Making the Connection – Resiliency and Engagement
Spring can be a difficult season- the weather is all over the map, spring break has come and gone, and we’ve just turned the corner on the first quarter of the year. The best laid plans made back in January have become a little foggy and we’ve probably had to do some course correcting to keep ourselves on track and engaged with our goals for the year. It’s natural to have encountered some setbacks or experienced moments of discouragement or, worse, disengagement with the strategic priorities you’ve set. That happens, but that doesn’t mean that, four months in, we’re giving up on our goals for the year. Instead, it’s time to focus on characteristics that will help us adjust, adapt, and stay on course. Tracking to our theme of personal and organizational resolutions, we’re focusing this month on the connection between resiliency and engagement, two characteristics that are critical to organizational and individual well-being and performance. Resiliency, as you’ll see in this week’s post, is the ability to bounce back from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, or failure. This is a particularly important concept and probably a capability that we’ve all had to employ to navigate the unexpected and keep ourselves on course. Engagement, on the other hand, is a characteristic we hear a lot about, recognize to be critical, but don’t always know how to measure or influence when we see opportunities for improvement. There are strong connections between the two.
We’re going to start our blogs this month with an introduction to resiliency, as a foundation for what it is, how it can impact an organization’s performance, and some of the research that underpins this often tossed around buzzword. From here, we’ll walk you through how to know if your organization is engaged or (gasp) disengaged through the effective use of surveys, what to do with your survey data, identifying actionable solutions, and action planning to enhance engagement. Finally, we’ll come back to how understanding and helping to grow a more resilient workforce and the impact it can have on your organization’s engagement. With that introduction, let’s jump into resiliency!
How do people recover from seemingly insurmountable adversity? What keeps an office focused during times of extreme stress? How can managers enhance employee engagement and well-being while the organization is navigating difficult times? One important factor is resilience, or the developable psychological capacity to bounce back from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, or failure. While still a relatively new concept, psychological research has linked resilience to improved performance, well-being, job satisfaction, and engagement within the workplace (Luthans, 2002). Further, with work becoming increasingly fast-paced and dynamic, the ability for employees to recover from stress, uncertainty, or even failure is more vital than ever.
What is resilience and how does it work?
Now that we understand the importance of this concept, let’s get a little deeper in the research to better understand the “how” and “why” this psychological construct functions. Resilience is more than just being able to ‘bounce back’- in fact, it is a mechanism or capability that is built off of a few elements. Specifically, resilience is theorized to operate through cognitive restructuring, a strong social support network, and the ability to improvise.
Cognitive Restructuring: numerous pieces of research have shown that those who can interpret negative events, such as a poor performance review, as a surmountable and meaningful challenge are much more likely to do better in the long-term (Hart, Brannan, & De Chesnay, 2014; Jew, Green, & Kroger, 1999). Rather than perceive unfortunate experiences or circumstances as out of your control or as solely negative events, resilient individuals perform a type of mental gymnastics to see these issues as tests of their own abilities. Therefore, a poor annual review is interpreted as an opportunity for improvement, and a chance to demonstrate to the manager that the employee is in fact a high performer. That being said, cognitive restructuring becomes ineffective when done to the point of delusion, meaning that the individual must remain relatively pragmatic. Further, when meaning is attributed to the potentially negative event, it is no longer viewed as a random, uncontrollable occurrence. Instead, it is perceived as important, and worth putting effort towards.
Strong Social Network: While not focused on the individual’s psychology per se, studies have shown that the presence of a strong network of support facilitates the rebound from adversity (Coutu, 2002). Having personal and professional connections provides employees with a long list of benefits. Specifically, a social network serves two purposes as it oftentimes provides both emotional and informational support. Not only will an employee with a strong social network have friends to confide in or vent to, but they will also have connections who can provide valuable information for solving the issue itself. Having this network provides the employee with more knowledge and experience than a single individual could ever possess.
Improvisation: Along with the ability to change how events are perceived, and an effective social network, employees possessing skill with improvisation tend to recover from unseen, negative events more quickly and effectively (Rerup, 2001). Sometimes known as “pivoting”, when individuals realize that their current course of action is ineffective, it is vital to change direction as soon as possible. This is frequently difficult to do successfully, as it requires affective regulation and a large degree of skill with critical and long-term thinking. Those who find themselves working towards an incorrect outcome, or working towards the correct outcome but in an unproductive manner, need to control their emotions and focus on potential solutions. While this is much harder to do than it sounds, affective regulation is key to successfully altering one’s efforts, and redirecting them in an effective manner. When emotions become overwhelming, thought processes fail to function and further mistakes are made. In addition to “keeping calm”, those who can employ critical and long-term thinking skills are able to consider important factors that inform their decisions on where and how to pivot.
Now that we’ve explored the discreet skills, perspectives, and network that all enable an individual to be resilient, we can apply this logic to an organization in much the same manner. In the same way that individuals can interpret negative events as meaningful, organizations can also openly look for and talk about the opportunities that arise out of challenges. Organizational leadership can intentionally build a culture that supports knowledge sharing, collaboration, and team work, enabling the workforce to seek and provide continual support and information as an inherent part of how work is accomplished. Finally, leaders and managers can role-mode recognizing and quickly adapting to changes in their environment through nimble decision-making and clear communication. Organizations that intentionally demonstrate and practice these behaviors are more likely to be characterized as resilient.
With this background on resiliency, our forthcoming blog posts are going to explore how to measure and impact engagement and then look at how intentionally practicing resiliency can impact engagement.
Coutu, D. (2002). How Resilience Works. Harvard Business Review, May Issue.
Hart, P., Brannan, J. D., & De Chesnay, M. (2014). Resilience in nurses: an integrative review. Journal of Nursing Management, 22(6), 72
Jew, C. L., Green, K. E., & Kroger, J. (1999). Development and validation of a measure of resiliency. Measurement and evaluation in counseling and development, 32(2), 75.
Luthans, F. (2002). The need for and meaning of positive organizational behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 695-706.
Rerup, C. (2001). “Houston, we have a problem”: Anticipation and improvisation as sources of organizational resilience. Snider Entrepreneurial Center, Wharton School.
About the Author: FMPer Stephen is originally from Southern California and loved the beach/”shredding the gnar” (surfing) while growing up. Stephen made his way to the DC area to obtain his Master’s Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Mason University. When he’s not busy being a Human Capital Consultant, he enjoys traveling (notable favorites are Seattle and Thailand), hiking (he will be backpacking in Glacier National Park this summer), working out, cooking new foods, and playing softball.