How to Attract and Retain Resilient Employees

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as “the ability to adapt well in the face of trauma or tragedy, threats, or other significant sources of stress.” 1 It turns out that not only is resilience a good trait to carry us through personal trauma or tragedy, it's also a critical attribute in the workplace. And it’s easy to see why. Today, “getting the job done” can include a good deal of uncertainty and adversity, due to frequent restructuring, layoffs, lengthy work travel, disruptions like the pandemic, long hours, and intense internal and external competition. 

When employees are unable to handle such stress, it hurts them as individuals as well as the company as a whole. And the organizational impact is well documented. According to studies, distressed workers are significantly less productive than those who aren’t.2 Direct financial impacts include an increase in health insurance claims, disability, and costs related to increased employee turnover. In addition, customer service levels fall as stress rises.3 

Resilience to the Rescue

The most successful organizations today have a resilient workforce that can recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and most of all, keep going in the face of adversity. Resilient employees can protect themselves against negative experiences that otherwise could be paralyzing, and maintain emotional balance in uncertain times, both of which are needed to keep a business running profitably.

But how do you ensure a resilient workforce? Is it a trait you have to hire, or can it be taught? The answer is, both.

What Does a Resilient Employee Look Like?

According to Duke University researchers Kathryn Connor and Jonathan Davidson who developed the Connor-Davidson Resilience Assessment Scale (CD-RISC), resilient people have certain characteristics.4 These include (but are not limited to):

  • Viewing change as a challenge or opportunity
  • Recognizing there are limits to control
  • Engaging the support of others
  • Having a close, secure attachment to others
  • Having a sense of humor
  • Taking an action-oriented approach
  • Having patience
  • Adapting well to change
  • Having optimism
  • Having faith
  • Able to handle unpleasant feelings
  • Willing to act on hunches
  • Preferring to take the lead in problem-solving
  • Willing to make unpopular or difficult decisions

Connor and Davidson’s study concluded that resilience is not only quantifiable, it can also be taught. And while organizations don’t need to take responsibility for their employees’ long-term career trajectories, they can help key staff apply their talents in the short term by encouraging resilience.

3 Ways to Attract and Retain a Resilient Workforce

Resilient employees benefit an organization, according to the most recent research5, because they perform more effectively, are more committed to the organization, are more engaged with the organization and their job, and are likely to stay with the organization for longer.

When it comes to attracting and keeping resilient employees at your organization, there are multiple ways to facilitate this – from choosing the right staff at the start, to teaching resilience, to building it into the culture of the organization. Below are 3 ways to consider.

  1. Look for candidates with this trait during the hiring process. Asking questions like the following may help a hiring manager spot a resilient candidate:
    1. How empathetic are you with others?
    2. Do you have a well-developed sense of intuition, and do you trust it?
    3. Give an example of the last time you were angry, what you were angry about, and how you responded.
    4. Have difficult career or life experiences helped you become stronger?
    5. Are you able to find positive aspects in a bad situation?
    6. How do you feel about making mistakes?
  2. Build resilience at the team and organizational level. Consider surveying employees upfront about their sense of wellbeing within the organization, and then make a visible, long-term commitment to any structural changes needed to improve the mental health of all employees. In addition, the following can help create a company culture of resilience:
    1. Ensure employees have access to adequate resources in times of stress.
    2. Make employees feel valued via formal or informal recognition. 
    3. Create a sense of trust and connectedness amongst team members
    4. Allow employees to feel a sense of control over their role. 
    5. Empower staff to take calculated risks without fear of negative consequences.
  3. Teach or strengthen resilience within individual employees. Resilience can be taught through workshops and individual learning modules - there are already multiple resources set up to help organizations with this. As well, management can model resilience, confidence, and positivity, and can encourage a willingness to learn from mistakes. Finally, promoting an overall (and open) culture of wellness including good mental health goes a long way toward maintaining resilience amongst employees. 

While it may feel like more work upfront, making a commitment to attract and retain resilient employees will have a long-term positive effect on your organization. Resilient employees have deeper reserves to draw upon in challenging times, which leads to reduced anxiety and depression and higher levels of function. And that’s good for business.

Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform that can help you maintain a resilient workforce. Learn more about it here: 

American Psychological Association, Building Your Resilience, 2012.
2. Denning, S, How stress is the business world's silent killer, Forbes, May 4, 2018.
Ferguson, J,  Workplace stress strains organizations’ bottom lines, Corporate Wellness Magazine, March 30, 2020. 
4. Connor, K T and Davidson, J, Development of a new resilience scale: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC), published in Depression and Anxiety, 2003, DOI: 10.1002/da.10113.
5. Brykman, K and King, D. A Resource Model of Team Resilience Capacity and Learning, Group & Organization Management, 2021; 105960112110180 DOI: 10.1177/10596011211018008.

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