How individual resilience can save and propel your company
A short guide to creating a resilience-enhancing environment for employees, which strengthens a company from within and prepares it for survival in the fast-paced, crisis-ridden, VUCA* world.
The predictable and mechanical economic system of the 19th century industrialization is being overtaken by the fast-moving global digital VUCA world of the 21st century that demands a lot from companies. In addition to the constant rise of new megatrends, such as digitalization and sustainability, companies are faced with unpredictable health, economic and political crises, that seem to be coming increasingly more frequent. Without any warning, companies are faced with extreme new circumstances and challenges, ranging from disrupted internal operations to sudden changes in consumer behavior. Additionally there is a cultural rise in the awareness and importance of mental health and mindfulness, and corporate strategies can no longer afford to focus solely on financial profit. Companies and their employees are looking to become a part of the “better business” movement and to change the perception of the world of work. For some years now, a new generation of employees has been moving away from the glorification of the permanently stressed workaholic and careerist and started demanding the possibility of a better work-life balance from their employers.
However, this does not necessarily consist of fewer working hours per se, but rather calls for a new way of working. People no longer want to work simply to pay their bills, but to find purpose in what they are doing. They increasingly see the workplace as a possible place of self-fulfillment and their team as a kind of surrogate family.
Although we are working less on average than we used to, more and more people are feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and stressed in the fast-paced VUCA world. Never before has our brain had to process so many impressions, changes and crises at almost daily intervals as it does today. The speed of digitalization and the oversupply due to globalization have led to a sensory overload that often gives us the feeling that we no longer have time to pause for a second and think more carefully before making decisions.
It is precisely because of this need and the challenge to adapt to constantly changing circumstances in our new working world that the individual resilience of a company's employees is becoming increasingly important.
They are the heart of a company and therefore often the key to its success. Only by promoting the individual resilience of its employees can a company survive and grow profitably in the long term.
Fostering employee resilience to internal and external unforeseen crises is more in the hands of companies themselves than one might think. Certainly, some employees start out with a better understanding of resilience than others, but it is increasingly up to the corporate culture, and especially its leaders, to determine the direction in which their own employees develop. But how exactly can one foster those characteristics and qualities in its employees and boost their individual resilience?
Be a leader, not an authority:
In a world characterized by unpredictable crises and the resulting uncertainties, most people look for protection and security. As early as the 1950s, the sociologist Emma Werners identified the negative side effects of an authoritarian upbringing on the development of children's individual resilience. They appeared insecure and anxious much more quickly and were consumed by crises faster than children who had experienced trusting relationships and strong emotional support from their families or close caregivers. Those protective factors seem to serve as an emotional buffer to the harsh reality of their outside world. The gift of a certain amount of confidence in the child's abilities fosters the child's optimism and positive self-perception. The child grows up with a certain basic confidence in itself and its abilities, having learned that mistakes do not lead to being grounded or deprived of love. When children feel insecure in their environment and live in constant fear of being punished (emotionally), they react aggressively, close themselves off to change and become emotionally unstable. The role of a good parent is probably comparable to that of a great leader: The conditions and the tone a leader sets in a company determine the resilience of its employees. When he gives his employees a sense of security and the feeling of being an integral part of a community, people can reach their full potential and rise above. A positive culture of failure helps people to be more willing to change, and it is easier for them to take risks and get through crisis situations. A leader who wants to promote the individual resilience of his employees encourages their optimism and self-confidence by recognizing and promoting their talents and at the same time showing them what they are capable of through challenges and opportunities.
Build a tribe:
In times of crisis, most people turn to their families, their communities or their tribe. They want to be part of a protective community that can shield them from potential external dangers and give them a sense of security – “My tribe will protect me”! Nowhere is the potential for success as great as in a group that feels responsible for and connected to one another and pulls together thanks to a common vision. This effect is then reinforced in moments of crisis. A positive environment is a big factor in giving people the capacity to act like heroes in difficult situations: put themselves at risk to help others in times of crisis; because they trust that their tribe members would have done the same for them.
This phenomenon can be applied to companies: a leader who manages to connect his employees in this way thanks to a shared vision and a family atmosphere creates individual resilience among its employees, which in turn influences and interacts with the resilience of the team and the organization as a whole.
Another important resilience factor is the experience of having trusting relationships in the tribe, which gives the employees the opportunity to openly communicate without the fear of being rejected. This can lead to the free flow of new and creative ideas but also lessens the fear of sharing mistakes that have been made, which makes it easier to solve and prevent them in the future and contributes to the overall resilience and success of a company.
Foster a mindful & consciousness workforce:
In order to strengthen the individual resilience of its employees, it is also important to create a generally resilience-friendly corporate culture, in addition to the right leadership style and the creation of a tribe. By putting the emotional stability of your employees at the forefront of your day-to-day business and instilling a sense of mindfulness, it is possible for them to develop individual resilience and to strengthen the one they already have. Mindfulness encompasses mindfulness of their actions, mindfulness of processes, mindfulness of potential sources of error, and a certain mindfulness of the bigger picture of it all and what is really important in the long term.
With the “everything is possible” mindset and an implementation of a “never giving up culture” you set your employees free for a trial and error method of work. This will help you in times of crisis, because new, unprecedented situations require new ways of thinking and sometimes adventurous and new approaches. Employees will be less afraid of unforeseeable crises and are less likely to fall into a state of shock for fear of failure, but will rather see the new situation as a challenge to help the company grow to new heights.
Researchers observed during the SARS-CoV-2 crisis, that optimists with realistic expectations of life, and a habit of viewing negative events as something temporary and solvable, were more resilient and less likely to develop anxiety attacks and depression and in turn were more likely to complete their tasks. They even had fewer missed days at work. To help people create and/or nurture this optimistic mindset a company has to have a mindful company culture.
In summary it is important to not forget that individual resilience is a process!
It takes the will of employees to break away from old patterns of thinking and acting in order to strengthen and build their own resilience over time. A resilient leader who wants to lead his/her team to a position of resilience, does so by implementing a mindful corporate culture. He/She teaches his employees to learn to sail in the storm and perceive crises as opportunities, not threats. The mindful and resilient leader does not create 9 to 5 worker ants, but rather creates a sense of connection: he/she creates a tribe.
V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.
A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.