Personal Resilience in Testing Times

After months (yes this really is the start of week 11 for me) of living and working with the challenges of coronavirus, we have all had to adjust and make the best of things. For me personally, this new working environment has done little for my physical and mental wellbeing. Too much screen time - my eyes feeling like I forgot to take my lenses out overnight. Juggling home schooling two kids with bottomless appetites. Too many hours sitting at my kitchen table - not a healthy lifestyle!

And, I am not alone. Research tells us that working long hours not only affects our wellbeing and productivity, but, a lack of regular downtime can significantly deplete our reserves, and, our resilience. During sustained periods of uncertainty, many of us will experience spells of anxiety, insomnia, and, in some cases burnout. Firms have a duty of care not only to help their employees endure this crisis but to help them build resilience and go on to thrive during these uncertain, unprecedented times. Creating a culture of resilience will require a contribution from each and every one of us. A resounding chorus of “Keep Calm and Carry On” simply won’t cut it. All of us, must commit to a renewed focus on creating a collective confidence that our firms, and our people, will emerge from the current crisis in a strong, healthy and positive position. 

Individual resilience can be defined as “the ability to adapt, recover and bounce back despite adversity or change”. However, it’s easy to forget that resilience is dynamic in nature and can change over time. Prior to the current pandemic, our industry had already become more aware of the importance of creating and nurturing diverse and inclusive, people centred cultures. Late last year, we launched: Culture Forum, the Culture Framework in partnership with Latham and Watkins. In those less turbulent times, we had already started to recognise the critical part that wellbeing (physical, mental and financial) plays in the successful running of our firms.

However, what has kept me anchored and resilient through past crises has not been possible this time around. Lockdown has brought this sharply into focus. Mechanisms that we have traditionally relied upon - taking a break, fun with friends, maintaining an optimistic outlook, accepting what I can and cannot change, tapping into our support networks - have all been negatively impacted by social isolation.

COVID-19 is an unique and unfamiliar experience for all of us. Its impact is complex and uncertain. In the first of our Culture & COVID-19 webinars next month, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, Manchester Business School, will focus exclusively on individual resilience and wellbeing. He will help us to reconsider what is meant by resilience, what lessons can be learnt from the current crisis, and share practical, impactful techniques to help us ensure our people stay well and perform well under pressure.

Organisational culture and leadership style can have a positive or detrimental effect on an individual’s resilience. A people-centred culture must be underpinned by a clear organisational purpose, supported by robust policies. Individuals who are genuinely aligned with their firm’s purpose, and, clear on how their role helps achieve it, will consistently perform well. Those with a strong support system at work will also be more able to cope with stress. Everyone should have the opportunity to raise their concerns and have confidence that they are being addressed. People never forget how you treat them in a crisis.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our industry responded quickly, providing certainty and reassurance, enabling our people to remain productive and engaged. Maintaining a healthy resilience as we start to move towards the next phase of “easing” lockdown will require further change.  The days of “Keep Calm and Carry On” are behind us. As leaders, we have the opportunity to motivate and inspire by continuously adapting our cultures to better meet the needs of our people. Words from my childhood still ring true - treat people how you would like to be treated.

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