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15. Building resilience

Individual and organisational resilience is crucial to how employees respond to challenge and change at work.

A resilient individual

 tends to be flexible, be adaptive, cope (even in difficult times), learn from experience and be optimistic.

The resilient individual is also more likely to recognise what support they may require to ‘bounce back’. In the workplace context, this may include increased support from colleagues or workplace adjustments.

A resilient team

 is one that is based on mutual trust, social norms, participation and social networks as well as resources to adapt positively to change.

Why it matters

Building a resilient work team is an important part of creating a healthy and productive work environment. Resilient teams are based on mutual trust, social norms, participation and social networks. Resilient teams are more likely to be productive and high performing teams.

Resilience provides a protective factor for individuals, teams and the organisation to deal effectively with times of change, high pressure and stress.1

Even a work group with high morale is unlikely to cope with high work demands indefinitely without adequate recovery time—fatigue and burnout can become problems.2

At the most basic level, good job design will go a long way to promoting a healthy workplace. A focus on building resilience is commendable, but may be doomed to failure if employees are constantly drawing on their resilience alone to cope with bad jobs and poor systems of work, and poor interpersonal relationships with managers and peers.

How it’s done

Importantly, resilience can be learned and developed by anyone because it involves learning how to behave, think and act differently. Building resilient teams is about effective leadership, team cohesion, mutual support, and open, honest communication.

It is important for managers to remember that the resilience levels of an employee may fluctuate depending on what else is happening in their life. Individuals often have limited influence over the events that cause mental ill health, however, increasing their levels of resilience may influence the way they respond to these events.

Provide leadership.

There is no template to what constitutes leadership. Good managers develop a range of leadership styles to suit different situations, consistent with the APS Values and the Integrated Leadership System. You earn the respect of your team not because of your position in the organisation, but because you lead by example.

Encourage team cohesion.

A resilient team is one in which people have a shared sense of purpose and connectedness. Interaction and reinforcement of team efforts are important. Team cohesion can also be built through team social activities and regular informal team catch ups.

Provide role clarity

 to employees and reinforce the links between their work and the objectives of the organisation. Individuals and teams that understand how their work contributes to the overall organisational objectives can see meaning and value to their work.

Be supportive.

Supportive and positive relationships are key to resilience. Build a team culture characterised by mutual support through modelling trust and inclusivity. Spend time with your team members. Discuss simple ways as a team that employees can support each other such as ‘checking in’ with each other on a regular basis and becoming aware of the early signs that may indicate a colleague is struggling with their work.

Recognise progress.

A sense of achievement at work is important. We all like to feel we are making progress so recognise the gains as well as the setbacks. Job satisfaction comes from the experience of progress and accomplishment.

Communicate effectively.

Keep employees informed, engaged and involved. Effective communication helps build positive relationships which contribute to workplace resilience.

Promote personal skills

 required for resilience such as problem solving skills and autonomy. Delegate responsibility to your employees and let them do their job using their own imagination and creativity. Instead of always coming up with solutions you can help prompt others to think critically and reflectively to develop alternative approaches to workplace problems. This helps people to develop and learn and be ready to adapt to new situations that they face.

Balance work with other life activities.

Encourage a balanced approach to work. Ensure work is undertaken in a safe, healthy and productive manner over time. A balance of effort and recovery (including time for rest, exercise and adequate nutrition) has been recognised as important to the maintenance of resilience.3

Building Personal Resilience

The following four elements are important to build personal resilience:

  • Social support:


    Build good relationships with family and friends;
  • Physical health:


    Look after yourself;
  • Behaviour:


    Spend your time wisely; and
  • Thoughts:


    Manage your self-talk.

Useful tools

  • Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, available on the Comcare website
  • Lifeline Overcoming Stress and Staying Resilient Toolkit and Building Community Resilience education session

End notes

1 Marot, M & Dunn, P 2010, ‘Building organisational capacity and promoting resilience – The importance of leadership’. Noetic Notes, vol. 2, no. 1, September, p. 3.

2 Comcare 2008, Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, 2nd edn, Comcare, Canberra, p. 12.

3 ibid.

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Page last updated: 20 Mar 2014