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Don’t sweat the small stuff – achieving sustainable resilience

Written by Tori McKillen

Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” – to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change and to keep going in the face of adversity. Resilience is often thought of in the context of major traumas or tragedies, where individuals show incredible capacity for recovery. But it can also be applied to the workplace, with many people now citing work pressures as the biggest drain on their resilience reserves.

Working in learning technologies, for example, can be very exciting but the fast pace can add an extra layer of stress as people try to upskill and stay ahead of the curve. Ultimately, resilience is subjective – what causes one person extreme stress can be water off a duck’s back for another.

But we need to be cautious; workplace resilience should not be synonymous with enduring long hours, tolerating disrespect or bullying, meeting unreasonable expectations or performing on little sleep. Workplace resilience should be about equipping individuals to respond positively to change, putting things in perspective and managing time and workloads effectively. It’s about managing positive pressure, but reducing or removing negative stress.

Working in heavily regulated environments, such as the pharmaceutical industry, can often drain resilience reserves – that red, impersonal “rejected” stamp in Zinc (an online approval system) has taken its toll on many a writer!

As individuals, we need to adopt resilient attitudes and behaviours to help us manage workplace challenges.

Diane Coutu, former editor and writer for Harvard Business Review with an interest in topics falling at the intersection of business and psychology, cited the characteristics of resilient people and companies as:

  • Facing reality with staunchness (brace, and go forward)
  • Making meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair (acknowledge the difficulties but persevere anyway)
  • Improvising from thin air (wing it)

Behind these characteristics are a broad set of tactics that anyone, or any organisation, can learn and adopt. For example, practicing good time management, keeping things in perspective, embracing optimism, fostering social support networks, embodying self-belief, celebrating successes and cultivating compassion. Perhaps most importantly, using challenges as opportunities to develop new skills and build a resilient mindset.

Whilst resilience should be a positive trait, there can be side effects to a “stiff upper lip” mentality as we heard Prince William air recently. So, we mustn’t encourage the extremes of resilience or confuse resilience with tolerance – but instead find that balance of “sustainable resilience” that helps us develop and thrive whatever life throws at us.

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