4 keys to building a more resilient workforce

4 keys to building a more resilient workforce

What are the keys to building a resilient workforce? Leaders should focus on employee communication, culture, capabilities, and change management.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity to reflect on business resilience. Which companies are surviving and thriving, and why? Which organizational qualities are helping them to bounce back quickly from economic shutdowns and swiftly adapt to remote work?

Resilient employees create resilient businesses

The building blocks of business resilience are key to succeeding despite external challenges. Businesses that expect change and disruption (as opposed to being caught off guard) have well-developed business continuity plans in place, and they make smart investments in resilient infrastructure and processes. But more fundamentally, resilient businesses are composed of resilient employees – teams and individuals who can cope with adversity and quickly adapt to challenges. Employees who possess those capabilities generally have company leaders that actively support their well-being and nurture their success.

Recent research supports this observation. According to the ADP Research Institute’s “Workplace Resilience Study 2020,” employees who were highly satisfied with their employer’s pandemic response believed that their company was putting people first. The study also reported the highest levels of resilience among employees who fully trust organizational leadership. On the flip side, other studies have found that workplace stress diminishes productivity, further underscoring the relationship between resilience and the bottom line.

So how can organizations build employee resilience? Executives, managers, and human resource (HR) leaders can focus their efforts around the four C’s of communication, culture, capabilities, and change.

Communication: Engaging employees consistently

1. Communication: Engaging employees consistently

Frequent, authentic communication from leadership lays the foundation for a healthy, resilient workforce. Employees trust leaders who keep them informed and stay in tune with how they are personally doing.

In the new normal of remote work, a regular cadence of communication matters even more. Since many remote employees lack the peer support and interaction they enjoyed at the office, company leaders can establish a communications calendar and encourage dialogue across different channels, from company message boards and collaboration apps to team meetings.

Effective, empathic leaders celebrate diverse thinking, so it is equally important to implement a listening strategy. Organizations can use pulse surveys and team meetings to collect feedback so that employees feel heard and then communicate back to employees how management is acting on this input.

Culture: Aligning employees on mission and values

2. Culture: Aligning employees on mission and values

Regular internal communication presents an opportunity to reinforce company culture. When a strong culture is in place, employees can better understand the company’s mission and goals and, more importantly, its values.

When employees are aligned with company culture and values, they are more likely to thrive during a crisis or times of stress. They better understand what to do and how to accomplish goals because they are guided by values such as collaboration, accountability, and compassion.

To strengthen culture and resilience, executives and HR managers should align policies and behavioral expectations with culture and values. Analyzing culture change risks and designing culture alignment strategies such as rewards and recognition programs can help support this alignment.

Capabilities: Investing in employee training and tools

3. Capabilities: Investing in employee training and tools

Training is table stakes when building and maintaining a resilient workforce. Resilient businesses provide employees with the tools, resources, and training to flourish under difficult circumstances. Employees need to be allowed time for ongoing training and learning – not just to bolster technical or business skills, but to improve their well-being and ability to cope with adversity. Organizations also should develop learning plans for leaders and managers at all levels so that they can model resilience skills and adapt their leadership amid disruption.

During challenging times, many companies tend to slow or stop training offerings. However, the smartest organizations continue to offer employees opportunities to build skills for now and the future. Beyond strengthening skill sets, training can help employees look beyond seeing the immediate circumstance as permanent by providing a way to take their focus off the crisis, look forward positively, and promote a future-focused mindset that supports resiliency.

Change: Helping employees navigate disruption

4. Change: Helping employees navigate disruption

Business continuity plans often focus on technology to maintain operations in a crisis. But how will employees fare during times of rapid change? How can leaders help them quickly adapt to new circumstances, recognizing that teams will be affected in different ways?

When crises or disruptions occur, leadership should quickly identify the effects on both individuals and teams. Using change style indicators can help individuals identify and understand their own needs relative to change management. Educating employees on their personal change styles and discussing those as a team is an effective strategy. Doing so helps individuals think about what they need in the change process, and it empowers them to seek their identified needs out to move forward positively. Some people may need more details, while others need the big picture first.

When considering the impact on a team, leaders should explore ways that individuals can better support one another. For example, employees juggling work and childcare during the pandemic might need more support from others. In response, some organizations have shifted from one-hour meetings to a “50-minute hour” to give parents time back. However, leaders should also take into account that single team members or those living alone might need a different kind of support. Asking team members to conduct a walk-and-talk meeting (dial-in only with everyone physically taking a walk) can help support team member connection time and overall well-being.

Effective change management relies on effective communication, aligned culture, and nurtured capabilities. Leaders should draw on all these factors to help build resilient employees. Companies that invest in their employees can create a workforce that is invested in the company.

Ultimately, leaders are the organization’s role models. Team members watch and observe the steps leaders take to support their own resiliency, and they will model this in turn. Leaders who practice what they want to see from their team members can create an ecosystem of strength for the business.