Resilience… Unpacking the latest buzz word

Written by Danika Turner & Edda Hamar

Resilience (aka the ability to bounce back quickly during stressful or challenging times) has become a desirable trait for employees today. In fact, it’s a necessity for many modern workplaces characterised by organisational change, increased workloads, reduced resources and an obsession with productivity – #busy. In these environments, success depends on how well teams can cope and adapt to stressful situations.

There’s no doubt that building resilience is valuable for both companies and employees. The benefits have been widely researched and well-documented. We know that resilient individuals are more self-aware. They are able to regulate their emotions before reaching a state of overwhelm and maintain perspective through the stress. And in a team, resilient employees are more likely to keep calm in a crisis and tackle problems together to come up with creative solutions. We like resilience. 

But a ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’ culture disguised as ‘resilience’ can be a slippery slope into wavering mental health and burnout.

When faced with overwhelming workloads in high-performing cultures, it can be challenging for people to navigate priorities, ask for help when it’s needed and do their best work. Everyone has their limit. We’re only human, after all. 

What does this soldier-on mentality look like against the backdrop of our mental health crisis? 1 in 5 Australians experience a mental illness each year, and burnout has been recognised by the World Health Organisation in its International Classification of Diseases. Sounds like we’ve dropped the ball when it comes to looking out for each other at work.

Journalist Anne Helen Petersen believes that resilience-induced burnout is the by-product of a capitalist system:

“The real antidote to burnout is to regulate capitalism. Burnout is not going to be solved until it can be solved for everyone”.

Anne Helen Peterson, author of Can’t Even

Dara Simkin, Founder & Director of Culture Hero and “recovering high achiever” takes ownership of the issue:

“I don’t like the term ‘High Achiever’. Let’s call me a ‘Human Achiever’ – someone who knows when to stop, works within their mental and physical means, and still gets sh*t done.” 

Dara Simkin, Culture Hero

While capitalism is the system we’re living in, here’s how you can take a human-centred approach to building resilience.

Don’t glorify the grind 

Why don’t we start praising employees who clock-off on time, instead of rewarding those who stay back late? This might require a mindset shift if you are used to measuring success by hours at the office. Building a culture that truly puts people first requires trust and flexibility. If someone needs to work from home, let them. And if a parent wants to negotiate different work hours to make the school pick-up, be open-minded. Consider that some people work better in the evenings. Empower your team by showing that you have confidence in their ability to get the work done. Lead by example; speak up if you need help, find balance, and prioritise your mental wellbeing. Culture change starts at the top. 

Resilient people know their boundaries. They take mental health days if needed (without the guilt) and look to create moments of white space in their calendar to recharge and reset. 

Up-skilling & safe spaces

Companies have a proactive and preventative role to play in creating a culture that is supportive of employees’ mental wellbeing. Resilience and mindfulness training has been proven to have a positive impact on the long-term health and wellbeing of employees. Because when employees are equipped with the right skills and techniques (e.g. mindful meditation, self-compassion, conflict-resolution and goal-setting), they are able to better recognise and diffuse potential stress triggers.

Being able to regulate emotions at work is good, but being expected to suppress them isn’t. Creating mental health check-ins and safe spaces can help people feel confident to talk about their mental wellbeing, reflect on challenging experiences, and access support before stress sets in. 

Aligning work to values

Helping your employees find purpose and direction in their work is another technique to bring about resilience in a more organic way. Values experts Jackie Le Fèvre and Alan Williams describe values as our ‘individual sense-making architecture’ and when we act in alignment with our core values, we have a higher capacity to deal with stress. There’s research to back this up. In 2005, a team of researchers from the University of California found that connecting to our core values can stop our brains from producing cortisol (aka the stress hormone). It makes sense that resilience at work comes more naturally when there is a value alignment, as you’re more likely to persevere with something that you believe in. But who knew that it was also good for your health! 

Good mental health and resilience are symbiotic. Companies who prioritise their people over profit will benefit from a happier, healthier and more resilient workforce. Supportive workplaces create the conditions for people to do their best work, giving a whole new meaning to a high-performance culture.

What does a high-performance culture look like to you? Let us know


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