Resilience in the workplace is a hot topic these days. We hear that leaders need to be more resilient because of the amount of change. We are told that team members need to be more resilient for the same reason.
According to the American Psychological Association, being resilient means adapting well in the face of adversity, threats or significant sources of stress.
More and more businesses are delivering resilience training to their managers and teams than ever before.
To read my take on how to build resilience, go here: 4 ways leaders can build resilience.
But all this talk of being resilient has me thinking. Have we gone too far?
Being Resilient, in a Bad Way
A friend of mine told me about a situation she had seen at a processing plant. Some workers at the plant needed to access a conveyor belt to inspect part of the production line.
The only problem was, this conveyor was above ground level. There was no stable platform or ladder to climb up there. Instead of raising this as an issue, the team adapted.
They began stacking boxes on top of each other, until they had created a makeshift platform. This meant they were able to climb up and inspect the conveyor. However, this was all incredibly risky. The platform was not stable and could have resulted in a severe accident.
Luckily, that hadn’t happened. Yet.
Reading this, you may think that it is a ridiculous situation. Of course, they shouldn’t be creating such a dangerous workplace hazard. And you’re right.
Whether this was due to a poor safety culture, or a fear of consequences if workers spoke up, it doesn’t matter.
The fact remains – these workers adapted to the situation and overcame the challenge. They were being resilient, right?
Leaders need to be mindful not to take advantage of resilient people
Some leaders would say that the best team members are those that don’t complain, maintain a positive attitude and get on with the job.
However, these team members, while being resilient, are more likely to put up with the bad conditions that you throw at them.
Being resilient does not mean putting up with continuous poor working conditions, bad leadership and a toxic workplace culture.
I’ve tried that! You can read my story of career burnout here: Lessons Learnt From Career Burnout.
Being resilient means adapting to reasonable change and handling reasonable stress. What is considered reasonable will be different for every individual.
Listen to Your Body and Mind, to See if Being Resilient is the Answer
It’s important to understand what reasonable stress and reasonable change means for you.
Nobody can tell you to be more resilient. Only you can decide whether your situation works for you, or if it’s too much.
Over my career I’ve found there are a few conditions that tell me whether being resilient is a good approach, or whether things have gone too far. Let’s take a look.
1. Being Resilient is Pointless if Your Challenges Have No Clear End
I understand that leaders will always encounter challenges. When you overcome one, another will appear.
But if your particular circumstances are causing you stress and this won’t change any time soon, being resilient is not the answer. You will simply remain in a never-ending state of working hard, just to manage your stress levels.
2. Being Resilient is Useless if There is No Plan in Place to Improve the Situation
Being resilient is great if it enables you to overcome short to medium term challenges. However, there are two angles that you need to pursue to create a positive situation.
Not only do you need to be resilient to handle the stress you are currently under. You also need to have a strategy to improve your situation, so that things eventually get better. Then, you will have no need to be so resilient.
Being resilient at work shouldn’t be required every day. It should be required when challenges arise and problems need to be overcome.
Long-term resilience will simply make you a target for prolonged stress and unhappiness.
3. Being Resilient is Pointless if You Aren’t Achieving Your Goals
Being resilient becomes pointless when you lose sight of why you are doing what you do.
Many people instinctively resist pressure.
They want to fight back on it, withstand it and defeat it. But there is a reason why floating with the current is far easier than swimming upstream.
If you find you are losing sight of your goals and aspirations and are simply fighting to keep your head above water, then being resilient is not serving you.
It is hurting you. And it’s probably hurting your team, too.
Being resilient is great, but it is not forever.
Sometimes, your work situation is not acceptable.
Sometimes, we lose sight of what we wanted to achieve in the first place, just because we are fighting to stay afloat.
Being resilient is a good thing. But being resilient doesn’t mean putting up with everything all the time.
Do you agree or disagree? What’s your view on resilience at work? Leave a comment below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
I am a very resilient person. All day all week and all year just to ensure things get well. This is new levels for me because most times I just got stressed. Thank you for this piece, I love it
The most resilient people I know believe in what they do, and make sure their goals are still relevant. Sounds like you are one of these!
Brilliant article. Every one is providing talks on this and training, and these are my thoughts are that the stressor needs to be removed rather than people being told they need resilience. I personally get more stressed and irritated about such talk, as it seems to be same as saying man up it’s your fault. I think people are still too fearful to say how they feel as some one tells them to walk, exercise breath etc I can do all those things but it would be better to solve the problem
Thanks for the comment Sylvia.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – telling people to be more resilient implies they are too “soft” and takes the focus away from the root cause. Like taking a pain-killer medication instead of looking for ways to prevent the pain.
I feel like over the past few years the mindset is shifting somewhat with the greater awareness of mental health challenges, but there is still a way to go.