One-quarter of all employees say their jobs are the No. 1 stressor in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization also reports that the COVID-19 pandemic, like other major traumatic incidents, impacts mental health and psychosocial problems. Since that’s the case, we probably all need a long vacation and a hug, neither of which is advisable due to COVID-19.
Instead, we work. We’re constantly connected, always-on, juggling multiple projects and priorities, and working at a pace and intensity that’s not likely to change. This means it’s more important than ever to build staff resiliency skills so we can navigate work life together.
My experience is that it’s not just some people who are more resilient than others, but that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviors and social supports that can be adopted and practiced by anyone. Traits that multiple research studies have identified around resilience include:
- Ability to manage strong or difficult emotions
- Sense of safety
- Strong social support
This is good news because with this list in hand we can teach our employees – the people we count on to produce results – to become more resilient, even if they are currently fatigued.
Building resilience skills isn’t enough to flip the switch, however. It’s important to understand and manage some of the factors that cause stress at work. I can’t give you advice on how to fix challenges in your specific workplace, but I can say that multiple employee surveys have included the same five most-desirable characteristics of workplace culture. They are:
- Good communication
- Opportunities for growth and learning
- Strong sense of purpose and clear values
- Fair rewards system
Reflect on these. Better yet, ask your employees if they agree. And try to make them true of your team if not your organization.
Returning back to resiliency: how can we help our staff develop greater resilience and stay motivated in the face of chronic stress, a pandemic stretching into year two and an environment of complexity and change? Here are my tips, culled from research and personal experience.
Insist on self-care, healthy habits and work-life balance
Every employee is an individual with unique mental and physical health needs. Therefore, strongly encouraging employees to practice the activities that make them feel good (exercise, outdoor time, quiet time, etc.) is critical to being their best at work. Give them time for that self-care by respecting core hours, requesting that employees unplug and log off at the end of the day and on weekends, and providing opportunities for healthy work habits (lunch breaks, office chair yoga, a webinar on getting better sleep are all examples).
Build a strong support network for individuals
Be bold about reaching out to each member of your team and be genuine in responding to their needs and concerns. Help make mentor connections. Host social events during work hours to bring together different groups and interests. Encourage moments of fun and light-heartedness – these spontaneous interactions help employees get to know each other as people. Lean in on inclusion initiatives. Adjust teams based on talent as well as personalities.
Focus on fundamentals
Look to your core mission and your organization’s values in building culture and creating policies. These things don’t change dramatically during a pandemic or an administration. Help employees understand their connection to the mission, define their role and relate daily tasks to a larger purpose. All are helpful when things suddenly go sideways.
Take smaller bites
We’re all working from strategic plans that look five and ten years into the future, but your teams stay motivated by hitting goals regularly. Break big goals down into smaller bites. Help each person focus on short-term objectives that are baby steps towards bigger milestones. Think about the future, but help your staff stay present in the moment.
Be OK with setbacks
Risk is the cost of opportunity and innovation. When your team takes a risk, they either win or learn. There’s no downside to trying something new if you can learn from the experience and apply that knowledge the next time. Pattern this thinking and challenge employees to look for lessons learned when things don’t go as expected. Adopt a mindset of iteration, where work is optimized during several cycles rather than pushing for a big deliverable.
The ability to increase resilience is a skill that will serve your staff well month after month and year over year. Organizations see direct benefits from resilience-building activities and from having staff members that are more resilient.
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Edward Tuorinsky, Managing Principal at DTS, a government consultant business, is a service-disabled veteran who brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in the areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.