Resiliency Consulting: Can We Teach Employees Resiliency?

People are tired of the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues to disrupt work and personal lives. These are times that test the resiliency of organizational leaders, employees, and the business itself. However, the business can't be resilient unless its workforce is resilient, a fact leadership and resilience consultants understand. What is leader and employee resiliency, and can it be taught? Resiliency or change agility is the ability to manage each difficult challenge, like a stressful union organizing campaign or other business disruption, with a positive perspective. That makes sense, but developing this trait in the workforce at all levels of responsibility is a challenge in itself. How can your organization develop resilience in the workplace so the next business disruption remains manageable and employees remain engaged? What is the role of leadership and resilience consultants?

What is resiliency? 

Charles Dickens famously began his book "A Tale of Two Cities" with the statement, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…." Though the pandemic caused a lot of harm to people - physically, emotionally, and psychologically – it also drove some businesses to quickly become more resilient to continue meeting workforce and customer needs. The slow transitioning to more online sales and a hybrid or remote workforce that was already taking place, for example, accelerated in 2020 and 2021.   

Business resiliency depends on the level of resiliency among its leaders and employees. What is resiliency? One definition of resiliency accepted by various researchers goes like this, "Employee resilience is a capacity of employees that is supported and facilitated by organizations to positively cope, adapt, and even thrive in response to dynamic and challenging environments." It is important to: 

  • Promoting individual competence 
  • Enhancing individual responses to stressful circumstances 
  • Increasing capacity for employee success in responding to challenges 
  • Enhancing a person's response to successful circumstances 
  • Responding in a positive manner and with an open mind to constant change  

Notice the resiliency definition includes the point that employee resilience is "supported and facilitated by organizations." Resilient employees build strong relationships. Consider all the times that we have emphasized the importance of developing high employee engagement and positive employee relations between leaders and employees. One of the many benefits is that workforce resiliency is strengthened through leadership and social support. Achieving high-quality relationships depends on:

  • Developing effective communication skills, like active listening 
  • A willingness to help others achieve success, meaning being a team-player 
  • Developing professional networks 
  • Building trust with others 
  • Managing stress 
  • Being authentic and maintaining alignment with personal values  
  • Monitoring personal thoughts when stressed, acting mindfully, and recognizing stress triggers 

Business #resiliency depends on the level of resiliency among its leaders and employees. #resiliencyconsultants #consulting

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What does a resilient workforce look like? 

What are a resilient workforce's traits, characteristics, actions, and behaviors? There is: 

  • Positivity, which makes employees more adaptable to work challenges 
  • Adaptability that enables maintaining a sense of control, even in difficult situations 
  • A workforce that puts in maximum effort at work 
  • Leaders and employees with emotional intelligence that consider the impact of their behaviors and words so are careful not to express negative emotions. 
  • Work-life balance, with employees taking care of themselves in all aspects and leadership that doesn't place impossible work burdens on employees 

IRI Consultants Carol Hutchins and Sam Hutchins identified three major factors that make an individual more resilient. 

  • Purpose - A person's ability to do meaning-making in their work is significant. This is how a person perceives and understands what they are doing and its importance about others and themselves.  
  • Social support -  Social support means having people to turn to during a crisis who give a broader focus and a sense of hope and positivity.  
  • Self-care - Addressing good self-care and support systems in and out of the work environment, including physical, emotional, social, financial, work, personal safety, and security 

Notice these are factors that contribute to both staying union-free and building resilience. 

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The pandemic had a major impact on the ability of people to interact. "There is a gap exacerbated by the pandemic and related stresses between being aware of resiliency in a workforce versus developing and implementing processes effectively addressing resiliency. Employee social support structures were distanced or eliminated, and many organizations were unaware of the extent of the negative effects on their organizations. Sam Hutchins, Consultant at IRI Consultants, explains, "There is a gap exacerbated by the pandemic and related stresses between being aware of resiliency in a workforce versus developing and implementing processes effectively addressing resiliency." 

For example, before the pandemic, most employees would look outside of their employer for mental health care, if they looked at all. This has reversed through the pandemic, to the point that most employees expect that their employer will address mental health and resiliency. When leadership fails to appreciate and provide support, usually through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), employees may work at an emotional deficit or resign.  

The pandemic negatively impacted employees in critical ways. The 2021 Gartner Workforce Resilience Employee Survey found: 

  • 85 percent of employees experienced higher levels of burnout  
  • 41 percent of employees developed a lower trust in teams 
  • 37 percent developed a lower trust in leadership 
  • 29 percent have a lower level of receptiveness to change 
  • 31 percent experienced a lower level of inclusion 

The Society for Human Resources Management points to statistics that indicate EAP utilization averages below 10 percent. The median utilization in 2018 was 5.5 percent, according to the National Business Group on Health. This was before the pandemic distanced so many people. The reasons for low utilization vary but include the stubborn stigma around mental health, failure to communicate the services available to employees, fear of appearing "weak" should coworkers or supervisors find out an individual sought mental health counseling, and loss of privacy. 

Your leadership directly influences the employee experience from beginning to end, including how they do their jobs, the purpose of the work, and the utilization of programs like EAPs. Managers and supervisors can help employees build resilience, but first, they must develop their own resiliency and change adaptability, and resiliency consulting can help. 

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Can we teach resiliency? 

Resilience is a skill, and any skill can be taught and learned. People can learn more than coping skills. They can thrive. Resiliency consulting is a process for encouraging resilience in the workplace by helping people understand its core concepts, supportive cognitive processing, and subsequent behaviors (thoughts lead to behaviors). It can positively impact the workforce's mental health and well-being, physical health, and performance.  

Once the leaders understand the power of resiliency for personal and business success, they can utilize a coaching leadership style to develop resiliency in their employees. This is how resiliency becomes part of the corporate culture through resiliency consulting 

Leaders who invest their efforts in developing resilient teams will encourage employees to do the things that will build a workforce with change adaptability. It will be a highly engaged workforce, enjoys positive employee relations with each other and with their managers or supervisors, and is more likely to stay union-free 

  • Encourages employee voice to share their perspectives, issues and concerns, and feedback. 
  • Knows that times of high stress are manageable, and problems can be reported to management without fear of repercussions 
  • Works with coworkers during difficult times or for periods of time to reduce stress 
  • Willing to ask for help or support from people with more expertise 
  • Expresses appreciation for the efforts of others  

Your organization may suffer a lack of resiliency triggered by any of several disruptive events, including an enduring pandemic, high turnover rate, poor workforce mental health, or a union organizing campaign and/or election, to name a few. According to Consultant Carol Hutchins, "As a company, we are in a unique place to support our clients when their staff is suffering from either the adversarial process of a union organizing campaign or when employees are afraid of utilizing EAP's and would prefer a 3rd party to help develop a more resilient milieu." 

Can you hire for resiliency?

To a certain extent, you can hire by resiliency by asking the job candidates the right questions, according to leadership staffing experts at Robert Walters Group. For example, you can ask about situations in which the candidate was frustrated or failed and how they responded. You can also present role-playing scenarios of a challenging workplace situation. There are assessment tests available too that measure emotional intelligence. You can determine, up to a point, the degree of resiliency a person has, but the real test comes after hiring, of course. 

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What do we need to do to build a more resilient workforce? 

Researchers at the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources interviewed 150 leaders in 15 different organizations on resilience, presenting a new perspective. Conventional thinking says resilience is found internally. Like the old expression says, "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going." It could say, "When the going gets tough, the resilient get going and thrive." The researchers publishing in the Harvard Business Review found that "resilience is not purely an individual characteristic, but is also heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks." Internal resilience is strengthened through interactions with others because the relationships help people: 

  • Shift or respond to work demands, so the challenge becomes more manageable 
  • Make sense of people or organizational politics in any given situation 
  • Inspires confidence to self-advocate 
  • Crystallizes the meaning and purpose of work 
  • It helps to see the path forward to overcome a challenge or setback 
  • Provides empathetic support, enabling the release of negative emotions 
  • Laugh at a situation and themselves 

There have been other studies with similar findings and many more studies on the importance of a resilient workforce. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) mentions the debate on whether worker characteristics or working conditions are the primary triggers of job stress. Worker characteristics include personality and coping skills, and one viewpoint says focusing on workers first and helping them cope with job and working conditions will lower job stress. Job conditions aren't always ideal, as the pandemic demonstrated most recently.  

This confirms that working to minimize the negative effects of demanding job conditions is important, but developing worker resilience helps people lower job stress. NIOSH's names situational factors that reduce the effects of stressful working conditions as: 

The job conditions leading to stress include:  

  • Heavy workload 
  • Tasks with little meaning 
  • Not utilizing worker skills 
  • Lack of job autonomy 
  • Leaders who don't let workers participate in decision-making 
  • Poor communication in the organization 
  • Poor social environment 
  • Lack of support from managers or supervisors and coworkers 
  • Uncertain job expectations causing  

The American Institute of Stress research found that 40 percent of workers say their job was very or extremely stressful, and 25 percent reported their job is the number one stressor. Also, 65 percent said workplace stress had caused difficulties, and 10 percent said stress has major effects. The stress causes neck pain, workplace violence, difficult sleeping, back pain, headaches, fatigue, lower productivity, higher employee turnover, higher absenteeism, and higher rates of accidents. 

As previously mentioned, purpose-driven work is an important aspect of resiliency. Co.'s research found that 70 percent of employees believe their sense of purpose is defined by the work they do. The COVID-19 pandemic led people to reflect on their life purpose and if the kind of work they do contributes to purpose. People who believe they have a purpose at work are more productive, healthier, and more resilient. Your leaders influence the organization's larger purpose, which is the role and contribution to society and how employees are provided meaningful work that supports the organizational role and contribution. "Companies can also exert influence by improving the underlying health of the organization and its culture, bolstering inclusiveness and the employee experience, and changing the work itself," write McKinsey's authors.  

Workplace culture is the overarching influence on workplace resilience. Your managers and supervisors play the biggest role in creating the right culture, explaining the broad perspective of resiliency consulting efforts. 

Your managers and supervisors play the biggest role in creating the right culture for your organization. Are you confident that they have the proper #leadershiptraining? #resiliency #consulting

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How can a consultant help with resiliency? 

What can leadership and resiliency consultants do together to improve organizational resilience? An organizational development consultant can help you develop a plan to build a resilient workforce and culture, which in turn contributes to a resilient business. The plan is based on an evaluation of your current status to identify "resiliency gaps" and is conducted by consultants with experience in management who use a variety of approaches, including observation and interviews.   

For example, the resiliency consultant assesses leadership capabilities to determine the type of development or coaching needed to develop resilient leadership skills. Your leaders will be at different stages of development. The plan may recommend changes in behaviors and work practices to promote leadership development and organizational culture improvement. The assessment is done within the context of organizational needs.  

Development opportunities can take different forms. 

  • Online interactive training available 24/7 
  • Group training sessions 
  • One-on-one coaching  

Often, it's a combination of training forms, like online on-demand training plus face-to-face meetings. Consultant Carol Hutchins explains, "In our well-being and resiliency sessions, we address the issues contributing to the loss of resiliency. This includes psychosocial education with employees around resiliency and practices for employees to enact to increase their resiliency. In small groups and one-on-one, we create a safe environment to talk through struggles, the loss of connection, and how to find hope and meaning."  

Your top leaders and resiliency consultants can work together to develop the ideal leadership development and employee training program. It can include coaching, communication systems improvements, mindfulness, empathy, regulating stress responses, and cognitive strategies. The possibilities are endless, but any training and development are geared towards understanding and developing resiliency, whether you want to be union-free or increase competitiveness in a disrupted global marketplace or both. Resiliency consultants can help with team and workgroup development and employee engagement initiatives, recommending solutions that enhance a company's performance through resiliency building. 

People and organizations need resiliency today to thrive now and through the next disruptions. 

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