An industrial and organizational psychologist and workplace strategist, Dr. Marla Gottschalk serves as Consulting Psychologist at the HR services firm Allied Talent. Check out her firm’s new talent management training program The Alliance, and find more of her writing at LinkedIn Pulse and The Office Blend.
Being human is often at odds with work life. Our work can routinely bring stress, negativity, setbacks and outright failures—and we are challenged to employ strategies to combat the effects.
Through all of the trials and tribulations, we rarely notice that our psychological resources are waning. We muddle on. We develop idiosyncratic mechanisms to bolster our mood and maintain motivation. However, the damage can accumulate: Months later, we may realize that we still lament the project that has been cut, laid off co-workers, or failing to land an important sponsor. When the next event unfolds, we find ourselves devoid of the necessary resources to meet the challenge.
There have been a number of discussions on the topic, including protecting ourselves from overload, banking positive currency, and practicing self-compassion. However, what if we could take resilience one step further? Could we effectively build our skills (and our team's skills) in this area—just as we challenge our muscles in the gym?
There is evidence that resilience can be learned: the research of Dr. Fred Luthans and Ann Masten explores the construct of “psychological capital,” which can be fostered by organizations and employees. This includes adding and expanding asset factors, elements that enhance our resilience, such as a stable home life or a healthy way to examine failure; and lowering risk factors, like the lack of a mentor, or a perceived in ability to influence work-life circumstances.
Here are a few ways to apply this knowledge to your daily life:
- Make time for network building. A strong network serves as a long-term asset factor, providing a foundation to help you deal with stressful work situations when they arise. For example, consider losing a job: Networks can help you move on more effectively by providing access to information about roles and growth needs elsewhere.
- Clarify strategy and goals. If you fail to believe that your actions have meaning, you are less likely to forge on—a significant risk factor. Knowing why you are completing a task and how your role contributes to outcomes is critical to building resilience.
- Utilize the "staunch reality" viewpoint. One way to quickly deplete psychological resources is sticking to a game plan that is simply not working. Another asset factor is understanding your ability to influence outcomes by embracing a realistic assessment of workplace situations. Taking an honest view is necessary to properly identify setbacks, evaluate potential impact, and brainstorm possible solutions ahead of time.
- Aggressively focus on strengths. You can mitigate the negative after-effects of stressful events by focusing on the positive, like identifying and using your stronger skill sets, rather than worrying over your weaker ones. Focusing on the latter can quickly deplete your psychological reserves.
- Explore the sources of "drain." The elements that drain your psychological reserves can be varied (and often surprising). Consider the sources that affect you, and meet with your team to determine where the “leaks” are occurring. Brainstorm actions to stem the tide.
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