The traditional understanding of resilience is that it is ability to “bounce back” after experiencing stressful life events such as significant change, stress, adversity and hardship – at work and at home. Whilst that’s certainly welcome, there is much more to it than that.
Resilience helps you to find some positive even in bleak times; not crumble in the face of great pressure; maintain hope that things will improve. It helps you to be realistically optimistic in the face of setbacks and difficulties, disappointments and heartaches.
No-one wants to experience tough times and adversity, but for personal growth and development to occur, it is necessary for one’s status quo to be disrupted. Real personal growth doesn’t happen in good times – it generally only occurs when you are in unfamiliar territory, when comfort levels are breached, and when you are out of depth and struggling. Adversity achieves this and initiates potentially life-enhancing change.
Resilience enables recovering from adversity through an upward spiral of coping; feeling good about oneself; and developing inner strength and buffering resources, which in turn leads to further positive coping. When this virtuous cycle continues, you emerge from adversity stronger and more resourceful and able to experience joy, happiness and fulfilment in the face of life’s challenges.
From this perspective, resilience is more than the ability to “bounce back”; it’s the ability to “bounce higher”. It is the life-force to overcome adversity, heal and strive towards self actualisation and flourishing.
And what is the value of personal resilience in the workplace? We define personal resilience in an organisational setting as the ability to remain task focused and productive whilst experiencing tough times. The benefit to organisations of having resilient staff is that they have the buffering resources to cope with inevitable organisation challenges.
Solid research on resilience in the workplace conducted in the USA and UK has shown:
• Resilient people experience overall more hope, optimism and positivity, and so are better able to cope with job demands;
• Resilient people are best able to get through tough times, such as job loss and economic hardship;
• Resilient people are better able to learn new skills and knowledge when their existing skill sets become outdated;
• Resilient people are less likely to become mentally or physically ill during adversity;
• When competing for a job or promotion, the more resilient person has a better chance of succeeding;
• Resilient people are best able to turn adversity into a growth experience, and to leverage it into new experiences and ways of working and living.
Not everyone is resilient however and even people who are mostly resilient, experience periods of low resilience from time to time. To understand the process and attributes of resilience in South Africa, we recently carried out research to find out what ordinary South Africans do to cope in tough times.
From the research we extrapolated seven Principles for Building Personal Resilience:
1. Connect to your purpose and meaning in life
2. Use your unique strengths
3. Maintain perspective
4. Generate positive feelings
5. Be realistically optimistic
6. Persevere by being open minded and flexible
7. Reach out to others
We also developed specific resilience-building tools for individuals and teams. 100% of the people we have trained to use these tools tell us that they can be used immediately at home and at work. They say it changes the way they deal with adversity and the way they live their lives. This was borne out in a follow-up study of the people trained which showed statistically significant sustained enhancement in their resilience over time.