What role do leaders play in increasing resilience at work?

Have you noticed that every second webinar on LinkedIn is about 'resilience' at work? Is this because we are becoming less resilient or is it because resilience has become a buzz word since 2020? You can decide that for yourself. I am interested in the role that leaders play in resilience in the workplace. As a leader you can create an environment whereby people can develop resilience, here are a few things to do, and not to do…


Many of the speakers are telling us that during the last 18 to 24 months, i.e.: managing the COVID situation in amongst regular life, our mental health has decreased at an alarming rate. We are burning out from overwork, uncertainty and managing the emotional rollercoaster.


I heard a speaker say there is a tsunami of burnout coming. I heard we have to take the time for ourselves, to make sure that we can cope and recover from these hard things. The statistics that show the impact of the COVID pandemic and the response that the world has had to the COVID pandemic on us tell us that there has been an increase in suicide and/or suicidal ideation, a decreased mental health, and a decreased well-being overall, decreased resilience scores in the workplace, increased disengagement in the workplace. These stats are heartbreaking and they are alarming.  

As they should be. When I see all these statistics my first thought is, well… no kidding batman. It's a global pandemic. Should we expect us to all be sipping tea and dancing (socially distanced of course) through the daisies without impact? 

Personally, this has been the greatest shared global impact that I have lived through. If my grandparents were still alive, they would have the lived experience of a world war to compare it to, but many of us don't have those lived experiences.  

Is it any wonder that our mental health decreased through this time?  

Of course, it is and particularly if you're looking at people who have already experienced trauma, we saw the Black Lives Matter movement intensify during the COVID pandemic also. This is a double whammy for these people of colour who already live with ongoing and systemic trauma. Now have a global pandemic to worry about. So again, I say, when you look at the statistics that speakers and writers and journalists are promoting, i.e.: our mental health has decreased at an alarming rate through the pandemic. Why are we surprised? 

Why would we expect anything else? This isn't the conversation we should be having. The conversation shouldn't be a surprise around the decrease in mental health, the increase in lived trauma shouldn't be a surprise. In the response to this lived trauma, it shouldn't be a surprise that people are turning to externalise coping mechanisms, like alcohol, food, drugs, shopping, sex and work to numb the pain of what we've been going through.  

Are we discussing mental wellbeing and health at work? 

The important conversation is not that mental health is a concern for workplaces.  The important conversation is - why have we avoided these conversations in the past? Why aren't we equipped to talk about hard emotions and experiences?  

Unfortunately, it's because we keep trying to apply a technical/tactical fix to a complex problem. We've had more calls and conversations about wellbeing and resilience training over the last 6 months than ever before. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but training won't fix the problem.  

Can you train someone to be resilient? 

We are consistently asked about resilience 'training'. I.e.: come in and speak to our people for two hours about resilience. Our response is always we're happy to do that. Happy to come in and start a conversation about resilience in your workplace. And we are clear that a two-hour workshop is not going to create resilience in the workplace. Having this sort of intervention is scratching the surface. It's putting a band-aid on a third-degree burn. We need to treat the underlying cause of resilience which is always culture, a lack of understanding about how to have conversations around change and uncertainty and the feeling of vulnerability.  

Many times the response is, please just come and run the two-hour workshop, because we don't have the time to do anything else. Let's just sit with the irony of that just for a moment. If we are unable to carve out time, for our people in organizations to learn these critical skills or to have deeper conversations about emotions and experiences. We cannot expect anything else, other than our mental health decreasing and our resilience tanks being empty.  

You can't expect that your performance or organisational health is going to be heightened if you're only allowing your managers to spend two hours to understand how they could turn up differently as a leader.   

If you're not spending time unravelling the system, practices and processes that are standing in the way of strong mental health and well-being in the workplace, then you can't expect to help your people with only 2 hours of 'resilience' training. In fact, because people are pretty smart, they will see through this activity as a box to be ticked instead of actually assisting them to get better. Sometimes this intervention has a more negative than positive impact.  

If the 2 hours isn't backed up by other interventions like: 

  • Coffee conversations about wellbeing 
  • System changes to increase effectiveness 
  • Leadership skills in empathy and compassion 
  • Team activities to increase support 


Question the motivation… is this 2 hour intervention to help my people, or is it really just to help myself by putting a tick on my task list.  

Spend your time, energy and money on building leadership skills first.  


Instead of sending your staff to spend 2 hours in another workshop about resilience spend that money and time on your leaders building their emotional literacy and empathy skills.  It’s a bigger investment to increase your leadership skills in managing mental health and wellbeing, but it has a much broader application and is much more sustainable than your 2-hour workshop.  

Your leaders need the skills to create an environment whereby people can speak about mental and emotional wellbeing at the same rate we talk about the budget for projects. Your leaders will be faced with managing people who have ongoing mental health struggles (eg: anxiety), and they will be faced with people who are having time-constrained mental health struggles (eg: grief). 

We need leaders who are open about their own struggles - not to the point of TMI! - but instead to show people it's okay in this team to struggle sometime. We're all struggle and strength and by increasing our conversations about the struggle we won't 'write someone off' just because they are going through a mental/emotional struggle and need time to manage it.  

Just like a manager would help an employee who had broken their leg to take time to heal and then time to transition back into the workplace, they need to have the skills to do this for people managing mental health also. 

Let's get better at supporting our leaders to manage mental wellbeing and resilience. 


By all means, do the 2-hour workshop on mindfulness as it will help some people, but just don't leave it there and don't have unreasonable expectations that this program will change any of your wellbeing KPIs.  If you want help to manage well-being at work and create a culture where people are valued, safe, inspired and fulfilled, please get in touch with us at SynergyIQ.  

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