Career Talk 04.05.17

7 actionable ways to build resilience in the workplace

Building resilience is more important than ever in an increasingly stress-filled work life. Fight obstacles and adversity at work with our seven key tips.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

It goes without saying, right? Working life isn’t perfect. Even if you are doing what you love, you’ll encounter obstacles, challenges and setbacks that’ll test the most jovial of employees. This is why it’s so important to build resilience.

What is resilience?

The Harvard Business Review defines resilience as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.” Essentially, it’s your ability to keep calm and carry on in the face of any s*** life throws at you.

Tough At The Top by Sarah Bond and Gillian Shapiro explored the theme of resilience. In the book, Bond and Shapiro asked 835 employees in Britain what things would test their resilience the most. According to the responses, 75% said the biggest drain was “managing difficult people or office politics at work”. This was followed by stress through overwork, and receiving personal criticism.

Resilience is really important. Why? Because there’s only one thing you can control in life: yourself. Tough times are inevitable. It’s how to get back up after you’ve been knocked down that’s tricky to nail. Here are seven tips on how to build resilience in your career to hopefully help you along.

1. Seek understanding from your setbacks


Succumbing to despair after being reprimanded by your superior, or getting some unexpected scathing feedback is easy. Heck, it’s only human, after all. Let yourself process the initial emotions, may it be sadness, anger and confusion. The key here is to not stay in this headspace for too long.

This is called ‘mental agility’. It is the ability to switch gears in your mind from reacting to stress to responding to stress. Reacting, after all, is instinctive and emotionally-driven. Responding however, is a more objective approach.

Here’s an example. You work hard to build a kick-ass proposal for a potential commercial partner, but the lead goes cold. They stop responding to your calls and emails, and this leads to a potential source of income going dry. After you rant/have a de-stress pint, detach from the situation and reflect. Perhaps their lack of response was actually a sign they wouldn’t be great to work with, and you’d dodged a bullet.

We’re not saying ‘everything happens for a reason, because that would be, well, pretty patronising. However, it is possible for you to learn from all your mistakes and challenges. It’s up to you to find out what those lessons are.

2. Build a strong support network


It was poet John Donne who first coined the saying, “no man is an island”. That platitude has been used time and time again to the point of cliché, we know. But it wouldn’t have stuck around that long if there wasn’t an element of truth to it.

When I’ve had a particularly crap day, and I’m trying not to break down in front of my colleagues, I step outside to call my parents. I happen to live around six thousand miles away from mine, but I know that they will 100% pick up the phone, and vice versa if they’re struggling. Oftentimes, talking a problem out with them, my sister, partner and friends will help me see it from a new perspective.

Granted, some of us are not so lucky. I see my privilege very clearly in times like this – however, support networks don’t have to look so conventional. Mentors and lending ears can come in the shape of your colleagues, acquaintances – heck even your Twitter network. Don’t be an island. Reach out for help, and when it’s time for you to do so, provide that support to others.

3. Try to establish a good work/life balance


You know what’ll take a toll on you? A bad work/life balance. Here’s why: if your life’s purpose is tied to only one thing, you’ll be worse for wear when you encounter things that knock that purpose.

It’s like what they say, right? Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Find hobbies outside of work that bring you joy. Find a side hustle that fulfills you. Nurture the relationships you have with others outside the office, and try new things.

Having a good work/life balance will help you build resilience at work because it’ll help you see that there’s just more to life. After all, you can hash out the stress from the day at the gym, or bake your worries away.

4. Take care of your health


This is key. Resilience isn’t just about being able to respond – it’s also about building your overall mental strength. Which won’t be easy if your immune system is kicking your butt every month with a new cold.

I’m one to talk – I live a fairly sedentary stare-at-a-screen-for-hours lifestyle. At one point I was experiencing a high level of burnout at work. Panic attacks, chest pains and fatigue plagued me, and really dragged down my spirit. So I decided to go for a walk every day at work, drink less caffeine and eat more mindfully.

Honestly? I saw the positive effects of those small changes pretty much immediately. Physical and mental health are one and the same, and tackling them holistically is a good way to build resilience. Which brings us nicely onto our next point.

5. Be compassionate to yourself


Let’s say it together now. We  ? are ? only ? human ?. You will make mistakes. You will encounter difficulties. If you’re feeling upset and angry, that’s totally normal.

Beating yourself up for over-reacting or getting emotional will only serve to add to any burdens currently plaguing you. Take breaks. Take time off. Allow yourself to feel compassionate for the no. 1 person you need to worry about – you.

Being resilient doesn’t mean you need to be steely-faced in the face of adversity all the time. When knocked down, boxers still need a recovery period, right? It’s the same here.

6. Create a responsive comeback plan


When you’re ready for it, it’s time for you to be the comeback kid of the century. So, maybe you messed up at work. Or maybe something’s happened that’s knocked you off your feet. Once you’ve taken the time to reflect and relax, it’s time to take action.

Brainstorm your responses, and plan out potential outcomes. See how you can take back your career narrative. For example, if you managed to tick off your manager by accident, work harder at your KPIs (key performance indicators) to show him or her what you’re worth.

Ignoring setbacks and obstacles for too long isn’t the one, pals. If you can take what you’ve been given and transcend the troubles, you’ll have truly developed resilience.

7. Keep working at resilience, because it will be a journey


You are not going to develop resilience overnight. It will be like growing a pearl in an oyster – slow and steady, but with each day you’ll get stronger. Compassion comes into this again, in a way. Be kind to yourself when you react instead of respond. Keep reflecting. Re-draw your comeback plan if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.

When I left my first job, I was a bit of a mess emotionally. Loads of things happened there that I may have reacted badly too. Fast-forward to now, I feel like I’ve developed more resilience than ever. I’ve got a long way to go though. And you know what? So do you… and that’s perfectly OK.

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