We all have that co-worker who’s always crushing deadlines at work, baking cookies for the entire office, exceeding role expectations and managing to get in a workout before the end of the day. So, why is it that some people flourish when they’re faced with challenge and change, while others crumble under the stress of it all?
The difference is resilience, the psychological hardiness to adapt in the face of adversity. In the workplace, resilience improves employee satisfaction, morale, organizational commitment and productivity.
This concept of psychological hardiness was identified by researchers Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba (authors of the book “Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You”) based on years of consulting, assessing and training at the Hardiness Institute. Maddi and Khoshaba believe that resilience is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, finding solutions to problems and interacting with challenges head-on. It’s shifting the mentality that associates stress with challenge toward one that associates opportunity with challenge. Resilience is thriving.
How can leaders make their employees into resilient co-workers? Here are three strategies to increase resilience in the workplace and build greater change agility and hardiness in employees.
1. Recruit Resilience
Research shows that exposure to past adversity builds stronger individuals who are more equipped to take on future challenges. To recruit resilient employees, leaders can use hiring questions that stimulate a conversation about how applicants have adapted to change, stress and challenge in the past. This approach requires placing more of an emphasis on how candidates have coped with challenging situations and less of an emphasis on whether there was a desirable outcome from the situation.
Sample questions include:
- How have you coped with stress, challenges or change in past jobs?
- What did you learn about yourself in that situation?
- How did you move forward from that challenge?
Once the candidate becomes an employee, leaders can continue to emphasize resilience within their team and advocate for a culture where people talk about challenges with a solution-focused approach.
2. Create Resilience Resources
Effectively navigating disruptive change can build change agility and resilience. Leaders can help employees do so by creating resilience resources employees can use to thrive.
In his book “Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance,” Kim Cameron, a professor at the University of Michigan and co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, describes “positive leadership” as the development and application of four socio-psychological resources known as the four Ps:
- Cultivating a positive climate through shared positive experiences, emotions and interpretations.
- Fostering positive relationships through interpersonal interactions that promote enrichment and learning.
- Encouraging positive communication through affirming language and support.
- Creating positive meaning by supporting employees in pursuing purpose and meaning in their work.
Some practical examples of “4P” behaviors to build employee resilience are discussing failures in a positive way, using language that resonates with the goal of resilience (e.g., “grit” and “hardiness”), creating opportunities for regular and constructive feedback, and creating experiences for shared learning.
The goal of creating resilience resources is to ingrain these practices into the social infrastructure of the organization. Leaders have the power to influence an organization’s collective environment and, in turn, set the pace for how quickly individuals can adapt to challenges.
3. Use the 3 Cs of Hardiness
According to researcher Suzanne Kobasa, the three Cs of hardiness are commitment, control and challenge.
Commitment refers to the level of follow-through with a course of action, regardless of what challenges may surface. Leaders must commit to constructing meaningful goals; breaking down those goals into achievable steps; and sticking with it until their team reaches those goals, even if barriers come up.
We often feel stress and a lack of control when we are facing challenges and change. By focusing on an inner locus of control, leaders and employees can learn to overcome challenge by asking themselves, “What can I personally do to improve this situation?”
Resilient, hardy people view a challenge as an opportunity for growth. They adopt the mindset of “Good things are coming!” to encourage themselves and others to identify the benefits of a situation.
Resilience can positively shift an organization’s culture, it requires leadership. Leaders can’t force their employees to bake cookies for the entire office, but they can provide them with resources to flourish in times of high stress.