Resiliency exists to help us overcome life’s many challenges, rising above them in a conscious and positive way. Much of what is written about resiliency approaches it from an individual perspective, helping individual’s to become more resilient; supporting this is the common understanding that we cannot control how others behave, we can only control how we behave. So resiliency begins and ends with each one of us as individuals, but we don’t operate in a world that begins and ends with us, we share it with a whole lot of other people, some we like some we don’t, some we know, others are complete strangers. We are part of a wonderfully complex village that ebbs and flows around us no matter what we are experiencing as an individual. As adults we are expected to navigate this village with consistency and acumen, holding up the social fabric for each other and ourselves. Nowhere is this more apparent then in our workplaces, but how does a workforce build resiliency?
Everyone has unique needs and as such each of us has different criteria for what supports or sabotages our ability to be resilient. There is one person who sophisticatedly, but simply, captured our collective needs as human beings; Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Human Needs provides an approachable framework to demonstrate what affects a workforces’ access to resilience. At the base of the hierarchy we have physiological needs (food, water, shelter). Once those are present for us in a secure way, we need to protect them (safety, freedom from fear). When our basic needs are meet and feel secure we look for others with whom to share these resources (love and belonging). Having attained all we need to keep ourselves whole and part of a group, we then look to accomplish something enabling our self and others to know we are capable and proficient (esteem). This leads to the pinnacle of the hierarchy where we have accomplished not one or two life goals but satisfied a much larger purpose in how we conduct our self and live our life (self actualization).
Our workplaces play a surprisingly large part in helping us to maintain individual access to many of those tiers in the hierarchy, thus impacting our resilience (as individuals and as part of a workforce). An individual’s professional career pursuits directly support two of those top tiers (esteem, self actualization), while at the same time keeping the bottom three tiers insured (basic needs, freedom from fear and belonging). Knowing we have accomplished a measure of success in any of the tiers enables us to focus on the next tier; knowing where you are going, what is meaningful and working towards something bigger than yourself (self actualization) gives us the building blocks we need as individuals to be resilient. Put one of the mid-tiers of the hierarchy at risk and our resilience is challenged, as we now need to focus on that tier, taking time and energy to remedy it. We obviously do not go through our day calculating where we are in this hierarchy, but we do use it to guide our larger life pursuits. When someone considers employment she or he looks for (in order or preference) a stable employer (freedom from fear, security), opportunities to be valued (esteem), work/life balance (love and belonging), and opportunities for growth/promotion (self actualization). The psychological contract we as individuals hold with employers (an unwritten and implied contract that governs our behaviours at work) means that in hiring an individual you (the employer) value her/his skills and will provide what she/he needs to maintain them and her/his employment with you in a positive way. Pull at the strings of mid-tier by laying off employees (freedom from fear) and you can see why productivity dips for many. Everyone’s thresholds for these hierarchical aspects is different; we’ve all known individuals who function well in a pressure-cooker work environment, and others who don’t – there is still much of the individual at play here. However, our workplaces have a huge impact on the human ability to be resilient based on these basic needs.
So how does one build resilience in a workforce? Employees who feel valued, who know their work is recognized, meaningful and has purpose are willing to work through many challenging circumstances. A manager whose team needed to deliver stellar sales performance while working under the knowledge that their retail location was closing and everyone would be out of a job in a few months had a huge challenge ahead of her. She managed it by being fully engaged with her team, opening up communication, ensuring everyone knew the impact of their efforts and being very present in the midst of challenge with her team…and she had a plan. She didn’t know exactly what would happen, her staff could have left for other jobs before they hit their target, but she did have a plan to enable feelings of well being and deep encouragement for what they were doing. It worked; they hit their target before the closure with the team in tact. Ensuring each individual employee has purpose, meaning and value is key to both well-being and resiliency (of individuals and workforces) and when it is present you’ll see amazing results even in the most trying of circumstances.
Leadership style is another area that touches on workforce resiliency. There are several models of leadership style, each highlighting around six different styles that are easily observable and present in our workplaces today (one that is reliable and used frequently is Daniel Goleman’s http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/methods_goleman_leadership_styles.html). Only two of the six are healthy manifestations of leadership, the others offer some benefits, but ultimately don’t build sustainable trust or resilience in a workforce. What leadership style do you prevalently use? What about the other leaders in your organization? What supports the development of healthy leadership within your organization? What supports the development of emerging leaders in your organization (and using which style)? Without awareness and intent, leadership can quickly erode resiliency in workforces through the application of well intended, but poorly executed, leadership actions leading to a lack of trust between leaders and their people. Good intention is not a leadership style, and without building an awareness of the leadership styles in your organization, employees are likely being treated to a hodgepodge of leadership intent. As the saying goes, employees don’t leave organizations, they leave managers and a workforce that doesn’t trust their leaders isn’t going to stand with them when things get murky, challenging or uncertain.
Workplace culture also has a huge impact. Organizations are often summed up by their employees in a brief statement (and if you are lucky it lines up with your brand); get in touch with how employees speak about your organization and you will have a good indication of the culture that is present. Become organizationally self-aware by reading your reviews on Glassdoor, not through the lens of malcontent, but with the intent to be objective. Your culture is only as good as it’s felt impact on staff. If there is top-down decision making, don’t be shocked if employees feel (and act) powerless. If mistakes are “rewarded” with punishment, don’t expect your organization to lead in innovation and creativity. “Know thyself”, and be open and objective about what your employees experience, and you will be able to build a culture that supports your organization’s purpose and direction. Without a culture that is transparent and continually supported through intent it will work against workforce resiliency, creating confusion and unmet expectations, undermining what your organization is trying to accomplish (for your employees and your customers).
If you are not actively working to build workforce resilience then it will not be present in a tangible way in your people. Workforces that are not resilient may have higher than average turnover (or no turnover at all). There may be a lack of productivity when bench marked against similar organizations because employees are coming to work, working hard, but not producing (or able to produce) results because of some systemic blockage in your company. Or perhaps your workforce is so disenfranchised that employees are doing what is asked of them and no more or plagued by absence. Bottom line is everyone gets out of bed each morning to be their best self. To be the best parent, spouse, friend, employee, colleague and person they can be. Healthy and resilient workplaces tap into this intent and carry it forward every day through purpose, meaning and value in the work being asked to be done. It takes focus and intent to enable that. What are you building in your workforce? Is it resilient?