What is resilience?

Resilience is, simply put, a person’s ability to effectively cope with, adjust, or recover from stress or adversity (Burton, Pakenham, Brown, 2010).

Everybody has different levels of psychological resilience and some people cope better than others when faced with setbacks – what affects one person may have little impact on another. Similarly, people can demonstrate resilience in their personal lives, but be less resilient in an organisational setting, or vice versa. A manager may be able to calmly deal with his or her three-year old’s tantrums but, explodes with anger when faced with conflict in the workplace.

Being resilient doesn’t mean you won’t experience adversity, but having resilience can buffer the adverse effects of stressful life events. Individuals who use a broader range of coping strategies experience less distress from stressful life events.

While genetics do have some influence in the development of wellbeing and psychological resilience (Huppert, 2009) the good news is that resilience can be built.

Resilience is not one specific skill, but a set of resources and skills that promote:

  • effective problem-solving;
  • adaptability;
  • positive coping;
  • self-regulation; and
  • social support.

Research has shown that learning new skills—and practicing those skills—can increase resilience. In particular, focusing on positive coping skills, self-regulation, and social connections can build our resilience.

Research findings on resilience

  • When faced with adversity, people with low resilience are at risk of depression, stress, anxiety and interpersonal difficulties, and may adopt health compromising behaviours and experience somatic complaints and poor physical health (Burton, Pakenham & Brown, 2010)
  • Strong infant-mother bonding is an important protective factor for building resilience in children (Huppert, 2009).
  • Higher resilience has been associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness and organisational commitment (Youssef & Luthans, 2007).
  • Face-to-face resilience training in government organisations has been found to improve an employee’s self-esteem, sense of control over life events, sense of purpose in life and interpersonal relations (Waite & Richardson, 2004).