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Resilience: A Strong Workforce Needs It

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Improving Resilience Is Important

Our fast-paced culture results in people working hard, meeting tight deadlines, managing work relationships and staying constantly connected through mobile devices. But this pace can lead to stress and burnout. Navigating through these challenges requires skills and strategies that can be developed. Resilience is a key strategy that helps employees tackle stress, a competitive job market, workplace conflicts, and address challenges on the job. Improving resilience is important because employees identify work as the number one stressor in their lives.1

What is Resilience

Resilience exists when a person can bounce back and thrive from major challenges. It is often tested when stress factors arise in everyday life and when trauma or tragedy strike. Stress is not the only factor that can test a person’s resilience; however, how a person handles stress is a strong indicator of their ability to bounce back.

Resilience is also a key element in well-being. Employers increasingly recognize the need to provide services, supports and health resources that address mental health and well-being.

How Resilience Impacts the Workplace

As employers build and improve workplace culture and resilience, they also seek ways to address workplace stress and mental health. When addressed, employers build a resilient workforce, employees handle work stress better, and develop protective factors against stress. There are other benefits too:

  • Resilience is associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organizational commitment and employee engagement.7
  • Raising resilience contributes to improved self-esteem, sense of control over life events, sense of purpose in life and improved employee interpersonal relationships. 9,10
  • Employers reap the rewards of increased productivity.

Given the many benefits, employers are building resilience in their workforce so that employees develop skills to manage workplace stress.

When Stress is High, Resilience is Needed!

  1. Long work hours, job strain, shift work, job insecurity, limited control, peer conflict and low social support all contribute to workplace stress.1
  2. 65% of US employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.2
  3. The likelihood of developing depression or anxiety is higher for those who work in stressful work environments.3
  4. Stressful work environments can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes for employees and organizations.4,5
  5. Alcohol and substance misuse have been linked to employees experiencing high stress levels.6
  6. Unhealthy and difficult work environments contribute to premature death of U.S. workers.
  7. Demanding workloads accounted for $48 billion in U.S. healthcare expenditures.
  8. Initiatives and programs that foster a resilient and mentally healthy workplace increase productivity, lower healthcare costs, lower absenteeism and decrease turnover.9, 10

Tips for Employers

Creating a resilient workforce and more healthy culture takes commitment, but with commitment, it can be done. Case studies from diverse organizations like Garmin, Health Partners and Unilever show that it can be done. Here are key factors to consider in building a more resilient workforce:

Understand Your Employees: Resilient employees make resilient organizations. People who are supported, motivated and equipped are best positioned to overcome obstacles and distractions. Learn more about what work-related stressors impact employees the most. Ask your EAP vendor how they can support your goal of improving resilience and reducing stress. Or consider asking employees to complete anonymous work satisfaction surveys or include stress and resilience related questions in your Health Risk Assessment (HRA). Once you have data and know the impact of stress and other factors, you can develop a plan for building resilience and a healthy work culture.

Engage Leadership: A resilient workplace requires leadership buy-in. Employees are more likely to participate in resilience programs when the organization’s leaders are involved.11 Leadership is key in establishing priorities, setting goals and allocating resources to strengthen workplace resilience. And, in communicating clearly and decisively the organization's commitment to resilience. If leaders are not already onboard, sharing the results from surveys and HRAs helps make a strong business case.

Consider Resilience Training: Employers are increasingly turning their attention to resiliency training — with good reason. In a dynamic work environment, resiliency training elevates job performance and work engagement. The American Heart Association released a comprehensive report examining resilience training in the workplace. Innovative strategies to improve employee health and organizational performance are highlighted. When considering training and design, the report recommends including these components:

  • Overcoming Interpersonal Challenges
  • Managing Emotions
  • Guarding Against Burnout
  • Coping with Work Related Stress
  • Improving Sleep Habits
  • Remaining Calm
  • Dealing with Difficult People
  • Improving Communication Skills
  • Taking on New Challenges
  • Improving Physical Health

Create A Resilient Culture: Organizational culture has many layers. Ultimately, it is built on principles of empowerment, purpose, trust and accountability. Building or improving a resilient culture is strengthened by a company-wide statement showing support for employees and a commitment to addressing resilience. Promote an open and trusting management style and train managers to understand the importance of supporting the mental wellbeing of staff. Because making a declaration isn’t enough, this commitment requires action and regular communication.

Look for Ways to Improve Your Work Environment: Whether your work environment has physical offices or virtual locations, being flexible when possible is important. To improve the work environment, consider the following:

  • Allow autonomy whenever possible, and let individuals do their jobs.
  • Reward good work.
  • Provide access to services and supports when needed to maintain good physical and mental health. Sometimes employees require access to a specialist for physical or mental health conditions. Make sure employees are informed about how to access care and that care is available for those who need it. Provide information on resources often.
  • Allow Flexible Schedules. Employers can improve the environment by allowing for flexible work schedules and reducing the need for late work days. If shift work is required, employers should be lenient in offering adjustable shift rotations, whenever possible so that employees stay rested.
  • Be Reasonable about Work Expectations. Organizations should be vigilant about their policies on work expectations and hours. The drive to succeed that can result in pushing personnel to increase workloads can backfire and undermine productivity and results.

Last Updated: 2017


  1. 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):608-628.
  2. American Psychological Association. Stress in America survey press release 2015. Accessed September 2017.
  3. McGonagle AK, Beatty JE, Joffe R. Coaching for workers with chronic illness: evaluating an intervention. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 2014;19(3):385.
  4. Shatté A, Perlman A, Smith B, Lynch WD. The Positive Effect of Resilience on Stress and Business Outcomes in Difficult Work Environments. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine. 2017;59(2):135.
  5. Dooley D, Fielding J, Levi L. Health and unemployment. Annual Review of Public Health. 1996;17(1):449-65.
  6. Ng DM, Jeffery RW. Relationships between perceived stress and health behaviors in a sample of working adults. Health Psychology. 2003;22(6):638.
  7. 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.
  8. Youssef CM, Luthans F. Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: the impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management. 2007;33(5):774-800.
  9. McAllister, Margaret, and Jessica McKinnon. "The importance of teaching and learning resilience in the health disciplines: a critical review of the literature." Nurse Education Today 29.4 (2009): 371-379.
  10. Masten AS, Cutuli JJ, Herbers JE, Reed MG. 12 Resilience in Development. The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. 2009; 21:117.
  11. American Heart Association, Resilience in the Workplace: An Evidence Review and Implications for Practice.

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