4 ways top leaders can build resilience in their teams

Work can be a gratifying place where people are able to extend themselves, overcome challenges, and find purpose and belonging. Yet despite the potential for work to contribute to individual growth and development, it often falls short of these aspirations.

Today, stress in the workplace is a growing concern for both employees and their employers. This is the result of changes including the decline of manufacturing in several countries, and downsizing and the resulting lay-offs. The increased use of mobile phones, laptop computers, and PDAs often means that employees don’t ever really leave work, which can limit downtime to recover from workplace stress.

Too much stress can have a negative effect on employee resilience, the capacity to bounce back quickly from stressors and adversity. 

So how can we ensure that work is a place of flourishing, rather than a place where individual resilience is eroded?

The answer could lie with managers. Here are four ways managers can support the resilience of employees.

1. Reduce unnecessary obstacles

Hindrance stressors are workplace demands that can impede goal achievement or personal development. A good example of a hindrance stressor is bureaucracy or considerable administration that is a barrier to actual work outcomes.

Research that I did in 2016 with Ben Joseph Searle demonstrated that high levels of hindrance stressors have the potential to erode the degree that employees see themselves as resilient over a period as short as three months.

Managers often underestimate the impact that these frustrating stressors have on employee’s lives and wellbeing. They also may not consider how changes that increase the amount of administration or red-tape can negatively affect employees.

These stressors should be identified, minimized, or removed all together. Managers need to play an important role in protecting their employees from hindrance stressors. They should seek to identify improvements to processes and question the need for excessive administration.

2. Promote adaptive behaviors

How managers respond to setbacks is another critical aspect of managing for resilience. A manager’s response can either be a model for building resilience or eroding it.

When managers show resilient behavior and thinking, they can inspire it in others. These behaviors and thinking styles might include promoting optimism and agency about the achievement of organizational goals, celebrating success, and promoting learning from, but not dwelling on, failure.

3. Develop a sense of purpose and belonging

Managers are in a unique position to develop a collective sense of purpose, cohesion, and belonging among their team members.

Organizational psychologists have described the benefits of organizational belonging during times of organizational change. Research has also shown that the more resilient families tend to promote family cohesion, celebrate family events, develop a culture of their own, support and advocate for one another, and display good communication.

You can probably think of a manager you have worked with who would vent about other team members. Now consider the impact this had on you and the people you worked with. In contrast, a manager who is willing to celebrate team success or sincerely takes on feedback appears to have only positive effects on the employees in their charge.

4. Give employees what they need to cope with the demands of their roles

Managers need to be willing to ask, listen, and respond to the strategies that employees believe will help them to cope. Access to coping resources can be many and varied and may be as simple as allowing employees greater flexibility in their work schedule so that they can respond to the stressors in their personal lives, or take breaks when needed.

This point reflects the frequent observation among psychologists that most people are resilient and have an initiative understanding of how they can adapt to the challenges they face.

Although employee resilience can at times seem insurmountable, making the nurturing of resilience part of a managerial role shows a positive way forward.

Dr. Monique Crane is a lecturer in Organisational Psychology at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and the editor of Managing for Resilience: A Practical Guide for Employee Wellbeing and Organizational Performance.