• Today’s world is best described by the concept of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). Now, the coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented disruption and stress at the personal level as well as for organizations and their workforces.
• Building a resilient workforce is one of the best defenses against adversity, and critically important in a VUCA world.
• Resilient organizations are those that can successfully bounce back and grow from adverse experiences.
Business leaders over the past twenty years have adopted the US Army War College’s concept of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) as a way to describe the massive change and disruptions that have continually rocked organizations, markets and governments around the world.
VUCA has become the new normal, especially in light of COVID-19, and leaders realized that there is little we can do to change these kinds of external factors; we can only prepare and respond.
Onto this already unsteady ground, a massive new disruptive event has hit us all on a scale like we’ve never seen before: the global coronavirus pandemic. This isn’t just a business or economic crisis.
As McKinsey says, this is “first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.” At the macro level, it’s upending entire industries. At the very personal level, it’s affecting people’s physical and mental health as well as their livelihoods. Meanwhile, there are no definite answers about how long the disruption will last, when the outbreak might weaken and when it will come back.
If there was ever a moment in time that could be described as VUCA, this is it. And if there was ever a time to make sure your organization is resilient, it’s now.
What Is Resilience in the Workplace?
Resilient organizations are those that can successfully bounce back and grow from adverse experiences. They’re the ones that can thrive through change and uncertainty and make it to the other side not just viable, but often even stronger and better positioned than they were before.
Resiliency is characterized by the capacity to cope, recover and learn from adverse experiences. Those behaviors are rooted in attitudes that support a mindset that is open to information and primed to succeed — specifically, a positive attitude and confidence in one’s abilities.
While research on resilience in relation to the workplace is relatively new, a study on Resilience to Loss and Potential Trauma published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology showed that people tend to follow one of a handful of trajectories in response to adversity:
1. Low distress with minimal impact on functionality (Resilient)
2. Initially high distress followed by reduced levels of distress, or distress that initially increases and then decreases over time (Recovered)
3. Moderate initial distress that increases over time (Delayed)
4. Initial distress that does not decrease significantly over time (Chronic)
What this makes is clear is that the fate of your organization is heavily dependent on the trajectory your employees take.
Adversity Was Already Affecting Your Workforce Before COVID-19
Dale Carnegie Training recently conducted a survey of more than 6,500 employees across twenty countries around the world to examine resilience at the individual, team and organizational level and explore what leaders can do to ensure their people are prepared to perform under pressure from adversity.
Conducted even before the coronavirus outbreak, this study shows that employees have already been experiencing the impact of at least one kind of adversity in the workplace. The adversity ranges from crises and traumatic events to lower intensity but frequent or extended circumstances like ongoing uncertainty, significant failures, mergers or conflict with colleagues or superiors. Even positive change, progress and increased responsibility at work can have an adverse impact.
In all, nearly three-quarters (72%) of the respondents told us they’ve experienced one or more conditions that can be considered a form of adversity in the workplace.
Exhausting workloads, reorganizations/changing job roles and difficult relationships with coworkers were all reported by more than half of those surveyed.
In addition to conflicts between one’s values and those of the organization, job instability, traumatic events and layoffs due to automation were also commonly reported. And remember, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated issues in these specific areas.
For your employees, these kinds of conditions can lead to burnout, emotional exhaustion, sleep problems, low energy, limited concentration, poor performance and more. That impact accumulates at the team level, with potentially significant consequences to organizations that depend on the full force of their teams working together to achieve critical objectives.
Why Resilience Is the Best Defense Against Adversity
There are a few things organizations and leaders can do to mitigate the impact of some adverse situations. But in all cases, one of the best defenses against a VUCA world is a resilient workforce.
In our study, about 46% of respondents combine the attitudes and behaviors that suggest robust resilience at work, a group we call the High Resilience Group. What’s interesting about this group is that they didn’t report experiencing fewer adverse conditions than the others. In fact, on average, they experienced four of the adverse conditions (listed in the chart above) per respondent compared with 3.5 for all others.
One of the things this tells us is that it’s not just about the event; it’s about how people respond, how prepared they are and how well they’re supported.
The pandemic has sent shockwaves across the globe. We will get through this, but no matter what, VUCA isn’t going anywhere. There will continue to be cycles of disruption and change, both internally and externally, and many will be outside our control.
By adopting the behaviors and strategies of these highly resilient employees, your entire workforce can become better equipped to face adversity with a positive outlook, recover quickly and contribute in innovative ways to drive value even in tough times.
In the next several posts, we’ll go into detail on the characteristics of high resilience and what drives it, how to develop resilience in your workforce, and what leaders and organizations can do to strengthen rather than break down resilience. In the meantime, download our full white paper, Developing a Resilient Workforce: How Organizations Thrive in the Face of Adversity.