Marcus Buckingham
Marcus Buckingham

NSC 2021: The Key to Resilience Is a Simple Four-Letter Word

Oct. 12, 2021
Those who love their jobs are the most successful and resilient in the workplace.

One of the reasons frequently cited to explain why employees are so slow to adapt to new procedures and technologies—whether it be in the area of EHS or any other part of their daily work life—is that they’re afraid of change. An entire cottage industry has emerged over the past several decades focusing on change management, and on helping bring employees up to speed on the latest and greatest ways their senior leadership intends to fix whatever is preventing the company from achieving excellence.

As Marcus Buckingham sees it, though, that’s inverted thinking at its worst. “People don’t fear change,” he asserts. “They fear the unknown.”

As a researcher at Gallup, Buckingham helped create the popular StrengthsFinder tool, and since going on his own he’s become a well-known author and consultant specializing in what he calls the Strengths Revolution. For the past few years he’s headed up a research initiative at ADP Research Institute focusing on resilience and engagement, culminating in a global survey of 26,000 workers in 25 countries. The goal of the survey, he notes, was to help leaders become more engaged and resilient, while also learning how to build engagement and resilience in their employees.

As the keynote speaker at the National Safety Council’s 2021 NSC Congress and Expo in Orlando, Fla., Buckingham addressed the whole nature of workplace studies. “If you want to learn about something, you go study that thing in the real world. That may sound obvious, but in business we tend to do the opposite. We study failures, and then conclude we should do the opposite. But excellence isn’t the opposite of failure,” he emphasized. “Fixing something that isn’t working is not the way to excellence.”

Coinciding with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey revealed an unsettling development: Only 17% of the world’s workers feel highly resilient in their jobs and their lives.

Through the course of his work with ADP, Buckingham’s team developed a list of 10 workplace questions to determine how resilient or vulnerable an employee is, as well as their level of leadership within the company:

1. I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done.

2. No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done.

3. In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day.

4. I always believe that things are going to work out for the best.

5. My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need to know it.

6. I trust my team leader.

7. I am encouraged to take risks.

8. Senior leaders are one step ahead of events.

9. Senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do.

10. I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.

According to Buckingham, there isn’t a significant gender discrepancy, as both men and women reported similar levels of resilience. Age didn’t seem to matter much either. What did matter, though, was how close the respondent has been to COVID, whether personally affected, or a family member, or close friend. “The closer you are to COVID,” he observed, “the more likely you’ll be resilient.”

Another finding from the survey points directly to the effectiveness of leadership in communicating its messages to the workforce. “If you trust your co-workers, supervisors and senior leaders, you’re 42 times more likely to be highly resilient,” Buckingham said. The more often that a leader checks in with their team, the more resilient that team will be. “Frequency trumps quality when it comes to employee check-ins,” he emphasized.

So how does somebody actually become resilient at work? Admitting that the concept might sound a bit odd, Buckingham nevertheless insisted that the key is a simple four-letter word: love.

“The most resilient and successful people find love in their work,” Buckingham asserted. In other words, he explained, they find something that they love to do in their work lives every single day. To become more resilient, he said, find those things and activities in your job that give meaning to your life, and then make sure you do those things at work every day, whether you’re a line employee, a supervisor, or a senior leader. “Focus on what you love to do, and what you can control in your life.”

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