How to Help Staff Boost Their Resilience


By Yvonne Milosevic

Managers want their teams to show resilience in the face of uncertainty. But often, they overlook their role in making that happen. We can’t simply tell workers to trudge ahead with a stiff upper lip as the world collapses around us. Instead, supervisors need to create an environment where everyone feels trusted and supported. Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, co-authors of the new book Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay, recently shared their top tips for fostering resilient employees in MIT Sloan Management Review.


Resilience Takes a Village

According to one Gallup poll, the pandemic threw into stark relief the qualities that employees needed from their leaders. Specifically, they wanted managers to display trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Fosslien and West Duffy believe companies need to make well-being a “collective practice.”

“There’s a difference between demanding that everyone be mentally tough and actually helping them take care of their mental health.”

Managers can actively cultivate happiness among their employees through training initiatives that target well-being. They can also walk the talk when it comes to better incorporating balance into the workday. Because if the boss is grinding away 24/7, employees feel like they can’t take the breaks they need to recharge.

The authors also recommend establishing shared rituals—why not try Friday afternoon Happy Hour?— to improve team well-being and resilience. “When everything feels up in the air, rituals can help employees feel more grounded — and less stressed,” they write. “It doesn’t matter what the ritual is: Research shows that simply doing the same thing at the same time can improve mental health.”


Such rituals have another important spillover effect on employee well-being. According to research by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, team bonding activities also boosted employees’ perception of the value of their work by an impressive 16 percent.

We’re all on the Spectrum

Next, leaders need to get better at understanding emotions at work. Everyone wants to feel heard. A manager with top-notch listening skills can better understand the intentions and feelings of those on their team. Employees will feel more open, positive, and motivated and strive to do their best.

Fosslien and West Duffy also suggest that managers adjust for different emotional expression tendencies in their reports. Whether dealing with over-emoters, under-emoters, or even-emotors, you may need to change how you approach someone in distress.

“When it comes to how comfortable we are expressing emotions, we each sit somewhere along a spectrum,” they explain. (To discover your tendency, try out their emotional expression tendency assessment and share it with your team.)

“While it’s important to create space for your employees to flag feelings or raise concerns, you shouldn’t push them to do so,” they note. “Let your reports know that you’re there to support them, but make it OK for them to not open up to you in great detail.”

Focus on Progress

Finally, teams should acknowledge their resilience by concentrating on how far they have come and what they have accomplished. Much the way a gratitude journal can help you focus on the positives in your life, reflection on your progress at work can build confidence and nurture connections, these authors say.

“Keep in mind that an important part of progress is lessons learned.”

According to West Duffy and Fosslien, “Successfully navigating change or uncertainty as a team is not about having the perfect plan in place but about trusting that you can weather surprises together.”