How to Build Resilience at Work: A Quick Guide

Go from durable to resilient.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

How to build resilience at work

We’d like to start with a little game. All you have to do is put your hand up if your job makes you feel like a bundle of rainbows and sunbeams.

Now put your hand up if your job regularly drives you up the wall, crushes your joy to dust, or leaves you numb.

Sadly, your hand raising — and some eye-opening statistics from Gallup — suggest that most workers simply live for the weekend; barring the ones who have to work then. With just one in five feeling engaged in the office and one in three reporting to “thrive”, the general consensus is that work tends to be sucky.

Drab as things may be for the majority, there are proven ways to build resilience in the workplace and cope better with difficult situations.

In this article, we’ll go over what resilience at work looks like, why it’s important, and how you can develop it.

What is resilience?

According to the Oxford dictionary, resilience is defined as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.”

When it comes to work, we can think of resilience as a reserve of inner strength we can tap into when things get tough. Resilience allows us to adapt to and recover from stressful situations faster, like workplace conflict or an error being made.

Let’s say that if resilience were a person, it would be someone with a positive outlook, good problem-solving ability, and some top-notch emotional regulation skills.

The importance of resilience in the workplace

Developing resilience can help us survive in all kinds of work environments. That’s not to say that people owe to stick around in places adorned with metaphorical red flags — it just means that, if their employer is terrible, they can protect their sanity while figuring out their next move.

Resilient individuals working in more neutral settings can manage stress levels better, devise workarounds faster, and perform better in the long term. For those in leadership positions, developing resilience can keep workplace stress to healthy levels both for themselves and their team members.

All in all, the adaptability and focus that derives from mental resilience can benefit any employee, regardless of where they work or what they do.

How to build resilience at work

Though some people may appear more “naturally resilient” to hardships than others, resilience is a skill that can be learned by all of us. Below, we’ll look at how the process of developing mental resilience can be divided into achievable steps.

Step 1: Look after your body

If you’re not resting enough, skipping meals, and the gym is but a distant memory, you can’t expect your body to feel good. And, when your body doesn’t feel good, your mind usually follows suit.

When our physical needs aren’t met, we end up feeling tired, sad, and irritable. This means the smallest of inconveniences can throw us off balance. That’s why resilience training relies on both emotional and physical wellness.

Step 2: Prioritize your mental health

We just talked about how physical health can impact mental wellbeing. The opposite is true, too, however!

Anxiety, stress and depression can manifest in a range of physical symptoms, like stomach aches, dizziness, and fatigue. Now, imagine something bad happening at work, like your no-good manager yelling at you for something that isn’t your fault. You’re not going to be able to bounce back as quickly if you’re feeling low to begin with.

Eating and sleeping well, exercising regularly, and spending time outdoors are some of the ways you can safeguard your mental health.

Step 3: Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can boost your resilience by helping you adopt a less reactive attitude. In difficult moments, being responsive instead of reactive means you can settle on the right course of action quicker.

Though signing up for a mindfulness program is a good way to learn the techniques fast, you can easily start practicing at home at any point. Some things to try out include breathing techniques, meditation, and intentionally pausing to connect with your surroundings.

Step 4: Take breaks

Back to the Oxford dictionary! If you look up the opposite of “resilience”, you’ll see that it’s “rigidity” or “fragility”. This makes sense, as emotional resilience means having the flexibility and strength to adapt to and overcome problems.

One way to encourage that necessary plasticity of mind is to take breaks. We’re not just referring to pausing and stretching at your desk, although that’s useful. We’re talking about taking emotional breaks from work, too — totally unplugging, if you will.

Step 5: Learn to compartmentalize

Compartmentalizing means singling out one task or problem at a time and giving it your undivided attention.

By tuning out distractions and worries, you’re able to stay grounded in the present and focus on what’s at hand: another excellent component in building resilience.

Stowing away work-related things in your mind when you leave work is also important. In other words, try to leave work at work.

Step 6: Lean on your support group

Having access to social support is necessary in building psychological resilience. When we have someone to share the weight of our experiences with, it becomes easier to carry the load.

That’s why it’s important not to isolate yourself from your loved ones when going through a rough patch at work. A listening ear and a shoulder to cry on can give you the comfort and motivation you need to push through.

Step 7: Practice compassion

Has anyone ever told you that you’re your own worst critic? When things go wrong, are you hard on yourself despite knowing you did your best?

If the answer is “yes”, you may be sabotaging your own attempt to build resilience. Resilience requires compassion, first and foremost to yourself. Swapping negative self-talk with positive affirmations is a good place to start.

When you work on being kind to yourself, it’s easier to be kinder to others. In the workplace, this can enhance communication and lead to faster resolutions.

Step 8: Work on your optimism

Hannah Sanderson, founder and CEO at Clever Canadian, makes the following suggestion on building resilience: “Try to arrive at work with a cheerful disposition and a desire to work with your coworkers. It’s possible that you may be better able to handle unforeseen circumstances the more eager and involved you are at work.”

It’s true: a positive viewpoint can help you feel more confident in your problem-solving ability. In addition, it can bring you closer to your coworkers, making collaboration more efficient.

Step 9: Develop emotional regulation skills

In the words of Ben Austin, founder and CEO at Absolute Digital Media: “Employees who have a high level of emotional insight have a level of awareness about their full range of emotions, allowing them not to take comments and feedback personally but to see these as something to improve on in the future.”

This kind of awareness is vital in regulating emotions rather than being knocked over by them. That’s an important ingredient for resilience.

One way to get started is to pay more attention to feelings and sensations and what causes them. The more you can identify your emotions and put them into words, the weaker their influence over you.

Step 10: Try to let go of control

“Better the devil you know”, goes the saying. From a psychological perspective, resistance to the unknown is a mechanism intended to keep us safe.

However, as much as we’re hardwired to preserve our sense of stability, change is an inevitable part of life. The best we can do is to find ways to cope with this fact rather than push against it in vain.

It just so happens that embracing the unpredictability of life is a great way of practicing resilience. Alyssa Roberts, psychologist and senior writer at Practical Psychology, suggests one way we can do this: “One effective strategy is to develop a growth mindset, which involves believing that one’s abilities can be acquired through effort and learning. This can help individuals view challenges as growth opportunities rather than threats.”

Key takeaways

Though the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” is often used in negative contexts, it can work in beneficial ways, too. Since our actions are driven by our thoughts and beliefs, what we tell ourselves plays a role in the outcome of our endeavors.

Resilience training can reinstill the sense of confidence needed to face issues head-on. When getting started, these are the things you should keep in mind:

  • Resilience is a combination of skills and personal qualities, such as adaptability, patience, and optimism
  • Being resilient doesn’t always mean being prepared to put up a fight. Taking emotional breaks and setting boundaries is just as important
  • Though some people appear naturally better at handling difficult moments, the good news is that everyone can develop this skill through practice

Can you think of any other ways to build up resilience in the workplace? Tell us your thoughts in a comment.


Originally published July 5, 2018.