Resilient Employees Create Resilient Organizations

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Employee Wellness

“Resilience” is defined as  “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” — and there has never been a time in the modern era when organizations have had to be more resilient than right now. The foundation of that resilience is built by a company’s employees.

Yet the same pandemic that demands organizational resilience also makes cultivating that resilience increasingly difficult. The global outbreak of COVID-19 has had a staggering effect on mental health, especially for younger workers. Gen. Z-ers and millennials alike report  higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse as a result of the pandemic. This poses a serious challenge for organizational leaders and managers.

The pandemic is here to stay, at least for a while longer. What can organizations do to support employee mental health and cultivate organizational resilience at a time like this?

The first steps are learning to identify mental illness symptoms and putting plans in place to connect workers with the help they need when they need it. Another key piece of the puzzle is actively supporting workers in cultivating their resilience. Resilience allows us to more easily bounce back from adversity, and it also helps us offset the effects of anxiety and depression. When employees are more resilient, they can prevent many mental health issues before they arise.

Here’s what HR professionals, recruiters, and senior leaders need to know about identifying and cultivating employee resilience:

5 Signs Your Employees Need Mental Health Support

Identifying mental health symptoms before they escalate to crisis levels is of paramount importance in any workplace. That said, the pandemic has complicated things. Now that most of us are working from home, it can be harder to stay cognizant of your employees’ mental health.

Even in a remote environment, there are some key signs that managers and HR pros can look out for, including:

  1. Forgetfulness: If a historically conscientious employee seems suddenly scatterbrained — sending emails without attachments, missing calls, forgetting tasks, etc. — this can be a sign the employee is experiencing burnout, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.
  2. Irritability: Irritability is a typical symptom of anxiety and, sometimes, depression. If an otherwise mellow employee is quick to show anger, those could be the causes. Everyone experiences mental illness differently, but men are more likely to show signs of excessive anger.
  3. Tiredness: If an employee shows signs of extreme tiredness and fatigue, it could be a sign they are experiencing a depressive episode. Both oversleeping and not getting enough sleep can be symptoms of depression.
  4. Isolation: An outgoing and personable employee who becomes reclusive or stops participating in recreational chats or voluntary events could be struggling with depression or anxiety.
  5. Your employee tells you:If a colleague drops a hint — even seemingly jokingly — that they are not doing well, then it’s time to stop, listen, and ask more questions. This could be an employee’s way of asking for help.

Building Resilience in Your Employees

As the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Resilience can be a key factor in helping employees handle mental health challenges before they become serious problems.

When confronting difficult situations, more resilient people are more likely to bounce back. In fact, they are 10-20 percent less likely to lose productivity, suffer from depression, or engage in absenteeism.

While many factors can determine one’s current level of resilience, the good news is employees can take some steps to improve their resilience — and you as a leader or HR pro can help them do so.

Traditionally, companies would help employees cultivate resilience through regular coaching specifically aimed at developing resilience and emotional intelligence. Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy and other positive psychology interventions are also provided by many employee assistance programs.

Other, more low-cost but still evidence-based options include digital tools, like the mindfulness apps Calm  and Headspace. With workers stuck at home and in-person training not possible, such online options for cultivating resilience are more popular than ever.

Recently, new approaches to digital resilience-building have also been introduced. Apps like eQuoo  and SuperBetter  incorporate role-play and gamification into resilience training. In these kinds of apps, individuals are given challenging situations and asked to navigate appropriate ways to respond emotionally and verbally. This allows people to practice difficult scenarios in a safe, virtual environment. That way, when similar situations arise in the real world, people can respond confidently.

In addition to direct digital and in-person interventions, the work environment itself can help employees foster resilience. Our workplace relationships can be sources of motivation and strength in difficult times. Consider some of the simple routines and perks your company can implement to help employees build resilience through regular activity.

For example, managers can make it a point to check-in with employees to talk about their successes and make them feel valued. Teams can hold casual meetings for people to specifically chat about non-work topics. Perks like gym discounts, corporate social responsibility programs, and mentorship opportunities can all foster employee wellness and resilience as well.

Can Resilience Be Measured?

While companies should support their current employees in building resilience, they should also consider making resilience a key criterion when assessing candidates for open roles.

That said, it can be hard to gauge a potential hire’s resilience during the recruiting process. By its very nature, resilience is a trait that shines most when workloads are growing and problems are mounting — things that don’t necessarily happen in an interview room. And, of course, it’s all too easy to mistake sheer confidence for true resilience.

When it comes to assessing candidate resilience — or  evaluating how well our current resilience-building efforts are going — there is a range of relevant questionnaires employers can use to get a better understanding. Some, like the Resilience Scale for Adults (RSA), are used by clinical psychologists, but there are questionnaires specifically tailored for business use as well. Using these questionnaires — and qualitatively observing the functioning of employees and candidates — can be an effective way to adequately measure resilience and changes therein.

While the present economic landscape does look gloomy, it’s not all bad news. The current crisis can produce some positive results, depending on how our organizations choose to act. If leaders take time now to cultivate resilience among workers, their organizations may bounce back stronger than ever. What doesn’t kill us can make us stronger, and one can practically already hear the new battle cry at work: “We got through coronavirus together, so this should be a walk in the park!”

Silja Litvin is a psychologist and the founder and CEO of PsycApps, developer of eQuoo.

By Silja Litvin