Cultivating Resilience for Healthier Employees and a Stronger Workplace

This is part 3 of our blog series for people leaders, managing uncertainty, engagement, and your own mental health.

Turbulent times create uncertainty for employees

We are in the throes of a turbulent period in history. The global economy has been erratic since the start of the pandemic and employees are still living in fear of job insecurity and a deep sense of uncertainty about what will happen in the next few years.

A recent investigation shows that even in the face of a potential recession, a third of workers plan to leave their jobs. At the same time, one in five organizations are planning layoffs and more than a third of HR managers have canceled job offers.

The past few years have made us all realize how vulnerable we are to global crises that are totally beyond our control. Let’s think about how employees and people leaders can build resilience in the face of all these challenges and weather the current storm.

How uncertainty and ambiguity affect employees

Uncertainty is uncomfortable for humans. We are reassured to know what the future holds and, naturally, the last two years have made us all feel the weight of future unknowns.

There are many forces beyond our control that affect our work lives and livelihoods, and it has taken a toll on employee mental health.

According to State of Workforce Mental Health 202284% of employees have had at least one mental health issue in the past year, and anxiety levels have increased by 14% since 2020.

Uncertainty about job security tends to manifest among employees such as greater anxiety, depression, stress and burnout. This can lead to:

  • Decreasing engagement
  • Decline in productivity
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Physical health issues
  • A feeling of despair
  • Declining mental health

Cultivating resilience in times of uncertainty

Although we have no control over economic stability or global relations, we do control our own mindset, and there are ways to deal effectively with the unknown.

Resilience is “the ability to resist, recover and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands”.

Emotional resilience is deeply linked to inner strength and provides advantages in the workplace, such as:

  • Greater job satisfaction, happiness at work, and better ability to manage job stress
  • Better employee engagement and organizational commitment
  • Improved self-esteem, sense of purpose and better employee relations

Resilient people embody characteristics that allow them to withstand hardship, dynamic environments, sudden changes, and difficult or stressful situations. These characteristics to understand:

  • Great adaptability
  • Patience
  • emotional regulation
  • Deep attachments to others and a strong support system
  • See change as an opportunity
  • Sense of humor
  • The ability to manage negative emotions

These characteristics are not innate. They can all be learned and nurtured in a work environment.

Now that we know what resilience looks like, here are some ways people leaders can help embed it into the workplace culture and become more resilient themselves.

Building a resilient work culture

Employee resilience training has proven to be very effective. The American Heart Association has set up a detailed report after studying the impact of resilience training in the workplace.

The authors found that “participation in resilience training programs is associated with positive outcomes with almost three-quarters of participants (73%) saying that their participation improved their health a lot or a little. Participants also report a variety of specific health outcomes, ranging from less negative stress to better sleep.

They also note the importance of using both individual-level employee programs, policies and training, and systems-level approaches. Here are some examples :

  • Leadership encouraging and supporting employees to participate in resilience training and leverage resilience resources
  • Encourage employees to use mental health resources, take advantage of innovative EAP benefits and take paid time off, and provide professional development support
  • Ensure managers, supervisors and people leaders participate in resilience training, so they can model what they have learned for their teams and better manage ambiguity and uncertainty themselves

Transparent communication is a comfort for anxious employees

Pretending that all is well amid layoffs and hiring freezes will likely cause employees to lose faith that leadership is being honest with them. This allows rumors and fear-based speculation to spread.

Human brains are wired to build models of the world that anticipate future events but tend to view the unknown as negatives. And when there are gaps in information, our brains naturally start making up stories that usually sound like worst-case scenarios.

This is why it is essential for companies to practice:

  • Transparent and consistent communication and messaging. Acknowledge that the circumstances are difficult, acknowledge if there are difficult decisions to be made, and acknowledge the fears of employees. Without it, employees are likely to imagine the worst, whether their conclusion is based on reality or not.
  • Articulate messages around the two larger image issues. This includes the direction of the company, future goals and vision, and what any changes or events mean for the current day-to-day lives of employees. What projects will be canceled or continued, and what are we focusing on as the company reorients itself in these uncertain times?
  • Omnidirectional communication and not just top-down. Make sure employees are heard and participate in the decision-making process. It should be a two way street.
  • Obtain employee feedback in multiple forums. For example, send out surveys on top workplace stressors to employees, schedule regular one-on-one sessions between employees and supervisors, and hold brainstorming sessions to determine how a company or department is adjusting to as conditions change.

Reframing ambiguity as a future opportunity

Fear of an uncertain future is normal and human, and it is also a failure to recognize that everything the future is uncertain and unpredictable. Uncertainty can be scary, but it always passes as the future becomes the present.

Psychologists use the concept of uncertainty avoidance to think about how humans tolerate the unknown and what resources they use to deal with it.

To research shows that people with a high tolerance for uncertainty are more willing to let events unfold, to make observations without being reactive, and then to deal with whatever happens.

It is possible to move from an anxiety-based approach of trying to control circumstances to one that prioritizes engagement with ambiguity – of what we have control over.

Here is an example of the two mindsets: “the future is unknown and scary, terrible things could happen” contrasted by “the future is unknown, anything is possible”.

It is important to emphasize that it is easier to accept uncertainty when you feel psychologically safe at work, when your mental health is stable and when you have a strong support system.

Mental health support is the foundation

Employees are the foundation of any business, and mental health underpins individual well-being and stability. This means that the mental health of employees is part of the foundations of a company.

A key part of the equation for addressing employee fear, anxiety, and depression in times of uncertainty is supporting mental health. For instance:

  • Offer an innovative EAP. Spring Health’s EAP provides employees with accurate, personal and evidence-based mental health care.
  • Practice and encourage mindfulness. mindfulness helps us focus on what is within our control – our own reaction to external circumstances. Along with mindfulness is acknowledging and validating that employees’ fears are real and understandable.
  • Ask employees what they need in times of high uncertainty. What would help them deal with ambiguity around the future?
  • Respond with empathy, always. A workplace without empathy is a toxic workplace, which is the last thing employees need in times of uncertainty.

The tools we discussed for adapting to changing conditions and living with ambiguity will help employees stay engaged and able to deal with a wide range of issues, both at work and in their personal lives.

Companies with resilient employees will also develop a resilient work culture. In a dynamic world, this is a useful skill set.

Learning to live with uncertainty is a win for employees and organizations

Uncertain times call for improved employee support systems by providing mental health resources, promoting resilience and tolerance for uncertainty, and using ongoing, honest, and empathetic forms of communication at all levels of work. a company.

Investing in employees and their mental health is not a zero-sum game. Employees who are mentally healthier and more resilient can bring more to the workplace while thriving as individuals outside of work.

Companies that prioritize resilience are more likely to weather the uncertainty we all live in.

Then read this blog to learn how to carry out layoffs with empathy and respect, while supporting the mental health of the remaining employees in the future, and your own.