The truth behind the buzz

Everywhere I go these days, organisations are talking about resilience.

Whether in large multi-nationals, the health service, local authorities, or the charity sector it seems everyone is looking at developing a resilient organisation.

Overall, this is a good thing. Modern working life can be difficult, and for most people life outside work can be tricky too, so resilience is very much in demand. But it can also be a misunderstood concept, overhyped as an answer to all issues, and sometimes even used in a derogatory manner as in: “If only you were more resilient you’d be able to deal with that.”


This is the first in a series of articles looking at the truth behind the buzz about resilience, and spelling out some simple and effective things you can do for yourself, and your team in terms of increasing resilience.


Let’s begin with do we mean by resilience? There are many academic definitions of resilience that tend to mention the concept of positive adaptation to adversity (Wald and  Taylor, 2006; Luther and Cicchetti, 2000) – which means being able to adapt as circumstances become more difficult.


There are two definitions however that some this up for me. One is by psychologist Prof Tanya Byron (shown right), the other is from Nelson Mandela, a man who knew a great deal about resilience. He said “Do not judge me by my success. Judge me by how many times I fell down, and got back up again.”


I like the simplicity of those two explanations. They give hope and inspiration about being able to overcome difficulty while being realistic that at some point, we will get knocked flat, and to think otherwise is not resilient, it’s denial.


There are many factors that affect base-line resilience; upbringing, parental health, economic circumstances, and a supportive family structure in early life all play a part. But as adults there is nothing we can do about this. These factors have already occurred. But, and it’s an important but, resilience is a trait. There is a wealth of research that shows it can be developed and enhanced at any point.


The model I use when working with organisations, teams and individuals was born out of 10 years of research into workplace stress and even more years of practical experience.  If a workplace is going to work successfully, overcome difficulties and thrive, then it needs certain ingredients. These are Control, Well Being and Bounce Back. When present in the right way they combine to form resilient, successful workplaces that really work, staffed by determined and confident people who can recover from adversity and flourish.


Each of these elements is made up of a number of skills, tools and practices that can help people to reach their highest levels of resilience, and while they are not simple to follow and understand, it is not always easy to remember to take and active stance in developing your resilience before things go wrong.


They also take time and effort – two things that can be in short supply in our busy working (and private) lives. But the investment is well worth it. In their research of 2017 Shatte ́, Perlman, Smith and Lynch concluded that not only does resilience have the effect of protecting us from the impacts of stressful conditions at work, it is more protective the greater the stress we encounter. Resilience training is not a charter for organisations to create stressful environments because employees “can take it”, it is a call to action for employers to invest in support and training for staff to make the most of the knowledge we have about this important topic.


In forthcoming articles I’ll look at each of the component elements in turn, and share some tips and tools you can use in your own life, to increase your resilience day by day.

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