What is employee resilience?

What is employee resilience?
Last Updated: December 29, 2022

Rego et al in 2017 stated that resilience should be regarded as an important competitive advantage beyond social and economic resources in organizations. This is because contemporary workplaces are often uncertain, stressful and dynamic environments, facing challenges such as conflict, difficult circumstances, setbacks, failures, and high expectations.  How employees manage to make the most out of these bad situations and what prevents them from feeling personally affected when things don’t go the way they want or expect is crucial to organisational adaptability.


As a response to the current business environment, organisations are required to be more flexible and agile than ever before (Lengnick-Hall, Beck, & Lengnick-Hall, 2011). Recent research has highlighted the essential contributions that employees make during crises and organisational change processes (Shin, Taylor, & Seo, 2012). Without change buy-in and effort made by employees to adjust, transitions are likely to be unsuccessful (Bernerth, 2004). Similarly, employees’ readiness or resistance influences change success (Piderit, 2000; Weiner, 2009); therefore, organisations need to understand and work with staff reactions during these times (Van Dam, Oreg, & Schyns, 2008).



Resilience amongst employees is an adaptive and resource-utilising capacity, which makes employees more able to handle changes and adversity within the workplace (Rossi, Meurs, & Perrewé, 2013). It can also be defined as a capacity of employees that is supported and facilitated by organizations to positively cope, adapt, and even thrive in response to dynamic and challenging environments (Nguyen et al., 2016; Kuntz et al., 2017; Prayag, 2018). As this capacity enhances an organisation’s ability to adapt and thrive in the face of constant change and upheaval (DuBrin, 2013), organisations must gain a better understanding of both employee resilience and the factors that contribute to the development of resilience in the work environment (DuBrin, 2013; Harland, Harrison, Jones, & Reiter-Palmon, 2005).

Attributes of resilient employees

Resilient employees do not react strongly to adverse situations; they would instead respond calmly and with positive emotions. They can derive meaning from their work, perceive the intensity of the situation, and handle it steadily. Consequently, they complete their tasks according to expectations and avoid creating problems for others while displaying citizenship behaviours such as helping co-workers and actively participating in an organization’s politics. Ryff and Singer (2003) argued that resilience stimulated flourishing under hardship.


Resilient people can pursue new knowledge and experiences and get into deeper relationships with others (Luthans, Youssef & Avolio, 2007). The sense of exploring new experiences (Tugade, Fredrickson & Barrett, 2004) motivates employees to build social relationships at the workplace and engage in activities that are beyond their defined job roles. Further, resilient individuals are more likely to experience positive emotions even amid difficult situations. Literature suggests that positive emotions are linked to positive outcomes at the workplace (Fredrickson, 2001).


Resilience has been described as a positive response to stress (Luthar, 1993), which at the workplace helps employees to stay immune to the ill effects of stress and other difficult situations. This may also help employees to maintain the positive emotions that can further be translated into an affective attachment to the organization. King (1997) defined resilience as the magnitude to which an individual resisted disruptions affecting his or her work. Another essential characteristic of resilience is a meaningful life that includes meaningful work-life also. Resilient individuals can find meaning in what they do.


Building employee resilience

Resilience is not a fixed attribute, but a set of skills and attitudes that can be learnt, built upon and honed. To enhance the resilience of employees, it is important to understand and identify the organisational enabling factors that foster employee resilience in the workplace.

The following factors were determined by Bommer, Rich, & Rubin, 2005; Bouckenooghe, Devos, & Van den Broeck, 2009; Egan, Yang, & Bartlett, 2004; Gill, 2002; Marsick & Watkins, 2003.

  1. Learning culture - In response to the rising demands of marketplace competition, the need to develop an organisational learning culture has received significant attention (Davis & Daley, 2008; Garvin, Edmondson, & Gino, 2008). As a great deal of learning occurs through trial and error on the job, the organisation must develop a culture which encourages, supports and rewards the learning process within everyday work routines (Marsick & Watkins, 2003). This leads to employees being more flexible, prepared and supported to successfully adapt to unexpected changes. This type of organisational culture will make employees more resilient.
  2. Empowering leadership - According to Gill (2002), empowered employees are better able to deal with change, as they are given the resources and support required to be flexible and adaptable. Employees are empowered by leaders through the provision of knowledge, participative capacity, autonomy, and the enhancement of self-confidence (Arnold, Sharon, Rhoades, & Drasgow, 2000; Gill, 2002). Employees who are made to feel self-efficacious and important are likely to be more resilient as they have a more positive outlook on change and their ability to cope (Harland et al., 2005).
  3. Employee participation - A reciprocal process between the employee and organisation allows the employee to gain more information on matters that concern them directly (Bouckenooghe et al., 2009). Providing employees with a participative role in processes helps to ensure that employees feel valued and perceive that their views are important to the organisation. This empowers employees and motivates them to support the change process. This results in an enhanced sense of empowerment, change readiness and reduced resistance to change with increased resilience.
  4. Corporate communication - For organisational processes to be successful, communication between management and employees is essential (Elving, 2005). Outlining the discrepancy between the current state and the desired state of the organisation makes the incentives for change salient and enhances commitment to the change (Lewis, Schmisseur, Stephens, & Weir, 2006). Frequent corporate communication will provide employees with an enhanced capacity to be resilient as they will be more prepared and less anxious about change.


Outcomes of Employee Resilience

  1. Job engagement- As resilient employees are believed to have the resources required to effectively adapt to change and challenges at work, it is expected that they will view change initiatives as learning and growth opportunities rather than catastrophes or extreme breaches of the psychological contract. For this reason, it is expected that employees high in employee resilience will also be more engaged in their job than less resilient employees as they will perceive support from their employer which will encourage them to be dedicated to their work (Grunberg, Moore, Greenberg and Sikora 2008)
  2. Job satisfaction - Following findings by Youssef and Luthans (2007), as resilient employees behave more positively when confronted with change due to the presence of support and resources, they are better able to adapt to adversity without becoming anxious and overwhelmed.
  3. Intention to turnover - Resilient employees will have adequate resources to cope with adversity and will subsequently remain satisfied and engaged and be less likely to want to quit, have reduced burnout and presenteeism. People become burnt out when they lose that driving passion for their work. This is often linked to poor resilience. Burnout can then lead to presenteeism, which is when an employee’s mind isn’t fully switched on at work. Resilience can help people hold onto that spark for their job and bring their whole selves to it.


Ongoing development is key to resilience. Team leaders are in an excellent position to encourage this. The following points will also assist in increasing resilience in employees:

  • Allow autonomy 
  • Reward good work
  • Provide access to services and supports when needed to maintain good physical and mental health
  • Allow Flexible Schedules
  • Be Reasonable about Work Expectations


Statistics about employee resilience

  • According to research from the ADP Research Institute and its 2020 Global Study of Engagement on what makes us resilient, only 19% of U.S. workers are highly resilient
  • A new report from Aon examined the views of employers and employees across five major countries in Europe and claimed that just 30% of employees are resilient
  • AON also found that employees with poor resilience have 55% lower engagement at work and are 42% less likely to want to stay with their employer.
  • In the USA, Annual total expenditures of work-related stress and poor mental health (depression and anxiety) have been estimated at $190 billion and $211 billion respectively. Half of that is borne by employers, primarily due to lost productivity, including absenteeism and reduced engagement at work (American Heart Association).
  • Resilience programs may contribute to improved self-esteem, sense of control over life events, sense of purpose in life and interpersonal relations for employees (Waite PJ, Richardson GE.2004)
  • Harvard Business School found that when looking across generations, millennials find training extremely valuable for stress management (47%), mental health (44%) and well-being (43%).
  • The American Heart Association’s research found that employees attributed a variety of health outcomes to participation in resilience training programs, including having more energy (51%), exercising regularly (45%), and improved quality of life (41%)
  • CV-Library surveyed 300 UK employers on the top skills they believe are most important in a potential hire right now, found that companies are keen to see candidates excelling in the following areas: Ability to adapt (71.5%), Resilience (57.5%), Willingness to upskill (39.7%), ability to change(31.3%), ability to balance work and personal life (29%) and  networking (16.4%)
  • According to AON rising Resilience report 2020, 37% of non-resilient workers feel they can take care of their personal needs at work.
  • Only 28% of non-resilient workers feel able to confide 28% in their manager about their problems (AON rising Resilience report 2020).
  • 51% of non-resilient workers are likely to stay with their employer but only 22% feel like they can reach their potential (AON rising Resilience report 2020)
  • 88% of resilient employees agree that their employer enables them to take care of their personal needs, compared to 23% of non-resilient employees (AON rising Resilience report 2020)



In the present volatile business world, employees form the base for almost all organizational outcomes; therefore, increased attention is required towards novel measures to improve organizational outcomes. Resilience is a crucial capability for employees.

Having a resilient workforce benefits your business in so many ways, not least of all by making people more motivated, capable of dealing with change, and less susceptible to burnout. It also improves employees’ overall health, as resilience and wellbeing in the workplace are closely linked. A resilient workforce can lead your business to successes that are often unattainable to those who struggle with natural challenges.


Fadzai Danha is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950 or email: fadzai@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Fadzai Danha

Related Articles


Sign up now to get updated on latest posts and relevant career opportunities