How to Foster Resilience without Stressing Your Whole Team Out

When bull markets turn bear and uncertainty looms, organizations often ask their employee base to practice resilience. But what does that mean, and how do you translate it to action?

Put simply, resilience is the ability to bounce back once you’ve been knocked down.

Promoting resilience is a natural and appropriate response—resilience is, in fact, an advantageous trait. A plant grown in the buffeting winds adapts to its environment. It grows shorter and stockier; it’s just as ready for a gale as it is a breeze.

But here’s where things get a little complicated: bring the same plant grown in a greenhouse to that windswept location, and the struggle is real.

How does this relate to my organization?

In the best of times, organizations aren’t always (or often) rewarded for fostering or prioritizing resilience. When debt is cheap, rapid growth rules. In those conditions, there’s potential for teams to grow tall and lanky—not ready for a storm, much less a gale. Yet, now they’re out there in it, and adaptation isn’t an option; it’s an imperative.

In “A Guide to Building a More Resilient Business” Martin Reeves and Kevin Whitaker explain how modern business models are often disincentivized from fostering resilience:

“Companies and shareholders often focus on maximizing short-term returns. In contrast, resilience requires a multi-timescale perspective: forgoing a certain amount of efficiency or performance today for the sake of more-sustained performance in the future.”

You can’t put resilience principles into practice retroactively any more than you can spend one night studying extra hard for a final exam, learn a new language in a week, or build ten pounds of lean muscle mass by going to the gym for a single 72 hour workout.

Resilience is built over time, not switched on temporarily when it’s needed.

Luckily, you and your team are probably much further along in building that resilience than you imagine. Let’s explore that—but first, we need to better understand where all that resilience comes from.

A stark shift

For employees, some of whom are facing the first major bout of turbulence in their career, the sudden shift in rhetoric toward resilience can be dismaying. Up until this point, they’ve been living the prioritization of short-term growth.

They’re now being asked to do more with less, as capital efficiency eclipses growth as the driving force behind decision making. Many employees experienced a shift from recruiters chasing them with 20 or 30 percent pay bumps, to foregoing raises, even at a time when inflation dictates that anything less than a 9% raise (in the US) is effectively a pay cut in terms of buying power.

Interdependence and intersections: resilience doesn’t live in a vacuum.

Most members of your team have been working really hard at building resilience already.

Inflation is at a 40-year high, national and international tensions are piano string tight, housing affordability is in jeopardy, and there’s still a global pandemic, with a new one on its heels.

Anyone thriving in these conditions doesn’t need to learn resilience—they’re already resilience champions. They’ve had years to build their own personal mountain of resilience. So, instead of asking employees to become more resilient, think about channeling the mountain of resilience they’re standing on in order to learn and grow together.

As Klaus Schwab and Bob Sternfels discuss in a recent article for McKinsey:

“Indeed the foundations of future growth are often laid as societies respond to the weaknesses crises expose. At this juncture, our recovery’s success is still not assured. History shows that in times of disruption, resilience depends on adaptability and decisiveness…But how can leaders meet this resilience challenge to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth? Getting there will depend on effectively and holistically addressing the conditions of our economies and societies and, crucially, their interrelationships.”

This is true on a micro and macro level in an organization. The better we understand the intersections that form the challenges employees and the organization face, the easier it is to foster resilience as a team. The more resilient you can become as a team, the better positioned you are to harness opportunities for future growth during challenging times.

It’s important to remember that while everyone in the organization may be in the same storm, they’re not all in the same boat. Employees don’t need a message from senior leadership about how important it is for everyone to come together and become more resilient now that things are tough.

Think back to the backlash that celebrity cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” earned during the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. That well-intentioned “we’re all in this together” message came off poorly because there were so many people who didn’t have a nice place to wait out the lockdown. Frontline workers didn’t even have ‘waiting it out at home’ as an option.

So, if a senior leader talks about resilience in a video message to their team who just learned they’d be foregoing raises, or some of their colleagues were let go, that message should also discuss ways senior leadership and the organization as a whole are already working to support a stronger, more resilient employee experience.

Is there a secret to communicating about resilience in challenging times?

Here’s the real secret: don’t wait for hard times.

Fostering resilience principles equally in good times makes it easier to do so in challenging times. But there’s a second best way to go about it: start building resilience together, today.

Resilience isn’t about austerity or excessive caution; it’s about making large and small decisions with a longer view in mind. That principle can manifest itself in numerous ways.

Provide the tools to strengthen and grow

Communicating resilience is more than talking about it. Resilience is communicated in your actions as culture leaders, the actions of your organization in the face of adversity.

In the context of the employee experience, that means making decisions with long tenures in mind—whether that means L&D programs, mentorships, or any other visible investment in the employee-employer relationship.

This not only speaks to the value that the organization places on its members’ growth, but also its dedication to building mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

Need a tangible example?

Look no further than Google’s Sundar Pichai, who recently adopted a new practice among Google’s approximately 17,000 employees worldwide. Coined “The Simplicity Sprint,” this exercise is a master class in authentic collective collaboration and expertly crafted internal communications.

Employees are all asked the same set of simple set of questions:

  • What would help you work with greater clarity and efficiency to serve our users and customers?
  • Where should we remove speed bumps to get better results faster?
  • How do we eliminate waste and stay entrepreneurial and focused as we grow?

In doing so, Google is able to apply the vast amount of human resources at its disposal to improve its own resilience during uncertain times, while addressing ways it can both improve performance and the employee experience. It’s achieving all of this by trusting the collective knowledge, creativity, perspective, and expertise of its employees.

Nick Hobson captures the essence of that message beautifully in his recent article for Inc:

“By using the simplicity sprint, they're giving every employee a voice. Pichai is telling all 176,000 full-time employees that "your voice matters and your opinion matters," and also that the way forward will be a shared, collective effort, not a one-man or one-woman show giving orders from the top. It's as simple as the use of collective pronouns ("we," "us") over singular pronouns ("you," "me") in the question set.”

So, in addition to establishing your own “Simplicity Sprint,” consider ways your resilience communications and initiatives can follow a collaborative approach.

Maintaining a healthy, helpful perspective

Resilience can be a loaded term. Consider the connotations resilience can carry for employees, especially in the context of challenging times. Oyster’s Kevan Lee recently discussed his aversion to the oft-misguided, miscommunicated brand of corporate resilience:

“If resilience is at odds with empathy, then we’re doing it wrong."

"I don’t anticipate ever asking my teammates to be resilient, not because I don’t want people to get better at managing through difficult times but because resilience has been so poorly used and accelerated; ‘recovering quickly’ now implies recovering tomorrow.”

So, keep in mind the historical context some members of your team may have with resilience, and let empathy guide your communication.

In conclusion

Resilience is an adaptive trait, and a helpful mindset, but it can take on unintended connotations. Before you address market conditions and resilience, remember a few key things:

  • Your team is full of resilience experts already—they’ve put the time and effort in to build that skill over many years.
  • Don’t ask employees to be more resilient; trust their resilience and expertise in order to grow and thrive together.
  • Lead by example by applying resilience principles to the employee experience.
  • Lead with empathy, and the understanding that while you’re all in the same storm, you’re not always in the same boat.

Ready to take the next step toward building a stronger digital employee experience?

New call-to-action

Continue Reading

Become a Haystack Writer

We are constantly developing new articles for our blog as a resource for workplace culture leaders. We look for passionate people who want to contribute to our community. Write articles about workplace and get paid.