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How to Cope with Tough Times: Recruiting for Resilience

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How to recruit resilient employees

What type of person copes best in challenging time?

It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, when undertaking workforce planning, you’re going to need people who are highly resilient, flexible and can cope with challenges.

Workforce planning is a huge task and works best in organisations who employs people with high levels of cognitive ability, emotionally stable, conscientious, and cheerful.

Let explore this further.

Creating the workforce of the future

Watch the video to understand what to look for when hiring for resilience, and how the various characteristics come together to create success in workforce planning.

Watch the first video in this series here:

Part 1 – Workforce Planning: What is the New Normal?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – Leadership Behaviours for Effective Workforce Planning

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Choosing the right type of employee for difficult times

Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number six in our six video sequence on workforce planning for the new normal.

So we’ve talked about a bunch of stuff in these videos, we talked about what is the new normal, looked at a range of forecasts, we gave you a definition of workforce planning, we talked about strategy and role clarity and how to achieve it in the workforce planning process, and also how crucial it is for good workforce planning.

We showed you the SACS model of workforce planning where we gave you a bunch of really practical recommendations about how to undertake workforce planning.

The last video, we talked about leadership of workforce planning and how good leader is crucial to effective workforce planning.

And in this video, we’ll be talking about what type of person copes with challenging times.

So when we finish our video sequence with something like this, what type of person copes with challenging times?

Doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, you’re going to need people who are highly resilient and flexible and can cope with challenges.

The new world is certainly going to be ambiguous, it’s certainly going to be rapidly evolving and developing and so you will need resilient employees to be able to make your way through that world.

Cognitive ability

So, let’s talk about some of the characteristics that we know drive people’s resilience.

The first is cognitive ability or intelligence.

How smart are people? Well, if you look at how smart people are, it’s actually a really good predictor of how likely they are to earn a lot of money.

The employment markets price cognitive ability into salaries, so, people who rise to levels of seniority that pay good salaries tend to be smarter than people who are at the lower level of remuneration.

Now that’s at a population level and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t have geniuses who are lowly paid, but in groups of 50, 20, 100, 1000s of people you’re certainly going to find that smarter people tend to be paid more, so cognitive ability has a big impact on people’s lives.

It also has an impact on a thing called self regulation, people who have higher levels of cognitive ability, this has been demonstrated in multiple studies tend to be better able to manage themselves.

And what I mean by that is let’s say something makes me angry, if I’m smart, if I have higher levels of cognitive ability, I’ll probably find a more socially acceptable way of demonstrating that anger rather than say physically assaulting somebody or something like that.

Cognitive ability also gives you a range of useful work related characteristics.

It gives you power, now what you don’t mean political power, we mean problem solving power here.

So people who are smarter are better able at solving problems than people who aren’t not so smart.

Secondly, it gives you speed, so people who have high levels of cognitive ability tend to be quicker at getting work done.

So, I’m sure you’ve had experiences where this person takes a long time to do something, this person takes a fifth amount of time to get it done, cognitive ability may be a driver in that, so people who are smarter tend to be more productive ’cause they can just get stuff done more quickly.

And the third characteristic is trainability. And what we mean by trainability is the characteristic of being able to learn something quickly and then to use it.

Trainability is all about, I don’t take forever to bring new forms of skills or capabilities on board, I can do it quickly.

Speed, power, trainability, those are three really useful characteristics for the brave new world that we are moving into which is likely to be a flexible and rapidly changing world.

So the rest of these points (refer to video) tell you that cognitive ability relates to the characteristic of being flexible and resilient, and we see here (refer to video) that some people are tipping recession, if that’s the case, well certainly, having smart staff on board is a great way of being able to cope better under those circumstances.

Intelligence report

Here’s an example report (refer to video) of a person’s cognitive ability, you see their colour coded, green, amber, and even red, there are no red ones here because there are no negative scores, but you can see that this person’s verbal reasoning scores are pretty favourable, above average for population, numerical, about average maybe just a fraction below, an abstract reasoning which is the capacity to deal with issues that are not to do with word or numbers.

Abstract reasoning is really the capacity to see the implications of what’s likely to happen.

When a person has high abstract reasoning, they’re able to forecast what the likely outcomes will be of their actions for instance, so that makes them much better at strategy or tactics.

Now, the reason that we focus on these three forms of cognitive ability, words at work obviously are crucial in just about every job, numbers are not crucial for every job but they’re crucial for a lot of jobs, but abstract reasoning, for many years it was thought that this might be the least important of the three, but in fact recent research is sort of pointing at it as being an absolutely crucial capability, because people who have low cognitive ability in abstract reasoning are often surprised at outcomes, and they’re certainly not as good at building processes and systems and those kinds of things, so abstract reasoning is an important characteristic.

Personality characteristics

And then there’s a thing called personality, and a person’s personality is absolutely crucial to their capacity to be resilient.

A guy Heraclitus going back several 1000 years ago to ancient Greece uttered the famous words, character is destiny, character is destiny, beautiful statement that.

And personality is in many ways character, personality tends like cognitive ability to be quite heavily genetically determined, so twin studies show that cognitive ability and personality tend to be much more similar in identical twins who’ve been separated at birth and have never met each other, than it tends to be in non identical twins which grow up in the same family.

So we know that this doesn’t tend to change much in the course of a person’s life, yes, experiences will change it a bit but it’s pretty stable.

So if you recruit somebody who’s smart and you recruit somebody who’s got favourable personality characteristics, they’re likely to retain those during the entire course of their employment with you.

Let’s talk a little bit about what characteristics of personality determine a person’s resilience.

Emotional stability

Firstly, how emotionally stable they are will determine their resilience, so this characteristic of emotionality, what a person is threat sensitive, anxious, they lack independence, or they’re overly empathic which means they feel other people’s feelings deeply, if they’re high in these characteristics, that tends to make them less resilience. It also makes them more likely to be stress sensitive, so when a person’s high in emotionality, they usually report higher levels of stress.

It also has a risk associated with it because people who are highly emotional, providing other characteristics can often feel that they’re being bullied and we know that bullying is a genuine thing, but we also know that sometimes people report bullying when they’re just being asked to do their job, if a person’s highly emotional, it’s much more likely they will do that. In studies in Holland for instance, it’s been shown that people who are highly emotional tend to go to hospital more often, tend to go to jail more often, tend to be troubled more often, so emotionality when it’s low is a good thing, it increases resilience and it also makes people easier to be around from a colleague point of view.


A second characteristic of resilience is this, conscientiousness.

Some people are more conscientious and hardworking than others.

So, we’re talking about, liking to be organised, committed to hard work, being detail minded and being careful in making decisions.

So, a person who is low in emotionality and high in conscientiousness, which is kind of all about being organised, planned, hardworking, committed, if a person has that magic combination of low emotionality and high conscientiousness, they are much more likely to persist in the face of challenges.

They will tend to have what people often call grit.

Grit is the characteristic of not being oppressed by the characteristics or by the world around you, is more about being able to rise above that.

Cheerfulness and optimism

Another characteristic that’s important is cheerfulness and optimism, and we know that people who are naturally optimistic people and again there’s a strong genetic component to this, tend to be more successful in terms of the relationships that they have, tend to be more persistent in what they do, tend to be more engaged in their work, in the last video, I talked a fair bit about engagement and what causes it.

When people are naturally optimistic, you don’t have to work so hard to make them engaged in their work, they tend naturally to be engaged in their work because that’s just the type of people that they are, so an optimistic person is a good thing to have.

You’ll notice that that’s part of the extroversion profile and people who are extroverts can be suited to certain jobs but not to all jobs.

So we’re not saying you need to hire only extroverts, but certainly people who are not gloomy and pessimistic, are a good type of person to have on board during tough and challenging times.

Integrity modesty

Then we have this characteristic called integrity modesty and this is an instrument (refer to video), this SACS 6 is an instrument that was developed out of the conceptual framework of a thing called the HEXACO model of personality, otherwise known as the Big Six. And they discovered, Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton, the discoverers of the HEXACO discovered this characteristic that they called a honest-humility, which is all about being honest and truthful and not arrogant.

Now this is a really, really important characteristic because we know that when people are low in this, they’re much more likely to, well, as much as anything, they’re more likely to be psychopaths, they’re more likely to undertake negative behaviours like theft or bullying or even sexual harassment.

And we’ve demonstrated this in our studies here in Australia, in New Zealand, that we can predict to a certain extent how likely people are to have done these things by virtue of this personality characteristic amongst others.

So, having during tough times employees who are honest, truthful, straightforward, not arrogant, that is a wonderful attribute.

People who are more likely to be authentic rather than being manipulative or sly in the way that they deal with things, so that’s a characteristic of people who are more likely to cope with tough times.

Also absence of anger, this was called in the original HEXACO agreeableness and it’s often called that in a range of personality measures, but it’s really about not being an angry person.

The amygdala effect

So emotionality, is kind of what aspect of what we call the amygdala effect.

The amygdala has three typical responses, ancient responses, which are not very adaptive in the modern world.

The first is fear, and that’s the emotionality characteristic.

The second is anger, and that’s the characteristic of being angry, or we’ve called here absence of anger.

And the third characteristic is about depression, and when people have very low scores in cheerfulness and optimism, that causes them to be more likely to be depressed.

People who are low in anger are a good asset to have on onboard when they are in challenging times, so or in a general sense, obviously the less angry employees are, that’s a good thing even in stable times.

And then we have this characteristic called openness to experience.

Openness to experience is all about the degree to which an individual is ready to do new things, is receptive of change.

Well, you don’t have to have everybody who’s a change junkie, but it’s a good idea not to hire too many people who are of their very nature change resistant.

Now once more, quite an enduring characteristic over the course of a person’s life, you’re really looking to hire people who are flexible enough to say, all right, well, yes, these are new ways of dealing with this, this is a new work process, this is a new structure, I can cope with this.

People who are very low in openness to experience, especially let’s say if they’re high in emotionality will tend to respond negatively when things change a lot, they just don’t feel comfortable with that.

So, personality characteristics can play a huge role in determining whether somebody’s likely to be able to cope with the new normal.

And here’s what a personality profile looks like from the SACS portal (refer to video) for psychometric assessment, and you see these green scores are favourable, these amber score are somewhere in the middle, and these red scores are where characteristics are somewhat negative.

So, this can be assessed on the way in and it can be reported.


And then there’s values, work values.

Values are not largely genetic, they’re largely learned, but the capability to take values on and to assimilate values is a very important genetic characteristic because if our values suit the group that we are part of, then we are likely to fit in with that group.

And so, one of the things that we know about resilience research, is that people who work in a group that has clearly stated values, are much more likely to assimilate with that group and to be resilient in the context of that group.

In addition though, it’s very important that the person’s personal values accord with the values of that group.

We show you an example of a human being here portal (refer to video) and this person’s values, their two most dominant values, three in fact.

One is social justice, so they really care about fairness in the way that people treat it.

Then you have environmental sustainability, and by the way, this is a worldwide effect, people who care about social justice usually care about environmental sustainability and that’s why there are basically no green parties in the world that stand for environmental sustainability, but don’t care about things like refugees or other social justice issues.

The parts of the brain that generate this characteristic are very very similar, in fact, the same part of the brain in certain ways. So that’s why green’s party members tend to care about both, and you’ll see that this person’s typical of this profile because he or she does care about both.

And also enjoyment is very important to this person.

So she or he is somebody who cares enormously about having a pleasurable experience at work, not a good thing, not a bad thing, it’s just the way that they are. And also he or she is very keen on helping and supporting other people.

Now, this characteristic will be a resilient characteristic provided that this person works in a work group that has similar characteristics.

Team by team value sets

This by the way is also why it’s kind of mythical to try and have values of an organisation, because the whole concept if you think it through is kind of absurd, do you really want the same values in your accounting team as you do in your service provision team?

Now I know the easy answer is to say, well, yes, but look accountants are not like service providers, let’s say people who are providing an after sale service for a technical product or maybe they’re in the aged care sector and they’re actually delivering aged care, we are kidding ourselves if we think that the behaviours of this group, should be the same as the behaviours of this group.

You know, the behaviours of really good accountants are not the same as the behaviours of really good service deliverers, it’s a myth.

And so the best way of doing it is to understand that you have different values in different types of people, and yes, you’ll have certain things that will be this sacred stones of the organisation, these are things that we really strongly believe in, by the way, very hard to express in terms of vague values that tends to not change anything.

But you will have a different value set team by team, and knowing what that value set is useful because that gives you the opportunity to make sure that when you recruit to that team, you’re recruiting people who will be comfortable in that team and will also be liked, because that’s what values consonants gives you.

If I join your team and I have similar values to the people who are already there, then I’m likely to like you guys and you are likely to like me, it’s about fitting in, so, confidence and resilient comes down to a match between these values.

If this person comes into a team because you’ll see these values are very strong and they will be appropriate for certain teams but quite inappropriate for others.

So ambition, for instance, if this person moves into a team where it’s really important to be, the sort of person who wants to get up the ladder really quickly, well you can see that person’s not like that at all, and so very quickly he or she is going to find, well, I don’t really accord with these people, they seem strange to me, and I will probably seem strange to them.


And as well as that resilience, resilience is the characteristic of being able to bounce back after challenging experiences.

Some people just have this capability to be able to bounce back quickly.

I think there’s a Japanese proverb that says, fall over five times, get up six, that’s a classic resilience type statement.

And some people are more naturally resilient, optimists for instance are more naturally resilient than pessimists and extroverts.

Sadly, I’m an introvert but I must confess that the research evidence is undoubtable, that extroverts tend to be more naturally resilient than introverts largely because problem shared is a problem halved and people who reach out for social contact tend to fret about things less.

But still in all, resilience can have that strong personality characteristic, but also there can be training to make people more resilient. But for most people, recruiting people who are highly resilient and you’ll see that this person’s is highly resilient which is why their text here is green, and the risk is low of this person, measuring resilience is an easy thing to do on the way in to an organisation.

Thanks very much for joining us for this video, and maybe you’ve watched other videos in the series, we hope that this kind of demystifies the concept of workforce planning.

We know work in the area of workforce planning, it’s really interesting to hear what people have in their mind when they think of workforce planning.

And I’ll finish off by saying something that I said right at the start, a workforce plan is not just a plan.

Workforce planning when it’s done well, is in fact, an organisational development exercise that transforms our people management processes from being reactive to being strategic, integrated, and proactive.

That’s what workforce planning is about.

Thanks for watching happy workforce planning.

Watch the first video in this series to find out more about workforce planning for the new normal:

Part 1 – Workforce Planning: What is the New Normal?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 5 – Leadership Behaviours for Effective Workforce Planning

And if you’d like some help with Workforce planning for your organisation, contact us about our SACS Model of Workforce Planning.

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