HR Tech Number of the Day: Employee resilience

13.2: The number of times more likely employees were to be resilient when they experienced at least five major work changes because of the coronavirus pandemic

Employees have weathered significant changes in the last nine months: pay cuts, layoffs, the shift to remote work. While it would be natural to think that upheaval and uncertainty could lead to a certain level of defeatedness among affected workers, new research finds employees are actually much more resilient than employers may give them credit for.

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In a keynote address today at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition®, New York Times bestselling author and business consultant Marcus Buckingham unveiled the results of two large global studies he conducted with ADP Research Institute about employee resilience and engagement in the wake of the pandemic. The research found that the more changes workers experienced in their jobs, the more likely they were to be rated highly resilient. Specifically, employees were asked how many of the following 10 shifts they had undergone in recent months at work:

  • promotions placed on hold
  • encouraged to take PTO
  • received one-time payment for COVID-19 relief from their employer
  • layoffs
  • furloughs
  • more or less working hours
  • a job that became mostly virtual
  • the increased use of technology
  • a physical office space that closed
  • shelter-in-place orders by the government

Those who reported at least five of these changes were 13.2 times more likely than respondents who didn’t to be highly resilient.

What it means for HR leaders

Buckingham defined resilience as a “reactive frame of mind which measures your capacity to withstand obstacles and challenges, bend back in the face of them and then bounce back.” Going into the study, researchers predicted that respondents who lived in countries with lower case and death rates from the pandemic would be more resilient, and those in more hard-hit areas would be less resilient—though the opposite turned out to be true.

Click here to view the full presentation.

Workers who had a direct COVID-19 experience—if they themselves tested positive or had a family member or friend who did, for instance—were 2.8 times more likely as others to be highly resilient; that number jumped to four times as likely if respondents reported several direct experiences. Coupled with the findings about resilience being connected to more work changes, Buckingham said, the studies suggested that employers should not be “sugarcoating” things for their workers.

“We don’t need to rush our kids back to school or our employees back to ‘normal’ because we’re trying to make them feel better,” he said. “It won’t.”

What does make people feel better instead, according to the research, is reality.

“If we know that changes are going to happen at work, not only are we fine, we’re better, we’re stronger,” Buckingham said. “We like reality because we can take our fear of the unknown and turn it into confidence.”

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