What is personal resilience and how can we use it to our advantage at work?

Published: 18/08/2020
Author: Leigh McKay, Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant, WorkWise Wellbeing Solutions

The catchword resilience has been used prolifically in recent years. A plethora of books have been published on this topic and the word has been worked into many organisations’ values and mission statements. With the overuse of the term it is at risk of becoming vague and losing it’s meaning.

Deriving from the Latin word “to jump again”, resilience is when we are adaptive to our surroundings and can have a pragmatic approach in order to cope.

Considering our current situation and the impact of Covid-19, we face rapid change, no structure, few answers and more uncertainty. Many organisations have well established change management processes and procedures which have provided a practical approach for leaders and managers to implement and drive change . The change process can be successfully implemented, with a strategic approach looking at the larger scale impact, applying best practice supported by checklists and plans. However the pace of the current pandemic makes it difficult to adopt this kind of practical and measured approach which takes time. As a consequence many organisations are left in reactive state right now.

So how can personal resilience help?

Resilience is variable and determined by many factors. It is an area that presents ongoing challenge to psychologists. A person may show resilience at some points in their life and not others. Our resilience levels only become apparent in the face of adversity – if you are fortunate to have never experienced challenges and difficulty, the likelihood is you won’t know how resilient you are.

When we’re able to build positive adaptive reactions between personal/individual and environmental/social conditions we experience resilience. We build positive adaptive reactions by developing protective factors which is a critical starting point. Useful too, is when we can mitigate the risk factors.

Resilience - protective factors & risk factors balance infographic

The benefits of developing protective factors have been highlighted in many longitudinal resilience studies. In 1989 development psychologist Emmy Werner, published results from a 32 year longitudinal study, having followed a group of 698 children in Kauai, Hawaai from birth to the third decade of their life. One third of the children came from “at risk” backgrounds. Not all the at risk kids reacted to adversity the same way.

By the age of 10 two thirds of them had learning and behaviour problems, mental health problems, teen pregnancies to name a few. The remaining third developed into competent, caring, socially successful adults able to capitalise new opportunities. The study revealed how a large contributor to this was how they had responded to their environment and developed protective factors.

On a personal/individual level, we can build protective factors by;

  • Learning new things
  • Developing optimism
  • Focusing on purpose
  • Having self confidence
  • Improving our problem solving abilities
  • Staying connected
  • Developing conflict resolution skills
  • Taking care of our mental and physical wellbeing

Whilst we do not have a lot of control over the pandemic which is an external risk factor, there are other risk factors that we need to manage on a personal level:

  • Depending on unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol
  • Not recognising the need to ask for help or support when needed
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Unworkable home/working environment

Lastly, reframing resilience and contrasting it to vulnerability is something to consider. Resilience conjures up images of someone in a suit of armour, very strong and invincible. Paradoxically, there is no greater act of resilience, than showing vulnerability. Being vulnerable and asking for help takes courage.

So if building protective factors and managing the risk factors is something you can control on a personal level, this can help to strengthen your personal resilience which may in turn benefit your colleagues and your organisation to successfully respond and adapt to the changes whilst still being able to maintain business as usual.

Work Wise promotes sustainable wellbeing initiatives within organisations and communities. We are proud to be partnering with Vidatec to providing exclusive wellbeing content for engage4, their new workplace wellbeing platform.

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