Managing an Employee with Low Resilience


Managing an employee who is under performing or engaging in misconduct can be a challenge. Fortunately, there is a lot of guidance available to supervisors on the appropriate performance management steps to take in these cases. You may want to consider a different approach, however, if you’re seeing negative changes in behavior from an otherwise productive employee. It could be that your employee has experienced a significant emotional event and is struggling with low resilience as a result.

If the poor performance or misconduct is due to low resilience, traditional performance management techniques will rarely lead to behavior change since people with low resilience struggle to control their emotions and behavior. Instead, mentoring these employees and helping them build resilience will often bring about better results.

Here are some tips for managers who want to support an employee with low resilience:

  • Create a safe space to talk. Schedule a time to talk when you don’t feel hurried and find a place where the employee has privacy and feels safe. While you may have a performance management conversation in the future, keep this discussion focused on resilience. If you do not have a trusting relationship already with the employee, consider finding someone else who can have this conversation and provide support.
  • Ask open ended questions and then listen. At the start of the conversation, identify the behavior(s) you’ve observed and ask your employee what is going on. Continue asking open ended questions and listen. Avoid jumping into problem-solving mode and instead help guide the conversation so the employee reaches his own conclusions. For many employees, just having a supervisor who listens and cares can have a significant, positive impact.
  • Let the employee stay in control. Don’t assume you know what the employee needs or that you have the right solutions. Instead, ask good coaching questions that help the employee identify what types of support she needs. While you may want to share examples from your own life about what has worked for you, keep the conversation focused on your employee and her needs.
  • Give permission to get help. Some people don’t seek support from mental health professionals because they fear they will be perceived as weak. Mentioning that you’ve sought help in the past (if you have) or that successful professionals often seek mental health support can remove that barrier. This could be just what the employee needs to overcome his fears.
  • Don’t let low resilience be an excuse. While low resilience may be causing performance or conduct issues, remind the employee that the troubling behavior(s) must stop and explain why. At a later date, if you don’t see improvement, you need to have a performance management discussion about the potential consequences if the behavior continues.

What have you done as a manager to help an employee with low resilience?

This blog does not represent official policies of the Department of State or those of the U.S. Government.


Beth Payne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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I was just thinking about this topic this morning! I’ve been writing about what to do if you are starting to burnout, but not what do you do if your team is showing signs of burn out. I love that you’re filling that gap! One thing I’d add here is helping employees develop skills that help combat whatever is lowering their resilience. Like prioritizing, goal setting, time management, etc. If you have a moment, check out my article on it – I’d love some feedback. http://fedability.com/cant-rush-resilience/


Generational self-defeating P disorder? Can you elaborate? I think my group is experiencing this but need further clarification, if you don’t mind…


I think the fulcrum of how management can create a legacy of low resilience is left out in this article. If you want your team to be strong, your leader needs to be strong as well. Trust is the key here. Some key characteristics to creating trust among low resilience would be maintaining transparency and honesty in face of rumors and low morale.

If you don’t understand how the budget works or think that it may have been mismanaged, you need to ‘fess up. If you don’t know how to do something, or it is outside of your experience, then don’t pretend to know or refuse to do it because you don’t know how. If you continue to grow your skills and learn from your team, your team will do the same and learn from you. If you want employees to walk that walk, management has to be willing to walk it too.

Carie Kizziar

Do you have some examples of open ended questions or coaching questions that help the employee identify what types of support they need?

Beth Payne

Here are some examples of open ended questions: What’s happening in your life right now? What impact is this having on you? What do you think led to that behavior? What is working well at the moment? What is not working well? What have you done so far? What impact has this had? What have you done in the past that has been helpful? What do you think would be most helpful now?