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Resilience at work is a black hole in research terms. That is starting to change. For the first time, we are seeing really interesting work emerge which measures and analyses resilience at work. This matters because work is where we spend much of our lives and is the cause of much of our joy and our stress.

Most of the research on resilience has been done on captive audiences where all the variables can be controlled: schools and armed forces are homes to most resilience research. The world of work is messier and it is harder to control all the variables. That means researchers have researched what is easy to research, not what is important to research: the resilience at work black hole is the inevitable consequence.
In a recent webinar with iPsychtec (link here), we explored new ways of looking into resilience at work, combining my qualitative research with their quantitative research. The good news is that although we took different approaches, we came to similar conclusions. The key conclusion is that firms can help build the resilience of their staff and their teams. This really matters. In the past, firms have put their staff through a resilience training sheep dip to make them more resilient, and then have assumed staff can cope with a toxic environment better. We show that by making the firm less toxic, you can improve both resilience and performance.

The qualitative research shows that firms can build staff and team resilience by building the RAMP model: supportive Relationships, Autonomy, Mastery and growth, Purpose and meaning. Each of these have become even more important during COVID19:
Supportive relationships matter even more when staff are isolated and work from home. Offices provide a much needed social structure. But many work relationships are not supportive, especially in command and control hierarchies. This is the time for bosses to show that they genuinely care for each team member and their careers: invest time in listening to them and supporting them. Move from commanding to coaching style of leadership.
Autonomy is craved by professionals. The best way to manage a professional is to stop micro managing them: let them rise to their own standards and over achieve, probably to levels you would not dare to set yourself. But the pandemic has shown that autonomy is a curse as well as a blessing. You may be free to do anything, but you are not free to do nothing. Offices bring structure which you have to recreate at home: rarely has a clear to-do list been so helpful.
Mastery and growth. We only have resilience where we are expert: do not ask a dare devil mountaineer to become a double glazing sales person, or vice versa. Working remotely makes everything harder for a leader: you cannot make all the small informal minute to minute adjustments which happen naturally when you are in the same room as your team. This is great news. It forces us all to be much more deliberate and purposeful in our leadership practice. By learning new leadership skills outside the office, we can raise our game when we finally return to the office.

Purpose. We all perform better and stick it out longer when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves which has real meaning. Even hum drum routine work has meaning when you know it makes a difference to someone, somewhere. Help your team discover purpose and meaning in their work, and they will help you with even better performance.
Although the qualitative research was clear and consistent, could we find any empirical evidence to support this? This is where a CultureScope, a diagnostic tool from iPsychtec has been invaluable. It is a tool which diagnoses actual behaviours across teams and firms. To test the qualitative hypotheses above, iPsychtec asked a classic resilience question: “When faced with a difficult situation I feel confident using my judgement in decision making”. They discovered five behaviours were predictive of a positive response to this question:

• Active learning, not passive learning
• Empower, not disenfranchise
• Innovate, not consolidate
• Expressive, not neutral
• Achievement, not status

The impact of these behaviours was huge. Respondents in the top quartile across these five behaviours were 244 times more likely to respond positively to the resilience challenge posed in the question. And the qualitative and quantitative align on two key metrics: active learning with mastery and growth, and empower with autonomy.

Further quantitative research with the CultureScope tool is pointing to the importance of purpose and supportive relationships in other aspects of resilience and performance. We are finally finding the data that either proves or disproves what works at work.
The good news about this research is that it is highly actionable. Firms can help build resilience by doing more than pay lip service to empowerment and by building mastery, propose and supportive relationships. Even better, quantitative analysis shows up the hot spots of best practice in firms: those hot spots can be used to spread best practice to the rest of the firm.
All of this research is still in its early stages. If you would like your firm to part of this leading edge research, contact us directly.

Jo Owen

Jo Owen is a best-selling and multi-award winning leadership author, keynote speaker and social entrepreneur. He is a founder of eight charities, including the UK's largest graduate recruiter Teach First. His books The Mindset of Success, The Leadership Skills Handbook and Management Stripped Bare, all published by Kogan Page, have been translated into eight different languages, and offer expert advice on the leadership field.