What does resilience really mean in 2021?

We explore what resilience is – and what it isn’t – in the context of the coronavirus pandemic…

If we want to start a conversation about resilience in 2021 a good place to start is probably with the question: what is resilience? And also, what is it not? Because although resilience can sometimes be thought of as powering on through, of being stoic and steadfast, this isn’t actually the case.

Resilience is about being able to quickly recover from challenges. It also refers to having the ability to spring back into shape, which is an interesting turn of phrase. It begs the question: do we want to spring back into shape? Do we want return to the working world of before? The jury’s still out.

Of course, there are things we all miss about before, especially coffee break chats, face-to-face time with colleagues, or brainstorming in an actual room with pens and post-its in our hands. However, there’s also some things that were long past their sell by date even in 2020. Resilience is about being able to bounce forward, and we can only do that if we consider what no longer works for us.


Addressing unhelpful work cultures

The fact is, resilience has to be built into the infrastructure of organisations, top to bottom. So that’s the question: is it currently? Some research would suggest it’s not – and that we’re actually heading towards a ticking time bomb. The invasion of work in our homes has meant that everyone is finding it harder to unplug right now. One report found that over 75% of UK workers experienced burnout in 2020. Another study undertaken by Stanford University found that workers in the US currently working remotely are spending more than a third of their previous commuting time doing extra work. So are organisations doing enough to address cultures counterintuitive to resilience?

Being resilient is about changing the practices that we know are damaging to the success of our organisations; the ones that won’t take us forward. It’s about thinking long-term rather than short term and guarding against practices that aren’t built to last. The good news is some organisations are now changing that narrative and making wellbeing initiatives a real priority. Because if your people drop the ball because they’re burning out… the business drops the ball too.


Bringing our whole self to work

Working remotely for the past twelve months has also offered us new insights into our colleagues’ lives. In the same way that school children are often shocked to see their teachers outside of school (they don’t live there?!) working from home has jolted us out of seeing people only in a corporate context. Children, clutter, and casual clothes have all helped to build a more rounded picture of who our colleagues and leaders actually are. While that helps to build social capital at a team level, this new perspective is also something that can feed into organisations as a whole.

Forbes say it here: it’s important employers now see their workforce as ‘whole people’ and not just their work-self. Organisations can’t just focus on the 9-to-5 window that employees are in work; they need to see the full picture. The results of doing this are impressive, with employers who embrace a whole employee approach seeing a 23% improvement in physical health and a 17% improvement in mental health, and a 21% increase in the number of high performers. Insights have said it before and we’ll say it again: it’s so important to be able to bring your whole self to work each day. If that’s one way of cultivating resilience in your people, then it’s got our backing.


Stepping out of comfort zones

If we look at resilience through the language of colour, we’ve also adjusted. Maybe when we went into the pandemic we were one kind of leader. Now we have to ask ourselves if we’re still that same leader now. Because the past few months have called for a gear change; all of us will have had to step out of the comfort zone of our lead colour energy preferences to respond to the current climate. For leaders, that may have meant having to adjust their personal communication style.

Maybe they’ve had to dial up their Sunshine Yellow energy to keep their teams motivated and energised. Perhaps the tightening of budgets has compelled leaders to lean on the evidence-based style of their Cool Blue energy. Other leaders may have dialled up their Fiery Red energy to keep business plans on track and moving forward. And then there’s the compassion of Earth Green energy, which, dialled up, may have kept us together when everything else was falling apart.

The world is changing fast, and if we want to make ourselves resilient to what’s around the corner we have to be constantly adjusting and adapting. Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about how we move from being resilient in the moment to actively cultivating it and making it part of our culture. Because it’s only then we’ll be braced for all those big moments to come.


If you’re new to Insights, learn more about how you can gain insight into how self-awareness is essential to building and maintaining resilient teams. #InsightsReDiscovery