Life doesn’t always go smoothly – and it’s the same at work. There’ll be times when you make mistakes, or when projects don’t go to plan. Sometimes wider changes might have a profound effect on you. During these times, it’ll help you greatly if you can show resilience. But what does that mean, and how can you develop it?

What is resilience?

Simply put, resilience is being able to cope well with difficulties, and bounce back quickly. It’s an extremely desirable behaviour that can help you ride out tough times in all aspects of life. Being resilient will help you manage life challenges like moving or parenthood; or unexpected upsets, such as illness or bereavement.

At work, resilience is very useful for dealing with difficult situations – from differences of opinion with colleagues, to periods of boom or bust. Resilient employees are helpful to an employer for the same reasons: they’re able to ride out tough periods and can support others.

Eight out of ten UK workers say they experience work-related stress. Six out of ten say they experience financial stress, and around half become stressed about family matters.(1)

Being resilient usually involves managing your emotional response to problems. So it’s a useful foundation for skills including emotional awareness and problem solving. It’s also related to adaptability: one way to withstand difficult times or a change in circumstances is to adapt to them successfully.

Resilient people can often manage stress and conflict. This might be because they’ve learnt how to develop a resilient mindset. Or because they have strong support network – like loved ones and friends – behind them.

Examples of resilience in action

Being resilient helps you withstand setbacks at work. These can come from many directions – and they may be mild inconveniences or major hurdles. Let’s look at some examples. 

Mo and Jay often have differences of opinion. They don’t enjoy it when they have to work a shift with each other. Both of them understand, however, that there’s still a job to be done, so they strive to act professionally.

Here, Mo and Jay can’t change the situation, but their resilience helps them deal with it. It makes shifts together more bearable, and by putting their differences aside, they’re doing a better job for their employer.

Olivia’s balancing her new job with a long commute from the family home, and some studying at the weekend. She’s tired, but she understands that it’s a temporary arrangement that will get her into a better situation. By showing resilience, she can save for a flat deposit, and gain another qualification to improve her career prospects.

Jadyn is part of an electrical installation team that’s been working flat out for three weeks. He’s not getting a lot of time off, but he understands the importance of the work and the deadline that his employer has to meet. In order to cope he’s cut back on late nights, improved his diet and started going to the gym.

Jadyn’s taken steps to manage his stress and boost his energy. He’s putting himself in the best position possible to find the resilience he needs.

Ruby lost her hospitality job during the Covid-19 lockdown. She was really upset about it, but had support from her family, and got some great advice. Now she’s decided to apply for an apprenticeship, switching career direction and turning the setback into an opportunity.

Ruby’s resilience helped her avoid dwelling on her bad luck. Instead, she was able to look for potential positives, and now she’s working towards them.

Why is resilience important in the workplace?

Even the most glittering career will throw up plenty of difficult situations or unwelcome surprises. Being resilient at work can make the difference between allowing setbacks or disagreements to escalate into problems – or managing them effectively in order to get work done. It may help you progress in your career too; for example, if you take on extra duties to earn a promotion.

For employers, resilience is an important quality in their people. Businesses sometimes need to call on their workforce to put in longer hours or take on additional roles to deal with short-term demands – such as illness or extra work. 

Resilience is a behaviour valued by employers. Take this recent job description for a Business Administrative Apprentice, which described the person they were looking to recruit as “Resilient and driven with a strong customer focus and the ability to work under pressure while managing heavy workloads”.

Covid-19 was a real test for employers, like HPC. And it was due to the resilience and adaptability of workers that we were able to achieve a hugely significant milestone on the project – completion of the second reactor base – ahead of schedule. Despite everyone having to adapt to new working practices to stay safe.

“I want to thank workers and our union partners for their extraordinary efforts to make safe working possible during the pandemic. They have adapted to major changes in everyday behaviours and working practices which would have been unimaginable a few months ago” – Stuart Crooks, Hinkley Point C Managing Director. Read more.
 

During tough times, a business may need to furlough staff or even make people redundant. Here, resilience can keep morale and motivation high among the remaining teams, improving the chances of everyone pulling together to turn things around. And if you’re unlucky enough to lose your job, being resilient will help you stay positive as you search for a new one.

Resilience is particularly important in a pressurised environment, where decisions and actions have an impact on safety. In a nuclear power station, staff must be able to manage their stress and emotions appropriately, so they can follow procedures and stay safe.

Even the most successful people fail. Henry Ford had already created and lost two other car manufacturing businesses before he founded Ford in 1903!(2)

How might you have demonstrated good resilience at school or college?

Think about the times you’ve experienced stress or difficulty at school or college. Were you able to show resilience – perhaps managing your emotions in the heat of the moment, then responding positively?

You’ve probably had your work or behaviour criticised by teachers at some point. Did you take their suggestions on board, or work with them to improve the outcome? Or perhaps you demonstrated resilience by keeping family or personal issues separate to your work at school or college.

Resilience isn’t always a response to negative situations. Succeeding in sport often means being resistant to pressure. For example when playing several games a day in a football tournament, or facing a set point in tennis. Studying for multiple exams demands resilience too – as does surviving on a limited budget.

Showing resilience during Covid-19

Sometimes we have to show resilience to things well beyond our control. The Covid-19 lockdown is a case in point. Many people had to deal with severe financial or emotional difficulties, without many of the usual ways to get support or blow off steam.

In these circumstances, staying positive and finding the best outcomes takes real resilience. So well done if you were able to achieve this, or if you found new ways to cope with changes to your everyday life.

There’s a difference between criticism and bullying. If you need support to cope with bullying, stress or abuse, check out the resources on this YoungMinds page.

How can you develop resilience?

It’s far easier to be resilient when you’re in a strong place to start with. Looking after your emotional and physical health – and managing your relationships and finances – will put you in the best position to cope. It can also help to think ahead. For example having a Plan B in mind, in case Plan A doesn’t work out. By asking ‘what if I fail?’, you’ll have some idea of what to do if the wheels come off.

Resilience is also something that we can develop and deepen with experience. For example, criticism at work can sting at first. But we can learn to take it on board, accept it isn’t personal and use it to achieve more in the workplace.

It may help to think about the ways in which you’ve overcome past challenges. For example, if you’ve ever fallen behind in your studies and managed to catch up – what did it take to achieve this? Where did your motivation come from, and is that something you can draw on in the future? Try to remember the satisfaction you felt after weathering a storm – it can be a positive position to aim towards when you need to be resilient again.

Boosting your resilience

The better your starting position, the easier it is to be resilient when it changes. As much as possible, aim for these things in life:

  1. Find the job you love: It’s easier to stay motivated if you believe in what you’re doing.

  2. Stay positive: Focus on the long-term, working toward the most positive outcome in any situation.

  3. Stay healthy: Exercise will help you manage your emotions, while a balanced diet will provide the energy and nutrition you need. Alcohol and other drugs are short-term fixes that can create bigger problems.

  4. Stay on top of your finances: Money worries can greatly add to your stress. Having a bit of spare cash can boost your ability to deal with the unexpected.

  5. Get support: Nobody can cope alone. Be open to guidance from colleagues, and be careful to build your professional networks. Don’t neglect your friends either – they can be an essential way to keep your perspective.

How can you demonstrate resilience?

You can demonstrate resilience to an employer by expanding on a relevant example in your CV. Perhaps you had to work a period of overtime, for example, or juggle your work with part-time studies. Be sure you can explain how you coped – did you exercise to manage stress, have fewer nights out, or seek help from friends or colleagues?

Alternatively, you may be able to talk about how you managed personal challenges to achieve your goals. Have you finished your education despite difficult circumstances at home? Have you overcome financial problems? Your response to the Covid-19 lockdown may well provide some examples of both too.

Don’t overlook examples of your ability to anticipate problems, and plan for how you’ll deal with them. If you’re meeting an employer for an interview or chat, what was your Plan B for getting there in case of travel disruption? If you don’t get this job, how will you continue working towards your goals?

Useful links

Resilience is a behaviour you can develop. It also comes from getting yourself into as healthy, secure and happy a place as possible. See the links below for more information on how to develop resilience – and why it matters.

  1. Take a look at seven ways to boost resilience at work

  2. Discover more about the role of resilience in the workplace

  3. Read this article for tips on 'How can I be more resilient?'

Related skills

Resilience crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Resilient people are often adaptable – they’re able to bounce back from a setback and embrace change, rather than fearing it. Read more about adaptability.

Resilient people usually have emotional awareness. They’re able to recognise their emotions and manage these effectively. These same skills can also help you have empathy for the needs of others. If you’ve ever experienced a difficulty in life, you’re more likely to understand what it’s like for others going through the same situation – and help them with the support they need. Read more about emotional awareness.

Being resilient will help you problem solve. You won’t be phased by a challenge in your job, but will see it as an opportunity to come up with alternative solutions. Read more about problem solving.

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