Image by Gary Weber

Worker Resilience: The Ultimate Truth About This Hot HR Topic

It seems like worker resilience has become the HR topic of the day. The pandemic suddenly forced people to work from home last year. Soon after, videoconferencing tore the curtain off the reality of everyone’s daily lives. So we shouldn’t be surprised that resilience is a key theme in 2021.

But what exactly is resilience? Does worker resilience really matter? And if it does, why has resilience been such an elusive employee trait for companies to help develop?

What Exactly is Resilience?

In a nutshell, resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and hardship. The global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and controversial and seemingly never-ending U.S. presidential election was a lot for people to cope with in the last year. And we’ve all experienced the videoconferences where this all came to a head.

The calls in which a coworker’s connection freezes every time they try to share their screen because fiber internet isn’t available in their neighborhood. The times when a parent needs to cut a meeting short because their infant is having a meltdown and is in desperate need of attention. Or even the ones when someone confides in you that they simply cannot hit a deadline because they’re struggling to focus on the task at hand. From having the technician at the house to fix their unreliable internet. Or perhaps needing to run to the store for another round of curbside pickup. Or maybe the stress of wrapping up deliverables that were due yesterday — before they lost internet. Worse yet, they just learned a spouse or child tested positive for COVID-19. Each scenario has tested our patience, if not our resilience — perhaps more than once.

Simply put, these are situations in which resilient employees are more able to cope in a safe and healthy way. At the same time, they present a challenge for less resilient employees. Resilient people are more able to wrestle life’s upheavals — large and small, day in and day out, on the job and home. And they do so in ways that they can still stay productive and more on track. Perhaps most important, they stay healthier in all three spheres of our lives: psychologically/mentally, socially/emotionally, and physically.

That, in layperson’s terms, is “resilience.”

Does Resilience Really Matter — or Is This a Tempest in a Teapot?

Considering all this, it only stands to reason that if your employees can cope with new and demanding situations in safe and healthy ways, they’ll benefit. Additionally, the people they love and work with will benefit, and your company will benefit. But an individual failing to cope is more than a personal health problem. It’s a business problem. Not just due to the increasing rates of absenteeism that represent considerable costs to companies now, but because a fragile workforce will cost exponentially more in the future.

A recent report by Cigna shows that resilience is at risk in 3 in 5 Americans — and that businesses are feeling the impact. The report says 63% of full-time workers have low to moderate resilience levels that put them at risk of being unable to overcome immediate challenges and adversity. Cigna connected low resilience to low job satisfaction and performance, a higher likelihood of turnover, and an inability to cope.

The Impact of Low to Moderate Resilience

Looking more closely, we see an interesting thing about resilience: it’s highest when we’re very young and very old. This inverted ‘U’ of our resilience levels means we’re at our greatest risk of low potential and inability to cope with change in our teens and 20s. Then our resilience — and specifically our worker resilience — starts to build as we acclimate to the workforce and life after school.

In adults, resilience tends to be lowest among isolated or lonely people who feel a lack of connection to family or work or feel unsupported. For all employees, inclusion and connection are vital for resilience.

“If you don’t have friends, coworkers, or groups to build yourself up, you’re more at risk to not have the resilience to overcome things like the COVID-19 pandemic or furloughs,” Robert Hamilton, a medical executive for Cigna, said in commenting on the report.

Here’s what low resilience can lead to:

  • As recently as October, 1 in 4 U.S. workers had considered quitting their jobs because worries related to the pandemic were getting to them, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in collaboration with the software company SAP.
  • In the same poll, nearly 7 in 10 workers said that managing the responsibilities of their jobs and home life was absolutely a primary stressor.
  • The risk of depression among employees is 71% higher now than before the pandemic, according to the latest Mental Health Index by Total Brain and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.
  • Employee attention span is 27% worse than before the pandemic, according to the same report.

So, yes. Resilience among your workers matters.

Resilience: An Elusive Employee Trait for Companies to Help Develop

While it’s difficult to broadly minimize stress factors across any organization, it is possible to effectively cultivate company-wide strategies for resilience. The three reasons most employer strategies, solutions, and apps haven’t worked so far is that they:

  • Are mental wellbeing or mindfulness solutions with no underpinning in clinical psychology
  • Focus solely on reactive treatment rather than offering prevention
  • Fail to treat the whole employee — to embrace mental health as part of everyone’s daily life and total wellbeing

A different and proven model for building resilience and overall employee mental health would take constant, consistent preventive action that:

  • Helps every employee monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of things that might be going wrong
  • Provides appropriate referrals to other employer-sponsored programs (such as your EAP) or outside expert counseling when it’s needed

After all, we are all on some spectrum of mental health (and test our resilience) every day.

Developing Resilience:  Start by Focusing on Improving Overall Mental Health

The ultimate truth about work resilience?

Any company can take a major step forward in improving resilience. If, that is, they have a means for improving mental health overall, for every employee. That would demand an employee mental health platform supported by four foundational pillars:

A whole-person, whole-organization approach to mental health

It’s time to remove the stigma around mental health. It’s time to make it OK to enable employees to talk about stress. We must make it okay to also talk about depression, financial concerns, and other factors that lead to mental ill-health. It is time to equally nourish all three spheres that make up every individual’s life: psychological, social, and physical. This is the best way, in fact, to enhance the investment already made in on EAP programs.

Leave no employee behind

The right employee mental health platform will engage every employee to leverage preventive tools and resources. That platform will not just provide the costly and invasive reactive mental health treatment for 1 in 5 employees who report having mental health issues today.

Empowerment for employees and insight for employers

An employee mental health platform will only succeed if it can deliver three critical drivers of its value: measurement and assessment; variety and personalization; and accessibility. (For example, are the tools and insights accessible on any device at any time?)

A human touch and solid science

With today’s optimal employee mental health platform, employers can depend on customized support to drive more-human engagement with employees. That approach better helps employers interpret the insights gleaned from employee data the platform generates.

Worker Resilience: Time for a New Approach

In short, it’s time to move beyond the traditional, treatment-focused mental health solutions. It’s time to go deeper and broader than you can with mindfulness-type solutions that don’t truly address mental health.

If we want to further develop worker resilience in our employees, it’s time to support the whole person — and the whole organization.