Five ways to improve resilience at work

Monday 11 January 2021

Are you resilient enough?

Author: Maha Khan Phillips

As the era of uncertainty continues, building our resilience is more important than ever, says Maha Khan Phillips.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone. It is no surprise then, that a key topic of conversation last year was about how we develop resilience in the face of multiple challenges. Moving into 2021, resilience continues to be an important theme. While many people understand how to be resilient in the face of family issues or medical problems, they are less able to incorporate a sense of resilience into their working lives. Given how much time we all spend at work, having resilience in our workplace is a critical skill to develop.

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult and challenging situations rather than being impervious to them,” explains Liz Codd, director at Leadenhall Consulting. “It’s important to accept that there will be ups and downs, and that when we do have a down it doesn’t mean we lack resilience. What we do need to pay attention to is how quickly we are able to bounce back from a low point,” she adds.

In many ways, being resilient in the work place means drawing on skills that we would ordinarily use in our day to day lives, and adopting them to support our working lives. Behavioural psychologists, consultants, and recruitment advisors have provided their top tips here:


  1. Build Your Social Support Networks

Humans are social creatures. We rely on networks and support systems to succeed, and we feel more comfortable when we are connected.

“Sartre said hell is other people, but people are also the greatest source of support, whether it is emotional, financial, logistical or anything else. At work, the quantity and quality of your network is really important. Something you can do is network now,” says Adrian Furnham, principal behavioural psychologist at Stamford Associates in London, and author of several books on behavioural psychology.

Extroverts will find networking easier to achieve than introverts, particularly in the era of working remotely, but there are things that any employee can do to build their social support. Ask for virtual coffee meetings and catch up calls, participate in company social events - even if it’s all online – and volunteer your services on committees or charitable initiatives at your firm, for example. Be proactive, so that you don’t feel like you are working alone, or in a silo, but that you are supported by your work community. If you are onboarding or joining a new firm where you don’t know anyone, try to understand the company culture, and to learn about your colleagues. Ask them about their time at the company, and their life stories, if they are willing to share them. Be very available to others who might be trying to do the same thing.


  1. Put Other People First

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that, when we try to help other people with their problems, we become more resilient ourselves. Self-Determination Theory suggests that people’s behaviour is guided by the desire to feel autonomous, connected, and competent, according to Duke University. By helping other people, we feel all of those things, and therefore, build our own resilience.

One study undertaken after the Haiti earthquake of 2010, Local Volunteerism and Resilience Following Large Scale Disaster: Outcomes for Health Support Team Volunteers in Haiti, for example, showed that not only did the community benefit from a disaster mental health programme, but so did the volunteers themselves who were helping with the programme, in terms of recovery and resilience. In fact, there is a strong correlation between volunteering and psychological well-being.

If you are working for a company, you can support others through mentoring schemes, through general volunteering, or just by checking in on colleagues and lending an ear, whether they are struggling to balance work life pressures, or anything else. Be available, and be open. And make it clear to those you work with that you are happy to provide support, should they need it.


  1. Practise Self Care

It sounds obvious, but it’s remarkable how few of us stop and check in on ourselves, or find time to look after ourselves, particularly when we feel we have to focus all our efforts on work, say experts.

“Low levels of resilience can result in a reduction in our energy levels, making us feel drained, burned out, or lacking motivation. The first step to managing our energy levels is to spot that we are not feeling on top form. Having recognised what is going on, we can then ensure that we can choose to change the things that will restore our energy levels, such as ensuring that we get enough sleep and exercise, eat healthily, and drink plenty of water and so on. Also we can pay attention to our emotional state and see if that is where we are under pressure,” says Codd.

Eating foods that will boost our energy and our immune system, ensuring we get the right amount of physical exercise, and get enough sleep are critical to self-care. So is taking regular breaks from our screens and from work. When working from home, it is easy to fall into a cycle of checking our emails late into the evening, but it’s important to establish boundaries when our work and personal lives overlap, say experts. That means turning off our computers after working hours, and focusing on families, and our hobbies and interests, the things that motivate us outside of our working hours.


  1. Understand That You Are Not Made of Teflon

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much resilience. Self-belief should only take you so far. “People imagine that resilience is a ball that you hit against a wall and it keeps bouncing back, but you can almost draw resilience on a spectrum. It’s an X axis, and on the left hand side, you are falling over every hurdle, and at the extreme right, too much resilience can lead to negative outcomes,” says one recruitment specialist.

Some people think they can achieve anything, but struggle to accept other world views, making it difficult for them to thrive in a work environment, particular a diverse one. They are not active listeners, and they miss important signals. “You have to reach a mid-point on the spectrum, where you listen to others, and you listen to yourself. It’s about being an active problem solver,” says the recruitment specialist.

Historically, the notion of stoicism was valued in the financial services industry. People were not encouraged to show their vulnerabilities. But Furnham points out that this is not always a good thing. “Men are very good at denial, and men heavily dominate the financial industry. They put on a display of macho-ness and project a sense that they can cope with everything. There are people who believe that a repressed resilience, where they do not talk about unhappiness, is the best way to proceed.”

Stoic people are very task minded, and they are resilient, but there is a dark side to that level of resilience, suggests Furnham. “It creates an inability to realise that others are suffering, and therefore it’s not very caring or impactful. So like all things, it’s finding a balance, you can have too little resilience, but you can also have too much,” he says.


  1. Reframe Your Thinking

We all need to learn how to manage disappointment, or how to recognise that there are some things that we can’t control. It means understanding our own expectations, and our own responses. One area where this is played out in the investment industry is how we get feedback for instance, particularly if we are early in our career journey. Managing expectations is key.

“Working in the asset management industry, particularly in the front office, you shouldn't necessarily expect to get regular feedback. Fund managers typically don't have the time or natural tendencies to nurture new talent in a hands-on manner. And this is also considerably more apparent in the current time while everyone is working remotely. When starting a career in the industry therefore, it's important to be aware of this and to know that good work will be noticed and rewarded with additional responsibility, not always accompanied with a well done,” says Jo Stone, a director at Dartmouth Partners.

When we find that things aren’t going our way, reframing a situation can make a positive difference, according to Codd. “If we find that we are getting angry with someone, we can ask ourselves what it is about their perspective that we are not understanding. Generally, people are not trying to make us angry, and the impact that they are having on us is a lot to do with how we perceive and understand their behaviour. When it comes to strong or negative emotions and feelings, a good way to manage them is to first acknowledge them and identify what they are,” she says.

Sometimes, it’s about stepping back, and understanding why we are feeling what we are feeling, and what we can do to build a more objective perspective from what we are feeling, she suggests. “We can then choose whether to listen and respond to that emotion or feeling, or to reframe it or even ignore it as not valid or not valuable,” she says.

Experts also say that keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ or practising gratitude, can help us gain context to the world we are engaging with. Meditation will also help us accept the things that we cannot change, and gain clarity over our own feelings and concerns, helping us understand what we should react to, and what we need to let go of.

2021 looks like it will be a challenging year for many people in the investment industry, and beyond. But by expanding our networks, by becoming active listeners and supporters of others, by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, by practising self-care, and by reframing the way we think, we can all improve our resilience as we continue to work from home and navigate our working lives.









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