If one thing’s for sure, it’s that covid-19 has given us opportunities to test and grow our resilience, individually and organisationally. Challenging times stretch you out of your comfort zone. They’re usually the times when you learn and grow the most.
Resilience is defined as your capacity to recover or bounce back from difficulties. Picture yourself five years from now, reflecting back on this period. What lessons will you have learnt? What gifts will you be thankful for? What processes will you have changed?
There are steps you can take right now to ensure your workplace is more resilient for whatever lies ahead. The sooner you can reflect on and implement those learnings, the stronger you and your organisation will be.
These five keys will help you build a resilient workplace culture.
1. Ensure Leadership Commitment to Wellbeing
In 2017, the World Health Organisation cited leadership commitment and engagement as the most important factor to achieve healthy workplaces. Yet an Australian report showed that only five in ten employees believed their most senior leader valued mental health and a British study showed that 40% of employees felt their line manager wasn’t genuinely concerned for their wellbeing.
To foster a positive workplace environment that supports people’s to be at their best, senior leaders need to be on board and prepared to lead by example. Too often, staff wellbeing is seen as a lower priority compared to financial goals, which is ironic as the research shows such a strong return on investment.
A 2017 Deloitte study showed an ROI of between $4 – $9 for every dollar spent on workplace wellbeing, with the average ROI being $4.20. Safework Australia showed that businesses that improve their mental health environment rating from poor to good, can save $1,887 per employee, per year, from lost productivity. For a team of 55 staff that’s over $100,000 a year, for a firm of 550 that’s over $1 million a year.
Creating a positive, resilient, wellbeing-focused workplace culture attracts and retains great people, reducing the massive costs of staff turnover. It allows people to perform at their best, increasing productivity, and reducing absenteeism and presenteeism.
In order for any sort of wellbeing initiative to gain traction, leaders need to show staff they believe in it and clearly signal that it deserves their time and attention. Senior leaders set the tone for the wider leadership group who ultimately have the biggest influence on individuals and teams resilience day to day.
2. Build Leadership Capability
Leaders need to be equipped with the skills and tools to influence their own and other’s wellbeing. All leadership starts with self-leadership and the example managers set is vitally important. It creates a whole set of ‘unwritten rules’ that form part of your workplace culture.
Is it acceptable to get away from your desk at break times?
Is flexible working encouraged?
Is it safe to speak up in meetings or put forward new ideas?
It’s critical that leaders understand how their behaviour affects others around them. Managers need to lead by example in terms of their own wellbeing, for example switching off from emails in the evenings and on weekends, encouraging standing or walking meetings and having a resilient, optimistic outlook and expressing this in the way they speak and act.
Managers need to positively influence their team’s wellbeing through the way they lead, for example taking time to greet and acknowledge people every day, having zero tolerance for poor behaviour, bullying or exclusion, fostering positive team dynamics and being skilled at catching people doing things right and providing immediate specific praise.
Understanding how to spot the signs of mental distress and being able to respond confidently is also an area that often requires special training and development. A major British study revealed that 48% of workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. But only half of those who had experienced poor mental health at work had spoken to their employer about it, suggesting that 25% of workers are struggling in silence.
“The behaviours of line managers will, to a large degree, determine the extent to which employees will go the extra mile in their jobs, are resilient under pressure and remain loyal to their organisation.”
3. Create A High Trust Environment
An extensive two-year study at Google showed that the number one factor of high-performing teams is having high psychological safety. In other words a high-trust environment. Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google said “In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.”
When a workplace feels challenging, but not threatening, teams thrive. In environments where people feel unsafe and uncertain, they waste precious time and mental energy worrying and trying to defend their ‘position in the tribe’, rather than just getting on and focusing on doing great work.
Creating a safe environment where people feel connected and have a strong sense of belonging, boosts resilience. Patrick Lencioni, author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team cites that the biggest dysfunction is a lack of trust. Without trust, it’s impossible to have robust conversations where people openly share their differing views and come up with better solutions.
Leaders need to prioritise building trust and connection. This requires vulnerability and a willingness to say things like “I don’t have all the answers.” “What do you think?” “Can you help me with this.” rather than pretending to have all the answers.
A study by the Canadian military defined the four pillars of trust as: competence, integrity, benevolence and predictability. Leaders can take actions to increase the perception of these four distinct things to build trust, both of themselves, and within their teams.
4. Foster Open Two-Way Communication
During periods of uncertainty and change, communication goes a long way to allaying fear and confusion; both of which undermine individual and team resilience. Leaders should communicate more than what they feel is required during periods of rapid change. Even if there is no new news, regular updates and ‘ask us anything’ sessions provide reassurance and get concerns out in the air before they snowball.
Two-way communication is vital because staff need to feel that their opinions are heard and valued. Constantly encouraging open, honest feedback loops at all levels of an organisation ensures you avoid the insidious creep of dissatisfaction that feeling ignored or overlooked creates.
Staff need to hear from leaders and leaders also need to hear from staff. Not only does regular feedback drive innovation and constant improvement, it validates people’s sense of purpose and belonging. Three of the six human needs are significance, growth and contribution. Encouraging people to voice their ideas help meets each of these needs.
Creating a culture of appreciation where staff regularly praise and thank one another, creating ‘prisms of praise’ as Shawn Achor describes in his book Big Potential, is vital to motivating staff and creating strong team dynamics. When people are thanked for their work, it not only lifts their resilience but also their performance, as people do more of what they’re praised for.
Leaders can foster a culture of appreciation, for example thanking three people every day, or giving a hand-written note of appreciation to a different person each week. They can also cultivate this culture among staff, for example by having a ‘high five moments’ in team meetings where colleagues are invited to publically thank one another.
5. Regularly Monitor Wellbeing
It’s difficult to lead well without up-to-date data. Leaders need to ensure they are monitoring staff’s wellbeing both formally and informally to stay ahead of challenges.
Regular, concise check-in surveys can be helpful if they are done well. Most importantly, the information needs to be acted on (and clearly seen to be acted on) by staff to avoid demoralisation.
Leaders should be highly trained in effective one on one’s to proactively keep track of how their direct reports are going. These can be done extremely well or extremely poorly, so developing leadership capability at coaching is critical. Some organisations develop a culture of deferring or skipping scheduled one on ones, due to time pressures. Leaders need to be become skilled at having short, effective meetings using key focusing questions, and make these a priority. Ten minutes, once a fortnight, is better than two hours, every six months.
It’s also worthwhile training a team of people at all levels throughout the organisation to be what I call ‘Wellbeing Champions’. These are workplace superheros, who have the skills to spot signs of mental distress and come alongside colleagues to listen non-judgmentally and refer people on to appropriate support. It’s important to provide training and support to do this effectively, and the tools to look after their own wellbeing. Once your network of Wellbeing Champions is set up, they form a great informal way to keep track of your wider team’s resilience and wellbeing.
Take a moment to pause, reflect, and choose which of these five strategies you might start with, to boost your team’s resilience and ability to go the distance.
Lauren Parsons is an award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who helps leaders boost both staff wellbeing and productivity. With over 20 years’ experience in the health and wellbeing profession, she is a sought after speaker, coach and consultant. TEDx speaker, author of real food less fuss, founder of the Snack on Exercise movement and host of the Thrive TV Show. Lauren helps busy people re-discover how to feel vibrant, confident and energised. Based in the Manawatu, she travels regularly and specialises in helping organisations create a high-energy, peak-performance team culture, where people thrive. Get your complimentary copy of Lauren’s ebook “5 Keys to a Positive, Energised, High-Performance Culture” at www.LaurenParsonsWellbeing.com
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