We’ve never needed resilience more than we have the last two years. We need employees that can adapt to continually changing circumstances. What is workplace resilience? It’s how employees respond to obstacles and their ability to endure difficult conditions. It’s not just something leadership should exhibit or exercise; it’s something every employee should have. One team in particular needs to be very resilient – HR. Most people think of HR as being reactive; the people that come in clean up messes and file paperwork. That couldn’t be further from the truth. HR is, and needs to be, proactive and flexible because they set the tone for an entire organization.

“Think about the number of new things HR teams have to learn. We have to understand public health, mental and physical wellbeing, family issues, hygienic workplace design, and the tools, rules, norms and cultures of working at home. HR and the company as a whole must be learning as fast as we are doing.”

- Josh Bersin

Your HR team plays a critical strategic role in building a resilient business and developing resilient teams. With the rate at which things have been changing, HR always has to be training, themselves or others, and then find time to actually take care of tasks. This is a business effort, not an HR effort. All teams, leadership and employees need to be onboard with programs.

“Resilient HR is not really about HR at all – it’s a way for HR professionals to drive, support, and enable the business transformation that’s going on.”

- Josh Bersin

We get that resilience is important, but what does a highly resilient employee look like? According to SHRM, it’s an employee that

  • Demonstrates agency and the ability to compartmentalize
  • Feel psychological safety
  • Demonstrates trust in their leaders’ ability to anticipate the future
  • Communicates and follows through on commitments

Does this sound like you? Do you recognize these traits in any of your employees? Or are your employees tend to feel anger, guilt or anxiety too often or disproportionately to the difficult circumstances? A reaction like this might indicate low resilience in an employee. While we’re aware of how important resilience is, there isn’t a lot out there to help you measure how flexible your people are.

This checklist from HR Executive can serve as a starting point for HR teams and employers to evaluate their employees’ resilience. It assesses the employee’s relationship with themselves, their direct managers, and senior company leadership, and how that impacts their resiliency.

  • I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done.
  • No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done.
  • In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day
  • I always believe that things are going to work out for the best
  • My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need to know it
  • I trust my team leader.
  • I am encouraged to take risks.
  • Senior leaders are one step ahead of events.
  • Senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do
  • I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.

Once you have an idea of your team’s ability to recover, you can work on reinforcing weak spots by building resilience and bring about that “business transformation” Josh Bersin referenced above.

  • 1

    Don’t leave employees in the dark.

    A study found that workers who experienced at least five changes at work were 13 times more likely to be highly resilient. Meaning employees shouldn’t be coddled. They need a chance to develop grit and prove they can handle challenges. A key to that is to be honest with them about what is happening with the business, so they can be prepared for and deal with challenges accordingly.

    If you’re worried about how your employees’ will handle or respond to less than positive news, check-in with them frequently. When things are changing quickly, keeping a pulse on how your employees are feeling is best. At that point, you can decide if you need to adjust work schedules, communication styles, or workloads to help improve productivity and well-being.

  • 2

    Train leaders to develop resilient behaviors.

    Resilience isn’t going to develop overnight or by doing nothing. Having your leaders and managers on board – the people that are interacting directly with employees – is a good start. Training can help mangers form those behaviors in themselves, as well as recognize and nurture them in others. When tough times happen, leaders can fall back on their training so they can respond appropriately and productively to stressful situations or employees. Their actions and reactions set an example for employees.

  • 3

    Adjust policies to be responsive to employee needs.

    Your policies and procedures should help your employees get their work done better. They shouldn’t make things hard than they need to be. They are in place to help prevent and reduce stress at work, rather than create it.

    This sentiment doesn’t just apply to standard operating procedures, but also to PTO policies, leave policies, flexible working arrangements and the like that can help employees meet the needs of their everyday lives. When employees can find peace in their personal and home lives, they can bring that energy to work.

    When there is friction at work or during procedures, it can prevent employees from responding well to change. Some things to consider are:

    • Are your processes too rigid, holding your teams back from changing quickly and efficiently?
    • Are your teams overwhelmed? Either they are short-staffed, or they don’t know what tasks they should prioritize first.
    • Do your teams have the resources and budgets they need to make change?
  • 4

    Frame change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

    Change is going to happen no matter what; sometimes there will be several changes in the course of just one day. Do your employees have the skill and desire to manage change? If they do, have you done your part to make change easier? Are you showing that not all change is bad, but much of it allows for growth and development?

  • 5

    Build a positive workplace culture.

    This should go without saying, that when work is safe and respectful space, employees will trust leadership and their colleagues. You want to cultivate an environment where employees feel they have control over their work and their time. Recognize their accomplishments and encourage self-confidence.

    • Does your leadership inspire trust in your employees? If you micromanage employees or don’t keep them abreast of changes, they essentially are puppets and can’t develop resilience.
  • 6

    Instill purpose in employees’ work.

    When work gets tough, employees need a vision to fall back on. Is there something bigger than them they can look to for inspiration when things get tough? Leadership and managers should provide realistic goals and meaning behind the work for every project. It gives employees something to work towards and believe in.

  • 7

    Support relationship-building at work.

    It’s important to feel like someone has your back at work. Create opportunities for employees to form connections that matter with mentoring or coaching programs, clubs, or company outings. They can learn new skills, engender trust in leadership and have someone to rely on when they need help.

  • 8

    Hire non-traditional employees.

    Resilience isn’t just about current employees, it’s about future ones. HR and hiring managers should consider how prospective employees will fit into the culture and be prepared for change and difficulty. We recommend hiring employees for their skillset rather than relying solely on their past experience and profile. In this way you can ensure that employees are equipped with the skills that matter most.

  • 9

    Focus on employee health and well-being.

    Invest in your employees’ physical, emotional, financial, and social well-being. When your employees are healthy and happy, they are more capable of managing stress, work and life successfully. There’s so much we could say about this topic, we could write a whole other article about it. Luckily for you, we wrote several. Take you pick and see how and why offering benefits is in your (and your business’s) best interest: