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Jan 15, 2021

With the unexpectedness and magnitude of the disruption caused by the pandemic, it’s not surprising that resilience is a hot topic. Organizations big and small are looking for guidance on how to manage what lies ahead and how to ensure that their employees have the critical skills and mindsets to navigate this uncertain journey. 

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the ability to work through challenging circumstances has always been important in business, even if not commonly defined by the term “resilience.” Organizations have always experienced disruptions — related to competitive pressures from new technologies, changing political and regulatory landscapes, mergers and acquisitions, and more. 

With all that in mind, the ADP Research Institute People and Performance team has recently completed its Global Workplace Study 2020, which focuses particularly on the role and importance of resilience in the workplace. The results are critical to ensuring that HR practitioners are supporting employees in dealing with a pace of change that none of us has ever experienced.

Focusing on Resilience

The study defines resilience as the capacity of an individual to withstand, bounce back from, and work through challenging circumstances or events at work. Some of this capacity is inherent in people, baked into who they are; however, there is an ability to cultivate it further. It is a variable that can be built (and torn down) by individuals themselves, their team leaders, and an organization’s senior leaders.

This is great news for practitioners because it means that as stewards of a company’s talent, we can integrate some practices into our work processes that increase the chances of employees bouncing back from disruption. And with only 19% of U.S. workers highly resilient (15% globally), according to the study, there is clearly a need for heightened focus.

While the ADP Research Institute’s research identifies three factors as most relevant to workplace resilience — employees themselves, their team leaders, and their organization’s senior leaders — for practitioners, a natural place to start thinking about application and potential impact is with the individual employee. 

This means supporting people with simple, aligned, and integrated practices. And the beautiful thing about such practices is that they enhance the employee experience far beyond the impact of resilience. 

3 Characteristics of Resilient Workers

What characterizes highly resilient employees? The research identifies three critical factors:

  1. They feel a strong sense of agency 
  2. They are able to compartmentalize at work
  3. They are able to do work that makes them feel strong (whether by luck or by design) 

Plainly put, these factors can be broadly characterized as feeling treated like a grown-up.

As a talent practitioner, you can support achieving this by integrating grown-up work practices into the natural flow of work. These practices are less an output of process and more an effect of mindset, which shapes and influences how your organization’s employees experience work. 

Raising Resilience

You can start integrating this “grown-up” mindset by supporting some simple yet game-changing shifts: 

  • Support agency and compartmentalization by focusing on outcomes more than hours. It’s nearly impossible for people to take ownership of their work when they feel as if they’re being micromanaged and not trusted. Your employees are intelligent adults. Treat them as such and they will deliver. 
  • Intentionally embed the language of strengths into communications and programs to help create an environment that culturally supports employees working on activities that energize them and allow them to do more of their best work. The Global Workplace study confirmed this by showing that workers who love what they do are 3.9 times more likely to be highly resilient.  
  • Establish weekly check-ins between team leaders and team members to ritualize this “grown up” mindset. This builds trust, accelerates productivity, and maintains connection. Time after time, our research shows that trusting your team leader is a foundational element to engagement — team members who trust their team leader are 14 times more likely to be fully engaged. Moreover, the highest levels of self-resilience exist when individuals fully trust both their team leader and senior leaders within their organization.

Employees bring their own unique resilience set points to work. Some are able to bend more than others. Some bounce back faster and more easily. But we can nonetheless use the best research to inform practices that help everyone access their capacity for resilience to the fullest extent. 

Lastly, another surprising finding from the research is that people who have been exposed to the most setbacks — that is, the most occasions in which they needed to demonstrate resilience — end up having higher resilience. In other words, there’s some truth to the cliché “what doesn’t kill you make you stronger.”