Why Resilience Matters in Management Consulting

Building a workforce of resilient employees is a hot topic today. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic caused one of the most abrupt business disruptions in recent history, leaving organizations reeling from massive change and uncertainty. And the hard truth is that how well businesses pivot during and after the pandemic will likely have a lasting effect on their brand, reputation, and bottom line. Hence the focus on resilience.

Management consultants, whose success is based on a full pipeline of quality clients, faced a unique challenge during the pandemic. Some clients may have experienced revenue contraction and pulled back on engagements; other clients may have had to adapt to chaotic supply chains; and others found themselves needing to quickly grow, shrink or reorganize their labor force - all of which required a strategic (and likely quick) response from consultants. In addition to a disrupted client base, management consulting firms had to quickly rein in travel, adjust to remote working (and with that, new family care arrangements), and figure out how to deal with changes in compensation, bonuses, and promotions that may not have paid out in expected ways.

What gets organizations through these kinds of significant and sudden crises, is a workforce that can recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and most of all, keep going in the face of adversity.

This is resilience.

What is Workplace Resilience?

If you’ve read anything about resilience, you know that it’s different from stress management – which is equally important – although the two are related. While stress management is about learning how to recognize signs of stress and then applying techniques to address that stress, resilience tends to be more proactive – teaching employees to build skills ahead of time, so they're prepared for the next challenge.

Resilient employees can protect themselves against negative experiences that otherwise could be paralyzing and maintain emotional balance in uncertain times, all of which are needed to keep a business running profitably. A recent article from BCG also suggests we not overlook the duality of resilience: “It isn’t just about springing back from a crisis, as commonly understood; it is also about springing forward into a new reality.”1

And yes, resilience can be taught. Although it's often believed to be an ‘innate trait’, workplace resilience is really a set of skills to call upon in times of adversity, disappointment, or change. And organizations can teach these skills by creating a company culture where hardship is also seen as an opportunity to evolve both individually and organizationally. But that’s a topic for a later post.

A Resilient Workforce is Necessary in Management Consulting Due to the Unique Nature of the Work

It will come as no surprise to anyone that working at a management consulting firm is highly stressful. Frequent travel, long periods away from family, consistently long work hours, competition for promotions, changeable nature of work tasks and clients, and intense pressure to produce efficient and effective work from both client and senior consulting partners means additional strain (both anticipated and unanticipated) on employees. And studies have shown that job stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other health issues, as well as higher rates of absence, disability, and turnover2 – all of which is detrimental to a business as fast-paced and demanding as management consulting.

If any industry can benefit from a resilient workforce, it's this one.

Benefits of a Resilient Workforce

When confronted with unanticipated adversity and change, a management consulting firm with employees who can handle stress and uncertainty without being overwhelmed has multiple advantages:

  • A faster and more effective response to challenges and periods of change
  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression leading to better overall employee health
  • Reduced staff turnover and absenteeism
  • Increased employee productivity

In fact, research has shown that resilience is associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organizational commitment, and employee engagement.3 Resilient employees have deeper reserves to draw upon in challenging times, which leads to reduced anxiety and depression and higher levels of function. And for management consultants, when their employees are more engaged and can meet challenges with energy and focus, their clients are happy. And happy clients are the best kind.

Adversity is inevitable. How we learn to handle it is up to us.

Looking for resources to learn resilience for yourself or your organization? Try these:

Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform. Learn more about it here: http://www.optivio.com/technology 

References

1. Close K, Andersen P, Franke M, Grebe M, Khurana V, Kalthof R. The Digital Path to Business Resilience. BCG. Published online 2020 Jul 6.

2. Shatte A, Perlman A, et al. The Positive Effect of Resilience on Stress and Business Outcomes in Difficult Work Environments. J Occup Environ Med. Published online 2016 Dec 20. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000914

3. Goh J, Pfeffer J, Zenios SA. The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States. Management Science. 2015;62(2):608-28.

Other Sources

• American Psychiatric Association, Center for Workplace Mental Health: Resilience: A Strong Workforce Needs It
• McKinsey & Company: Business Resilience
• McKinsey & Company: Don’t stress out: how to build long-term resilience

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