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Bill Davies

JCA Global, a PSI business

Principal Consultant

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How resilience underpins employee wellbeing


Having high levels of emotional intelligence has been linked with improved wellbeing and resilience. With this in mind, L&D teams have an important role to play in developing collective resilience among employees through times of high pressure and disruption.

Greater individuality, along with reduced community and social responsibility, mean that the basic human emotional needs required for individual wellbeing are no longer being met.

What are the root causes? The world is becoming ever more complex and demanding. Globalisation, greater competition and rapidly evolving technology have transformed the workplace. And pressures and demands in society have only served to compound the impact on our daily life.

There is no doubt that stress levels in the workplace are rising. The government’s Thriving at Work report found that the number of people forced to stop work due to mental health problems was 50% higher than for physical health conditions. Analysis of the results from the JCA Global Emotional Intelligence Profile reinforce this, consistently demonstrating the impact of increased stress in the workplace.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Research shows that having high levels of emotional intelligence (EI) can help employees deal with stress and work more effectively.

And the good news is that it’s possible to train and develop our EI. If organisations want teams that are more resilient and better able to flex and cope under pressure, they need to support employees to build their EI.

EI and resilience

Working at a deeper level of knowing your own attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, it is possible to enhance EI. This in turn helps individuals to become more resilient and better able to cope with the inevitable negative experiences and challenges that come their way – and at the same time become stronger.

Having high levels of EI has been correlated with greater wellbeing and reduced burnout in the workplace. Individuals who work on their EI will develop core attitudes, thinking and behaviours to build a solid foundation of resilience. By helping their people to develop collective resilience, L&D teams can support employees to cope with pressure.

Prevention is a far more effective strategy than waiting for signs of stress to develop and then taking action. Training in EI helps individuals to build their underlying capacity to be resilient, as well as develop a suite of tools to manage demands when under pressure.

EI supports both aspects – tuning into our feelings helps us to make appropriate choices around diet, exercise, diary management and what we say yes or no to (and how we say it).   

Building resilience

It’s useful to see personal resilience as a cycle that we all move through. An individual may be stronger or weaker at different stages of the cycle, starting with a period of survival when we initially respond to adversity.

We then move forward, adjust to change, and progress into a recovery period. This is when we are able to bounce back and return to how things were before the setback.

But the cycle doesn’t end here – it is possible to learn and grow from negative experiences. This is a vital stage, equipping us with the resilience to cope even better the next time adversity strikes.

By using experiential exercises, informed by the latest research, individuals can identify their personal resilience strengths – as well as areas for development – at every stage of this cycle.

A good leader creates psychological safety. When people feel their manager has their back, they will be far more able to think straight, handle complexity, communicate openly and clearly, and be non-defensive.

People who cope well in the survive stage, for example, are able to remain calm, think clearly and act appropriately under pressure. How a person responds in this stage is largely determined by their self-esteem and capacity to manage emotion.

To improve resilience and move through the survive stage, it’s important to identify common situational triggers. What are the situations that take someone outside of their comfort zone? It might be when they feel criticised or have been set unrealistic deadlines for instance.

It’s then helpful to consider the defences they use when they are triggered. Are they flight responses, such as self-blame or closing down? Or fight behaviours, such as blaming others or being aggressive? Has anything helped them to move away from these behaviours in the past?  

Practical tools and steps for adapting to change, pressure and adversity can help people to identify their favourite thinking traps when triggered, and explore how EI can help to manage these traps.

By developing an action plan and creating new habits, individuals will be better able to manage their resilience effectively to be more personally and interpersonally effective.

Emotionally intelligent leadership

Of course, what should not be forgotten is that leaders and managers also have a responsibility to create a supportive, positive environment for employees rather than offloading pressure onto their teams and creating stressful situations. Helping teams to develop their resilience and then expecting them to cope with excessive workloads or toxic environments is unfair and unrealistic.

Demands on business leaders have also increased. Coping with this requires developing all parts of EI, to build and maintain positive and sustainable relationships with clients and colleagues.

Climate is created by leaders, whose behaviour and attitude set the tone within an organisation. Climate is distinct from culture and is specifically about how it feels to work somewhere.

EI is a uniquely human attribute that can help us to adapt, recover and learn in this relentlessly fast-paced environment.

For example, the extent to which individuals feel empowered to do what feels right whilst being clear about boundaries is largely down to how leaders set goals, provide feedback and support their teams.

A good leader creates psychological safety. When people feel their manager has their back, they will be far more able to think straight, handle complexity, communicate openly and clearly, and be non-defensive. That’s when we get the best out of people – when they feel stretched (an important emotional need in itself) and empowered.

If L&D teams support senior managers to develop their own EI, an organisation’s leaders will be better able to recognise, accept and manage their own attitudes and behaviour, as well as the feelings and behaviour of those around them.

Thriving through change

Coping with technological transformation and the rise of artificial intelligence is one of the major challenges in the modern workplace. But EI is a uniquely human attribute that can help us to adapt, recover and learn in this relentlessly fast-paced environment.

L&D teams must increase their focus on EI if they want to support employee wellbeing and develop teams who are able to perform, collaborate and stay agile in the face of future challenge. 

Seven key tips on surviving adversity

  1. Know your triggers

  2. Learn to pause

  3. Manage your thinking and notice your inner critic

  4. Reject put-downs

  5. Let in praise and support from others

  6. Tackle conflicts early

  7. Practice positive affirmations

Author Profile Picture
Bill Davies

Principal Consultant

Read more from Bill Davies

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