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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. August 1, 2023

We Asked 2 Experts: How Do You Practice Resilience at Work When Things Are Falling Apart?

Plus, the difference between endurance and resilience

Woman calming herself down
Photo courtesy of Motoki Tonn

After years of multifaceted crises impacting how we think and feel, burnout is high and many people are asking themselves whether and how they can take next steps when they feel so mentally and emotionally deflated. 

We asked Dana Hundley, head of coaching and content at Allspring, and mental health professional Alex Yannacone to speak on resilience at work, self-assessment, and knowing when to say when.

We can all agree that resilience is important—especially after living through the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, chaotic politics, climate change, and more. But when we talk about resilience, it’s often used as a synonym to endurance. Could you talk about the key differences between resilience and endurance

Resiliency and endurance can work together, but they also have some key differences. In the simplest form, resiliency is the ability to bounce back. Whereas, endurance is to withstand adversity. So, endurance can get us through those hard times, but resiliency is what we do with those hard times to move forward.

What are some good signs you need to work on or prioritize your resilience?

Typically signs of stress or burnout can indicate that we need to shift our focus. Feeling less motivated, heightened anxiety, trouble sleeping, or irritability and lack of focus are good examples. It can also be a sign if you are noticing that you are turning toward more negative or bad habits. 

Pay attention to how you feel and your energy going into and leaving work. If you feel anxiety, dread, or have to really pump yourself up for the day, you know something needs to shift. At the end of the day, if you feel drained, not excited about anything that comes after or outside of work, that could be a sign your energy, which is not infinite, is being depleted. Focusing on resiliency helps you to be more protective of your energy. 

Another sign you need to work on resilience is how you're talking about work. Are you complaining more than usual both in and outside of work? We know there's value in being able to vent in a safe place. Connection is a tool to build resilience, and through connection, it can be incredibly important to share and process our emotions. 

When you ask any person, “What really helps you during challenging times?,” by far, the biggest response you will get is having somebody who can listen—sometimes we just need to vent. We just need the ability to talk through what we are experiencing. It doesn't mean that we need somebody to problem-solve for us or have an answer to all concerns, our issues, our challenges, just someone we can vent to who is present and with whom we don’t feel judgment. 

The key is to make sure you're talking to someone you trust, who is open to being on the receiving end of this conversation, and that you're not getting stuck in the constant cycle of venting, but you're using it to process your emotions, build resilience, and ultimately move forward. 

Prioritizing resilience could include allocating more of the energy being depleted at work to yourself and specific tools to build resilience, or to making moves at work and in your career to remove yourself from the situations that aren't serving you anymore—likely a combination of both. 

How do you build resilience? Returning again to everything that’s happened in the past few years, how do you build resilience when you might already be burned out?

Resilience isn't something that you're born with or you're not. Circumstances and environment shape our resilience, and it’s absolutely something we have some control over. We can learn and grow from no matter what phase in life we're in.

There are several tools to build resiliency, but one of the most important things you can do is  experiment with what works for you. Here are some tools I’ve seen be really successful: 

  • Creating personal goals, big and small, for ourselves is a great way to build resilience during challenging times. Setting and working toward personal goals helps us focus on what we can actually control instead of hyper-focusing and getting lost on what we can’t control. 

  • Evaluate your coping strategies during challenging times. Often, we can often have very unhealthy coping strategies like drinking, unhealthy eating, or not taking care of our bodies, so consciously shifting to more helpful and healthy coping strategies helps us build resiliency. 

  • Pay attention to what you learned from past experiences. We have all gone through really challenging times, and when we look back at those, we have a wealth of knowledge around what helped us get through that. Name what actually helped you overcome that, and apply that to what you’re facing. It’s also a good practice to reflect on those skills learned even if you aren’t facing a challenge, to build that muscle for when you do face something.

  • Self-care is always a great tool. Again, this is really personal to the individual. Look at what you do well - what you can learn from your success there or what can expand on. Then, look at areas that may need improvement and create some small, to start, attainable goals around that. 

Read more: 25+ Short-Term Goals to Strive for Right Now

How can managers and leaders teach their teams to practice resilience? Or, alternatively, what policies/practices signal that a company is a place where resilience is cherished?

Modeling resiliency and skills in enhancing your resiliency is always a best practice. Also just educating our teams on what resilience is and what it can look like—or different ways to help build on it. Examples of this could be giving flexible hours, taking time off as a leader, having good boundaries, and creating the expectation that employees have those as well.

It is important to have managers recognize that every employee is unique and how they respond/react to stressors/adversity is going to differ. Having blanketed policies or “one shoe fits all” procedures doesn’t work well. Knowing that one employee may bounce back relatively quickly from a challenge while another may need more support and guidance with the same challenge is critical insight and awareness that leadership needs to take on.

Managers can also work with employees to learn what skills/techniques work best for them in building resiliency. Asking simple questions like: 

  • In previous challenging situations/experiences, what helped you get through? 

  • What lessons did you learn and what did you take away from that experience? 

This will help managers recognize what each employee may need or benefit from and help them foster that support or guidance.

Transparent, consistent, and clear communication is also vital for leaders and managers to build resiliency within teams—from sharing their own resilience practices, to aligning expectations so people feel more secure in their roles, to being as communicative as possible with the hard stuff so people don’t feel caught off-guard in challenging times. 

Clear, documented policies that center employee’s individual resilience is a strong sign the company is actually thinking long-term about the wellbeing of their team. So, that means: 

  • Benefit packages with generous time-off policies;

  • Specific benefits around mental health and wellbeing;

  • And, flexible benefits options employees can opt into based on their needs. 

And then, benefits need to be easily accessible and understandable, via: 

  • Clear, consistent communication;

  • An easy-to-navigate hub of benefits information;

  • And, demonstrated/modeled behavior of people using those benefits to the extent it’s appropriate to share.

It’s also a good sign when companies have clear, documented procedures around policies. For example, how employees can request time off and communicate with their team, best practices around out-of-office alerts, and standard procedure around delegating work so they are able to actually unplug while away. 

When should you reassess whether it’s resilience you need or something else, like rest, boundaries, to walk away completely? When is it okay to “not bounce back” from something? 

I think most women have felt, or currently feel, this pressure to just ‘grin and bear it.’ And while ‘making the best of a situation’ mentality can be an asset when it’s coming from a healthy place, it can easily become really dangerous. Endurance will eventually run out, that’s why we need resilience—to take what we learned, how we grew in adversity and bounce back in a way that better serves us. 

A simple way to evaluate if you’re endlessly enduring, is to ask yourself, “Is this job, work, or situation serving me right now?” 

To answer that question you need to understand your needs and wants when it comes to work. A ‘yes’ doesn’t mean that every want and need is being met. It can mean that your top, non-negotiable needs are being met and your work is NOT in direct conflict to your overall wellbeing. But if your needs aren’t being met, and your wellbeing is suffering, it’s absolutely a sign you need to make some changes and stop just enduring. 

We can still be resilient even in situations or experiences that aren’t serving us. Bouncing back doesn’t mean you always continue on the same path. It means we learn from that experience, take responsible risks, shift focus, learn from the lessons, and then ideally use these skills when a new adversity or challenge comes our way. 

Read more: How to Sacrifice a Work ‘Must-Have’ for a Job You Need

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