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The Protection of Resilience

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Practical strategies for increasing resilience

The power of resilience

In this video, resilience is discussed as a protective factor that helps people adapt to external and internal stressors. Research shows that cognitive ability, personality and values drives resilience.

Resilience is about a person’s capacity for flexibility and adaptation. Psychometric tools can help predict a person’s level of resilience, and recruiters can build resilience-seeking assessment tools into their recruitment activities to ensure that they recruit people who are more likely to be resilient.

Once employees are in the organisation, it’s important to focus on things that will help them and this can be achieved by creating a positive workplace.

Practical strategies for increasing resilience

Watch the video to understand how resilience can help to minimise psychosocial damage, and learn some powerful, practical strategies you can use in the workplace to increase people's resilience.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 5 – Facilitative Leadership is Key to Engaged Employees

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – Looking for signs of damage

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

Video Transcript

Resilience – a protective factor

Hi, Andrew from SACS.

And welcome to video number four in the eight-video sequence that we are providing on psychosocial risk.

This one is about resilience. which is a protective factor to ensure that people become less damaged by the experiences that they experience at work.

Defining resilience

So let’s start with the definition, and this definition is from in Klohnen 1996, very famous definition and generally accepted in psychology, “The general capacity for flexible and resourceful adaptation to external and internal stressors.”

So that might sound a little bit jargonish, but let’s talk about the components of this because they are actually very helpful to understand what resilience is.

Flexible and resourceful adaptation, a general capacity.

The issue about resilience is that it’s not targeted typically to just one thing.

When people are resilient, they’re resilient very broadly.

So it’s a general capacity.

So you can be resilient to challenges at home, or at work, or in your personal life.

Flexible and adaptable means that we are able to do stuff to make things better for ourselves.

The true measure of a resilient person is somebody who can, to a certain extent, fix their own problems, rather than relying on others to fix them for them.

Internal and external stressors

Next, we talk about external and internal stressors.

So the truly resilient person can cope with internal stressors, which might be things like fatigue, or disease, or internal discomfort, but as well as that external stressors.

And of course we know that external become internal, don’t they? So if we are, for instance, in economically tough times, I mean that’s clearly an external effect, but the internal stressors can be anxiety, fear of losing our job, fear of going broke, those kinds of things.

So resilience when you have it is a very broad set of capabilities that kind of protect us from damage from the outside world and from our own inside world.

Nature and nurture

Where does it come from?

Well like many things in life it comes from a combination of nature and nurture.

And the nature bit is things like your cognitive ability.

How smart you are can affect how resilient you are.

Your personality can certainly affect how resilient you are.

And nurture is things like the skills and abilities that we develop to become more resilient.

And these can affect the outcomes that we experience and deliver at work, the quality and quantity of our work, and also the quality and quantity of our relationships at work.

SACS research

But let’s look at what we found in this study.

We found that personality was a very big determinant of people’s levels of resilience, and we know that because you see these things here (refer to video), beta weights, they are measures of how much impact these factors had on resilience.

The highest beta weight is for this personality characteristic called liveliness.

That’s an extraversion characteristic.

Liveliness is the characteristic of being optimistic, cheerful, positive, chirpy.

And people who are like this, not just we have found this but it’s been discovered around the world, those sorts of people, optimistic people, are much more likely to be resilient than people who are gloomy, cynical, and pessimistic.

They’re also a lot more fun to have around.

The next one might look a little bit paradoxical because you see that there’s a negative beta weight for fairness.

And what that means is that people who are too fair-minded can in fact be a little bit more stress prone.

It’s almost like you’re wearing the responsibility for injustices that occur.

So that’s a predictor as well.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that you recruit people who are not fair-minded, but it’s interesting to know that some people who are very fair-minded could be a little bit more stress sensitive than people who are kind of a little bit more rough and ready, if you want to put it that way.

The next one is about diligence.

And this has been shown in multiple studies around the world which is to say that people who are highly hardworking and committed and energised tend to be more resilient than people who are lazy.

Why? Because they persist. They keep going when things are tough.

The next one is about being emotionally stable or emotionally unstable.

And what it’s showing is that people who are low in sentimentality are much more likely to be resilient.

And what that’s saying is that people who are low in sentimentality, in other words, they’re not too emotionally sensitive to other people’s pain or sorrow.

In other words, people sometimes soak up the emotions of other people, their fear, their anger, their sorrow to the point where it makes them less resilient.

It’s kind of what we call ego independence when people have the ability to maintain their wellbeing themselves that’s what’s being measured here.

The next one is about patience and what that’s showing, patience in this case means I don’t get angry very quickly, and people who are less naturally angry tend to be more resilient.

We also see that numerical reasoning is a predictor of resilience, which is to say people who are smarter, and in this case we’re picking out numerical reasoning, but there is research around the world that says that people who have higher levels of cognitive ability tend to be more resilient.

At least partly because smarter people have the capacity to self-regulate their emotions better.

That’s a study finding which has been found across the world.

Then some values, hedonism, people who are highly hedonistic and want to have fun tend to be less resilient.

And also people who are power seekers tend to be less resilient.

And I guess one of the things that might be going on with the hedonism thing, I want to have enjoyable times is if I don’t, maybe I don’t cope so well.

And people who are high power seekers can be less resilient because of course if they don’t get that power, they can become frustrated quite quickly.

So you can measure resilience on the way in and recruit to have a more resilient workforce.

Role of focus

Now in terms of how you lead people once they’re in the organisation, one of the most powerful things that I would suggest is the crucial role of focus.

And you see the quote there, “The secret of life is what you focus on.”

That’s actually a quote from me.

I invented that one.

The secret of life is what you focus on.

And what I was trying to say is that people who are psychologically healthy typically have a tendency to focus on things that will help them.

People who are psychologically unhealthy tend to focus on things which can damage them, things which are negative, things which are depressing, things which are anxiety producing.

And the technique called cognitive behavioural therapy relies very heavily on identifying the triggers of those negative prompts and in effect heading them off or redirecting them so that you don’t get damaged.

So focusing on optimism and positivity rather than pessimism and negativity.

Optimism is not necessarily about the don’t worry, be happy perspective.

It’s more about self-efficacy.

I’m talking about the sort of optimism that says, I know we can cope, we can get through this.

Together we will make this successful.

That kind of optimism can be very powerful and leaders really should provide that.

Other elements of the focus question.

A focus on solutions rather than emotions.

If something goes wrong, you have two choices, you can tell each other how it feels or you can sit down and come up with a solution.

If you do the latter, come up with a solution, people are likely to be more resilient.

A focus on the future.

One of the things that we know is that when people focus on the future, it tends to turn on the learning parts of the brain and makes them more adaptable.

If you focus on the past, gee, I wish things were like they used to be, that tends to cause the amygdala to turn on and the emotions of the amygdala are anger, fear, and depression which fuel the fight, flight, and freeze response.

Finally, a focus on what you can control and consciously ignoring what you can’t control.

This is a really useful technique in workplaces.

The economy’s tough, forget it.

Let’s focus on what we can do on a day-to-day basis to make our customers happy.

We got tight legislation, okay, let’s focus on what we can do to get everybody to understand that legislation, so there’s not so much grief in achieving that compliance.

A focus on anything that causes us to believe that we have a control of our own future.

Locus of control

And in the counselling literature this is called locus of control.

Now you see in the diagram (refer to video) there’s two stars, one within the person and one outside the person.

The person with the control within them has an internal locus of control.

The person with control outside them has an external locus of control.

People with an external locus of control are much more likely to be psychosocially damaged than people with an internal locus of control, because the people with internal locus of control tend to be more resilient.

I believe I have agency, as they call it in the counselling circles.

Agency means I can do something about my life.

If I believe I don’t have agency then I’m far more likely to be psychosocially damaged.

“Broaden and build” theory

Levels of positive emotion.

Barbara Fredrickson conceived this concept called the broaden and build theory.

Now, the broaden and build theory says that as you increase the levels of positive emotions in any situation, including the workplace, what will happen is that people will broaden their perspective and take on new thoughts, new approaches, new ideas, and new learnings.

And what that does is that it tends to build capability.

And if positive emotions continue to increase, then you get a further broadening of perspectives and a further building of capability.

And so this is what you call an upward cycle rather than a downward cycle.

The classic downward cycle is where we are spiralling down into a worse situation.

Barbara Fredrickson was able to demonstrate that interactions, and particularly leadership interactions, can stimulate this upward cycle of the broaden and build.

Now, if people are broadening their perspectives, of course that gives them a greater range of capabilities of dealing with their challenges.

But the build component means that they will build capabilities that will cause them to be able to be more resilient in the future.

But there’s also an emotional effect from that.

People be feel more emotionally comfortable and confident.


Now, I want to talk about a thing called priming.

This is a thing which is often called the Florida Effect. And it’s the work of a gentleman by the name of John Bargh.

He’s one of my favourite psychologists.

I think this stuff is absolutely fascinating.

What Bargh discovered is that human beings can be primed to act in certain ways totally unconsciously, and it’s often called the automaticity of human beings. Automaticity.

So Bargh undertook a study with word problems and what he asked people to do is to complete word problems.

But he changed the words.

Two groups.

This group had a set of words, this group had a set of words.

But in this group, the words implied age.

So the words might have been bald. The words might have been forgetful.

Interestingly, one of the words was Florida.

Because in the United States of America, what Florida is all about is where people go and buy condominiums to retire.

So Florida has a kind of a subtle association with age.

So what he did, is that he got people to solve these word problems, and then he measured how quickly people walked away from that study.

And the people who had had, shall we say the elderly words, walked away from the study markedly and statistically significantly more slowly than the people who had the non age-primed words. People can be primed very effectively.

Now, in social psychology studies across the world, people have been primed to be everything, angry, conservative, broad-minded.

You can prime people very easily and very unconsciously.

Let me give a note of caution about this.

If we say to people, you must be damaged, like during the COVID experience, this happened a lot.

Oh, you must be under a lot of stress.

You must be depressed.

You must be anxious due to COVID.

What you’re doing is you are priming people to be more like that.

Now I totally understand, that people are doing this out of a sense of kindness, but in fact what you may well be doing is to prime people to be psychosocially damaged.

If you tell people that they’re psychosocially damaged, then they may well be.

Now, this has worked for plenty of shaman across the world where they’ve put a curse on somebody and the person believes that they’re cursed and so they can even die from that.

I mean, that’s the most powerful form of priming that you can possibly have.

I would encourage people when staff are experiencing difficult situations to do two things.

Thing number one is to support them, obviously.

Provide them with EAP support. Provide them with kindness.

Provide them with what we call psychological first aid, which means that they feel safe and they feel cared for.

But as well as that, prime them to be able to cope.

Say to them, well, look, I think that we can cope with this.

I know that we are going to get through this.

Let me know if you need any help, but I have confidence in your ability to do this.

Prime them for success rather than prime them for failure.

I think that some organisations have accidentally damaged the psychosocial wellbeing of people by being in effect too sympathetic and creating a sense of damage, where in reality, maybe there was none.

Now, the other thing I want to say about this is that if you look at the resilience research from across the world, you don’t make people more resilient by taking their problems off them.

You make them more resilient by causing them to understand that they can cope with their problems.

And in the OH and S world, we often see people using terminology like, oh, we have damaged this employee.

Well, if you own the employer’s health, I think that’s actually unethical.

You got to be very careful about that.

I think that all of these things have to be couched in a partnership sense.

We will do what we can to create a safe workplace, we’re asking you to do what you can to make yourself ready for whatever stressors appear in the workplace.

It’s a bit like learning and development at work.

Is it really good to just simply take a person’s learning needs off them and pump into them the training that we think they need?

Yeah, everybody agrees it should be a partnership.

I think wellbeing is like that as well.

Certainly, research evidence suggests that they’re more likely to be able to cope if we prime them to be able to cope.

Positive psychology activities

Now, the other thing that we can do, I quoted in an earlier video the fact that we have a balance of six to one to create a positive workplace.

Six good experiences for every bad experience on average, of course, individuals vary as to whether they need eight or two or whatever.

But on average, it seems to be about six to one.

So one of the things that we can do to increase people’s levels of wellbeing and their psychosocial resilience is to undertake what are called positive psychology activities.

Things like reducing focus on the past and concentrating on the future, making plans about how to get there.

That will also stimulate optimism.

Gratitude exercises such as the three blessings.

Very famous activity discovered by, or not discovered by, researched heavily by Martin Seligman.

And what he did is that he encouraged people each day to write down three experiences that they were grateful for.

And that’s been shown that that can increase people’s levels of wellbeing by as much as a combination of drugs and counselling, for instance, if they’re depressed.

Things like learned optimism exercises such as three anticipations.

What am I looking forward to? Acts of generosity can be very powerful in increasing resilience, why?

Well, at least partly, acts of generosity get positive responses back from people and that helps our ego.

But as well as that, acts of generosity show us that we have agency and we are able to act on the world.

Things like mindfulness activities, including meditation.

Mindfulness activities can be shown to work well.

And certainly, I don’t want to give you a lecture on that.

There are plenty of resources that are available online to be able to develop your own mindfulness activities.

I will say, that they seem to work for about 98% of the population to a greater or lesser degree.

So that’s a pretty good hit rate.

And finally, forming collaborative work groups to work together to create an ideal future.

So we’ve got a problem or we’ve got an opportunity, let’s get together and make a plan about how to optimise that.

So it’s a sort of a form of leadership where we all get together and we solve this problem or we approach this opportunity.

Very powerful stuff.

The next video in the sequence is about engagement and this is all about facilitative leadership to increase psychosocial wellbeing.

Engagement is a positive mental state at a group level.

Resilience is a positive mental state at the individual level.

In the next video, we show you how to lead to increase levels of engagement which will also cause people to be more resilient, but it protects people as well from psychosocial damage.

Click on the link below this video to join us for the next in the sequence.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about Management of Psychosocial Risks:

Part 5 – Facilitative Leadership is Key to Engaged Employees

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – Looking for signs of damage

And if you’d like some help with promoting psychosocial wellbeing, contact us about our Wellbeing Survey.

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