The workforce is constantly changing, and with that comes new challenges. To stay ahead of the curve, it's important to build a resilient workforce. Here are tried and true ways to do just that.
Between global pandemics and an unwritten economic future, it seems like the last four-odd years have fallen firmly under the “uncertain times” umbrella. Neither trend forecasters nor acclaimed economists are entirely certain what the next few months or years will hold, and it can be equally challenging for HR leaders to put concrete plans in place when the road ahead is uncertain. But even with sound growth strategies in place, the effectiveness of these plans will be limited by the resiliency of your people.
Does your team have the tools and support to improvise, adapt, and persevere when faced with difficult circumstances? If not, continue reading for 9 tips for building a resilient workforce from the HR professionals at TroopHR.
We should begin by saying that, despite how it may sound, a resilient workforce is not one capable of suffering through unfortunate or punishing circumstances. In our eyes, that’s not so much a “resilient” workforce as it is a group of unfeeling robots (and a frankly unpleasant working environment.) The way we see it, a resilient workforce is one capable of finding ways around obstacles while staying engaged and properly mitigating stress; instead of simply weathering current conditions, they’re charting the way forward.
Though some employees may naturally gravitate toward resilience, this trait is nurtured by HR leaders who go out of their way to enable and empower employees –– and do so with empathy.
There are several factors to consider when rationalizing the recent shift in the (perceived) importance of workforce resiliency. In reality, a resilient workforce has always been crucial –– but recent economic conditions (the aforementioned “uncertainty”) have exposed gaps left by teams not equipped for resiliency. Tough times are hard on leaders, but they take a specific toll on employees who grow disconnected, dissatisfied, and just plain burnt out from feeling like they’re walking the wrong way on a moving sidewalk. And when teams become disconnected from their work, organizational goals fall by the wayside. So, to keep teams engaged, happy, and healthy despite difficult circumstances, leaders and business owners have shifted their focus toward cultivating a more resilient workforce.
"Employee engagement is not something HR leaders can impact directly. There's no magic engagement dial that you can just turn up to eleven. What we can do is focus on the 17 drivers of engagement we've identified with the help of academic experts and seasoned HR leaders. These drivers include coworker relationships, autonomy, goal support, psychological safety, purpose, and more. These are elements that can be measured through a survey and then focused on with training and tools to drive engagement higher for teams and entire organizations. As an HR leader, I find great comfort in the codification of an otherwise nebulous concept like "engagement" because that means I can actually devise a strategy to improve it."
~Jennie Yang, Vice President of People & Culture at 15Five
Resilient workforces can be the key to accomplishing organizational goals and maintaining momentum in even the most challenging circumstances. Here are a few practices HR leaders can embrace to promote resiliency.
Tough times rarely last, and sometimes the key to unlocking employee resilience can often be as simple as keeping teams focused on a long-term vision — meaning companies without a long-term vision should start by honing this outlook. What will your focus be? Your purpose, culture, and goals? Making these determinations for your organization and properly enrolling teams will keep your workforce future-focused through challenging times.
If your people possess skill and confidence in their roles, chances are they’ll be better at identifying ways around the many obstacles that may arise. This, in turn, makes employees more likely to accomplish goals and stay in their current roles, meaning HR leaders looking for greater workforce resilience should focus on learning and development. A comprehensive onboarding process is important, but it cannot replace the continued on-the-job development which should occur during challenging times and beyond.
In the face of adversity and uncertainty –– be it personal, professional, or otherwise –– focusing on the things we can control helps keep us grounded. Therefore, the more autonomy HR leaders can give employees, the more engaged they’ll be and the better they’ll respond to workplace challenges. But empowering teams will look different from person to person. For some, exploring career paths can help your people discover their passion, making work feel more meaningful and organizational successes feel more like personal victories. But no matter the motivator, take the time to find out what meaningful work looks like to your people.
As mentioned above, workplace resilience isn’t your team’s ability to tolerate high levels of stress, but their ability to limit stressors and mitigate stressful situations. With that said, the onus should not fall entirely (or even mostly) on your people, and HR leaders should work to limit workplace stress through clear communication, effective collaboration, and an emphasis on work-life balance. Yes, teams should be invested in the success of the organization in good times and bad, but it’s important to recognize that there’s more to life –– and that the work will still be there come Monday morning.
Resilient workforces are better equipped to solve problems on the fly and develop suitable workarounds, and retaining resilient talent will mean incentivizing strong problem-solving. As a leader, this might require a macro-managerial style (as opposed to a more zoomed-in approach) which ensures employees have the room to try (and fail) new strategies. Encourage your team to think outside of the box when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles –– during times of economic uncertainty, it will be the ones who aren’t afraid to innovate that will survive and thrive.
Greater autonomy might help employees work through professional challenges, but an emphasis on employee health and wellness will help your people become more resilient as they overcome personal obstacles. During challenging times, humans develop coping mechanisms. It’s part of what makes us human! Byt by giving your teams the tools to be well, you can prevent these coping mechanisms from materializing in the form of unhealthy (or potentially dangerous) habits. HR leaders looking to create a healthier, happier, more resilient workforce should emphasize mental wellness in particular, and create channels where employees can speak openly about their struggles and get the support they need. We’re only as good as our people, and our people deserve to be well no matter the circumstances.
As the saying goes: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And if you’re not listening to your people, or giving them the opportunity to voice concerns, you’ll never know how you can better lead. HR leaders with aspirations of building a resilient workforce should keep a clear, open line of dialogue with all teams, ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to support and empower our people.
While routine meetings can be a great opportunity for teams to voice their opinions honestly, you might find that employees will speak more freely if given a survey to complete. These surveys should be centered on employees, but also the ways in which you and the rest of organizational leadership can improve their day-to-day. What obstacles are they encountering? What will help them overcome these obstacles? What support do they need from you? Asking these questions and others like them will help you address performance-limiting issues and help your people win.
A recent study discovered that 75% of the entire workforce encounters the “Sunday Scaries” –– that sinking, desperate feeling that arrives at the tail end of the weekend. What’s more: The study, cosponsored by LinkedIn and HeadSpace, attributed this statistic to an increase in overall financial insecurity. So, to make Sunday a little less scary, HR leaders should be helping employees take control of their finances. Things like ongoing financial literacy courses can help, as can employer-sponsored counseling, but many leaders may find that even clearly outlining company benefits can empower employees on the road toward financial security. With that said, investing in your people by broadening retirement benefits might require coming out of pocket, but it can go a long way toward building a more productive and resilient workforce.
Circling back once more to our earlier definition of workforce resiliency: It’s not about “toughening up” teams and instituting a militant mindset. Rather, it’s about meeting your people where they are and giving them the tools they need to be both adaptable and capable. And, as an HR leader, it’s about leading with empathy and compassion so your people know you’re in this together. But while empathetic leadership will likely pay off in a big way, that’s not what it’s about –– we should be supporting, empowering, and caring for our teams with the hopes that it furthers our goals, but with the understanding that it’s just the right thing to do. When times are tough for some of us, they’re tough for all of us. And a resilient workforce only works if we’re all resilient.
“It all starts with empathy and trust. When companies provide a safe environment where wins and losses are recognized as learning opportunities, employees will thrive in the different cycles of a business. Empowering your people to be resourceful and trusting they will find a way are key leading factors of a healthy workplace culture. Resiliency will show up in the way feedback is given and received; an empathetic leader will encourage its employees through candid and motivational feedback, and will hold herself accountable to address challenges and change behaviors.”
~Alejandra Olivella, Head of People at MikMak
If all this talk of resilient workforces has you a bit rattled worrying about what tomorrow will hold: don’t be. Because no matter what tomorrow brings, leveraging the above tips today will mean your people and your organization are better equipped to navigate choppy waters with grace –– and come out the other side better off.
If the uncertainty of tomorrow does have you shaken, you can find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. In fact, there’s an entire community of HR leaders ready to take on tomorrow, and TroopHR membership gives you access to the insights, strategies, and camaraderie that this community provides. See how other HR leaders are cultivating employee resiliency by joining the Troop.