Building employee resilience: three actions companies can take now

Over the past three years the conversation around resilience has intensified, and the idea of ‘building resilience’ has become a key focus for many organisations looking to support their workforce through an evolving and volatile environment.

However, it is important that resilience is not treated as a cure-all; it cannot fix systemic issues within the workplace nor can it immediately resolve poor personal wellbeing. Resilience should be part of a proactive strategy to support long-term improvements to personal wellbeing – whilst it has an impact at an individual level, it should be embedded at the core of an organisation’s values and culture.

“Without looking at workforce resilience as a whole picture – from leadership, through to employee engagement and the design of health and wellbeing initiatives – individual, unconnected efforts to care for the people within an organisation fall flat; subject to imbalance and irrelevance by design, and obscurity through lack of good communication… While so many employers agree that wellbeing is beneficial, only 30% of employees surveyed are resilient, suggesting that many employers still have a long way to go towards embedding their wellbeing strategy into the business to make it effective.”

Aon, The Rising Resilient Report

What is resilience?

Workforce resilience is created where the environment at work supports employees to adapt to adverse situations, manage stress and retain motivation. Employers can improve workforce resilience with strategic investment in health and wellbeing initiatives, clear, compassionate and visible leadership, and empathetic dialogue between employer and employees.

Resilience extends to all aspects of an organisation – technology, data, processes, structure and people. In our blog series, we will be focusing on the people aspect. People are the golden thread running through all levels of an organisation: the workers (each individual from the C-suite down), the workforce (the team) and the workplace (the environment). These three tiers are inter-dependent, and their united strength will have the biggest influence on whether your company can adapt quickly and survive volatility.

How can companies improve employee resilience?

#1: Review the effectiveness of your leadership

“Developing resilience lies not just in the hands of workers but involves every other stakeholder in the organisation, including managers and those who set organisational policies.”

Tanmoy Goswami, Resilience is Dead. Long Live Resilience.

The behaviours and actions of a leadership team impact the reputational, operational and financial risks of an organisation – both internally and externally.

Start by regularly checking in on the ‘health’ of your Executive Committee. Pertinent questions to ask: How effective is it at understanding the existential challenges the company is facing? Can it make rapid decisions that are always in the best interests of the company? Does it work together constructively and supportively?

Taking a top-down approach can help identify macro issues. Reflection by and with the leadership team, from within and without, will support and develop them through unprecedented times and build resilience around that leadership table. A board effectiveness assessment tool that uses neuroscientific methods to bypass conscious biases can be useful to get quickly and effectively beyond the façade and probe for where real strengths and weaknesses lie.

“A board evaluation puts the board itself on the agenda … the confidence that comes from knowing that issues have been identified and can be addressed, leaves board members with a renewed commitment to excellent corporate governance, greater group cohesion and a shared vision of purpose.”

EgonZehnder, Board Effectiveness Reviews: What the Board Can Learn from Looking in the Mirror 

#2: The agility of your workforce

If a workforce moves too slowly and cannot change quickly enough, it can mean failure to react to events and hit top and bottom-line performance. It’s essential that you understand the team dynamics within your workforce. Questions to ask: Are the way people are working together demonstrating enterprise agility? Are they creating a sense of belonging and psychological safety together? Have they have got each other’s backs and collectively work through the challenges they face and overcome them?

Practically this means designing your organisation in a way that makes it adaptable to future change and developing agile competencies and practices that promote self-empowerment and experimentation without the traditional command-and-control structures.

“Organisations which were able to build a ‘very strong’ agile culture saw a performance improvement of 235%.”

The State of Agile Culture Report 2020

 #3: The wellbeing of your people

The resilience of the machine relies on every cog functioning properly. Prioritising the wellbeing of the individual is time well spent. Is wellbeing embedded at the core of operations?

Resilience relates to not just the ‘classic’ aspects of personal resilience such as physical, mental health, and financial wellness, but to the things that matter to us in life and create purpose: our values and ethics; our individual responsibility to our environment and community. There’s no one size fits all answer here – priorities vary across the different generations of workers. Do you know for sure that your Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agendas aligned are with your people’s beliefs?

“Workforce resilience lives and dies with workplace culture and leadership style. It is deeply personal and connects cultural and socio-economic factors, making it changeable by age, gender and location. It enables employees not just to weather change, but to be more motivated, productive and produce better quality work than their peers. In short, every business needs employees who have it.”

Aon, The Rising Resilient Report

Many aspects of resilience are driven by people’s feelings, but feelings are not always easy to share. Taking a holistic approach, understanding people on an emotional level and really listening will help identify and fix the areas where resilience is needed. According to organisational psychologist and coach Meg Mateer, speaking on her podcast the key to building resilience and preparing a truly healthy and resilient organisation is deceptively simple:

“Listening to people’s distress. Listening, so that we can hear the alarm signals and collectively address the underlying (often systemic) issues that are sounding the alarm in the first place.”

All of these aspects of an organisation’s infrastructure play into the overarching desire and need to attain holistic resilience.

“If you want to survive in a perfect storm as a company, you need to have a workforce full of vitality, who are able to be flexible enough to handle all the forces of the world around us.”

Bas Van der Tuyn, Health Leader, Aon Netherlands, cited in Aon, The Rising Resilient Report 2020

Written in collaboration with Tim Evans, Chief Product Officer at Truthsayers®

Truthsayers® is the UK based global tech firm behind Neurotech® that powers Aon’s Reflections listening platform. Neurotech® lifts the cover on how your people really feel at work getting to the truth quicker, more accurately and more holistically than any traditional tick-box survey. The Neurotech® method bypasses the need for conscious responses and measures people’s true emotions and feelings to provide a holistic 360° view. 


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