Resilience: something we are born with, or a trait we acquire along the way?

Resilience – The ability to recover quickly from
illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.

*The American Heritage College Dictionary. Third Edition

In times when change seems to be the only thing that is constant, it is more important than ever to build and maintain resilient teams.

AchieveForum is no exception. Last year we set foot on the biggest change initiative our organisation has ever seen. Our leadership team looked back, analysed, reflected and made a decision to transform the way we work with clients, partners, run the business and added innovative solutions to the existing portfolio. Undoubtedly it had a certain effect on every employee, but we seem not to be shedding people who are not on the journey with us.

This is when the topic of workplace resilience started coming up in our conversations almost daily. Andrew Calvert from our Singapore office took it upon himself to run point on Asia Pacific resilience survey to determine how much we know about employee resilience, understand regional trends better, find out what challenges other companies are facing and see how we could help everyone face change and fluctuation better.

We now have the “fresh off the press” copy of the Resilience in the Workplace research which you could download HERE, full of insights and solutions that you can use to increase employee resilience. If you have any questions about the research or would like to know more, please get in touch with us by filling out the form, or reach out to Sam Marquez, AchieveForum’s Research Manager and Data Analysis extraordinaire.

Ivana Lee – Director of Global Partnerships, caught up with Michael Harris – AchieveForum’s facilitator, Coach and Co-Chair of Facilitator Network to talk about the inaugural Building Resilience program facilitation in Sydney, and to find out more about the importance of being resilient at work.

  • Michael, it is great to see you in Singapore again, welcome! Welcome back, should I say. You and I have been working together for a couple of years now, but could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Hi Ivana, thank you for your warm welcome! I have worked in Learning and Development roles for over 30 years. In 1991, I joined AchieveForum Australia as National Client Service Manager, where I was responsible for customising and implementing training projects across a diverse range of organisations.

As a consultant, I have designed and implemented numerous training solutions that have been focused on creating the behavioural change that enables organisations to achieve their business objectives.

  • A couple of weeks ago you facilitated the Building Resilience program in Australia, a program that is very close to our hearts and minds in the Asia Pacific region. Would you like to share a couple of insights with us?

We had a mixed group of leaders from varied functions. It would be easy to talk at length about the content of the program, this would miss the point at many levels.

A decision was made to run this session because the organisation understood the impact that frequent and constant change was having within a growing business, a business that has ambitious growth targets and a number of new divisions which had been created through acquisition.

It was an opportunity to have a deeper conversation about what resilience meant to everyone at a personal level and ways that they could enhance their coping strategies and help ensure that their teams were also equipped to deal with constant change.

My belief is that it is critical for people to actively take time for themselves to recharge and refocus and that this element is at the heart of the entire resilience question.

Everybody is racing to keep up with the pace of today’s work environment, very few are actively taking time for themselves and this is visibly impacting individual resilience and adaptability to change.

With many leadership groups that I’m currently working with, my most consistent feedback to their respective organisations is that these leaders are experiencing change fatigue. It is this fatigue that is impacting their adaptability and their well-being.

  • How long has the subject been around for and why do we hear so often about it now? Has anything changed over the years? How often does it come up in your conversations with colleagues, clients and even friends?

Resilience is nothing new, we have been talking about it for a long time and arguably each generation as they progress through the workplace have experienced change and the impact it has.

What has changed significantly is technology which has shaped different expectations and the structure of how we work and this, in turn, has increased the pace of change.

Significantly leaner organisations are placing more emphasis on individuals doing more with much less, and in many ways there is a misguided myth that the most effective and successful amongst us are the ones that can continue to perform at high levels without seeming to miss a beat – it is assumed that they have mastered the resilience equation, perhaps some of them have.

What has not adapted to the pace of change, has been the way that we view work. It is my personal opinion there is still far too strong a focus placed on the personal presence of an employee being representative of their personal effectiveness.

Given that technology progresses at such a pace we need to view work through a different lens and the buzzword of “work-life balance” needs to be examined in detail, it implies that there is a trade-off, and these trade-offs increasingly seem to fall on the side of the work equation.

I know very few people who were able to walk out of the office and switch off, and technology has made switching off far less likely. Increasingly technology seems to rule people’s lives and we need to take full responsibility for that and change the dynamic.

The rebalance has to be about how and where we get work is done and an acceptance that physical absence does not equate to ineffectiveness. We have to apply a more flexible framework that allows us to be more effective with our time and the new buzzword is “integration” which at its core recognises that work is a balancing act and we need to
reshape our attitude to taking time out during work hours to recharge and practice self-care.

  • Do you think there is a link between personal and professional resilience? Are they one and the same? Shall we use what we’ve learned in our personal lives, or bring personal experience to work?

I am not convinced that there is a link between personal and professional resilience, at the end of the day everything comes down to an individual’s coping strategies, how we have learned to deal with the constant change and also how we explain things to ourselves.

The intrusion of technology and its impact on our personal lives is something that needs to be examined. I meet individuals having technology free days and I consistently meet
leaders who deliberately leave their work phone at work on a Friday – choosing not to deal with any issues or emails over the weekend – these leaders certainly seem to have created a better balance for themselves, and this may be a differentiating point – none of us is indispensable.

Again, it is often well that you should leave off work and take a little relaxation; because when you come back to it, you are a better
judge; for sitting too close at work may greatly deceive you.

 – Leonardo da Vinci

  • What are some of the common misconceptions? I would be very interested to find out what are some of the underestimated things/tactics/behaviours a leader could employ to create an environment that fosters team or individual resilience?

The most common misperception about resilience is that it is the magic answer to a changing world. There is no doubt that resilience is “in vogue” at the moment and I don’t want to minimise the importance of building resilience, there are inherent elements in the workplace that also need to be examined and adjusted.

If individuals can build more flexibility into how they think about work, this mindset will significantly enhance their personal resilience.

The first thing that leaders need to do is take the advice that the airlines are being giving us for over 50 years in relation to the safety guidelines. As we taxi out, we are told that in the unlikely event of oxygen masks falling from the ceiling, it is advisable to fix your own mask before trying to help others – this for me is at the heart of mastering resilience.

If leaders are not demonstrating the behaviours of self-care and putting their well-being first, it is difficult for others to model it. This should not be confused with selfishness, attention to our own health and well-being needs to take a precedent because it is only within a personal healthy mindset that I can be equipped to help others.

As part of our building resilience programme, we encourage leaders to do an assessment of their team’s resilience, and there is a personal profile which gives leaders tips in terms of their own coping strategies, strengths and weaknesses.

These are the tools together with empathic communication which can help leaders to engage with teams and help those teams apply the strategies to cope in a turbulent and changing environment.


If you would like to download our latest “Building Resilient Organizations to Overcome Workplace Stress” study please click here, or get in touch with one of our specialists to find out how AchieveForum could help your leaders become more resilient and equipped for success.