Resilience, stress-tolerance and flexibility
World Economic Forum published top 10 job skills of tomorrow. In our blog series you will get a deeper dive into each one of these skills of tomorrow.
Can you cheat your brain? How to knowingly learn resilience
As I write this blog, the metropolitan area in Finland has significantly tightened the recommendation for mask use and telecommuting. Indeed, in many organizations, this means a complete turnaround to the normalization of work which had begun in the fall or to the efforts in leading hybrid work. My own psychological reaction and line of thought after hearing the news was this: 1. ‘Oh no, this never ends (a deep sigh and a nod of the head) 2. Well, two steps were taken forward and now we take one backwards. Fortunately, we still have processes for this. 3. Stop anointing, just start communicating with people on what to do (breathing becomes lighter).”
My intention is to write about the key skills for future working life. The World Economic forum has listed Resilience, Stress tolerance and Flexibility as one of the key competencies that we all need if we are to be successful in future work life.
The words paint a picture of an everyday superperson who is able to maintain balance and performance in an environment what we do today is different to yesterday and no one knows about tomorrow. The COVID-pandemic is a striking example and concretization of these uncertainties. It is an unavoidable test for our resilience, ability change and manage stress.
However, for the purpose of this blog COVID is a bad example because it is an actual crisis. In an emergency, even big changes are easier to achieve because there is a broad consensus on their necessity.
In everyday work, however, the burden of change is gradual and less obvious. It often consists of several small cumulative factors. There are also often contradicting views on the needs and benefits of change. However, over time these cumulative changes can cause burnout and cynicism on an individual level. Therefore, I have taken a few perspectives on ways to identify and work on the stress caused by change and how to build resilience.
How important is the sense of psychological ownership in change?
The values of working life (I’m talking about the stated or unspoken principles that guide us now – ‘how we operate’) have gradually mowed to a direction where employees are expected to have almost heroic ability to face change, quickly embrace the ‘new’ and then briskly snag towards the next challenge.
The difficulty here is that the resilience to change is not particularly inherent for most of us. Learning a new way of working or renew you professional skills or establishing yourself in a new team requires a lot of psychological energy.
Only a few of us are truly energized by change. That’s why resilience, flexibility, and unlearning old habits really requires a lot of conscious work. If we are unwilling or unable to do this work, change also tends to accumulate in our minds and become a psychological burden which can undermine our performance.
I am now talking mainly about changes that you have no influence over. Let me demonstrate. You get a message from your boss: ‘I will change your role and responsibilities from tomorrow onwards. You need to hand over your duties to Person A and then continue to our Center of Expertise as a flex-resource.” Someone get excited. Yes, I’m getting rid of my old work and something new is coming up. I would still argue that most of us would be, to put it mildly, slightly upset about the situation.
Let’s look at the same situation from a different point-of-view. You will receive a message about your job application: ‘We have chosen you to this position and are excited that you are joining us. Your learning curve will be really fast, but we think you’ll be a great asset to our team!
Does it feel the same as the first example? The difference lies in who is the driver of change. If you feel ownership of the change, you have very different mental resources at your disposal. The key question is, how to build this ownership?
Obviously, as an employee, you can’t really be a driver all the time. Working life is inevitably full of changes that are imposed and require flexibility from you. Therefore, you need to build skills to maintain your motivation and ability to work even in situations that do not feel right. One aspect of resilience is how you manage your emotions
For example, imposed change often invoke negative emotions. It’s really important to not deny them. However, it is vital that you find a way to channel your negative emotions. Bringing your anger and frustration up at a coffee table with colleagues or confronting your superior about the unfairness of the situation is important and should be welcomed and allowed by organisation. However, nurturing your negativity and holding grudges will lead very quickly lower your capability to work and impacts negatively on your team. No one really likes to work with negative people, no matter how right they may be. Therefore it is essential that you build your toolbox for resilience in way which suit you and your personality. Ability to engage and own change somehow and channel your frustrations at the same time are one these tools for sure.
As a final note I must say that in well-managed organisations thsese skills are less needed. Today it is not difficult to involve people in planning strategy, defining processes or renewing organisations and business practices. If engagement is not just a buzzword but a part of the DNA of the organisation the benefits are quick and visible. They are shown in motivation, commitment and innovation of the employees.
– Tauno Taajamaa