Leading Resilient Employees

How to overcome setbacks in the workplace.

By Kendall Hebert

Thanks to 2020, employees across every industry are all too familiar with unexpected situations — but can their capacity for workplace resiliency be enhanced?

Turns out it can. Rice’s Danielle King, an assistant professor of psychological sciences, recently uncovered the leadership skills that build employee wellness, morale and resilience and determined how these qualities contribute to teams functioning at work. She partnered with Kyle Brykman at the University of Windsor to study 48 teams from five Canadian technology startups and identify the skills leaders need to build a team’s capacity to take risks and bounce back from setbacks.

What’s the key to building team resilience and effectiveness? Leaders who encourage employees to learn on the job and listen when ideas for change are voiced. “Creating a work environment centered around learning and open communication is helpful as teams grow and take on new tasks,” King said. “Leaders must reinforce this workplace culture with positive language that signals openness and a focus on their development.”

We all make stress-inducing workplace blunders from time to time — and the way a manager reacts can solidify the mistake as a cringe-worthy experience or transform it into a teachable moment. A superior’s response to an employee who makes a mistake is also critical to building more resilient teams. Instead of berating an error, verbally acknowledging and rewarding a learning mindset creates a constructive impact. “Knowing that you have a leader who is focused on learning and not just on performance outcomes is critical,” King said. King’s work reveals that a team’s capacity for resilience also positively relates to its learning behaviors. Resilient teams are more likely to invest their resources into learning activities and share information through resource exchange.

While many teams have recently faced professional challenges, which are a defining element of the resilience process, they do not need to experience adversity to develop a capacity to engage in proactive learning behaviors. Teams that are seasoned to bounce back from adversity through verbal reinforcement are better equipped to advance an organization’s bottom line, overcome inevitable setbacks, improve professional development and resource allocation, and navigate an increasingly complex business environment that relies on teamwork and collaboration.