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How to Build a Culture of Resilience at Your Organization

April 30, 2020 / Corporate Wellness

Written By: Jordan Dunne

Learn why the ability to bounce back matters and how to teach your employees to thrive through disruptions.

Dealing with change has always been an important part of life and business, but if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we must be prepared for the impact that change can have. So how do we learn to cope with change, both on an individual and organizational level? We build resilience. 

We live in a time when everything is constantly changing. Ideas, products, and technologies come and go seemingly every day. How we talk to each other, how we do business, and how we have fun: all of this and so much more has been profoundly transformed over the past two decades — and even more so in the last few months. When change is the only constant, resilience isn’t optional. Your organization and your employees need to be resilient in the face of change and the stress it can bring in order to come out stronger on the other side.  

The Meaning of Resilience

What exactly is resilience, though? According to Lisa Pocius, M.D. in our webinar, Surfing the Sea of Change, “someone who’s resilient is somebody who grows. You don’t handle everything the same way each time. Learning from the past and getting better at handling change—it’s certainly a skill that has to be developed and practiced.” Let’s break down that definition: 

For starters, resilience is a process. Resilient organizations accept change as a recurring variable, not a one-off. Being resilient is about staying firm in the face of change itselfnot one particular change.  

It’s important to note here that change – and adversity in general – is a source of stress. Change causes stress. Resilience is about effectively dealing with that stress. Like a surfer riding waves, your organization and your people need to let change take you to new, exciting places, without dragging you down.  

Keys to Building Emotional Resilience in an Organization

Like any part of your corporate culture, resilience isn’t built overnight. It can take considerable policy shifts, training and lots of patience. Its worth it in the long-run, though. When change comes knocking, a resilient workforce will stand by you, meaning a lower turnover rate, higher morale and easier transitions.  

How can organizations build resilience? Let’s have a look at some of the key approaches your organization can take to become more resilient:  

  1. Learn from past failures. Your organization fails when it’s unable to adapt to adverse change. Not every transition is successful. By leveraging the experience you gained, however, you can enhance your organization’s resilience to future change. If a pilot project fails, ask yourself: What went wrong, here? What could be done better next time? Who now has the skills and experience to do a better job? 
  2. Look at the big picture. Are you framing your decisions in zero-sum terms? When everything is a win-or-lose gamble, your organization might “win” a few times but lose in the long-run. Make sure that at every level your decisionmaking process keeps a long-term big picture in mind. Doing this can mean making compromises and concessions in the short-term. It can also mean being open to change.   
  3. Bring people together. More than anything else, people, not cash and capital goods, are what make up your organization. When large-scale change arrives, everyone is affected, and leaders play a key role in bringing people together. Leaders make sure that everyone knows that they are part of the change and that their leadership team is there to help them face their part in it.   

How to Teach Resilience 

Few people (and even fewer organizations) start out resilient. In fact, less than half of us are naturally resilient. The good news, though, is that resilience can be taught and learned. 

“I believe that our employees can be polished and shaped by the change around us and be better for it in the end. And that’s what we need to help them do.” – Lisa Pocius 

Several key skills can be taught to enhance the resilience of everyone at your organization: 

Self-care: Employees are individuals. They need to be given the right amount of “me time” and “me space.” Work culture and policies that compel employees to give up their personal lives and identities will cause stress, increase turnover and reduce productivity. Give employees the time and space to be who they are and they’ll come back to work eager and motivated to succeed.  

Continuous learning: The more experience and learning experiences a person has, the better equipped they are with the knowledge and abilities that will allow them to face change head-on. Enable your employees to get outside their comfort zones and learn new things. Cross-team collaboration and mentorship programs can also foster growth. As Lisa Pocius pointed out, “even those who are really good at something, we’re going to teach them to be better and teach others.” In times of change, you never know when those new skills will come in handy.  

Finding Meaning: In a large organization, it can be hard for individual employees to see just how important they are in the bigger picture. Enable your employees to find meaning beyond the paycheck. Show them you believe in them. Motivate them by offering rewards (recognition or wellbeing program incentives are great low-cost options) and eventually that positive reinforcement will lead to intrinsic motivation, which is key to developing healthy habits and behavior change. Give your employees a real reason to come in every day and the opportunity to be their best selves.  

How do you know when you or your employees have learned resilience? “When you’re able to transform anxiety or upset about a change into energy to get through the change.”  

In a time when business, and life in general, are changing by the hour, emotional resilience is invaluable to organizations. Resilience isn’t just a set of processes. It’s part of the unwritten ethos of the organization, a spirit of togetherness and a sense of shared dreams and goals. Resilience is what lets your organization—and your people—go that extra mile in the face of change. Build resilience today. Be prepared because change will come.  

Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Susan David’s work on Understanding Emotional Agility in the workplace. 

About The Author

Jordan Dunne is on the marketing team at Virgin Pulse, focusing on social strategy and health and wellbeing content. Outside of work, you can find her at the gym, hosting trivia, taking photos of food, or snuggling up on the couch with her dogs.

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