Building the capacity to become resilient
Among the many buzzing words that have made their way to the corporate lingo in the past 20 months is ‘resilience’. Sure the term existed and was being used extensively even pre-pandemic. But the past 20 months have shifted resilience from being a mindset of a few, to a necessity for survival, for the masses.
In her book, ‘Ordinary Magic: Resilience in Development’, author Ann Masten, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, describes resilience as [t]he capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or future development of the system.”
While the corporate world tries to weave conversations around adapting to these disturbances and creating an environment that suggests ‘it's ok to not be ok’, the push to become resilient for survival continues. Can one afford to not be ok amid the growing push for resilience? Is the push to become resilient causing greater damage to employee well-being?
Let’s find out.
Redefining ‘fit’ for survival
Change in ways of working and living has been a constant since even before the pandemic. But this time, change was different. The past 20 months have forced us to relook at our outlook, priorities and approach across all facets of life. The phrase ‘Survival of the fittest’ has long haunted the human race, and being fit has never been more important. But what does being fit entail today?
"Fit" means more than just being physically fit. The modern world is increasingly focused with one's whole health, both physically and mentally. Fitness today is described as the ability to perform at one's best while being calm and collected. What matters most in life is how well you fit in with yourself, rather than how well you fit in with others," said Shefali Garg, Vice President People Strategy, Publicis Sapient, in conversation with People Matters.
"Learning and unlearning constantly in order to keep up with the ever-changing environment is what makes the fittest individuals,” added Garg .
The emphasis on self has grown in the evolving work paradigm. And this thought is echoed by thought leader and CEO, Expert Humans, Michael Jenkins. In conversation with People Matters, Jenkins noted that being the fittest today entails three things primarily:
- Self-awareness. In other words being very clear about who you are and how you show up in the office, because it takes a lot of energy to be somebody who you’re not.
- Exercise self-compassion which is to realize that there are things that sometimes you might have done differently or that you might have done better but that you forgive yourself for these things, thereby helping to ease any stress or anxiety that you might have had that was bearing down on you and preventing you from being the fittest you could be.
- The third thing is that if you do the first and second things I’ve mentioned well, then you’ll be in a position to be of help and assistance to others: in other words being able to develop an empathetic way of working and a compassionate way of being for the benefit of other people.
Amid survival of the fittest, is it ok to not be ok?
One cannot possibly argue the need to upskill to stay relevant. Amid growing competition, of course, the need to push for excellence and be able to ‘bounce back’ faster remains crucial. In other words, being resilient. Yet, we continue to talk about it’s ok to not be ok. In between the two messages, the pace of change today is making it nearly impossible to work towards becoming resilient only when one’s ready. So, can one afford to not be ok amid the growing push for resilience?
Garg believes that when we speak about being resilient, we are referring to one's ability to bounce back after experiencing hardship. Furthermore, she adds, accepting our existing condition, which will be both beautiful and awful at different periods in our life, is essential to moving forward. “Understanding and accepting that we have no control over what happens to us in life, but that we do have complete control over how we react to it may help us in being more resilient, which is particularly important in today's fast-paced environment.”
Acceptance indeed is essential to moving forward, and choosing how we react to what’s beyond our control - much like the past 20 months - is what will shape our ability to survive and thrive in today’s fast-paced environment. How does one develop this ability to bounce back though, while still amid disruption?
“There’s an old metaphor, about trying to change the tires on a moving car - and that’s what life feels like for many people at the moment. There’s no time to pull into a rest area and change the tires at your leisure. I think building resilience is by definition something that happens over time and it’s something that probably takes experimentation as well, just to find out what works best for you," Jenkins noted.
"While you’re spending time finding out what works for you, you might not feel “OK”. And that’s OK,” said Jenkins.
He strongly believes that if we really think about it, there’s no time like the present to reflect on what food is good for us to eat, how much exercise we need and perhaps above all how much sleep we need. "So while it feels at the moment that we’re trying to change the tires on a moving car and respray it a different color all at the same time, I think we have to try our best. I also think it’s about mutual support and mutual encouragement too. The research shows that if you are compassionate towards another person it does very good things to your brain too - which can only be a good thing!”
Changing the language of resilience
“The first step is to embrace the pain and disruption that comes with the change. ‘Don't do it alone’ is the most important piece of advice for those who need help,” said Garg on building the capacity to become resilient, after over 20 months of disruption.
In their recent report, ‘The Definitive Guide for Wellbeing: The Healthy Organization’ by The Josh Bersin Company, CEO Josh Bersin stated, “Our research clearly shows that merely investing more dollars into well-being related benefits isn’t enough. In order to attract and retain talent and sustain financial success, the time is now for companies to embrace a corporate-wide focus on organisational health at all levels.”
The Bersin research further emphasises that a people-centric approach to all work is the foundation of every healthy organisation.
Despite the proven need for people-centricity, there is a visible trend of pushing for resilience and ‘bouncing back’. At the same time, with the growing awareness around mental well-being, leaders are driving the message - It’s ok to not be ok. So, are we telling the workforce to bounce back swiftly or to take their time?
Jenkins suggests trying to change the language of resilience. “So, rather than talking about “getting over things” and “bouncing back”, we should be talking about the lessons that we have learned through the experiences that we have had that could help us to prepare for tougher times in the future - although that might sound less than optimistic! So when we talk about resilience let’s try to emphasise “bouncing forwards”, not “bouncing back”. I think that’s one of the first things we should do.”
In addition to a new outlook and emphasizing ‘bouncing forwards’, there is also an element of the workplace ecosystem that drives the emotional quotient around well-being. Highlighting that to adapt to the ever-changing environment, organisations require a motivated workforce, Garg suggested, “To foster workplace resilience, leaders must be able to engage emotionally with their peers on both a personal and professional level. If we want our people to believe that we truly care, we must cultivate an environment of openness and ask questions beyond 'How are you?'"
She added how Publicis Sapient is working towards the same by encouraging free and anonymous discussion on problems. “Our leaders have been professionally trained as Mental Wellbeing Ambassadors who listen without prejudice and offer helpful advice while maintaining confidentiality. Furthermore, as we move towards a more virtualised future of work, it is vital that we prioritise our people's psychological well-being when we plan organizational practices.”
The crisis continues to grapple the global population with new variants, exacerbating the uncertainties that envelope the world. The times ahead will require one and all to be more equipped to navigate what unfolds.
The focus on self-awareness is gaining momentum as the first step to build resilience and bounce forward. Adapting to the renewed definition of “fitness” and its impact on employer and employee expectations is crucial to building a healthy organisation. With the wheels of change in motion, it will be interesting to see how employers embrace vulnerabiliity and authentic care in the long-term, as they focus on boosting workplace and workforce readiness for the future of work.