Resilience in the Workplace: What It Is and How to Get It
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Resilience in the Workplace: What It Is and How to Get It

Kat Boogaard Kat Boogaard Last Updated:
Illustration of a woman stressed out as her computer burns out

There are plenty of different skills that come in handy in the workplace—and, without a doubt, resilience is one of the big ones.

To boil it down to a simple definition, resilience is being able to deal with life’s curveballs in a healthy and productive way.

When you face adversity or when a stressful situation arises in during your workday, resilience means dusting yourself off and dealing with it—as opposed to crumbling under the pressure.

But, let’s face it—life at work can be tough, which means that resilience doesn’t come naturally to everybody. Fortunately, it’s a skill that you can actively work on refining.

Let’s cover everything you need to know about resilience in the workplace—including how you can develop more for yourself.

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Why does resilience matter?

When it comes to on-the-job competencies, soft skills aren’t something that you hear as much about when compared with those more quantifiable achievements and technical capabilities.

But, rest assured, soft skills carry some serious weight as well.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Human Capital Trends Report, 92% of respondents rate soft skills as a critical priority.

But, what makes resilience in particular so important?

Well, take a moment to think about all of the stressful things that can crop up at work.

Perhaps you receive some negative feedback from your boss.

Maybe you missed a major deadline. Perhaps you made a big mistake on an important project. Maybe your company is going through a restructuring and your future feels shaky.

The list goes on and on and on, because there’s no denying that your work life can be stressful.

Just as an example, for Americans, work appears as one of the top three most common stressors—right behind money—in the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey.

This makes resilience an even more desirable trait—both for employers who are looking for workers who can roll with the punches, and also for professionals who want to be able to manage their careers without a ridiculous amount of anxiety.

How to increase your own resilience

The good news is, much like so many other skills, resilience is something that you can build over time through careful practice and thoughtfulness.


Have no fear—we’re diving into some must-know tips that you can use to build up your own level of resilience in the workplace.

1. Take a step back

Take a moment to imagine that something super stressful just happened in the office. For example, you’ve spent weeks working on this big presentation, only to realize that you used an incorrect statistic throughout—and now you’re looking at an all-nighter in order to get that issue fixed.

How do you respond?

It’s tempting to have a knee-jerk reaction and immediately start screaming, crying, or hyperventilating (or a combination of those!).

However, that’s not the most effective coping method—particularly if you’re looking to increase your resilience.

What should you do instead?

Take a moment to step back and observe that situation, before you ever actually react to it.

One study found a strong correlation between mindfulness and resilience.

Basically, by practicing mindfulness, you’re better able to cope with negative thoughts, events, or emotions—without shutting down entirely in the face of a perceived threat.

Most of life’s stressors are subjective and with mindfulness (seeing things as they are in this present moment), we have the ability to respond with wisdom vs. react in a harmful way,

-explains Carley Hauck in an article for Mindful.

When we see our thoughts and feelings clearly and can offer compassion for the hardship we are experiencing, we increase our resilience,

-Hauck continues,-

Difficult emotions such as fear or anger are not the enemy. It is our reactivity toward these difficult emotions that are most harmful.

The next time you’re faced with a challenging circumstance, take a moment to evaluate (and breathe!) before taking action.

That small pause alone can help to increase your resilience moving forward.

2. Flip the script

Most of us view obstacles and challenges as a threat—a malicious effort to ruin our days or our reputations.

However, resilient people tend to have a different view of those obstacles. Those challenges are opportunities to grow and evolve, as opposed to dead ends that will halt all progress and send your mood into a nosedive.

In an interview with The New Yorker, George Bonanno—a clinical psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College—says that your own perception is actually a fundamental element of resilience.

  • Basically, do you think of that stressful event as traumatic and as justification to stop?
  • Or, do you use it as motivation to continue pushing forward?

“Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic,” Bonanno told the author, Maria Konnikova, in the article, “To call something a ‘traumatic event’ belies that fact.”

So, when you’re smacked with some unexpected circumstances, flip the script and think of all of the different ways those experiences can help you learn and improve moving forward.

Viewing challenges in that productive and positive way will help you increase your resilience.

3. Lean on the support of others

Nobody does anything alone. And, that’s especially true in your professional life—where you have colleagues, bosses, mentors, and contacts to support you.

I get it—in those moments when everything seems to be going wrong, it’s more than tempting to bury your head in the sand and hide from your problems or potential embarrassment.

You don’t want anyone to know about what you’re dealing with.

However, leaning on the support of your network during those stressful times can actually help you to become more resilient moving forward.

Strong relationships in the workplace are powerful contributors to professional resilience,

-says a fact sheet for the Australian Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative,

We have the capacity to tolerate a lot more stress when we have supportive relationships with managers and colleagues. This is because relationships help us share ideas, vent frustrations, obtain support, and generate plans for tackling workplace challenges.

Rather than hiding from the world when you’re faced with a challenge, reach out to the people around you.

Grab coffee and talk through your frustrations with a co-worker or lean on the expertise and wisdom of your boss to navigate those murky waters.

Being resilient doesn’t always have to mean being totally independent. Relying on the support of others can help you far more than you might originally think.

4. Think of worst-case scenarios

I know—this tip seems particularly disheartening.

Why would you want to imagine all of the disastrous things that could potentially happen as a result of the specific circumstance you’ve found yourself in?

But, here’s the thing: When you’re so wrapped up in your work, it’s far too easy to make mountains out of molehills. Even the smallest of issues can snowball until they literally feel like an earth-shattering and career-ending mistake.

In those moments when you feel yourself getting worked into a frenzy, it’s helpful to step back and gain some perspective by thinking of the worst-case scenarios.

For example, the fact that one of your company’s clients didn’t like your proposal feels devastating. But, ask yourself this: What’s the worst that can happen now?

Yes, that client could potentially cancel—but, with a little more thought, you’ll likely realize that’s highly unlikely. Instead, you’ll go back to the drawing board, come up with a new plan, and hope that they’re happy with that one.

See? Not so devastating after all, is it?

5. Figure out how you best deal with stress

Make no mistake: Resilience doesn’t mean that you ignore stressful circumstances or you never let them bother you. You’re only human, after all.

In contrast, resilience is about being able to move on, even when you acknowledge that stress is inevitable.

One of the best ways to do that is to find a healthy and productive way to deal with your own stress—before you even allow yourself to react to it.

Maybe that means cranking up some music for a brief dance break. Perhaps it involves stepping away from your desk for a mid-day walk. Maybe you just need a few minutes to sip some coffee or read a few pages of a book.

Remember, one surefire way to undermine your own resilience is to react in the heat of the moment. It’s better to give yourself the breathing room to blow off some steam first, so that you can react with a cool and level head.

Find some activities that help you to manage your own stress levels, and you’re sure to respond to challenging circumstances in a far more constructive way (without flying off the handle!).

6. Make plans (but be willing to stray from them)

You know that setting goals and making plans is a good way to keep yourself on track and get things done in the office.

But, plans that are far too rigid don’t leave any wiggle room or flexibility—which means that when challenges or unforeseen circumstances crop up, it’s tough to roll with the punches.

Even further, your stress increases, because your plan has been totally run off the rails.

Nobody is saying that you need to stop creating plans altogether (seriously, they’re great for keeping yourself accountable!).

However, when mapping out those milestones or timelines, make sure to remind yourself that your plan is just that—a plan.

Changes will need to happen every now and then, and that’s perfectly fine.

The more you can view your plan as a tool to help you stay on track (even through those challenges!) and less as an excuse to not change or alter anything, the more resilient (and organized!) you’ll be.

Over to you

It’s easy to view soft skills as less important than the technical competencies that are required to do your job. But, rest assured, resilience has some significant importance in the workplace—especially when stressful situations are commonplace.

Fortunately, resilience is something that you can actively work on building for yourself by using tips and strategies like:

  • Taking a moment to reflect before reacting
  • Viewing challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow
  • Leaning on the support of the people you work with
  • Imagining worst-case scenarios
  • Finding ways to blow off some steam and deal with your stress
  • Leaving yourself flexibility within your plans

Put those to work for yourself, and you’ll be far more likely to resist the urge to cave under pressure and instead dust yourself off and come back even better, stronger, and smarter than before.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.

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