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Enhancing emotional resilience in the workplace

Guest blog Professor Cary L Cooper, founder of Robertson Cooper, Prof of Organisational Psyc

15 March 2011

Whichever way you look at it, the UK is immersed in a difficult time. Many organisations are facing uncertainty, job cuts and a period of great change and against this background keeping people engaged and performing well can seem like an uphill battle.

But it is possible to build morale and resilience and help your people thrive, even in the face of adversity; which is the message my colleague Gordon Tinline, director of Robertson Cooper was exploring at  the partner event ‘Enhancing emotional resilience in the workplace’ held on 15 March at The Work Foundation.

Firstly it’s important to understand that resilience is not fixed in individuals. While we have a natural predisposition to draw on different areas of our personality for resilience, it is also something that can be developed. In turn, the links between resilience, morale and engagement – as described in Gordon’s presentation – mean that developing resilience gives us a way in to realising the individual and organisational benefits that high levels of morale can achieve.

The session also detailed an area of increased risk during challenging times – rising presenteeism. There are a number of definitions for this but it can cover both being at work while unwell and putting in increased ‘face time’. The reasons behind this are understandable when job security is under threat, but the negative impact on productivity can end up being more costly than absenteeism.

The underlying goal here is really to keep people at the top of the pressure performance curve, navigating between rust out (and associated lack of engagement and poor morale) and burn out (where stress and overload erodes morale). Leaders and managers can achieve this by focusing on six key enablers and barriers, as identified by the ASSET framework. These include work relationships, work life balance and control, and should all be areas where at least some improvement is within their influence.

Finally, we must not forget that challenging experiences can benefit people - the idea that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ can be broadly true, allowing individuals and organisations to face the future with higher levels of resilience. But it’s important to remember that this will only be the case when the following criteria are in place:

-Work goals need to be tough but achievable.
 If goals are tough, that is a good thing – only when goals are really challenging can people experience the intense feeling of achievement and mastery that comes from reaching them. But goals that are too difficult – or perhaps simply too numerous or conflicting – do not allow people to achieve them. This lack of achievement denies employees the pay-off of success in return for the strain involved and therefore will damage, rather than build resilience.

- There needs to be a clear and valued sense of purpose
Research is very clear that when people feel that what they are doing is worthwhile and valuable they can cope with much higher levels of adversity and stay focused. If sense of purpose is compromised or missing altogether then motivation, effort and sense of well-being will all suffer.

- Periods of respite need to be available… and taken
People can cope with a great deal but wading through the mire of tough times always takes a toll. Resilience is supported by a person’s sense of well-being and excessive strain can deplete it – at some point it will need topping up. One critically important way to do this is to take a break – in other words give yourself a period of respite. This simply needs to be something different, anything that you enjoy and is not work related.

 For more help in this area you can access the following free resources:

-          i-resilience a development tool to help individuals and teams to develop their personal resilience.

-          ‘Building morale and resilience – the key to surviving difficult times’ – a guide to this area, accompanied by a collection of case studies and a resilience check-up tool to help you assess your organisation’s situation.

Professor Cary L  Cooper is founder of Robertson Cooper  and Distinguished Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University


Comments in Chronological Order (Total 3 Comments)


04 Apr 2011 8:46PM

I liked this post as it has clearly set out a series of issues being experienced in the market place today.

Working in a Corporate environment where there is a push to get more out of staff, where pay rises are not keeping place with inflation I can relate to the concept of 'presenteeism'; which is not being dealt with very well.

Large organisations need to taken responsibility for:

1. Identify ing this problem within their staff
2. Provide better training to management to deal with the problem
3. Look at other ways to make people feel valued in times when times are harder and extra effort is required to maintain the business.

I particularly liked the statement:

"Research is very clear that when people feel that what they are doing is worthwhile and valuable they can cope with much higher levels of adversity and stay focused"

Great article. Thanks


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