How to Hire Resilient Employees

What is Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Society, resilience is defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. 


Resilience: Facing Problems and Bouncing Back

Resilience: in physical terms, it means being flexible or elastic, and springing back into shape.  

In personal terms, it generally refers to the capacity or ability to cope with and recover quickly from difficulties.  

As a scientific or psychological concept, its roots lie in child psychiatry and developmental psychology: understanding how people recover from adversity and negative experiences in childhood.  

It’s also used to refer to how a community or ecosystem can respond and recover to a shock or disturbance by minimizing damage and recovering quickly.  

Organizations want mentally healthy employees who can cope with difficult situations. And most employees want to work for organizations that care about the mental health of their employees and are prepared to focus on minimizing stress and adversity and helping employees recover from setbacks.  

And while research psychologists are still debating the minutiae of precisely what resilience is as a pure psychometric construct, there is general agreement in the field that at its core, workplace resilience is all about how organizations and people are adapting and coping with adversity, stressors, and challenges, and how they ‘bounce back’ or recover from these situations.

Resilience at Work: a History

In the 1970s and 80’s, workplace researchers started to look at why some people responded to challenges and difficult situations more effectively than others.  

In the late 80’s, Dr. Martin Seligman (also known as ‘the father of positive psychology’) became interested in how this research could be applied to employees facing difficult situations at work. He was approached by Metropolitan Life to help them identify which salespeople would be more successful at facing the high levels of rejection that went hand in hand with the job, and who would be able to bounce back from these setbacks.  

He suggested screening employees for optimism levels, to identify people who would see failure as an opportunity for change. They found that people who passed the optimism test sold 8% more than the rest of the team in the first year, and 31% more in the second year. They also hired what they called ‘super optimists’: people who didn’t actually meet the skill requirements of the job but were highly optimistic anyway. This group out-sold the rest of the team by  21% in their first year, and 57% in the second year.


Benefits of Resilient Employees: Why is Resilience Important?

Organizations today understand the importance of employee well-being and its impact on their bottom line.  

A 2014 study based in Australia and conducted by PWC and Beyond Blue conservatively estimated the ROI of investing in a mental health initiative at 2.3% across all industries. They noted that the total baseline impact of untreated mental health conditions to Australian workplaces was approximately $7 billion USD annually.

Major benefits of hiring resilient employees

  • Score higher on performance appraisals

  • Perform more effectively

  • Feel more satisfied with their work and report greater accomplishment

  • Are better equipped to deal with stressful events or conditions at work

  • Are more engaged with the organization and their job

  • Are likely to stay with the organization for longer


Criteria’s Recommendation: Assessing Candidates

While there’s no resilience-specific assessment tool currently available that we can endorse, there is some good news. If you’re already using psychometric assessments, then it’s possible that you already have the information you need at your fingertips, delivered by valid and accurate psychometric tools

There are three specific tools that, alongside other information, will help you gauge how well someone is likely to cope with difficult situations. 

Tool #1: Emotify

Researchers have found a strong correlation between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and resilience.

More specifically, they note that people with higher EI tend to cope better with the emotional demands of stressful situations, because they can accurately perceive and appraise their emotions, know how and when to express their feelings, and can effectively regulate their mood states.

Emotify is Criteria’s latest interactive assessment. An ability-based (rather than self-report) measure of EI, it combines the fun of interactivity with the rigor of a traditional psychometric test.

Tools #2 and #3:

The two mini-assessments, Matching Faces and Emotional Ties, assess a candidate’s ability to accurately perceive emotions and effectively understand the connections between emotions, and situations that lead to specific emotional reactions. 


Structured Interview Questions

To supplement your understanding of a candidate’s resilience, you can also include some targeted questions during a structured interview.  

Structured Interviews: Suggested Questions  

  1. This job can be difficult and stressful. There will likely be multiple demands, shifting priorities and short deadlines. What have you done in the past to keep on top of things?  

  1. Tell us about obstacles you’ve faced in the past. How did you deal with them and what did you learn? 

  1. Is there a time when you’ve had to stay positive for other people, despite being in a difficult and challenging situation? How did you go about achieving this? 

  1. How does your current environment demand resilience from you? 


Criteria’s Recommendation: Assessing Current Employees

What can you do if you want to take a pulse check of your current teams? You can use the tools above to measure specific elements contributing to resilience and tailor a development plan based on those specific factors. And you can also take a bigger picture view with a regular engagement survey.  

When conducting an engagement survey, it’s important to include questions that will drill down into areas that contribute to resilience. A well-designed survey will give you information about how people are feeling at work: are they feeling overwhelmed? Are they having interpersonal conflicts?  


Can We Improve Resilience at Work?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. However, while it may be tempting to start at the individual level with targeted initiatives to help employees improve their personal ability to cope with and recover from difficult situations, studies have repeatedly shown organizations must take a holistic approach to building resilience.


Resiliency Tiers


Today, many organizations understand the importance of promoting a healthy workplace in every sense of the word: one that actively promotes the physical and psychological well-being of its employees. They understand that the first – and most critical steps – have to happen at the top, with senior management.  

In 2001, Unilever conducted a comprehensive workplace wellness program in Australia, which focused on mental resilience, exercise, and nutrition programs. In 2003, they commissioned Lancaster University to assess the effectiveness of the program and found that, for every $1.28 USD invested in the program, the company saw a $5.11 return through increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs. This is equivalent to a 4x return on investment.


Starting at the Top: Resilience as an Organizational Responsibility

Resiliency as a Organizational ResponsibilityWhile you may already be aware of problems such as turnover, and poor customer service, such elements are usually symptoms of underlying issues.  

For this reason, the first and most critical step in improving organizational and individual resilience is to conduct a pulse check to assess how well employees are coping. You can do this by asking employees to complete an engagement survey or other diagnostic tool such as a 360-degree survey that really gets to the heart of how people are feeling about their workplace, their colleagues, their workload, their leaders, and so on. 

Regularly monitoring performance against indicators of organizational health, and providing senior managers with briefings on trends in these indicators will enable organizations to identify emerging problems and assess the need for further analysis and intervention.

Six Factors to Achieve a Mentally Healthy Workplace

  1. Commitment from senior leaders: To create lasting change, leaders must make visible, long-term commitments to improving and maintaining good mental health.  

  1. Employee participation: Employees should have input into every step, from planning through to implementation and review.  

  1. Clear and flexible policies: These must lay the groundwork for action and be clearly articulated and flexible enough to meet business needs.  

  1. Resources provided: Initiatives must be appropriately resourced if they are to succeed. 

  1. Sustainable approach: The plan must be able to be sustained permanently.  

  1. Planning: The plan must identify the goals and objectives, inputs required, and how success will be measured. 


The Role of Leadership in Employee Resiliancy

The CIPD Absence Management Report of 2015 presented data from 578 organizations across the UK and 1.5 million employees. They found that 31% of employees named management styles as a top cause of stress, and that only 30% of organizations provided any kind of manager training related to employee well-being.  

It’s incredibly common for managers to be technically skilled but lack the emotional intelligence to empathize with and motivate their teams to success. For this reason, managers often need support and training to ensure that they have the skills to help employees navigate challenges successfully. They must be able to spot the early signs of employee suffering and act appropriately. Even better, they should be able to proactively manage their teams to prevent them from encountering situations that are likely to push their reserves to the limit, and work with their team members to help them identify troublesome situations and enhance their coping ability.


How Can Employees Improve Their Resilience?

In 2015, several researchers conducted a systematic review of workplace resilience training, from 2003 to 2014. They found evidence that resilience training was able to improve:  

  • Mental health 

  • Subjective well-being  

  • Goal attainment 

  • Productivity  

  • Personal Resilience  

  • Performance 


Tailoring Training to Promote Resilience

There generally isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ strategy for improving resilience; in fact, to date, there is little conclusive research on the best type of resilience training.  

One initiative that has seen results is Dr. Martin Seligman’s work with the US Army, in which he and his colleagues designed and delivered a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) initiative to help soldiers deal with intensely stressful situations and recover more effectively.  

Resiliency Training Stages  

  • A global assessment tool, which assessed emotional, family, social, and spiritual strengths  

  • An emotional fitness course, focusing on how to amplify positive emotions and recognize when negative emotions, e.g. anger or sadness, are out of proportion

  • A social fitness module focused on developing empathy and emotional intelligence  

  • A (non-religious) spiritual fitness workshop, promoting self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, and mindfulness  

  • A post-traumatic growth module, teaching soldiers how to understand responses to trauma and failure, reduce anxiety, engage in constructive self-disclosure, create a narrative that identifies personal strengths, and articulate life principles

Other resiliency training programs have included:  
  • Self-efficacy training: building capabilities through a strengths-based approach using humor and optimism.

  • Resilience regimen: managers work with their direct reports to understand habits of thought and reframe negative events in productive ways.

  • Master resilience training: focused on developing optimism, problem-solving, self-efficacy, self-regulation, emotional awareness, flexibility, empathy, and strong relationships.

  • Promoting adult resilience program: sessions on understanding and developing personal strengths and resilience, managing stress, changing negative self-talk, promoting positive relationships, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.


In Conclusion

Overall, social and emotional learning can be challenging for adults who have established ways of thinking. Once you have an understanding of specific development areas, it’s best to then discuss the issues with an experienced consultant who can help you develop a targeted program to meet your specific requirements.


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