When organizations today look to cultivate resilience, it’s often in the context of driving digital transformations, preventing and mitigating cyberthreats, and building trust equity among stakeholders. These are all key components in creating sound, future-proof businesses and addressing risk.
However, another critical part of organizational resilience often gets left out of the equation: employees. It’s important to enable employees to adapt to disruption, so they can stay engaged and productive throughout and beyond any turmoil. Without resilient employees, there can’t be resilient organizations.
What is employee resilience?
This concept refers to an employee’s ability to face and overcome challenges—small, everyday stressors, as well as major hurdles experienced while at work. Employee resilience can be influenced by a combination of factors, including an individual’s personality, personal life, psychological and physical health, community, financial situation, and ability to use workplace resources to achieve goals and growth. In addition, the extent to which work environments are conducive to empathy, trust, diversity, physical accessibility, and well-being can affect resilience levels—as can how work gets done within a given business. This includes how work is assigned and prioritized, expectations for performance and productivity, the type of work performed, and so on. Moreover, as everyone has specific stress thresholds, coping mechanisms, and support preferences, employee resilience varies from person to person.
Notably, employee resilience pertains to workers at all levels—leadership included. When leaders experience resilience, are attuned to its significance, and model resilient behaviors (e.g., having conversations about resilience and making time for their own personal well-being), they can better support themselves and their people. By learning about and adopting approaches that reinforce resilience—such as the need for social interactions, lifestyle management, and boundary-setting—leaders can also help make these behaviors a norm.
While always important, the need for employee resilience has come to the fore since the onset of the current global crisis. The working population has experienced a marked decline in mental health, according to the Mental Health Index by LifeWorksTM. Reflecting the many resulting uncertainties—including those relevant to health, financial status, relationships, and child care—some studies have shown employee anxiety levels tripling relative to pre-pandemic numbers, with lasting impacts on mental well-being expected.
Leaders, too, are being emotionally taxed. A 2021 study by Deloitte Canada and LifeWorks found that more than eight in ten senior leaders (82 percent) experience exhaustion, most often attributable to mounting workloads and longer hours. At the same time, these executives are struggling against the perceived stigmas associated with both asking for help for their stress/coping issues and admitting they need aid in the first place. (In fact, 41 percent of senior leaders say they’d find it difficult to acknowledge or accept a personal mental-health issue.) The report’s findings sound a sobering alarm: “The current levels of well-being and resilience…pose a significant business risk.”
Ramifications of inaction
The costs of doing nothing are steep. In Canada alone, it’s estimated that 500,000 employees are unable to work each week due to poor mental health, at an annual economic cost of more than $50 billion. In Britain, stress, anxiety, and depression are thought to be key contributors to almost half of working days lost due to health issues. In addition, burnout negatively affects worker retention across industries and around the world.
Yet the benefits of fostering employee wellness and resilience are substantial. In fact, 94 percent of the nearly 9,000 respondents to Deloitte’s 2020 Global human capital trends survey affirm that well-being drives organizational performance. Workplace resilience and mental-health programs also yield demonstrable returns on investment (ROIs).
This all underscores the urgency of taking action. But are organizations prepared to do so? While 80 percent reported that worker well-being is important or very important to their success over the next 12–18 months, just over one in ten companies (12 percent) indicated they were “very ready” to address the issue. Clearly, it’s time for a change.
The road toward greater employee resilience
Promoting and prioritizing employee resilience often involves sweeping, far-reaching efforts at the organizational level, as well as quicker, everyday adjustments that can also have an impact.
At the overarching level, as organizations work to create long-term employee resilience and wellness strategies, they may look to address foundational areas including:
Proactive vs. reactive approaches
Today, many organizations take a reactive-only approach to employee resilience—with programs (e.g., employee leaves of absence, counseling services, mental-health insurance benefits) that support workers only after they’ve encountered challenges or reached their breaking points. Such measures are important pieces of the resilience puzzle, but preventive strategies embedded in organizational culture are likely better equipped to address root resilience issues and thus deliver greater results.
The desired goal is often to integrate well-being into the design of work itself, which requires re-evaluating company-wide systems and procedures. Some questions that can aid in this organizational assessment include: When does the given business allow meetings to be scheduled (i.e., might these interfere with employees’ personal lives)? What processes are in place for prioritizing work? How is performance measured? How do we support personal and professional growth? What opportunities exist for connection? How do we enable leaders at all levels to support staff well-being and resilience? What improvements can be made?
Employee resilience is a strategic imperative
Organizations face risks of varying degrees every day, pertaining to their security, systems, finances, technology, talent, reputation, extended business networks, and more. Dealing with those risks, typically, are people, whose well-being and resilience impact their ability to respond.
It follows, then, that any discussions of organizational resilience can’t possibly be complete without being mindful of the human element. By considering employee resilience an integral part of organizational resilience and accepting that well-being is essential to an organization’s success, businesses can withstand threats and enable their workers to both feel and perform their best.
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