?
  • How might you shift from focusing on problems to focusing on learning and ideation?

4. Mastering stress

The sense of work-life balance we used to have has been eroded by the more extreme work environments we now face. With our usual stress management tools upended, this important factor in resilience needs more of our attention and new strategies.

Questions to ask:

  • What does work-life integration look like in today's reality?
  • What do you need more of now in the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual areas of your life?
  • With your team, how will you redefine the rules of engagement to create an environment that supports stress recovery and energy reset?

5. Interacting cooperatively

One remarkable phenomenon we're witnessing over the past few months is how many people are reaching out for support—and also reaching out to help. Not surprisingly, this two-way connection is also a key factor in building resilience at work. It involves vulnerability, self-reflection and co-creative reflection.

Some teams I work with recognized early that team members couldn't just "keep calm and carry on" during this worldwide turmoil. By proactively engaging members in cooperative support strategies, these teams were able to mobilize new solutions more quickly and face challenges collectively.

Questions to ask:

  • What are you holding tight to that may not be serving you well right now?
  • How might reaching out for support serve you better?
  • How could you seek support in productive, rather than burdensome, ways?
  • As a leader or team member, how will you reach out to support others on your team?
  • How can you collaborate to advance shared learning through the challenges you face?

6. Staying healthy

We know that as stress increases, the markers of health decrease. During times of turmoil, we typically let our health-supporting habits (how we eat, sleep, move our bodies and recover) fall by the wayside. So right now, it's wise to bring more focus to our health-boosting habits.

Questions to ask:

  • What does your body need from you right now to keep it feeling healthy and energized?
  • Given the shifts in your routines, how will you create new spaces and opportunities for your health habits?
  • What story are you telling yourself about your routines (or loss of them) that is not serving you well right now?
  • What is a new, more supportive story you could embrace?
  • What is a new health-boosting activity you could explore at this time?

7. Building networks

Maintaining personal and work networks is an overlooked factor that supports resilience at work. A diverse network, both within and outside your work, is more important than many think in determining how well you grow and thrive in your work and career.

Questions to ask:

  • What support do you need, and who might best provide this support?
  • How might a different perspective help guide you in making difficult decisions?
  • What relationships are important for your growth, and how can you give these more attention?
  • How do you reciprocate?

Wrap-up

This model for resilience at work provides a simple framework for, what is ultimately, a complex and multi-faceted concept.

Help your clients identify ways in which they are already strong in each of the components that support resilience at work. Ask clients what strategies they already use, and then explore how they could shift actions or add new ones to help maintain and build their resilience.

Some of my clients also find it helpful to use a balance wheel diagram similar to the Wheel of Life—one wheel for each component of Resilience at Work—and fill in each with their own strategies. This helps them create intentions that are incremental and doable.

Action: How will you use this model with your clients at work? What other questions would you include to help your clients explore their resilience in each area?

References:

1 McEwen, K. (2016). Building your resilience: How to thrive in a challenging job. 

2 McEwen, K. (2018). Resilience at work: A framework for coaching and interventions [White paper]. https://workingwithresilience.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Whitepaper-Sept18.pdf

Resources:

Delaney Tosh Headshot

Contributing author: Delaney Tosh, CPCC, PCC, coaches women who want to radiate with confidence and thrive as leaders. She helps her clients navigate the hurdles unique to women in leadership and delivers the Resilience at Work® Toolkit and Resilience at Work® Leader Scale, helping leaders and teams create optimal performance through resilience. She is the co-creator of the Phoenix-Hearted Woman retreats which help women strengthen what has them thrive as leaders. Connect with Delaney at SquarePeg Leadership or on LinkedIn.

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One Comment

  1. Badriya

    Thank you so much for the article, I was preparing a session on resilience when I came cross your article. It was so helpful and thank you so so much

    Reply

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