Resilience at Work


Resilience at Work
Hilary Coldicott and Sarah Cook


“The greatest glory in living lies not, in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ― Nelson Mandela

We know that often our greatest learning is when things ‘go wrong’. Often those are also the times when we need to call on all our inner strength to get back up and start again! In our work and home lives we increasingly need high levels of resilience to manage difficult situations effectively and cope with change.

Understanding the nature of our resilience and how we can build it will help us, not just when things go wrong but help us every day to ensure we are strong enough emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually to take the consequences of our actions.

In this article we will explore:

Where our resilience comes from, how it impacts our being, doing, thinking and feeling and

How we can build our resilience through the use of  practical techniques so we are operating at optimum performance.

We also discuss how you can discover your own level of resilience, how to identify your strengths and gaps with regard to your ability to face challenging situations.

What is resilience?


Resilience is about being working at optimum performance no matter what is going on around us. It is the ability to face difficult situations and change in a positive manner. Resilience is sometimes characterised as is being ‘in the flow’ emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. In order to understand what this might feel like it is useful to consider what you felt like the last time you were operating at your best.

A lot of you may be recalling feelings such as calm, confident, energised, challenging, focused, engaged, powerful, or happy. We know that the more we feel these positive states, the more able we are to deal with difficult situations, challenges and our own and others emotions. This is an essential leadership quality; by role modelling resilience we can promote a healthy and positive work environment.

Managing emotional state


The key to having high resilience is managing our emotional state because fundamentally, how we are feeling dictates our physical, mental and spiritual state.

If we are feeling sad or angry, it will affect our ability to think straight or have a logical approach to problem solving and if we are sad or angry we will find it difficult to find the physical energy we need to resolve things. Finally if we are feeling sad or angry, it restricts our ability to feel fulfilled and satisfied with our lot.


Figure 1: Our feelings


When we are able to feel positive emotion and display high energy we are in a place that allows us to work at optimum performance. When we feel positive emotion a ‘feel good’ hormone is released and this allows our minds to think at their best, our bodies to function physically at their best and for us to feel an overall sense of fulfilment. This is when we are at our most resilient and the more we stay in this space, the more resilient we become.

The other options are less attractive. If we are occupying the high energy and negative emotion quadrant, it means we are struggling to cope with what is happening to us. Our negative emotions can make us feel overcome, frustrated, worried, concerned, and stressed. When we are feeling negative, cortisol is released into our bodies which restricts our ability to think straight and can create health issues if this state becomes the norm for us.

If we have moved to a place of negative emotion and low energy we are likely to be feeling more helpless, and finding it increasingly difficult to bring ourselves out of that place – we are in fact, in burn out.

Our fourth and final quadrant is a state of recharge – we need to go to this positive emotion and low energy to recoup and chill so that the batteries are in fact recharged. Without visiting this place it is unlikely we are going to be able to operate in the optimum performance zone as much as we would like to.

How resilient are you?

In order to understand where you spend most of your time, the authors have developed an online Resilience Questionnaire. The questionnaire identifies areas of strength in terms of resilience and where and how you can develop resilience. If you would like to find out what you need to do more of to ensure you stay in a state of positive emotion and high energy as often as you can, you can undertake a number of activities designed for each of the four emotional, physical, mental and spiritual states.  The questionnaire will indicate which of the four areas you need to invest most in.

Four strategic themes to increasing resilience

We have identified a series of strategies that individuals can adopt to increase their resilience. These address the four areas of resilience: feeling, doing, think and being. For each area we have created an inventory of possible enhancement actions. For example:


A potential strategy for increasing emotional resilience is to find out how others value you and where you can receive positive recognition.


To increase physical well-being, examine your levels of exercise and what physical activity realistically you can do that you would enjoy and that you are able to build into your lifestyle.


One way to increase mental resilience is to write down any concerns or worries and which of those you can control and address. Part of mental resilience is recognising those concerns you are able to influence and leaving those that you cannot.

Spiritual well-being centres on having meaning in your life and ensuring that your actions align with your values. One strategy to increase spiritual well-being is to explore what you are doing that fulfils the whole you and what you can do more to.



Being resilient is an essential quality in today’s workplace. In the face of difficult situations and constant change, leaders need to adopt strategies to remain positive and to ensure that they have high energy and drive to see things through.

People with high levels of resilience are those who have high levels of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual well-being. By identifying your strengths and areas of stretch in these four areas, individuals can adopt strategies to increase their ability to cope in times of difficulty and change.


About the authors

Hilary Coldicott and Sarah Cook are Directors of leadership and customer experience consultancy, The Stairway Consultancy Ltd. They can be contacted at and

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"Over the years The Stairway Consultancy has become a key partner to our business. Their services have proved an invaluable tool in taking individuals forward in their careers and thus developing the organisation. Their approach to working in partnership has certainly helped us to achieve our objectives, and we value the contribution Stairway makes to the business. I always look forward to working with their professional, open and warm consultants, and would highly recommend The Stairway Consultancy to any business that is seeking to grow, inspire and develop their teams."

Learning and Development Business Partner
- Southern Housing Group
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