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Characteristics of Resilient People and Resilience Techniques

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Characteristics of Resilient People and Resilience Techniques

Resilience and wellbeing at work

When people are resilient, they’re more able to maintain their wellbeing at work.

So what are the characteristics of resilient people? What makes someone more likely to be able to cope with change and stress? And how does this tie into engagement?

We examine the marked differences in resilience across various industry sectors and income levels.

And we also discuss six powerful techniques you can use in the workplace to increase resilience.

How resilience contributes to workplace wellbeing

Watch the video to understand the role of resilience in wellbeing and engagement, and what organisations can do to increase their employee's resilience.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 8 – Managing Workplace Stress: Causes, Symptoms and Strategies

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – Employee Engagement Statistics by Industry, Age and Salary

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

Video Transcript

How resilience affects wellbeing

Hi, Andrew from SACS.

And welcome to video number seven in our series on wellbeing at work.

You see that we’ve spoken about a range of things associated with wellbeing at work to date.

We talked about physical health and wellbeing. We talked about happiness and the happiness science. We talked about engagement.

The last four have been about engagement, and we’ve looked at a range of issues associated with how to increase levels of engagement.

But this particular video is about resilience, and we’ll finish off with some stuff on stress and wellbeing and recognition and wellbeing.

Resilience is a very important characteristic because when people have high levels of resilience, you can kind of rely on them to maintain their own levels of wellbeing.

And certainly the positive psychology research world has given us a lot of clues about how to understand whether people are likely to be resilient or not.

Personality traits and resilience

Now, some characteristics are to do with personality. I mean, there are certain personality types that tend to be more resilient than others.

So we know that people who are emotionally stable and tend not to be very emotionally flighty, which is very heavily genetically determined by the way, people like that tend to be more resilient.

People who are emotionally unstable have kind of loud emotions, if you want to put it that way, and that causes them to be less resilient.

Another characteristic of resilient people is really the characteristic, the personality characteristic of conscientiousness.

So people who are hardworking, committed and energised, tend not to give up so quickly when things go wrong.

They tend to persist, but as well as that, they see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.

I think it was Nelson Mandela who said, I never lose, I win or I learn. And that’s a resilient perspective on life. By the way, he was a pretty resilient kind of a guy, if you look at the history of his life.

So that’s a component of resilience.

And the next component of resilience is the personality characteristic of being naturally cheerful and optimistic.

If you are a naturally cheerful and optimistic person, and once more, there’s a strong genetic slice to this as well, if you’re lucky enough to be a cheerful, optimistic person, then that of its nature makes you more resilient.

So there are things that determine a person’s levels of resilience throughout life.

So some people are naturally more resilient than others. And I’m sure you’ve observed that, that some people just seem to be more naturally able to cope than others.

What exactly is resilience?

So to define resilience, what is it?

Well, firstly, it’s a protective factor. People who are resilient tend to be able to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Shakespeare once put it, and cope.

And they seem to be able to continue to grow and develop.

This is a psychology definition, and maybe it’s a definition that only a psychologist could love. The general capacity for flexible and resourceful adaptation to external and internal stressors.

Now let me explain that. I mean, it sounds kind of jargonish, but there’s some useful stuff in there.

General capacity that means that you can cope with most things. Resilience is not limited to a particular area. So you’re emotionally resilient, but you can’t cope with workload let’s say. People who are resilient tend to be generally resilient.

I think the other key word is flexible and adaptable. So people who are truly resilient can turn their hands to different forms of coping.

In other words, they can face a range of challenges and come up with their own resources. They can be adaptive in that sense.

And the internal and external stressors – internal stressors might be their own emotions. Somebody’s done something to upset me, and I can cope with that.

External stressors might be things like a COVID-19 pandemic, or it could be something like economic challenges or whatever. They are external stressors.

The truly resilient person can cope with all of those things.

Post-traumatic growth

One of the things that’s a really interesting area of research in the whole area of resilience is a thing called post-traumatic growth.

People talk a lot about post-traumatic stress, and that is true. I mean, people can be post-traumatically stressed – flashbacks and nightmares and those kinds of things.

But did you know that people can have post-traumatic growth?

And when people go through extremely challenging circumstances, it turns out that often somewhere around 20% to 30% of the people who’ve been through those even tragic circumstances actually subsequently report being happier, being well connected with other people, or better connected than they were prior to the bad experience, being more capable in terms of their range of coping mechanisms.

That’s post-traumatic growth.

Now what is it that causes this? We’ll talk about some things that people can do to optimise their levels of resilience later in this video.

The relationship between resilience and engagement

But first, I want to link the concept of resilience back to engagement.

In the last four videos, we talked about engagement and how engagement is a fantastic proxy for wellbeing at work.

When people are highly engaged at work, they tend to be productive, but they also love it. Engagement is a great thing for them.

It turns out that there’s a strong link between engagement and resilience. In other words, if you are in a highly engaged work group, that makes you individually more resilient.

Not only that, but if you are a highly resilient individual and you go to a work group which is made up of other highly resilient individuals, then the levels of engagement are likely to be higher, so the two contribute to each other if you want to put it that way.

Correlations of 0.8 between resilience and engagement in some studies, and certainly the Simons and Buitendach study in 2013 showed that.

Resilience by industry sector

The next thing that we’re going to do is to look at some data about resilience by industry sector.

And what you see here is that resilience does vary quite markedly across different industry sectors (refer to the video).

So people in property and business services and people in cultural and recreational services tend to be more resilient than people who are in construction, for instance, and also utilities like water and gas services.

Why is that?

Well, I suspect that one of the big drivers of that is a thing called extroversion. We know that on balance, extroverts are a bit more resilient than introverts.

And certainly if you look at these sectors that are at the top of this list (refer to the video), they are sectors which are very people-orientated sectors, whereas maybe it would be fair to say that construction and utilities are more “thing” orientated.

By the way, this survey was over 2000 people, so it’s a statistically valid survey and certainly could be considered to be what we in science call normative for the Australian and New Zealand workforces.

Resilience and salary

Resilience by income. And what we see is that the levels of resilience are pretty stable from, let’s say, $20,000 or below up to $150,000 or so (refer to the video).

But you get this big leap up in resilience from $150,000 to $200,000 plus. Is that what we’re paying for when we pay people a lot of money?

In effect, I suspect what’s happening is that to get to those much higher levels of an organisation, you have to demonstrate resilience along the way or you hit a glass ceiling.

We talk about glass ceilings all the time, but resilience is a glass ceiling. If you’re not coping because jobs get more stressful as you rise up the ranks, then you’re less likely to progress.

The importance of focus

We’re going to finish this video by talking about some techniques to improve resilience, but I think that the core of all of these resilience-building techniques, they’re all about focus.

What do you focus on?

I once wrote the line, the secret of life is what you focus on.

And what I meant to say when I wrote that line is that if people focus on things which are helpful to them in terms of their wellbeing and their productivity, then they’re likely to have a better life than people who focus on things that are bad for them.

So resilience-building activities are very much about training yourself to focus on things that are going to be helpful to you, because in any circumstance we can focus on what’s wrong or we can focus on what we can do to fix it.

And truly resilient people tend to be solution-focused – they focus on things that can fix things.

And they also tend not, and this might sound paradoxical, but they tend to not focus too much on emotions, because I think the thing that we have to understand is that the human brain acts like a muscle.

The more that we practise something, the stronger it will get.

So if we become very practised at scrutinising our negative feelings like anger, fear and depression, and particularly if we vent those to other people, we actually make it more capable.

We make our brain more capable of feeling anger, fear, and depression. And frankly, I don’t think that’s a triumph.

If we focus on solutions, then we tend to cause ourselves to be more optimistic, and we also give ourselves the gift of what’s called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is this belief “I can cope”, a term from Albert Bandura, a psychologist who wrote this decades ago. And it’s equally true today as it was when he first wrote it.

Some people have self-efficacy, which means they can cope and they believe they can cope, and that causes them to be more resilient.

Seven techniques to increase resilience

So let’s talk about some of these techniques.

One of them is reducing focus on the past and concentrating on the future, making plans about how to get there. So that’s a solution-focused kind of a concept.

Gratitude exercises such as The Three Blessings. The Three Blessings is the work of Martin Seligman. Seligman was working with people who were depressed, and in fact, part of his work was with children who had a condition called learned helplessness, and people who have learned helplessness tend to be very depressed.

What he got them to do is, each day he got them to write down three things that they felt grateful for – a gratitude exercise.

And then they looked the next day at the three things that they had written down the day before and reminded themselves that they were going to do the same exercise that day.

And so by doing this, they built their ability to see the good things. They built their ability to focus on the things that were helpful to them.

Now when you do this, you’re, in effect, training your brain to be more optimistic.

There’s a specific optimism exercise called the Three Anticipations, which is similar to three blessings. The three blessings are kind of about the past.

What in the last week did I really enjoy or what in the last day did I really enjoy that I have to feel grateful for? The Three Anticipations might be something that you do weekly where you think, okay, what am I looking forward to this week?

Again, the more you do this, the more it trains your brain to focus on the positive, and that tends to make you more resilient.

Why humans are naturally generous

Acts of generosity. We’re held to live in selfish times, and if you read social media and news articles, you could be forgiven for concluding that.

But did you know that human beings have to be generous? We have evolved to be social, and in fact, there’s a term convivence. Convivence means the tendency and need to live with other people.

And convivence requires us to be helpful to other people. We have evolved to like people to be helpful to us, but we’ve evolved to like to be helpful to other people.

And that’s why of all of the activities around the world, volunteering is one of the most popular.

People volunteer for generous reasons. But also they get something from it, don’t they? They get a sense of satisfaction.

Helping people, doing generous things can be good for us.

So if you’re depressed, it might seem paradoxical but one of the things that you might like to consider is how can I do something generous for somebody else?

And a random act of kindness is often used these days in cognitive behavioural therapy for depression.

What are your strengths?

Signature strength exercises. This is another Seligman item.

Signature strength exercises is where we sit down and we write down the things that we are good at.

By the way, just doing that can make us more happy and more resilient. But what’s more important is then figuring out how we can use this in our day to day life.

So we use our signature strengths on a day-to-day basis and that helps us to be more enduringly resilient as well.

I’m not going to go into mindfulness in great detail in this video. There are scads of resources on YouTube.

Have a look at the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (K.A.B.A.T.Z.I.N.N) Kabat-Zinn in effect brought mindfulness to the Western world as a researcher and as a practitioner and he’s got some fantastic videos on YouTube that you can use to find out more about mindfulness.

But mindfulness does make us more resilient.

Collaboration & resilience

Forming collaborative work groups at work to work together to create an ideal future.

These are fantastic resilience and engagement-building techniques.

So if you’ve got a problem, rather than the boss deciding what should be done, get the group together and get them to come up with a bunch of ideas and vote for those ideas.

This is what’s called facilitative democracy and it’s an extremely powerful way of increasing people’s levels of engagement and wellbeing, but also it tends to make them more resilient. It reinforces to people, “You can do this”.

Not only that, though, It reinforces that I as a leader will encourage and welcome you to do that, and that, of course, increases levels of engagement and wellbeing.

So there’s some thoughts about resilience and how resilience can cause us to have more enduring wellbeing.

The next video is about stress and wellbeing.

Stress will affect wellbeing, but perhaps not quite in the way that you think, because there are positive stressors things that make us more engaged and increase our levels of wellbeing, and negative stressors.

Join us for the next video to find out more.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about wellbeing at work:

Part 8 – Managing Workplace Stress: Causes, Symptoms and Strategies

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – Employee Engagement Statistics by Industry, Age and Salary

And if you’d like some help to measure and improve your staff wellbeing, contact us about our Employee Wellbeing Surveys and our Employee Engagement Surveys.

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