16 August 2021

What is workplace resilience?

Resilience at work

Different generations have experienced a variety of workplace challenges. In this blog we consider different types of workplace resilience.

“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” – Dictionary definition of resilience.

Different generations have experienced different workplace challenges. 1970s Britain saw power cuts, the three-day week and industrial action on a scale unimaginable today. The early 1990s recession coincided with the first widespread take-up of new technologies and the threat of a Middle Eastern war after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The 2008 global financial crisis brought some banks and businesses to their knees.

The businesses and organisations who survived these crises had several things in common. High up on that list is resilience. Resilient companies not only survive a crisis, but often use it as a trigger for change. Resilient people not only have a better chance of surviving a workplace crisis, but they can often thrive – carving out a new role or responsibilities as changes take shape. A resilient company or organisation – particularly if they’re at the heart of a particular geographical area – can engender a sense of both resilience and optimism in the broader community around them.

In 2020 and 2021 we faced a crisis of unprecedented proportions. In Covid-19 governments, society and businesses faced a challenge unlike any other for generations. It left many reeling. The long-term effects are as yet unknown but will surely impact organisations in some capacity in the years to come.

It’s not just people who can be resilient

In this series of articles, we’re going to look at resilience in the workforce. What does it mean? What contributes to workforce resilience? How is it measured? Why is it good for businesses, individuals and wider society? And how do you build it?

So, when we talk about workplace and workforce resilience, what exactly do we mean?

In the past a picture of resilience at work may well have been the employee who battles on through thick and thin, blow after blow and tough times; challenges coming in several different shapes and sizes. The resilient worker remains there, stoic, solid and reliable – maybe not exactly a figure of dynamism, but when asked how they are, replies with a resigned, “not so bad”.

While that level and type of employee resilience is admirable and may have served individual and companies well in a manufacturing plant or in retail in the 1970s, it’s not going to help much in the 2020s.

Resilience in the workplace comes in different shapes and sizes

Organisational resilience. Does the business operate on solid foundations? Is the board or ownership stable? How long have they been in operation? Do they have cash reserves? What assets do they have? Do they know where and how to get support if needed? How does management communicate change? Have they invested well in technology? Do they have good, cloud-based platforms and communications systems?

High levels of automation are an indicator of organisational resilience.

Resilience of processes and systems. Do they have up-to-date equipment to make or deliver whatever it is they do? Is that equipment covered by warranty? Is it insured? Do they have effective security – adequate protection for data and premises? Is their data backed-up? Are they over-reliant on any particular supplier? Where does their revenue come from and how well is that revenue spread across their customer base? How quickly could employees switch effectively to a working-at-home model? Are systems secure and robust?

(Downtime and IT problems are a notorious deflater for employees.)

Employee resilience. Do employees know where they stand? Do they feel secure? Are they being communicated to regularly and effectively? Are they empowered? What challenges do they face if working from home? Do they have the right equipment? Are their home ‘offices’ adequate and suitable for work? How are their productivity and satisfaction levels measured? What is the collective culture like? Do they feel valued? They’re called a “team”, but do they act like a team when push comes to shove? Do they support each other?

Combined resilience across some or all of the above will position an organisation well during and after a crisis or challenge. Longer term as well, workplace resilience has a direct impact on productivity, the quality of work and both employee engagement and performance.

Simon Wooldridge, Content Writer, MHR

Simon Wooldridge

Simon is a content writer at MHR.

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