How to build your people's resilience

Stress management is one of the foundations for building employee resilience.

Written by Bruna Martinuzzi
Published 29 March 2019
How to build your people's resilience

But workers all around the world are experiencing stress. And the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency that promotes fair working standards globally, has the evidence.

A 2016 report by the ILO found that while globalization and technological progress are creating new opportunities for economic development, they are also a major contributor to increasing demands on workers and increasing job insecurity.

The report reveals that more than a fifth of employees in the European Union have experienced workplace stress, and that figure has reached as high as 57 percent in Canada. In the US, 77 percent of respondents to a survey by Deloitte said they had experienced stress from burnout at their current job. And almost 600,000 UK workers are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety according to a 2018 Health and Safety Executive Report.

Stress reduces employees' resilience. Organizations need to take steps to ensure that their people are not forced to cope with unnecessary stress, whether it's from excessive workloads or poor management styles. So, what are the main workplace stressors, and how can organizations prevent them from arising in the first place?

Excessive workload demands

While being understaffed from time to time may be unavoidable, prolonged or chronic understaffing takes a toll on employees' mental and physical well-being, and may lead to burnout. To reduce burnout, consider your approach to overburdened staff. An emotionally intelligent manager who takes the time to listen to employees' concerns and shows empathy can help employees cope with stressful situations and prevent worker burnout.

A joint study by the University of Salford in the U.K. and the University of Waterloo in Canada revealed that, "Teams who were understaffed but had a manager who took that into account suffered from less burnout than teams which were understaffed but whose manager showed less consideration."

Professor Kirk Chang, an expert in human resources of the University of Salford Business School, said, "Although understaffing causes stress and recently has become a norm in the workplace, managers can still help. Our findings suggest managers should show more empathy in all situations where their teams are not appropriately resourced."

To help prevent understaffing, ensure that there are enough staff to adequately handle the workload. Alternatively, reduce the work undertaken to align with staffing resources available to handle the work. Consider how your management style may be contributing to employee stress. For example, are you setting impossible deadlines and creating a continuous, stress-inducing sense of urgency?

Resilience Case Study #1

Daniela, a coaching client, was looking progressively more exhausted over the six months that I was coaching her. She complained that her department was understaffed, and that her manager continued to pile more work on her.

What made it worse is that he set many unrealistic deadlines. She was feeling rushed and under pressure daily.  "He has no notion at all of how long it takes to complete a task," she mentioned more than once. "He gives work today that he expects yesterday," as she put it.

Lack of autonomy

People dislike being micromanaged and not being allowed to influence outcomes at work. They yearn to have some control and input over their tasks and activities. Dr David Rock, author and director of The NeuroLeadership Institute, devised the SCARF model, which describes the deep-seated threats that have the power to affect us.

The 'A' in SCARF refers to "Autonomy." According to Dr Rock, one of the threats we experience is a perception of reduced autonomy, which increases stress at work. There's a fine line between supervising and micromanaging. While it's not always possible to give people full control over work activities and outcomes, with a little thought, much can be done to make people feel that they have a sense of autonomy.

For example, instead of outlining the step-by-step process someone has to follow, set clear objectives, define results, and then get out of the way and let people do their work! Measure the results, not tasks, processes and effort.

Resilience Case Study #2

A colleague I worked with a few years ago - let's call her Tamara - was a highly competent manager. However, she was also a micromanager.

Her style deprived employees of a sense of autonomy, which resulted in low morale and dissatisfaction in her team. Her style also led to a decreased growth potential for her employees, further increasing their stress level and unhappiness. What's more, her long-term micromanaging style eventually put her at risk of burnout.

Poor communication

Few things cause more stress than working for a manager who is a poor communicator, or who keeps employees "in the dark." People like to be "in" on things, so a lack of communication can be unnerving and cause unnecessary anxiety. It can contribute to employees' sense of uncertainty, which can lower their resilience in the face of change.

If you want to make people feel more empowered and increase their resilience, ask yourself, "How can I ensure that my people are kept in the loop?" Think of ways people can be connected to the information they need. As a leader, it's your to keep your people informed and up to date on where the organization is going, and what will happen when it gets there.

Sharing information empowers people, makes them feel like owners, and helps to build great relationships. Hoarding information and not sharing it, on the other hand, causes unnecessary stress and lowers people's resilience.

Resilience Case Study #3

On one of my consulting assignments, I came across a leader - let's call him Karl - who frustrated his team members by sharing very little information with them on projects and plans for the future. People felt they were in a fog.

Karl also had a habit of changing his mind without letting people know. An example of this, and how frustrating it was, was shared with me by one of his team members.

This person said Karl had assigned her a project that involved a large amount of work. She devoted personal time to the task, and often worked on it at home.

When she approached Karl on a day in November to update him on her progress, he casually remarked, "We're not doing this anymore." He said a meeting of executives had met in September and decided to drop the project.

He had sat on the information for two months without letting her know! It wasn't intentional, he said, it had just "slipped his mind."

It was utterly demoralizing for the team member, who had put her heart and soul into working on the project.


Organizations and managers can do a great deal to lower the stress levels of their employees.  A good place to start is by looking at people's workloads and the management and leadership styles of their bosses. With a little effort and empathy, it's possible to create fairer and more humane working conditions and, in the process, help build employee resilience.

Resilience is not only good for the employee, but also helps to create more successful and stronger companies. Resilient employees adapt more easily to changes in the workplace, suffer fewer absences, and are likely more productive. It is always worth investing in building your people's resilience, rather than simply expecting them to look after themselves, or berating them for failing to do so.

What could you do today toward this goal? Also, think about your own ability to bounce back from setbacks or stressful situations. To help you do this, take our quiz, How Resilient Are You?

About the author

Bruna Martinuzzi

Bruna Martinuzzi

Freelance Writer
Bruna is a coach, trainer and author, and has been contributing articles and blogs since 2014. Her background incorporates 30 years of experience in management and executive leadership positions. She has helped thousands of individuals improve their presentation skills and become more effective communicators.

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