Building a Resilient Workforce

We are living in unprecedented times.  No matter your organization or your role you will have been impacted by the events of COVID19. The impacts of the pandemic have led to some valuable lessons learned when it comes to effective HR planning and the importance of giving employees the tools they need to successfully navigate through challenging times.

Creating a resilient workforce will not only help your organization cope during turbulent, difficult periods, but also help your organization bounce back faster.  Additionally, over recent years, multiple studies have shown that building resilience in the workforce to help employees overcome stress leads to overall increased productivity.  Therefore, as well as helping your employees deal with periods of turbulence and change more effectively, a more resilient workforce will cope better with the day-to-day stresses at work and in turn produce better results for your business.  

So, what are some of the ways that your organization can build resilience in the workforce?

Decades of research points to the fact that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviors and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone. Factors that lead to resilience include optimism; the ability to stay balanced and manage strong or difficult emotions; a sense of safety and a strong social support system1.  Resilience can best be developed by building a strong and trusting employee culture. Through taking a proactive and intentional approach in your organization, you can build resiliency in your employees, and building resilience will help your workforce be better able to weather turbulent times.

Start at the Top

Gaining buy-in from leadership is crucial for encouraging employees to think about the steps that they can take to work on their own resiliency.  Employees are more likely to participate in any training and development programs when leaders are involved.  Leaders should model behaviours and clearly communicate their commitment to supporting initiatives in the workplace.

Create an Environment of Trust.

The healthiest and most engaged workplaces are those where employees trust their leaders and feel psychologically safe.  Cultivating a positive environment where employees can let their guard down, speak-up and are not harshly punished for making mistakes leads to a healthier work environment.  However, this is not something that will happen overnight.  Employees will trust a new process or change, if they trust the leaders.  Leaders must step up and foster an environment of open communication and provide feedback to their employees regularly.  Being transparent about decision making also helps employees understand why decisions are being taken, even if they don’t necessarily always agree with the direction chosen. High trust organizations are more productive and their employees have higher energy and engagement.2  During challenging times, high trust organizations will be more agile and able to adapt to difficult circumstances.

Survey Employees: 

Solicit feedback from employees on their experiences, and how they could be better supported. Giving them an opportunity to share is highly engaging in itself and often employees provide very valuable ideas that can be actioned easily with great results.

Offer Training: 

Resilience is about learning about oneself, growing, and developing.  There are many kinds of training that can help employees develop skills and techniques to deal with stress and overcoming barriers at work.  Areas that could be considered include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Dealing with Stress
  • Managing Conflict /Dealing with Difficult People
  • Problem Solving
  • Communication Skills

Look at People Processes

Clarity and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities will eliminate the stress, inefficiency and often resentment that can often come when employees don’t fully understand who should be doing what when.  Taking the time to review the lines of governance and accountability is extremely helpful in creating resilient teams.   Clear roles and responsibilities will also make it easier to allow for more decision-making autonomy. Employees that are left to do their jobs and can make autonomous decisions (where possible), are generally more likely to react quickly and effectively during challenging times.  

Improve the Work Environment

No matter whether your work environment has physical offices, or if your employees are all working remotely, allowing flexibility can prove very valuable.  We have already touched on the importance of regular, clear communication and feedback from leaders as a way to build trust and foster a positive work environment.  Other areas of support include:

  • Offering Employee Assistance Programs and Health & Wellness Programs
  • Flexible work schedules – Help employees manage work/life balance by being open to alternative schedules where possible.
  • Set reasonable work expectations – Naturally all organizations must pay attention to employee hours and expect them to deliver results. However, if you want to avoid burn-out from overly stressed and tired employees, it is important to be mindful of setting realistic workloads and deadlines.

Have a Plan

A great way to encourage a sense of safety in the organization is to have clear well thought out plans.  Employees that feel confident in the level of preparation their organization has undertaken will face challenges with a high level of confidence. Not to mention that a well-defined plan also means that your organization can brace for any potential storm more effectively across all areas of the business.  From a HR perspective, it is very important that workforce planning and succession plans are in place and regularly updated.  These elements should also be key considerations of any Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity plans. 

Supporting Workforce Resiliency in the Moment

Never was there a better time to review strategies that leaders can employ to boost resiliency in challenging times.  During the pandemic Boreala have supported organizations faced with unprecedented HR issues.

Regardless of how the situation has impacted your workforce, there has no doubt been many lessons learned that can be leveraged for your organization in the future.  Here is list of key strategies that we recommend based on our experiences.

Communicate:  Providing clear and regular communication is incredibly important during challenging times.  Employees are anxious and look to leaders for information, therefore increase, don’t decrease communication.  Share what is known as well as what is not, but share in a way that inspires confidence.

By now, even the most extreme technophobes have embraced the opportunities that virtual meeting technology provides, so take the time to set up regular virtual meetings on video, individually and in teams as appropriate.  Also, encouraging team members to continue to communicate together and support each other is a great way to boost team moral and avoid people feeling isolated. The concept of ‘virtual coffee breaks’ is a great way to check-in quickly with team members.

Above all else remember:  there is never too much communication.

Empower:  During periods of fast paced change that include high levels of uncertainty, it is often helpful to empower managers to make decisions differently. Reacting quickly to mobilize the team will help organizations remain agile during difficult times.  Remember, however, if changes are made to decision making processes, be sure to notify staff to avoid confusion and further stress.

Modify Policies Quickly:  Some organizations are more bureaucratic than others, but regardless of size and level of complexity, it is very helpful when faced with sudden change, to provide employees with revised guidelines and relevant updates to office policies that may be affected as a result, even if only temporarily.  Clarity on some basic workplace policies will avoid confusion and allow employees to focus on more important issues.

Be Available:  This can often be very challenging in turbulent times, but this is one that can make a huge impact on team member’s mental resilience.  If you are a leader, the truth is that simply telling your team members to call you ‘anytime’ is not enough.  Carve out time to proactively check in with colleagues, including peers and see how they are feeling.  Everyone has had bad days during this current crisis, and even the most resilient of employees need additional support.

Be Flexible:  A kind, understanding employer will have a great impact on levels of engagement and productivity during a time of crisis.   The COVID situation certainly pushed even the most accomplished multi-tasking employees to their limits.  If your organization is able to offer flexibility on working hours, workload and deadlines, this can go a long way to boosting and maintaining employee resilience.  Again, it is crucial that expectations are well communicated to avoid potential issues.  Also, when offering individual flexible working arrangements, always keep in mind internal equity.  Although it is natural to want to make exceptions where needed, be mindful of causing frustrations with other employees.

Don’t forget the Fun:  For many, finding the fun during extended times of uncertainty can be tough.  However, we know that one of the best ways to keep up morale at work is through social interactions with team members.  This is easier said than done right now while we are living through a time when we can’t casually get together with colleagues in the office for lunch, a coffee or even a drink after work.  At Boreala, we quickly increased our weekly team meetings to include time for team fun.  We have done a multitude of quizzes and games.  We also created a Whatsapp group chat to stay connected and simply share pictures of a daily lives (mostly of our pets) and maintain the sense of team, in fact, it could be argued that we know each other even better than before.

There is no ‘tick the box’ roadmap to building a resilient workforce.  Resilient organizations are formed with mindful intent and supportive leaders.  More than ever, resiliency is a critical skill that all employers should be looking for in their people.  This is the time to reflect and plan, what steps should your organization be taking? How will you ensure that you and your employees feel ready to handle the next challenge?



  1. Harvard Business Review Insight Center: Bringing Your Best Self to Work
  2. Zak, Paul J. The Neuroscience of Trust, Harvard Business Review January-February 2017,lives%2C%2040%25%20less%20burnout.