Resilience At Work

Christy Mori & Dr. Josephine Palermo dive into topics regarding resilience in life and work. We chat about how resilience can work for us into a positive and constructive way if we recognise the value in the hard times. In business, building a resilient organisation is the difference between surviving or thriving.

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Please send your questions or comments to [email protected].

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Christy (00:25):

Welcome to Gears, Action, Growth: Shifting business culture, one conversation at a time. My name’s Christy Mori and I’m joining Dr. Josephine Palermo, whose super power is to create business cultures that transform organizations team by team. Today, we’re on the topic of resilience.

Christy (00:44):

Hey Joe, how’s your week so far?

Dr. Josephine (00:47):

I’m good, Christy. Really good. Great to be here.

Christy (00:50):

Yeah, it helps now that it’s a bit warmer. Do you like colder weather or?

Dr. Josephine (00:55):

I love summer. So the spring just makes me so happy.

Christy (00:59):

It’s nice.

Dr. Josephine (00:59):

It’s beautiful and I think it helps you to just feel a sense of hope because everything’s growing or starting to bloom. I’m really getting into all the cherry blossoms at the moment.

Christy (01:13):

I was actually going to mention cherry blossoms. Yeah.

Dr. Josephine (01:16):

I love them.

Christy (01:16):

Yeah. In Japan, when I used to live there, they actually had cherry blossom viewings. So it’s a huge celebration for three weeks and they’re known as symbols of resilience.

Dr. Josephine (01:28):

There you go.

Christy (01:29):

Yeah, because it takes them like the whole year to bloom, and then they bloom for three weeks, and then they start all over again.

Dr. Josephine (01:36):


Christy (01:36):

So that’s like 12 months. Almost 12 months.

Dr. Josephine (01:40):

Yeah. I love that. That’s fantastic.

Christy (01:43):

Yeah. So cherry blossoms. Symbol of resilience. So that’s perfect.

Dr. Josephine (01:48):


Christy (01:48):

Today, we’re going to dive into a few topics regarding resilience. So we’ll talk about what resilience is, why some people are more resilient than others, and resilience in your business and why it’s important, and practical ways individuals, and even organizations can become more resilient. So before we get into what resilience is, we were thinking about this topic because we kept on hearing phrases that sounded along the lines of “I’m so sick of this,” “I can’t wait till this is over,” and obviously, we’re in a global pandemic. So Jo, when you heard these kinds of repeated same patterns of thought, what did you think?

Dr. Josephine (02:26):

Well, I think that people right now are challenged and what COVID and what the pandemic is doing to us personally is really challenging us around the resources that we have to cope and adapt to change. And for many of us, I think when all of this first started, we had no idea that six months down the track, we would still be facing lockdowns, we would still be focused on numbers that the world would be still impacted. And so what happens is that there’s been a good deal of fear, and worry, and anxiety because there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the impacts of the pandemic and all that uncertainty does texts us. Because it relies on us to continue to demonstrate and rely on our own coping strategies. And we’re almost like a glass of water. Once you drink that water, you either have to fill it up again if you’re thirsty and so that’s quite kind of coping strategies, or like we have a level of sort of personal resource around our coping, but the more that’s text and the more we’re challenged, the harder that gets, and then we have to fill up our cup again. And I think for some people, that’s getting harder and harder as the impacts of COVID-19 get longer and longer.

Resilience is a process

Christy (04:04):

So what is resilience in general?

Dr. Josephine (04:08):

That’s a really good question. Resilience is actually a process. It can be an individual quality and it can be a quality of an organization, but it’s literally the process of bouncing back and recovering after experiencing a negative event or an unexpected event. And in fact, resilience, the word, is based on the Latin word called “resiliō”, which actually means, “rebound” or “bounce back.” So it really involves a three-step process where it’s our ability to kind of anticipate unexpected events and then secondly, to cope and adapt to those in a positive way, rather than a negative way. And then it’s our ability to recover. So it’s our ability to put all of those processes together when we need them.

Christy (05:02):

And why do you think this is such an important trait to build up in all of our lives?

Dr. Josephine (05:08):

Well, I think basically in our life, we live a long time and people keep saying life is short, but I actually think we’re living longer and longer. So we live a long time, and we will always face things that are unexpected. As much as we try to control our environment and control the things around us, there are always surprises. Some of them are really great surprises, but some of those surprises really knock us out. We’re not expecting them, they’re challenges. They can cause a lot of stress in our personal or even from a kind of business perspective, in our business life so we can have the best laid plans, but then there are certain conditions in our environment, or with the people around us that can really change those plans in a heartbeat. And so all we can do is build our ability to cope with the uncertainty, because we know that uncertainty is always going to be a contrast. And for me actually, Christy, I have a bit of a philosophy of life on this. I actually think that kind of the bad things that happen to us, I see them as contrast. So for me, I really believe you can’t be truly happy if you haven’t experienced something that perhaps makes you sad. It’s sort of that yin and yang for me. And in particular, contrast and the things that happen to us that kind of are unexpected, or uncertain, often really just cement for us what we do want, where we do want to go, if we’re able to change and adapt, and recover. So that’s why resilience is important. It’s the thing in between us reacting to something negative, and then getting something positive or constructive out of it.

Christy (06:59):

Yeah. That reminds me of fairytales, and good and bad. Without the evil, we don’t actually get so involved into cheering on our hero, isn’t it?

Dr. Josephine (07:11):

Yes. Yes, that’s right. And we find that’s why particularly for children and a lot of learning development and educational development researchers and psychologists have found that a lot of the experiences that we have as children, where perhaps we fail, or we fall over, or we perhaps don’t get what we want and therefore we cry and get upset. All of those experiences build up our resilience and they’re important. So it’s important to allow, particularly children, to experience some of that contrast in their life as well, and not to shield them from that too much.

Why are some more resilient than others?

Christy (07:54):

Yeah. That sort of leads me into the next question is why do you think that some people are more resilient than others? So maybe it’s childhood, maybe it’s upbringing, environment.

Dr. Josephine (08:04):

Yes. Yeah, all of those things. We do have sort of individual differences, as well. And you know, it’s that nature, nurture debate on those. There are some people who, you often see the differences in babies around temperament. There are slight differences in temperament. And so some of us are kind of in some ways born that way, but maybe also the conditions or the socialization that we experience as children reinforce that particular trait. But there are some individual differences. People that are more resilient tend to have a greater positive affect or mood. In other words, they tend to be more optimistic. They experience more positive emotions than negative emotions. And you might say is that because their environment is more happy around them. It’s not, it’s actually the way they process information from their environment, leads them to experience more positive mood because they’re interpreting whatever happens to them in a different way, to someone who maybe has a kind of a more preference or is more geared towards negative affect. And so that tends to be a real protective factor against stress and burnout, too. It’s our ability to sort of, I guess, see the light at the end of the tunnel and still be hopeful even when bad things happen to us. Another individual factor is what we call self-efficacy, and self-efficacy is our belief in our own abilities to kind of solve problems and meet the challenges ahead. So, even though two people might face the same problem, the person who has higher self-efficacy is more likely to cope with that unexpected event in a more constructive way, just because they know they can, or they believe that they can. So they’re going to be more persistent in problem solving. They’re going to be more likely to look for strategies that are more adaptive or help them to adapt in a more constructive way, rather than maladaptive strategies. Maladaptive strategies are the things that we do sometimes to cope that maybe aren’t as good for us. And some people turn to substances, some people turn to just reacting in a way that reinforces certain self-talk in their heads and maintain the energy around that feeling or the intensity around that feeling. So, self-efficacy and positive affect are very much those individual differences. But you mentioned the environment Christy, and that plays a really big part in the way that we are able to bounce back. Be able to be resilient. And you’d be surprised to learn that in a lot of studies where we’ve looked at, where researchers have looked at who are the most resilient group of people across the nations in the world, and you would be surprised to learn that it’s actually refugees that are often the most resilient people on the planet.

Christy (11:28):

Yeah. That reminds me of Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist. Did you study him in your PhD?

Dr. Josephine (11:35):

No, not in my PhD. Remind me about what you’re thinking about there.

Christy (11:41):

Yeah. In terms of just refugees being the most resilient people, Viktor Frankl was also in an internment camp in the Nazi regime. And he came out of it with a whole new perspective for his practice in psychology, which is having hope and being optimistic is why some people survived, really.

Dr. Josephine (12:07):

Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Christy (12:08):

So can you recommend maybe one thing that we can all do to be more in this optimistic perspective?

Dr. Josephine (12:17):

Yes. Yeah, I can. And this can be something that businesses can do, as well as individuals. What’s really important is our social connections. So we know that when people, when they feel like they belong to a social kind of group, it can be people they know, or even if it’s a group that they identify with that is maybe following the same course as them, that sense of belonging and social cohesion really makes a difference to resilience. And that can be ensuring that people have strong family ties or that there is a community response when something happens and people feel like they’re not alone. In a company or organization, it could be looking at how are employees just connecting on a social level, are we making them feel like they belong? And that there is some social support there for them. That makes a huge difference in terms of people’s ability to see that situation from a more optimistic light, and also feel like they can sort of have a range of people they can go to for support as well. So it’s not having people around you, it’s having really sort of strong ties with those people.

Christy (13:48):

Like, quality over quantity.

Dr. Josephine (13:48):

So, quality. Exactly. That’s right. Yeah, yeah.

The importance of resilience in the workplace

Christy (13:54):

So in terms of business and work culture, can you share a scenario or some scenarios where you needed resilience as an individual or in a team?

Dr. Josephine (14:03):

Yeah. I think for me, there’s actually been a few, but the one that stands out the most and is where I actually had to go through something that I really didn’t want to do. And what I was doing was, I was new to a team in a large corporate organization, and I had to restructure the team and therefore make some of my team redundant. So I was leading about 27 people at the time, and we were reducing staff by that 40%. So I knew that within my team, 40% of them would need to be made redundant. I communicated this to them. I was very transparent and the way we did it is we sort of opened all the roles and people had to go for a role to sort of be successful. And the ones that weren’t successful in that process would then be given redundancy packages. So not only were we making people redundant, but we were getting them to compete for the same jobs too. So you can imagine. And this team, it wasn’t their first restructure either. I think by the time I got there, they had already faced three other restructures. So they were so tired of it. There was a lot of change fatigue and they were feeling dejected and demoralized. And some of these team members had been with the company for over 15 years so they couldn’t even imagine a life outside the company. So they were feeling really worried and anxious about it. So what I did was I made a really firm decision as a leader that I was going to just commit myself to helping them increase their resilience through this process and help them get through that time and what I wanted to do, I focused on building their self-efficacy. I wanted to build their self-efficacy so that whether they stayed or were forced to go, they would be feeling buoyant, and confident, and able to face that challenge. And so what I did was I, firstly, I communicated my commitment to them and I was very strong in that. I said, my number one priority is to ensure that you all end up in a place where you want to be, and you’re feeling confident about it. And they all looked at me like I was crazy because they weren’t feeling confident and they weren’t feeling optimistic, but all I could do was actually say to them, “This is what I’m committed to doing.” And then what I did was I introduced the concept of pitch decks and I asked them all to develop a pitch deck. Now, what a pitch deck is, it’s actually used by entrepreneurs when they’re seeking funding from investors and it’s like a PowerPoint pack or a PDF or, you know, set of documents that helps them really talk about the strengths of themselves and their business. And, you know, kind of, it shows an investor why that investor should invest in them. So it’s very geared towards a strengths-based approach. And it’s also very creative. We use a lot of pictures to describe concepts. It’s not a lot of words. So firstly, what I did is I developed a bit of a workshop with them and I took them through, you know, this is how you develop a pitch deck, and this is how you might do it for yourself because you can develop a pitch deck, which basically promotes you as a person and really focuses on the skills, and competencies, and capabilities you have as a worker. And what I encourage them to do was to develop that, so that they could either use that in the selection process for going into the new sort of job role, and/or a selection process for anywhere else they wanted to go because it might be outside the organization. And on top of that, what I did was every week at our team meetings, we would review each other’s pitch decks, and I got the team to help each other because I was really wanting to put something in place to address the competition that they felt between each other. Because that does nothing for team cohesion, when all you have in the group is competition. I wanted to add a level of collaboration. So they reviewed each other’s pitch decks, where they gave each other constructive feedback. We learnt a lot about each other’s strengths in the lead up to that restructure, as well. And I could see the team’s confidence growing and growing every week, because they were focused on their own strengths, on the positive ways in which they had contributed in the past and how they would contribute in the future. So rather than thinking about the change ahead as being something scary and where they didn’t have control, what it did is it gave them control in terms of developing their own self-advocacy or their ability to kind of break through the sort of change that they needed to go to. And I would hear them say things like, “I forgot about all the things that I’ve done here,” or “Look at this, I actually feel really proud of the work that I’ve done here.” So it started to remind them that they are valued, and we were recognizing their skills. So it really created that sense of optimism for the future. And in the end, the outcome for that team was that yes, some of them did face redundancy, but all 27 of them were really comfortable and happy, to the point that you can be happy when you’re facing uncertainty with the change. Because even the ones that face redundancy, because they’d gone through that pitch deck, they realized that staying in the organization probably wasn’t a good thing for them. So I think I only had to make a choice between two people once, because everyone else almost self-selected. They either went for the job or they selected to sort of put their hand up and say, “Look, it’s time for me to go. And I feel good about going, because I know I can survive and manage, and recover because I’ve got all these skills under my belt.’ And even though the ones that competed for the jobs, all of those won those jobs over other team members in other teams who didn’t have pitch decks, because they were the only ones with a pitch deck. So their application absolutely stood out. Particularly, the ones that went for leadership positions. So I was really proud of that because their engagement remained high, even though they were being made redundant, or facing the possibility of redundancy. And for me, as a leader, it was probably the best decision I made to invest in them through that process.

Practical ways to practice resilience

Christy (21:16):

This is such a positive story, Jo. Yeah. So for listeners that are in the situation of redundancy, or getting let go at this moment and they don’t have someone like you who cares for them, is there one or two things that they can do in terms of building their own resilience in that scenario where they’re facing job loss?

Dr. Josephine (21:41):

Yeah. And you know, a lot of people are facing that right now. I think that focusing on your own strengths is important, but sometimes it’s hard to do that unless you have someone like me, who’s encouraging you. It doesn’t have to be your boss who does that. It can be someone in your family, it could be someone in your social network that you trust and appreciate, it can be a mentor that you don’t even know yet. So there are lots of mentor programs out there where you can connect with other people. And there are also other networking programs. So going outside your own network can be sometimes the solution for some people. But I think it’s buddying up with someone who can help you identify your strengths is really important because that will raise your self-advocacy. And then the other thing that they can absolutely do is remind themselves of the relationships that they have around them. Family, friends, and just spend some time with those people, having some quality time with those people, because that also takes us into a perspective of understanding that although work is really important, there are other things in our lives that are also equally important. So I think those two things can really help. If anyone wants to develop a pitch deck, I’m really happy to put a link at the bottom of this podcast to some example pitch decks that they can then look at and then develop a pitch deck on their own, as well.

Christy (23:18):

Yeah. That’s great. And for anyone listening, Josephine also can help you personally with a mentorship program that she does through business elevator, and we’ll add details for that, as well.

Outro (23:31):

So thanks for listening, everyone, and we’re looking forward to connecting with you next time. Please send us any questions and what you might want to hear more of in this series at [email protected], which is in the description also below and we’ll chat with you next time. Bye for now.



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