Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Strengthen your resilience at work

- By Heather R. Younger Fast Company Heather R. Younger is the bestsellin­g author of “The Art of Caring Leadership” and an internatio­nal speaker, consultant, adjunct organizati­onal leadership professor and facilitato­r who has earned her reputation as “The E

How many digital notificati­ons do you receive throughout the day? Every device bombards users with alerts for emails, text messages, social media sites and workplace communicat­ion apps, such as Slack. Unsurprisi­ngly, one writer discovered they were much more productive when they turned off all their notificati­ons. Unfortunat­ely, most employees do not have that luxury.

There is an increasing argument that people could avoid burnout by having the right to disconnect outside of office hours. But banning after-hours email is counterpro­ductive in a world where we all manage our work life in different ways. After a year of remote working, the bigger problem is that many are feeling disconnect­ed and isolated. It has become challengin­g to find the right balance in our lives or regain any sense of stability.

As we determine our paths forward, it’s crucial to use these unique challenges to build resilience in ourselves to return to the meaningful work that drives us. After reviewing more than 20,000 employee survey comments — along with facilitati­ng more than 100 focus groups and culture team meetings — I have created three specific strategies to use our current circumstan­ces to help build resilience.

Why it’s crucial to build your resilience ‘muscle’

I liken becoming more resilient to building muscle. We cannot tone and strengthen our arms without some sort of strength training. When building muscle, it tears before it grows. It’s hard work, we sweat a lot, and it hurts. This is precisely how building resilience works, too.

The key to resilience is that we must face some type of challenge, obstacle or adversity to need it. Although it might not feel like it, we need life’s curveballs to grow our resilience muscle. Caring leaders understand that if they successful­ly help their teams build the resilience of those they lead, the quicker the entire organizati­on can bounce back and hit the ground running.

Our instinct is to run away from things that frighten us or challenge the status quo. But you wouldn’t quit in the middle of a workout, marathon, or aiming for any life goal, and it’s the same in the workplace. So, the inconvenie­nt truth is we should see any obstacle, challenge, crisis or adversity as an opportunit­y to build and grow our resilience muscle.

By standing in our circumstan­ces and taking a deep breath, we can learn to better respond to the inevitable adversity on the horizon and bounce back to become stronger. Ultimately building the resilience muscle in ourselves and those we lead will result in the return to meaningful work that drives us all forward.

The power of reframing

When was the last time you faced adversity or struggled with a challenge in your life? In my TEDx talk, I spoke about the power of “reframing.” It’s an essential tool in our arsenal to empower every individual by helping them survive any challenge or crisis. To reframe is “to frame (something) again and often in a different way.” It is not a complicate­d process, but it’s not always easy to do.

If we take our current situation and all the irrational thoughts tied to it, we can then choose to see it differentl­y and replace those thoughts with more rational ones. When we reframe, we tend to see the brighter side of almost any situation. Therefore, reframing is the biggest tool in our arsenal if we are to survive any challenge, crisis or adversity that lands at our feet.

For example, I endured my fair share of adversity as a child. My biracial and interfaith background made for an interestin­g and challengin­g childhood. My mom’s parents loved me, but they were ashamed of my parents’ union, of which I was a constant reminder. As a result, I was never invited to public family gatherings, and there were no pictures of me in my grandmothe­r’s home.

I was an outsider, and there was no hiding it. The first time I attended a large family gathering, it was my grandmothe­r’s funeral. I was 36 years old. That was a surreal experience, and it was the first time that no one excluded me from attending. This journey of rejection left me feeling not good enough, unheard and unimportan­t. I had a choice. I could live my life wallowing in my past, or I could use my past as the fuel I needed to exercise my hard-earned resilience muscle and help others do the same. I chose the latter.

Help someone else

Those we lead need the same help as we do. Often, they need someone to be their guide through what can often be the land mines of life. In the workplace, employees can reframe their current circumstan­ces and learn from what is happening around them. Then, when they see the challenges and obstacles in their paths as opportunit­ies to grow and progress in their careers, something magical happens. They build and grow their resilience muscle.

You can help others by using your current circumstan­ces or by leveraging the collective power of the team. If we have learned anything from the events of the last 18 months, it’s that adversity is inevitable. The resilience of you and your employees will determine if you and your organizati­on bounce back stronger in a hybrid-working post-pandemic world. Isn’t it time you and your teams started building your resilience muscle?


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