Stop Telling Employees to Be Resilient

Building teams that can weather uncertainty and change requires creating systems for support and dialogue.

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Lately, it feels like “resilience” has popped up as the answer to just about everything. Having a hard time because of a toxic environment? Just be resilient. Struggling to home-school your kids while working 50-hour weeks during a global pandemic? Try some resilience.

Resilience, or the ability to withstand hardship and bounce back from difficult events, is useful when it comes to work. But, too often, it’s presented in a way that overlooks structural issues and instead encourages employees to grin and bear whatever tough stuff comes their way — and to do so on their own, without disturbing their colleagues.

The truth is, it’s much, much easier to be resilient in an environment that makes it easy. Say your team priorities suddenly shift or everyone has to switch to remote work overnight. You’ll be better able to regroup and gather the energy to figure out a new path forward if you trust your manager, feel safe opening up to your team, and believe that the organization will work to support you.

In other words, there’s a difference between demanding that everyone be mentally tough and actually helping them take care of their mental health. As the past few years have proved, uncertainty and challenging situations are often beyond our control. But how leaders respond — that is, whether they make work a place where employees feel supported, or push them until they burn out and give up — is not. Based on the research and interviews we conducted for our new book, Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay, we’ve pulled together five actions leaders can take to create a workplace that supports resilience.

1. Make well-being a collective practice.

Teams can put shared practices into place that make it easier for individuals to improve their well-being. Ask yourself: How can my team better incorporate balance as part of our days? Saying you want your people to have a healthy work-life balance is great, but if their calendars are filled with back-to-back meetings and they get pinged at all hours of the day, chances are they won’t feel safe taking the breaks they need.

To improve team well-being, establish shared rituals. When everything feels up in the air, rituals can help employees feel more grounded — and less stressed.

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