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What do leaders have to do with employee resilience?

By Madison Hanscom, PhD

The extent to which individuals can “bounce back” to how things were pre-crisis describes their resiliency. It is beneficial to have a workforce of resilient employees who can recover quickly from difficult times. Not only is this better for the company (e.g., financially), it is better for the people (e.g., psychologically).

We often place onus on the individual to be resilient. We might think, “they just need to get over it”. But researchers have shown that others in our environment can have an impact on our resiliency, and this includes leadership. After or during a hard event, employees can experience difficult feelings like anxiety or stress. Leaders play a role in how they recover from hard times, and employees who feel they have leaders that can help them deal with difficult situations are more resilient than those without this perceived support (1). Not only can individuals be resilient — systems (like organizations) can have a degree of resilience, and leaders help to cultivate the collective resilience of their people.

What can leaders to do build a more resilient workforce?

• Empower employees to take what they need to recover (e.g., breaks, a mental health day) when their psychological resources are depleting.
• Foster a climate that supports mental health.
• Remove as much ambiguity as possible by communicating often.
• Get people engaged using goal setting and personalized development.
• Give people the resources they need to feel confident and in control of their work.
• Hold problem-focused coping sessions where solutions to stressors are workshopped.
• Encourage employees to take charge of their workload and say ‘no’ when they are overwhelmed and say ‘yes’ to new challenges when they do not have enough stimulating work to do.
• Check on people by asking how they are doing.
• Share the small wins and celebrate small victories along the way — reminders of any progress (regardless of how slight) can keep people motivated and connected to larger goals / the bigger picture.
• Set clear expectations and get out of their way. Give people autonomy by measuring their results, not micromanaging the effort along the way.

As outlined, there are a number of things leaders can do to support their employees in feeling more resilient during or after difficult times. A final important consideration is to focus on your own resiliency so you can role model strength in times of hardship and treat failures as temporary setbacks that can be recovered from quickly.

For more resources on personal resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic, please see:

At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture.


(1) Harland, L., Harrison, W., Jones, J. R., & Reiter-Palmon, R. (2005). Leadership behaviors and subordinate resilience. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(2), 2-


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