4 key ways to build resilience at work

Do you want to be more resilient at work? Developing resilience among managers and employees helps to create a culture of wellbeing and improves the employee experience.

Work is so pressurised for many of us nowadays that it’s vital that we build a toolkit of techniques to help us bounce back from difficult situations. Here are some of our top tips.

Focus on positives

If you’re a manager, be sure to give praise. Research has shown that focusing on the positives really does motivate people. The feelings associated with this are likely to make them more resilient during challenges.

For example, one study showed that when a group of fundraisers were given a pep talk from their director who expressed her gratitude for their efforts, they made 50% more calls than a group who did not receive the same talk.1

Challenge your thinking

Apply this positive approach to yourself, and encourage colleagues to do the same. Another study suggests that an optimistic outlook helps us live longer.2 The good news is that optimism can be learned.

Focusing on plus points is a great antidote to the negative self-talk that often sabotages resilience (the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘nevers’, like ‘I never get it right’). There’s a wealth of information about how the cognitive behavioural approach helps to challenge these thoughts

For example, if someone thinks ‘I’m never going to get through this,’ ask them to think back to a challenging time in life that they did get through. Instead of automatically telling ourselves ‘I can’t’, we can consciously collect evidence to the contrary. Writing it down or telling someone helps to reinforce this change of mindset. It takes time, but it’s worth persevering.

Be assertive

Many people become stressed at work because they don’t know how to say no. Over time, resentment builds and self-esteem erodes. The sense of powerlessness that accompanies this can be corrosive.

Like optimism, assertiveness can be learned. Here are some simple tips to try and to pass on.

  1. Don’t confuse assertiveness with aggression. Many people are afraid to speak up because they think they’ll be perceived as Attila the Hun. But in fact, most people can afford to be quite (in their eyes) strident before they’re likely to cause offence.
  2. Practise speaking up in less emotive situations. Take something back to a shop, ask for a refund in a restaurant if unhappy with the service, or ask for more space on public transport. Breathe and just observe the feelings this creates (see our blog on mindfulness for more about being present).
  3. Learn to hold a pause. Many people agree to something without thinking. Try saying something neutral like, ‘That could be difficult as I’m very busy right now.’ And then wait. Say nothing else. If you get asked again, say the same thing a different way: ‘The thing is, that will compromise this other piece of work I’m doing.’ And pause. People often dump things on those who offer the least resistance. Create some resistance and give the message that you’re not a pushover. You don’t even have to use the word ‘no’!
  4. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you find it really hard to say no, cover your refusal in apologies. Say you’re really, really sorry, but it’s just not possible right now. ‘So, so sorry. Wish I could but I really can’t. I’m sorry.’
  5. Think about the part negative self-talk may be playing in holding you back from being assertive (see above). What do you believe it means about you if you say no? That you’re unhelpful? Unkind? Insubordinate? Challenge whether that’s really true.


Resilience is as much about lifestyle and habits as anything else. Learn to take breaks, throughout the day, week and year. Relaxation is a great antidote to stress because it de-activates the ‘fight or flight’ response that makes us tense when times are difficult.

  • Get up from your desk and move around.
  • Have a proper lunchbreak.
  • Enjoy a joke with some colleagues. Laughter creates a feeling of wellbeing, as we know. But like aerobic exercise, it also stimulates heart and blood circulation, giving us a mini-workout! A good burst of laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Don’t neglect your social life.
  • Take holidays.

Again, check the impulse that says ‘I can’t, I’m too busy’ to any of this. No-one is too busy to take steps that create resilience and avoid burnout. By the time that happens, it’s too late.

Interested in building resilience training for you and your colleagues? Contact us to book an on-site workshop.

Related articles:

Wellbeing services you didn’t know you had

Are your wellbeing initiatives hitting the spot?

Five ways to stay alert at work


1 https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude

2 https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/185/1/21/2631298/Optimism-and-Cause-Specific-Mortality-A?sid=7816bd15-60fd-491b-bd99-f2cd39646d10