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Resilience at work

‘A business in turmoil’ is a good description of the context in which working people of today work. This context is often described as being infused with fast-paced change, uncertainty and complexity, and in some way you need to find a way to respond to it.

For instance, your company decides to implement a new IT platform to increase the service delivery to your customers. “Great, now I can be much more responsive to my clients’ needs,” you think. The company also announces that it might go through a restructuring process in order to stay competitive. 

As the implementation of the new IT system progresses, you realise that most of your previously required know-how has been rendered obsolete. Now you are faced with new and increased job responsibilities since you have to help your clients on the old system while learning to use the new system. When eventually you change over to the new system, it is fraught with system errors, leaving you with lots of frustration because you cannot do what you need to do.

A backlog of work is piling up and you feel your stress levels are increasing, since you have to deal with the pressure of frustrated clients and the effort of figuring out the new system. You also have a constant nagging at the back of your head that your job might not be as secure as you thought it might be, because of the possible restructuring process.

Suddenly you find yourself being worried about your financial position and what you will tell your kids if you were to lose your job. Well, welcome to the modern world of work. All these kinds of situations ask for some kind of adaptive response from you, which might – if the blows all come at the same time – reduce your capability to deal with them. 

How do you keep your confidence and motivation when everything else seems to overwhelm your ability to perform successfully? This is where resilience comes into play. Resilience is your ability to overcome crises or ‘bounce back’ from difficult times and the stresses that have become part of your normal working day. Resilience is about responding with inner strength to the demands made on you on a daily basis. ​

Resilience as an adaptive capability

Resilience reflects the capability of the people within an organisation to absorb turmoil and to stay competent, while at the same time renewing themselves. 

Resilience asks the question: What within individuals, or outside individuals, will protect them from the potential harmful effects that they might experience in the workplace? Here are some of the better-known factors that will help people to thrive during difficult circumstances. 

The first is staying positive and optimistic even though things are not necessarily going as they would like them to go. Optimistic and positive people have a positive and hopeful view of the future and they expect that things will work out well in the end. They believe that they will be successful and overcome their difficulties.

Secondly, resilient people have a tendency to face their hardships. They do not shy away from their problems but rather face up to them even though they seem unpleasant at the time. They make a deliberate choice to do something about their difficult situation, while at the same time checking that their emotions do not become negative. They do not allow themselves to become overwhelmed by their own emotions. In other words, they tend to control their emotions.

Thirdly, resilient people are also very determined people. They refuse to accept failure as an option, and persevere with their efforts even when they experience some setbacks. They face and deal with the obstacles that come their way, one by one. 

Fourthly, one of the most important skills of resilient people is that they do not get involved in negative thinking patterns about themselves and the problems that they face. In other words, they do not ruminate about their problems. They also stop themselves from moaning and groaning about their problems. 

Fifthly, resilient people make use of and actively seek out the support of their friends and family. If people complain too much about their problems, they will cut themselves off from a potential protective factor, namely finding some form of social support. Thus resilient people resist moaning about their situation and rather listen to other people’s perspectives on what can possibly be done to resolve their problems. There is an apt expression: “Misery likes company, but company does not like misery.”

So, next time you are in a tight spot, ask yourself the following:

-Am I staying positive and optimistic about this situation – what can I do to stay positive and optimistic?
- What small step can I take to solve this problem right now? Doing something however small will give you hope and motivation to carry on.
-Do I believe that things will work out well in the end?
-Am I determined to overcome this problem?
-Do I moan and groan about my current problems?
-Do I have a good friend to talk to about the situation that I am facing?

Dr Willie Visser is the director of the Centre for Positive People @ Work, a centre of excellence providing thought leadership, research and practical implementation to companies in the core areas of employee engagement, linking employee engagement to the developing of innovative cultures and executive resilience. The Centre recently entered into a strategic alliance with USB-ED to enhance the offering of USB-ED to its clients. Dr Visser researches resilience in adult people and is currently working on managerial resilience as a specific form of resilience. 

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