The power of workplace resilience

Is there such a thing as “workplace resilience” to change, much like we see with human resiliency to bad things happening to our personal lives? I suggest there is, and like with personal resiliency there are a number of common attributes. These are the things that separate a workplace with low morale, destabilization, and paralysis from one with engaged employees, higher morale, and adaptive ability.

Often with workplace change we find levels of resistance. This is a natural reaction. Something new and especially unexpected triggers our ancient emotional brain system designed to protect us. We automatically think the worse fueled by our brain’s fear juices, comparing what we don’t know to what we do know, no matter how big a stretch or how wrong. Even as we become more aware of the change we can continue to harbor fears of losing pride in what we do, our power and positions, and our profits–be they money, location of cubicles, or hours of work.

There’s both healthy and unhealthy resistance. Healthy resistance asks respectful and pointed questions about why, why now, where’s the proof, and the level and nature of personal impact. Healthy resistance offers solutions, looks for alternatives than can achieve the same outcome, and stays informed.

Unhealthy resistance more deeply embeds our initial fears. They drive us into isolation or the need to band together with others who share our fears. Unhealthy resistance tells us that we have peaked in our ability to learn and absorb new things. It whispers negative thoughts about our losing our workplace status which eats away at our positional pride and corporate purpose. Unhealthy resistance results in fighting back through delay, denial, and deflection as well as outright obstruction.

Unhealthy resistance appears when there is little or no workplace resilience. Healthy resistance, on the other hand, is commonly found in conditions of high workplace resilience. So what is workplace resilience?

I define Workplace Resilience as “A healthy workplace climate created through ongoing collaboration, communication, and consideration.” Just like a healthy diet, exercise, and mindfulness can help our body be resilient to disease, viruses, and disorders, workplace resilience can protect us from organizational changes beyond our control. This can include structural and systems changes, regulatory and/or policy changes, plus human resources and/or budget cutbacks.

Without workplace resiliency the reaction is strongly negative and disruptive. We play the blame game, we deny the ability to absorb and reflect on the change, and we burn up energy on conflict and confusion. We turn a “problem” into a crisis that is “beyond my control.”

A place with workplace resiliency doesn’t see change as an uncontrollable and personally fearful crisis. The shock and weight of newness, even if not being a good thing, is absorbed and cushioned because of existing high levels of morale sustained through what is controllable–attentive, two-way communication, fairness, effective conflict management, collaboration among teams with awareness of each other’s needs, and the ongoing consideration of others modelled through respect and being valued.

With workplace resiliency, conditions are such that adaptability, innovation, and healthy questioning is the norm. Success, when it occurs, it not credited to those with positional power but spread through all involved. Accountability for things that may not go well is not a blame game but one of reflection and learning. The resilient workplace does not “move on,” it “carries on.” Move on suggesting we can leave events behind us. Moving on suggests we move forward, absorbing what we have learned into our future adaptability.


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