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Resilience in the Workplace: How Leaders Can Support, Enable and Encourage Wellbeing and Resilience at Work

July 1, 2022
10 mintues to read

If you’ve not yet seen The Wellbeing Project’s 2022 Wraw Resilience Report, where have you been?!

We’ve been reading, re-reading, highlighting and absorbing every tiny nugget of information we can for the past few weeks, so that we can bring you the most important insights about workplace resilience discovered by The Wellbeing Project team over the past year.

And it did not disappoint!

The Report looks at data collected from 7,100 working individuals globally, between January 2021 and March 2022, giving us a unique insight into how workplaces are handling a (largely) post-pandemic world.

The 2021 Report showed what many of us were feeling: that individuals were fatigued, burned out and struggling to manage their mental health. The 2022 Report does give us a little glimmer of hope that we might be moving towards a more positive, engaged and optimistic workforce – but there are definitely still areas that we, as coaches, psychologists and human resources professionals, can help individuals in the workplace improve on.

So sit back, engage those brain cells and prepare for us to intellectually blow your minds…

What is workplace resilience?

Before we dive into the juicy insights, let’s recap what workplace resilience actually is.

Resilience is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.” – and when we’re talking about resilience in the workplace, that’s not too far off the truth.

Specifically in the context of the workplace, resilience refers to an individual’s psychological ability to handle stress, persevere through setbacks and generally have a good level of ‘bounce-back-ability’.

When we’re measuring workplace resilience and wellbeing, we use The Wellbeing Project’s Wraw psychometric assessment, which is measured using the 5 Pillars of Resilience.

  • Energy: The ability of an individual to sustain and renew physical energy. The higher an individual scores here, the more capable they are of maintaining a good level of psychical energy throughout their working day.
  • Future Focus: An individual’s sense of purpose and personal control. A higher level of Future Focus indicates the ability to focus on long-term progress as opposed to short-term pleasure.
  • Inner Drive: The ability of an individual to self-motivate and maintain self-belief. Higher scores on Inner Drive indicate a stronger career focus and may mean individuals climb the corporate ladder more quickly.
  • Flexible Thinking: An individual’s capacity to think flexibly, openly and optimistically. Scoring high on Flexible Thinking means an individual is better able to cope with unexpected situations or stress.
  • Strong Relationships: The ability to form strong, trust-based relationships. A higher score here means individuals are better able to lean on their networks during times of stress or uncertainty.

Overall, the 5 Pillars of Resilience essentially act as a buffer against stress, setbacks and challenges – and we’re sure you’ll agree that every one of us has faced a fair few setbacks over the last few years!

Resilience of leaders?

While most of us have probably already experienced how much a leader’s individual psychology can affect team members working underneath that leader, the Wraw 2022 Report gives us the statistical evidence to back that up.

The results show that as much as 22% of an individual’s own wellbeing is directly connected to their manager. If a manager supports, role models and actively encourages practices that are supportive of positive wellbeing and resilience, an individual is more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing and resilience. While on the flip side, a manager who exhibits negative practices or doesn’t encourage open conversations around wellbeing and resilience is likely to have a negative impact on their team member’s wellbeing.

In other words, leaders are powerful in the workplace.

The better a leader can demonstrate resilience and wellbeing, the better team members will be able to experience higher levels of resilience and wellbeing.

But it turns out that there are clear differences between levels of leaders, too.

Directors and executives at the top level of organisational structures tended to report up to 18% higher levels of wellbeing and resilience than line managers and up to 21% higher than non-managers – suggesting that wellbeing and resilience trickle down from the top levels of an organisation to the non-managers, losing some power along the way.

Perhaps one reason for this disparity is simply time. The longer a leader has been a leader, the more time they’ve had to learn how to support their own wellbeing. And the longer a leader has been a leader, the more times they’ve experienced setbacks that have forced them to build a higher level of resilience.

How leaders can improve resilience & wellbeing in the workplace

Now that we know the power leaders have when it comes to the wellbeing and resilience of their team members, we’re better equipped to understand how to support leaders in creating environments that foster positive progress.

Leaders, whether that’s line managers, directors or executives, can improve the wellbeing and resilience of their teams by:

  • Being approachable and relatable
  • Giving constructive feedback to help individuals see setbacks as opportunities for learning
  • Role-modelling a healthy work-life balance (although, interestingly, the data shows that non-managers actually do better than directors and senior managers at controlling the boundaries between work and life)
  • Having regular open and honest conversations in the workplace that incorporate wellbeing
  • Demonstrating strong relationships with others

Ultimately, one of the best ways to improve non-managers’ resilience and wellbeing is to ensure that managers (of all levels) have awareness of their own psychological tendencies. By introducing measures of wellbeing and resilience, like the Wraw assessment, into the workplace at the highest levels, awareness of and practices that support wellbeing and resilience will begin to trickle down from top-level management to non-managerial team members.

Essentially, leading by example is the best way for management to improve the wellbeing and resilience of their team members.

Resilience & wellbeing generational differences

Alongside the disparity between managerial and non-managerial staff, wellbeing and resilience differs across generations in the workplace too.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been numerous studies that indicate younger generations have experienced disproportionate negative effects as a result of lockdowns, remote working and other pandemic-related changes. And the 2022 Wraw Resilience Report supports the fact that younger people’s workplace wellbeing is substantially different to that of older generations.

The youngest in the workforce, aged between 18 and 25, reported the lowest resilience levels in the workplace – particularly when it comes to motivation to persevere through setbacks and levels of self-beliefe (both measured by the Inner Drive pillar).

Those early on in their careers are more likely to question their own abilities, be more critical of themselves over mistakes, and struggle to feel optimistic about their career progression.

Conversely, those later on in their careers, in the over 55s age category, report higher overall wellbeing scores compared to their younger counterparts and specifically score 14% higher than 18-25s in the measurement of Flexible Thinking, i.e. the ability to think openly and optimistically and handle unexpected events.

Clearly, some ability to remain calm in unexpected events comes with experience – think back to the first tiny mistake you made in your very first job and we’re sure you’ll remember that sense of imminent dread well… But combined with the fact that younger generations are reporting generally higher levels of poor mental health, particularly anxiety, this lower score on Flexible Thinking can’t solely be the result of inexperience.

Younger workers are faced with a myriad of opportunities to climb the career ladder in so many different directions that many struggle to decide on a path to pursue, which manifests itself in general uncertainty and a lower level of self-motivation – not because they don’t want to succeed in the workplace, but because they aren’t sure which direction to push for success in.

How to support younger workers to improve their wellbeing and resilience

The key thing to remember here is that a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to work when supporting younger workers. Quite frankly, it doesn’t work at any age or seniority level in any organisation anywhere in the world – but it especially isn’t going to work with younger generations! We hopefully all realise by now that adding a gym membership to employee perks or installing a ping-pong table in the break room isn’t going to have a significant and lasting impact on employee wellbeing…

Instead, it’s important to focus on the best approach for each individual. And one of the most powerful ways of doing this is to provide 1:1 support in the form of consistent and well-managed mentoring by more senior members of staff. By ensuring that mentors are fully trained in wellbeing and aware of positive practices to improve wellbeing and resilience, the mentor-mentee relationship can act as a fast-track to improving mentee wellbeing – especially considering, as we saw earlier, how impactful a leader’s own actions can be on non-managerial team members.

The future of resilience

We’d highly recommend giving the full 2022 Wraw Resilience Report a read for yourself – we’ve focused here on a couple of core points that we found particularly interesting, but there is so much good stuff in it that you should definitely read for yourself!

The one last question we want to ask is this: what does the future of resilience look like?

We’re cautiously optimistic that it looks good!

Over the past few years, awareness of the importance of resilience and wellbeing in the workplace has boomed – and it shows no signs of slowing down quite yet. Particularly with the return to workplaces and the difficulties organisations face in managing the new hybrid environment many of us are working in, more resources than ever are being pumped into ensuring that individuals are content, productive and psychologically safe in whichever environment they’re working in.

We obviously can’t predict the future (as much as we would love to be able to), but we are still seeing many clients prioritising workplace wellbeing and realising the power it has. And for that reason, we’re optimistic and excited about what the future of wellbeing and resilience holds for us all!

If we’ve tickled your fancy and you’re ready to learn more about wellbeing, resilience and all the good stuff that makes the world of work a better place, head over here to find out more.

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