Resilience at work is now recognised as a defining characteristic of employees who deal well with the stresses and strains of the modern workplace.
Resilience is a person’s capacity to respond to pressure and the demands of daily life. Dictionary definitions include concepts like flexibility, suppleness, durability, strength, speed of recovery and buoyancy. In short, resiliency affects our ability to ‘bounce back’.
At work, resilient people are better able to deal with the demands placed upon them, especially where those demands might require them to be dealing with constantly changing priorities and a heavy workload.
Resilience is not a characteristic gifted to some individuals and not others. The key here is that resilience is not a passive quality, but an active process. How we approach life, and everything it can throw at us, has a massive impact on our experience.
Resilient people do more of the things that help maintain that responsiveness, and it is relatively easy for those of us who are feeling less resilient to develop habits that will increase our ability to perform under pressure, and perhaps more importantly, to live better despite circumstances that try us to the limit.
Why do individuals overlook their self-care for the greater course?
Sometimes the last person carers nurture is themselves. By carers I refer to aid workers, emergency first responders, medical staff, social workers, teachers or any role where staff take on a caring role. This neglect undermines healthy work practice, but can be corrected if clinicians not only pay attention to client care but also to self-care.
Due to nature and demand of the job, carers frequently neglect to counsel themselves about self-care or heed the signs and symptoms of the hazards associated with their professional practices. The cost of that self-neglect is high and ranges from nagging stress that can erode health and wellbeing to compassion fatigue to job burnout so crippling that individuals may walk away from their chosen profession.
Obstacles to Self-Care
Among the obstacles experts identify as standing in the way of self-care are a lack of energy, too many responsibilities, and the fear of appearing weak or vulnerable. Another hurdle is a person’s difficulty in putting themselves first and the inability to acknowledge that his or her needs deserve to be made a priority. Additional reasons people fail to attend to their own care include self-esteem issues; over-stimulation coupled with ambition.
When I have facilitated stress management and resilience building workshops, the most stressed person will always say, ‘they haven’t got time for themselves’. This is a red flag that something must change, so they can begin to prioritise their own self-care.
Creating a Self-Care Plan
In human services, especially carers, your most foundational instrument is you. To take care of that instrument, which is to take care of yourself, is a two-step process. The first is to heal, which is the minimum of self-care and encourages you to focus on obtaining what you need to survive. The second is to energise, which is a more advanced self-care and encourages you to focus on thriving.
Peace and healing require that a person’s basic physical, mental, and emotional needs be met. This isn’t just a matter of getting enough sleep, nutritious food, and adequate exercise, though those are fundamental. It’s also leaning on trusted others for support, paying attention to when your body signals you to slow down and listening to it, and not pushing yourself to the point of breakdown.
The most important practices are to develop healthy habits, create clear boundaries, ask for and accept help, find ways to centre yourself for peace, and manage perfectionist tendencies - to be aware of what you are humanly capable of.
Part of self-care, too, is knowing when to seek help. Thus, seeking therapy can be an important tactic, not only because it provides perspective from a trained professional, but because the therapist can also assist carers in developing their self-care regimens.
How do we keep an organisation resilient?
Current events teach us that crisis and even disaster occur far more frequently than previously anticipated. Japan’s post-tsunami crisis and repeated tornadoes of the Southern and Midwestern US demonstrate the vulnerability of modern infrastructures to the forces of nature. Wall Street’s meltdown, the subsequent recession, and the consequent demise of discretionary spending remind us that human-made disasters can be devastating in other ways.
The key to not only surviving such events, but to prospering during such upheavals, we argue, is human resilience. While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organisations, and even communities can learn to develop a “culture of resilience” which manifests itself as a form of “psychological immunity” to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.
Just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too can organisations develop a culture of resilience. We would argue that a culture of organisational resilience is built largely upon leadership, what we refer to as “resilient leadership.” Consistent with the “Law of the Few” described in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, we believe key leadership personnel, often frontline leadership, appear to have the ability to “tip” the organisation in the direction of resilience and to serve as a catalyst to increase group cohesion and dedication to the “mission.” They do this by demonstrating four core attributes of optimism, decisiveness, integrity, and open communications while serving as conduits and gatekeepers of formal and informal information flows throughout the organisation and enjoying high source credibility (ethos).
All of these can be learned. Simply said, when a small number of high credibility individuals who serve as visible informational channels demonstrate, or model the behaviours associated with resilience, we believe they have the ability to change an entire culture of an organisation as others replicate the resilient characteristics that they have observed.
To say we live in challenging times is an understatement, but crisis may also be understood as an opportunity. Those who cultivate a resilient organisation we argue will be better positioned to prosper when others falter.
More and more organisations are beginning to add resources to take care of their staff and recognise the risks of vicarious trauma and building resilience. I am being asked to facilitate more and more stress management and resilience building workshops for teams of carers, including working with emergency first responders, various NGOs and Government organisations, and journalists. We encourage organisations to invest in the preparation and resilience of staff, as much as the psychosocial support post a critical incident. The more resilient staff and organisations are the better they will be placed to cope with disaster and recover well.