Resilience has become the fastest growing wellness focus in corporate America this year. According to a recent survey from Buck Consultants at Xerox, 22% of companies already have resilience programs and 28% are planning to offer them soon. Why? Resilience, the ability to bounce back from challenges or persevere despite setbacks, may be the secret to long-term success. Resilience predicts success more accurately than IQ or conscientiousness, as described in a TED talk by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth. Researchers at the University of Western Sydney found that resilience also boosts employee health and performance.
The importance of resilience in your workforce
Every employee faces stresses at work and at home. As you probably already know, this fact of life can become a real problem for your business. Not only does stress raise employee healthcare costs by thousands of dollars, but it also reduces productivity. Resilience critically determines how well each employee can prevent these stresses from interfering with their professional success and personal health.
Many studies have shown the impact of resilience in how we all handle stress. For instance, nursing students with lower resilience (those that are more susceptible to work-related stress) are less likely to succeed professionally. When presented with challenges, those with lower resilience tend to fixate on negative possibilities and abandon self-care. These behaviors have been shown to depress creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Lack of mental resilience can harm physical health
Low mental resilience is also associated with slower recovery from physical and mental trauma. Optimism, one factor for resilience, is closely related to an increased production of enzymes involved in heart health and optimistic thinking correlates with faster recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery. Having strong social connections, another factor for resilience, is closely related to systolic blood pressure and recovery from stroke. People with poor social supports had nearly 50% higher blood pressure than those with stronger social connections and were significantly worse after a stroke than those more connected to others. With slower employee recovery time from physical or mental challenges, low resilience easily translates to higher company costs for absenteeism.
Though there are many corporate wellness programs that focus on exercise and healthy eating, resilience plays just as critical a role for long-term health habit change. Low resilience turns a slice of cake or a day off the treadmill into an obstacle for sustained progress. Employees with lower resilience are less likely to rebound from an “off” day and stay focused on their goals. Those employees are also much likelier to cave to temptations or to give up on their health goals entirely. With low resilience, employees are much likelier to revert to less healthy habits that can in turn reduce their productivity. In many ways, building resilience is the key to lasting companywide wellbeing.
Can you build resilience in employees? Yes!
The good news about resilience is that it can be taught and strengthened. In fact, this has been accomplished with outstanding success. For one dramatic example, look no further than our own U.S. Army.
The Army has prioritized building resilience as a key part of the training process, right alongside physical fitness training. The Resilience Program for the Army (led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center) has significantly reduced post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and other effects of mental trauma in soldiers. In a 2013 program evaluation, the training in resilience was shown to have reduced the number of diagnoses for mental health problems from 5.07% to 4.44%, cut the number of diagnoses for substance abuse by half, and increased the levels of optimism reported by the soldiers.
By learning to think more positively about life’s setbacks and handling stressors more effectively, people can learn to apply improved resilience skills to all aspects of their personal and professional lives. The benefits of developing stronger resilience have been found in many professions, from educators to healthcare providers and more.
How can you build a more resilient workforce?
When looking for a resilience-building program, check that these criteria are met:
- The techniques are science-backed, evidence-based.
These programs are based not on guesses or beliefs, but on methods proven to work. Many people may believe they know how to coach others in resilience, but without proper training in the science behind resilience, these “coaches” may not be offering the right support.
- The program trains employees how think positive.
Some programs may teach about the importance of positive thinking, but knowing you “should” do something isn’t nearly as valuable as learning actual next steps for putting it into practice. Learning to think positive requires a mental shift, or, in other words, a change in thinking habits. A program that can build daily habits in your employees is one that will have lasting positive effects.
- The program teaches employees how to build and maintain strong social supports.
Building positive relationships is a skill often overlooked or underemphasized in employee wellness programs. But research has shown social supports to be key in a person’s physical and mental health. A strong resilience program should not only help employees discover how important it is to maintain strong positive relationships - it should include some actionable guidelines for doing so. Breaking the sometimes daunting task of strengthening one’s personal network into manageable steps can help employees take action in their lives and succeed.
- The program coaches employees to develop lifelong strategies for responding to stressors.
It’s not enough to tell employees to be more resilient. When their resilience is put to the test by a stressful situation— be it a hectic day or an upcoming deadline — employees need to be prepared with proven techniques to keep them on top of the game. A worthwhile resilience training program will prepare them with science-backed strategies that they can use on a daily basis. A good program should also train them in the use of those strategies so that they become daily habits.
Employee wellness is incomplete without resilience
Resilience has been long been overlooked in many wellness programs, but decades of research are clear: High resilience is a strong predictor of health and productivity. The good news is that resilience can be taught and enhanced, and there are methods proven to be effective for doing so.