Resilience: A tool to survive or the key to excel?

Lara Altenstein-Fricke avatar



How often do you feel overwhelmed or stressed at work? However high that number might be, there is a good chance your feelings resonate with those of

many others. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have recently declared that 25% of employees view their jobs as the ultimate stressor in their lives. Furthermore did the World Health Organization describe stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century”. Unfortunately enough do these numbers not seem to drop anytime soon as our work culture becomes more complex and connected and as a result more and more is expected of employees in terms of output and quality. Organizations have to deal with constant change and have to reinvent themselves and transform continuously if they wish to stay ahead in the competitive market. Therefore it is, nowadays more so than ever, important for employees to build resilience in order to adequately operate their working lives. And the same goes for organisations, as resilient organizations are built by resilient employees.

Resilience is often regarded as the ability to bounce back to an original state in the face of adversity, tragedy or significant sources of stress. In that sense resilience is crucial for employees to possess in order to tackle internal challenges, such as personal workload, as well as external challenges, such as restructurings. A recent study by Gallup[1] including more than 7’000 full-time employees concluded that 23% of employees feel very often or always burned out at work, followed by 44% of employees indicating that they feel burned out sometimes.

These numbers clearly show that stress as well as stress-related occupational phenomena are a significant issue nowadays and underline the importance of workplace resilience to overcome the many risk factors we face daily.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” (Albert Einstein)

Now that we established that resilience is a crucial survival tool in today’s workplace environment, the question that remains is: How do we build resilience? Luckily, there are certain behaviours and attitudes that go hand-in-hand with being resilient, meaning that basically anyone can learn to be more resilient by following these well-established recipes. These various behaviours and attitudes supporting resilience can be categorized into two areas: internal factors and external factors. The internal factors can be further broken down into four categories: communication skills, self-view, positive emotions and growth mindset. Let’s shortly have a look at each of these internal factors individually and define the most important skills for each category.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”11214″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_border”][vc_column_text]Communication skills summarize the ability to communicate effectively, to (dare to) ask questions and to connect with the right people who are able to support one’s personal quest for answers or new insights.

Self-view summarizes the overall skills to accept yourself for who you are, strengths as well as weaknesses. People who possess an effective self-view have a realistic view of their abilities and therefore know which tasks they can execute by themselves and where they might need further support. Furthermore do resilient people make realistic plans and take appropriate steps to carry them out.

“Humour is one of the most effective coping mechanisms”

Positive emotions have been found to be particularly important when building resilience. This category summarizes an optimistic view and the ability to maintain an emotional balance and manage even strong or negative emotions and impulses. Resilient people are result-oriented and have the ability to improvise and make use of past experiences in order to find new and effective solutions. Another important positive emotion is humour. Several studies[2] suggest that humour is one of the most effective coping mechanisms and can therefore help recover from stressful or negative emotions.

Last but not least on our list is the growth mindset, a concept that describes the believe that intelligence is something that can be developed rather than something people are simply born with. People with a growth mindset show a desire to learn and by embracing challenges and accepting change reach higher levels of achievement. The American Psychological Association has come up with a list of tips[3] on how to build resilience and one of the main topics was to accept change as a part of living as well as to avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. These tips go very much hand-in-hand with the concept of a growth mindset.

While these four categories of internal factors are surely essential when it comes to building resilience it is also important to include the external factors to our list. The external factors can be summarized into two categories: Perceived social support and perceived physical fitnesss. Since the social support system of a person has often been declared the number one factor when it comes to building resilience let’s have a quick look at what these two external factors entail.

Several studies[4] suggest that resilient people tend to have good relationships with their families and a well-functioning network of supporting friends or communities. People who experience support from their social environment seem to have less problems with recovering after disappointment.

Resilience consists of both a mental as well as a physical dimension. All activities that improve one’s health can be summarized as physical fitness. Such activities include a healthy diet, a good night’s sleep, sports, and relaxation through other work unrelated activities, such as hobbies. All of these are vital to building resilience. Research[5] suggests that there are several off-job experiences that are crucial in maintaining the recuperation process of resilient people, among which “psychological detachment from work” as well as “relaxation” have been named. If people take care of their physical fitness it seems to boost not only their energy at work but also capacity to face demanding work situations more effectively.

To sum up we have seen that several internal as well as external factors define resilient people and that these behaviours and attitudes can be adopted by people who wish to be more resilient in their (working)lives. By for example trying to view and plan tasks realistically or apply a healthy dose of humour to situations that did not work out the way one wanted to, people can bounce back to their original state more easily and therefore cope with tragedy or sources of stress.

But what if resilience was not only a tool to survive but the key to excel?

At One2change we believe that resilience is not only important to bounce back to the original state, but to bounce forward. In other words, resilience is much more than coping with or surviving unfavourable situations, it is all about finding new ways to move forward, staying flexible and keep learning. Since we are living in a world that is full of changes and updates, it is crucial to embrace change and on a personal as well as organisational level practice innovation and creativity. By being open towards change and willing to learn continuously people, and with them organisations, can create an enormous advantage regarding their fellow competitors.

“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can at least learn to build better boats,” (Zolli and Healy in ‘Resilience’)

The key to resilience and therefore to excel in (working)life is highly dependent of one’s mindset. As we have seen before, internal factors such as positive emotions build a foundation to develop resilience and to cope with unfavourable situations. These little assets can be taken even further by for example taking the already positive thought of “I will manage to handle this difficult task” and transform it into “I have been presented with an opportunity to learn new skills by receiving this task”.

By embracing challenges instead of plainly accepting them we are able to not only bounce back but to bounce forward into a future of continuous learning and changing.

[1] Gallup, I. (2019). Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes. [online] Available at:

[2] Ruch, W.; Proyer, R.T.; Weber, M. (2009). “Humor as a character strength among the elderly”. Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie. 43 (1): 13–18; Ong, A.D.; Bergeman, C.S.; Bisconti, T.L.; Wallace, K.A. (2006). “Psychological resilience, positive emotions, and successful adaptation to stress in later life”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91 (4): 730–49.

[3] (2019). The road to resilience. [online] Available at:

[4] Theron, Linda; van Rensburg, Angelique (August 2018). “Resilience over time: Learning from school-attending adolescents living in conditions of structural inequality“. Journal of Adolescence. 67: 167–178; Lin, Nan; Woelfel, Mary W.; Light, Stephen C. (September 1985). “The Buffering Effect of Social Support Subsequent to an Important Life Event”. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 26 (3): 247–63.

[5] Sarkar, M. and Fletcher, D. (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].