How HR can boost workforce resilience

Marcus Buckingham

From a global pandemic to social unrest, how are current events impacting the state of resilience and engagement in the workforce today?

They are all connected, New York Times bestselling author and business consultant Marcus Buckingham said Thursday in his keynote address on the third day of the virtual HR Technology & Conference Expo, which ends Friday.

Buckingham shared for the first time results of two large, global surveys on the state of resilience and engagement in the workplace, which he conducted with his team at the ADP Research Institute.

“[Resilience and engagement] are related, but they are independent of one another,” he noted. “You can be highly resilient, and not very engaged. You can be highly engaged and not very resilient.”

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To measure resilience, Buckingham and his team came up with a set of core statements; while they are by no means the only questions to ask, he noted, they do provide some key insights into measuring an employee’s ability to be able to bounce back.

  1. I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done.
  2. No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done.
  3. In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day.
  4. I always believe that things are going to work out for the best.
  5. My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need to know it.
  6. I trust my team leader.
  7. I am encouraged to take risks.
  8. Senior leaders are one step ahead of events.
  9. Senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do.
  10. I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.

“As you can see, not only are these pretty simple, straight-forward questions, but [they] all point to three sources of resilience,” he said. “Resilience as a thing is created through, hopefully, a really positive ecosystem of your own understanding of what you can control in your life, what your team leader does for you … and the role of the senior leader.”

Also see: Marcus Buckingham on 9 lies HR needs to stop believing

According to the data, 17% of the world’s workforce feels highly resilient.

Interestingly, Buckingham noted, there weren’t any major differences in resilience between gender (16% of men and 14% of women were rated resilient) or age (resilience levels varied from 16% for ages 20-39, 14% for ages 40-54, 12% ages 55-74 and 16% for age 75-plus).

COVID and resilience 

Going into the research, Buckingham said, he thought resilience would vary with the way participants’ respective countries had responded to COVID. “So, I thought those countries that had had lower death rates and fewer cases, they would be more resilient. And countries with higher death rates would be less resilient. That didn’t turn out to be true at all.”

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According to the study, he noted, citizens in Brazil, the United States and Sweden, where there were high rates of infection and death due to COVID, reported levels of resilience similar to those countries with much lower numbers of COVID cases, like Australia and Singapore.

RELATED: 5 shifts to build workforce resilience

“However, what we did find is that the more intimate your experience of COVID was, the more resilient you are,” he said.

Respondents who had been infected, or been associated with a family member, close friend or colleague who had tested positive, were found to be 2.8 times more likely to be resilient. Participants who indicated yes to all of those questions were four times more likely to be highly resilient, he said.

“We humans do better psychologically when we deal with the reality full in the face,” Buckingham said. “We do not need leaders to sugarcoat things for us and pretend things are going to go back to normal.”

And with that data in mind, he cautioned business and HR leaders not to rush workplace reopenings.

“We don’t need to rush our employees back to normal because we’re trying to make them feel better; it won’t,” he said.

What makes people feel better is reality, he added. “If we know the changes that are going to happen at work, we’re not only fine, we’re better. We’re stronger.”

Click here to view the full keynote presentation. *

The HR Tech Conference will feature free, virtual content through Oct. 30. There is still time to register. For more information, click HERE.

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