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Resilience in the Workplace

Businesses are dependent on staff members being successful at work, but it is not necessarily clear what that entails or requires.

A working woman is shown walking up a staircase, with the shadow cast on the wall resembling that of a superhero.

Many imagine that the key to success at work is intelligence or going above and beyond the demands of the role, such as working long hours or taking on extra commitments. However, in 2023 the workplace is characterised by staff cutbacks, deadlines, rivalry and change, meaning that success actually relies on an individual’s capacity to cope and even thrive when faced with stress. In other words, modern businesses depend on workplace resilience.

Therefore, resilience must be fostered in the workplace, particularly when it comes to supporting younger team members. With these less experienced employees, managers need to make the workplace a safe environment where they can make mistakes and ask for help. A good manager will hold space for younger employees to be uncomfortable as they grow in their roles and build resilience.

According to the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing (2006), “the good news is that although some people seem to be born with more resilience than others, those whose resilience is lower can learn how to boost their ability to cope, thrive and flourish when the going gets tough.” So, resilience can be learned and enhanced!

Read on for some of the traits you’ll notice in a resilient employee, as well as ways to foster resilience in the workplace.

Connections and Trust

Resilient employees build strong connections and relationships with others, characterised by effective communication with active listening and responsiveness. A resilient worker will do what they can to help a colleague achieve success and is a team player who will nurture work networks, consistently building trust with others.


Social support plays an important role in workplace resilience. It is beneficial to develop personal as well as professional networks, which can be a source of guidance and support during times of stress or simply to provide a nurturing relationship. Interestingly, resilient employees relish the social side of workplaces and don’t take work environments too seriously, introducing an element of ‘play’ to the workplace which further fosters positive emotions amongst employees.


Grit is that fighting spirit that sets some employees apart. It can be defined as ‘having the passion and perseverance to pursue your long-term goals’. Resilient employees display grit and perceive their work as meaningful, meaning they are willing to dig deep to achieve an outcome perceived to be valuable. This helps the individual to be better equipped to bounce back after setbacks or when work is stressful.


By actively engaging in self-care and nurturing themselves after a stressful incident, however minor, resilient employees avoid ‘burnout’. Above all, and at all times, these resilient individuals stay true to their ‘real’ selves. They are authentic and behave in a way that is in alignment with their values and beliefs.


A characteristic of resilient workers is that they will monitor their own thoughts when they are under stress and duress. By acting mindfully, the employees who display resilience notice patterns in their thinking that may be impeding their chance at occupational success. This awareness promotes a capacity to cope with stress and unexpected challenges.


Resilience in the workplace can be strengthened and enhanced by developing strategies that reduce vulnerability and susceptibility to stress among employees. It can also help employees develop and nurture skills for reducing the impact that adversity in the workplace has on them. This may include, but is not limited to, practising mindfulness, developing mental agility, and taking regular breaks from work to ‘detach’. Read on for five key ways to help employees build resilience.

Building Resilience at Work

Smiling team members


By taking a positive stance at work, employees are more able to adapt to adversity and hold on to a sense of control over their work environment. Putting energy and motivation into work, or, having ‘vigour’ – as described by Shirom (2004) – is also associated with building personal resilience. It is the ‘opposite’ of burnout, which is characterised by emotional exhaustion, tiredness and cognitive fatigue.

Emotional Insight

Individuals with insight have a level of awareness about the full range of emotions they experience, from ‘negative’ through to ‘positive’. They will consider the ramifications of their own reactions and behaviour and the effects their own actions have on others. Psychologically resilient individuals can be described as emotionally intelligent (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).


Individuals can build personal resilience at work by achieving a healthy work-life balance. This is especially challenging in the world we are living in. Technology can mean that employees may have access to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In order to be able to bounce back from stressful situations, i.e. to be resilient, workers need to have the energy that can be easily depleted if a healthy work-life balance is not in place. Workers need time to relax, unwind and recuperate.


Having a sense of spirituality has been linked to developing resilience at work. This may be related to reducing vulnerability and the impact that adversity in the workplace has on the individual. Finding meaning in work, and feeling that this work is contributing to a greater good, can buffer against the effect of stress. It may also be because spirituality may lead employees to view even stressful situations as having positive aspects and appreciating potential benefits.


Becoming more reflective is another way individuals can build resilience at work. Being aware of possible ‘triggers’ to stress can provide individuals with the opportunity to prepare and gather resources so they are better able to ‘bounce back’. If an employee knows that a particular circumstance will be especially challenging, they can then implement coping strategies, such as seeking support.

Why Resilience is Important

Forest Sky View in a Glass Ball

Resilience is a critical life skill that has roots in the key to humankind’s survival. The ability to cope with stress and unexpected challenges, and even to thrive in such situations, is adaptive. This is not news to anyone! What about the workplace?

Why is resilience so important in the work environment? For starters, workplaces are embedded with stress. Occupational stress affects personal and performance outcomes (Rees, Breen, Cusack, and Hegney, 2015). Furthermore, workplace stress is correlated with high levels of depression, anxiety and burnout.

As early as 1978, the effects of a stressful workplace were reported by Pines and Maslach, who introduced the term ‘burnout’ to describe a state whereby employees experience physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and a sense of low personal accomplishment.

Burnout takes a heavy toll, both productively and economically. Burnout is associated with increased rates of absenteeism and reduced productivity – not to mention the negative impact it has on employees. Psychologically resilient employees are better able to cope with stress and less likely to suffer from ‘burnout’. Clearly, this is of benefit to the employer!

Resilience has been associated with various positive states, including optimism, zest, curiosity, energy and openness to experience (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). These positive emotional states are of tremendous value to the workplace. In addition to the more immediate value of positive states, Fredrickson (2004) put forward the argument that positive emotions lead to ‘thought-action repertoires’ which then result in an urge to think/act in a certain direction.

To put this simply, the experience of positive emotions (fostered by resilience) can expand activity, open an employee’s eyes to a range of possibilities, and increase the likelihood of more creative solutions for workplace behaviours (Fredrickson, 2004).

Positive emotions also serve as a ‘buffer’ against workplace stress (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). How? Well, positive emotions enable individuals to make positive appraisals of what otherwise may have been a stressful situation.

Also, those who experience positive affect are more likely to use problem-focused coping which is of great benefit in the work environment. When individuals feel more positive, they tend to also interpret seemingly ordinary events and experiences as positive. Thus, positive emotions foster positivity in the workplace. Resilience is not only important for its impact on psychosocial factors such as burnout, adaptive workplace behaviours and buffering against workplace stress. Resilience has also been implicated in physical well-being. Tugade and Fredrickson (2004) found that "the psychological mindset involved with resilience is reflected in the body as well".

Naturally, if employees have better physical well-being, they will have a greater capacity to undertake their work, and – in turn – be better placed to further adapt to adversity! It is a win-win situation!

"Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems" ~ Gever Tulley

If you're looking to boost your resilience at work, schedule a Kinesiology and Coaching session with Katherine Anderson.


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