6 ways to build a resilient workforce

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The more resilient your workforce, the greater your organization’s ability to:

  • Adapt nimbly to marketplace changes.
  • Provide customer service that is friendly, alert and loyalty building.
  • Implement change rapidly with minimal resistance.
  • Get maximum productivity from employees without burning them out.
  • Enjoy organizational effectiveness because teams and departments work well together. There is no “us versus them” mentality, which festers in a stressed out environment.
  • Foster a can-do spirit, or what Southwest Airlines calls a “warrior spirit.”

So, how do you create a stress-resistant, resilient workforce?

1. Remove unnecessary stress.

Smart employers ask employees, “What do we do that drives you crazy?” and “What do we do that gets in the way of your job?” Employee energy that’s squandered on overcoming bureaucratic hassles is not available for innovation and productivity.

Energy could also affect the way employees face challenges. Do they have a “Bring it on” attitude or an “I can’t handle another thing on my plate” perspective?

To remove unnecessary stress, ask employees which rules and red tape need to go. Ferret out and remove all unnecessary obstacles. Doing so will recover a massive amount of energy that employees can channel more productively.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Everyone knows it’s important to keep employees in the loop. However, few employers are good at this.

The more employees know what’s going on, the less time and energy they spend wondering—and worrying—about what they don’t know.

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Research shows that when we know what will happen, even if it’s bad, we feel less stressed than when we face the unknown. Psychologists call this phenomenon “perceived control,” because even though employees aren’t technically in control, knowing what will happen makes them feel like they are.

Find out where employees feel left in the dark and how best to keep them in the know.

3. Keep the dream alive.

Having engaged, inspired employees is even more important—and difficult—during challenging times. When employees hear a vision of a better future or learn how they can make a difference in the world, they bring their higher selves to work rather than their “it’s-all-about-me” selves.

Dr. Robert Cooper, leadership consultant and author of “Get Out of Your Own Way,” describes the powerful effect a compelling vision has on the brain and reducing one’s focus on immediate difficulties and challenges:

“A.R. Luria, the famous Russian neurosurgeon, studied the forebrain and how our perception of time affects health and performance. When we look further ahead each day, beyond our immediate to do list—reaching ahead at least five years, envisioning the life and work we wish to achieve—the forebrain’s key areas are activated.

Let areas of the forebrain atrophy because you fail to stimulate them to envision the future, and you automatically, invisibly, deep in your brain’s structure, become more rigid and rule-anchored, unable to change. You get mired in old habits and limitations, less able to survive change, let alone dream big and make those dreams into realities.

It’s very easy when you’re living in a rushing, reactive mode to have the frontal lobes all but drowned out by the doom-and-gloom brain regions that clamor for attention and can flood your body with stress chemicals at the slightest bit of pressure or foreshadowing of change.”

Keep the dream alive by sharing the great things your organization is doing, ways employees are making a difference and customer letters of appreciation. Make this a regular part of meetings, company newsletters and any other communication.

4. Set people up for victory.

If employees’ daily experiences are frustrating and full of failures, they will bring that mindset and emotional state to everything they do—including their responses to major changes you ask them to make.

At the most fundamental, biological level, repeat failure causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness through the chemical cortisol. In contrast, progressing toward goals and feeling a sense of mastery triggers feelings of happiness and success through the motivation-and-reward chemical dopamine.

When you make sure employees have the tools, training and resources to excel at their jobs, you’ll not only get greater productivity and quality, you’ll also get employees who feel and act like winners.

5. Celebrate wins.

Celebrating both company and individual victories doesn’t just create a positive vibe; it helps workers see themselves as effective and part of a winning team. This mindset fosters a can-do attitude and more courageous response to challenges than if employees see themselves as losers and part of a hapless, beleaguered team.

Furthermore, when difficult times bring a steady stream of negative news, it’s easy to see oneself as a victim of circumstances. By consciously calling attention to accomplishments and successes, you offset the doom and gloom with genuine positivity. By sharing stories of employees doing great things, you also strengthen the belief that you are a team of winners who can accomplish great things.

Because emotions affect perception, shifting the ambient emotional state of your workforce to an upbeat, hopeful one means employees are more apt to believe they can overcome challenges.

6. Balance “I feel your pain” with “We need to move on.”

When people feel their distress isn’t heard or respected, they can’t hear (nor do they care about) what you have to say.

Make sure you verbally acknowledge your employees’ distress over major changes and difficulties. Don’t just launch into an “It is what it is, so get over it” speech and expect it to work.

Great leaders acknowledge employees’ emotions and perceptions during difficult times. They then share a vision of the future and how each person has a role in making that vision a reality. Doing so inspires your employees, because it shows them what they can do to make a difference. It also builds stronger relationships between employees and management.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework. A version of this story first appeared on TLNT. 

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