Enhancing employee resilience through e-learning

A new e-learning resource that helps to increase workforce resilience can improve the ability of staff to cope with difficult situations.

Current economic uncertainty has resulted in both large corporations and small organisations feeling the squeeze. While many people have recently experienced redundancy, relocation or redeployment, many more feel threatened by the uncertainty of their future employment. For some sectors, this situation is “business as usual” (banks shedding thousands of jobs is unfortunately part of their cyclical nature during tough times), while other sectors may not have previously experienced uncertainty and change to the same extent. However, everybody must consider the negative consequences for the performance of both individuals and organisations and the impact on their effectiveness. It is not all bad though – some people flourish in these circumstances and remain highly engaged and motivated. While we can’t all emulate them, there is much that we can do.

When it comes to coping with uncertainty or uncomfortable situations at work, success does not come down to intelligence, working long hours or having mountains of experience as some might expect. It comes down to resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks, to remain positive in the face of adversity and to keep things in perspective.

Business psychology consultancy Robertson Cooper has now developed an e-learning tool that can support employees in developing resilience. Highly resilient people are also able to maintain performance under pressure. What is most encouraging to employees and employers is that, contrary to popular belief, resilience is not an innate quality that you either have or you do not. Resilience can be developed no matter what your starting point, and the benefits reach beyond the workplace.

Elements of resilience

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you respond to new challenges with confidence and flexibility?
  • Are you clear about what matters to you in life and what you want to achieve?
  • Are you good at keeping in touch with friends even when the pressure is really on at work, and reaching out when you need their support?

Someone who can truthfully answer “yes” to all these questions is likely to be a very resilient person. However, resilience has many different elements and people can be resilient in some ways and less so in others. We can start to unlock this development potential by understanding the aspects of personality that individuals draw on for their resilience. The four components of resilience are: confidence, purposefulness, adaptability and social support. These four components all have an impact on the extent to which individuals cope with uncertainty, and, perhaps even more usefully, which situations in the work environment might challenge different people.

quotemarksResilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks, to remain positive in the face of adversity and to keep things in perspective.”

Confidence is multi-dimensional, but two of the main aspects of it are social confidence and confidence in your ability. Confidence is important to resilience as it contributes to the belief in your ability to cope with a situation. For example, there are many people who don’t like public speaking and situations that require them to do this will make them anxious and test their resilience. While their dislike of public speaking is unlikely to change dramatically, there are techniques that can be used to diminish the feelings of anxiety and their presentation could be significantly more successful.

Purposefulness refers to the natural drive and goal orientation of an individual; it will affect how persistent they are in challenging situations and in “low-energy” situations where there isn’t a lot of pressure. This aspect of personality also has an impact on how people manage situations that are not so successful; whether they can see the bigger picture or they have invested so much in the end result that they can’t raise themselves out of the situation.

Adaptability relates to an individual’s preference towards the familiar or to novel situations that might not provide a strong sense of control – it is these situations that often test our resilience the most. People who are highly adaptable are less likely to feel strain in situations with little control, and it is therefore an important quality in environments that have a high degree of change.

Social support is the fourth and final component of resilience. This refers to individual preferences for building good relationships with others and a willingness to draw on them when support is needed.

Resilience in the workplace

When considering resilience, in addition to the role of our personality, another important influence is the situation in which we find ourselves. The workplace presents many situations that test our resilience and we will all respond to these in different ways.

Robertson Cooper identifies “six essentials” of workplace wellbeing, which are:

  • resources and communication;
  • control;
  • balanced workload;
  • job security and change;
  • work relationships; and
  • job conditions.

Negative pressures associated with any one of these six essentials will affect people differently. For example, one person might not find it uncomfortable or distressing sitting next to someone they do not get on with, whereas another will find it painful, demotivating and hard to concentrate.

Likewise, some people cope better than others with a heavy workload because they have a lot more personal energy. Most pertinent to the current organisational context is how individuals react to change and uncertainty.

With any source of negative pressure, the most effective resolution will be to remove it. However, this is often not possible – if lack of job security is a real issue, then until you know what the outcome is going to be, it is likely to remain a source of negative pressure that drains your motivation and engagement. When this is the case, developing a resilient response will enable you to cope with the situation more effectively and feel prepared to face the future with confidence, no matter what it holds.

quotemarksThe challenge for businesses is to provide an environment for employees to explore the sorts of skills that create a resilient response.”

Resilience can also be important when you have the certainty you craved but the outcome is not quite what you had hoped; for example, you are going to be relocated and you have to make your way in the “new world” – a new job, location or a new internal role. The third situation that people are finding themselves in that requires a resilient response is “surviving” the redundancies or change, and being left behind to pick up the pieces; it can be really tough to remain motivated and engaged when close, trusted friends and colleagues are no longer around.

Tools and techniques

When it comes to developing personal resilience, there are obvious organisational benefits. The challenge for businesses is to provide an environment for employees to explore the sorts of skills that create a resilient response, and allowing them the time and space to develop their skills and make the most of their ability. Resilience is not something that can be turned on and off, so there does need to be a degree of patience and trust.

Face-to-face training continues to be the most effective way of developing resilience; however, there are lots of statistics that show we are time poor both in and outside of work. After all, time away from core day-to-day work has an impact on productivity and the bottom line. For this reason, e-learning offers an alternative, effective way to get these messages out to a wide audience.

The Robertson Cooper online resilience tool combines video examples, expert commentary and downloadable content to kick-start resilience development. Practical techniques that can be learnt include thinking flexibly, having a constructive career dialogue and making the most of social support – the top 10 tips in the panel below are a summary of some of the skills that the module aims to introduce. You will see from a brief glance that many of them are positively oriented and are about doing more, experiencing more and embracing the positives you already have.

We all spend a lot of time at work, and there are real health benefits in enjoying and engaging with the work that you do. Anything that employees can take personal responsibility for doing to make their experience as positive as it realistically can be is worth doing. Organisations can support their employees to do just this and benefit from the positive outcomes themselves.

Nick Hayter is a business psychologist at Robertson Cooper Ltd; Laura Heathcock is a former business psychologist at the firm. Robertson Cooper offers a free trial of its e-learning product The Resilient Mindset: Face the Future with Confidence.

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