What is resilience and what does it really mean? (Series 3)

The word ‘resilience’ comes from the Latin meaning to jump (salire) back (re).  These days it is often talked about in relation to stress management but there is a subtle difference between the two. Resilience is the more proactive focusing on building personal defences against setbacks experienced professionally or personally.  These defences enable us to bounce back quickly without any sustained impact on our outlook or confidence. Building resilience is therefore something that should be an ongoing process, but can be started at any time.

Managing stress, however, is much more reactive: the crisis management of overwhelming anxieties felt in the here and now. Often this is much more difficult and emotionally draining for employees and can be expensive for employers.  Hence, investing upfront in resilience building is a smart decision for managers and HR departments. As people build resilience they experience less stress and their ability to cope and to bounce back quickly is improved.

With resilience the onus in on the individual taking the right preventative steps, but the good news is that it can be learnt. This is because we are, in part, responsible for creating our own stress levels because of how we (often unconsciously) respond to difficult situations. Re-framing these responses is possible, with the right support and some focused work.

However, it’s really important to note that stress also can – and does – come from external factors. Our workplaces (and, yes, our managers) bear a huge responsibility for ensuring they do not exacerbate stress levels through organisational culture.  The most significant causal factors are setting unrealistic expectations (leading to poor work/life balance) and bullying. Without tackling with these first and head-on, any other employee initiatives to build resilience will have limited effect.

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